Agnostic AA Meetings Gaining Momentum
By Russ H
There is a story about agnostic AA meetings that needs to be told. It is about growth, acceptance and inclusiveness in Alcoholics Anonymous. It is an important story because so much attention has lately been focused (and rightly so) on accounts of resistance to these meetings and efforts to exclude them from AA by some AA members in some locations. In one famous case, anonymity itself, the spiritual foundation AA’s cherished 12 Traditions, was sacrificed on the altar of publicity in a local newspaper.  Along the way, the third, fourth and ninth traditions have also been abused or abandoned.  This is unsettling and unacceptable. The good news is that these cases are neither common nor representative of Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole.
The 12 Traditions and the ideals they embody are very much alive and well throughout our global fellowship. At this writing a verified total of at least 196 agnostic AA meetings in 7 countries spanning 3 continents are convening weekly. A carefully researched history  of this AA phenomenon is available and well worth reading.
1975 – “Quad A” the first agnostic AA meeting is founded in Chicago
1980 – “We Agnostics” meeting launched in Los Angeles
1986 – “We Atheists” meeting started in New York City
2003 – 38 agnostic AA meetings in the United States
2004 – 56 agnostic AA meetings (55 in the U.S. and 1 in France)
2009 – 71 meetings worldwide
2010 – 89 meetings worldwide
2012 – 99 meetings worldwide
2014 – 149 meetings worldwide (February)
2014 – 195 meetings worldwide (November)
Most of the abbreviated timeline shown above was provided by Deirdre S who also maintains a frequently updated list of the locations and meeting times of these groups.  The line at the bottom for November 2014 is reported here for the first time.
In fact, Deirdre’s list of meetings provided the inspiration for, and the detailed information required to carry out, an analysis of the extent to which Alcoholics Anonymous has embraced this burgeoning worldwide expansion of agnostic AA. Benefiting from the fact that AA meeting schedules from communities around the world are readily available on the internet, simple internet search methods were used to collect the information summarized in the numbers below. Each of the 196 agnostic meetings was researched individually.
Agnostic AA Meetings Worldwide
Australia – 1 listed
Canada – 2 listed and 11 not listed
England – 8 listed
France – 3 listed
Japan – 1 listed
Philippines – 1 not listed
United States – 157 listed, 10 not listed and 1 pending
Worldwide – 172 listed, 22 not listed and 1 pending for a total of 195
A document providing full details for each meeting (meeting name, day, time and address along with an active hyperlink to the corresponding local AA schedule of meetings) is available here: Worldwide agnostic AA list Nov 26 2014.
Meetings tallied as “listed” are found on the relevant local AA meeting schedule. Those tallied as “not listed” do not appear on the local AA meeting schedule. The one meeting tallied as “pending” is still under consideration by the local Intergroup. These statistics will naturally be heartening to agnostic and atheist AA members everywhere.
Statistics alone, of course, do not tell the whole story. The accelerating emergence of agnostic AA meetings now encompasses the whole of North America and spans two oceans to reach Asia, Australia, the UK and Europe. A full three quarters of this growth has taken place in the last ten years – with nearly half of all of these meetings having been started in the last two years! Curiously, the majority of the meetings that have not been listed on their local AA meeting schedules (16 of 22) are located in Canada and California – both areas usually regarded to be progressive and pluralistic. What should we make of all of this? Why has the agnostic movement within AA suddenly caught fire? And why do isolated pockets of antipathy toward these meetings still persist four decades after the first one appeared?
Chuck K, a member of the original Quad A meeting in Chicago, suggests that “America is an increasingly urban, secular society and Atheist Agnostic AA meetings have a way of approaching alcoholism and addiction that is rational, humanistic, and effective. People simply want to sober up, not get involved with a religious group, and atheist-agnostics meetings provide a way of focusing on recovery without forcing creeds or theisms down anyone’s throat. For many people, that’s the best way to go.”
Chris G (Fort Erie, Ontario) monitors hundreds of requests received at this website for help starting new agnostic AA meetings. These requests come from people who click on the image on the right (and then fill out a form) which is on the homepage of the site. This service has been available for a year and a half, since April, 2013. Chris communicates via email with interested readers and offers here just a sampling of sentiments expressed by AA members, some of whom are now supplying the energy to create agnostic AA meetings in their own communities:
I’m so happy I found this organization! I am 40 days sober and struggling deeply with the idea that I will have to accept God in order to work the program successfully.
I have only been sober for 70 days, but I have been stuck on step two for about 50 days. I am confident that I am healthier and happier sober, but I simply do not believe in God or a Higher Power. This website came at just the right time and I would be thrilled to get in contact with other Agnostic AA’s in my area.
Clean & sober for 8 months now. Recently started attending AA meetings in this area every day/night hoping to find like-minded people for support. Instead of support I ran into discrimination yet continued to attend hoping I would “get it” if I took GOD out of the picture. The last meeting attended clearly made me feel like an outcast when almost all members at this meeting got a big laugh (twice) at the Atheist’s expense. Honestly, I am just as put off by them as they are of me. I stopped attending. Would love to find others in the area that share similar interests.
Sober since 03/15/2003. I’ve worried so much about the 11th Step for so long that I finally realized I’m an atheist! In my experience, I don’t believe that the maxim “Resign from the Debating Society” is compatible with the maxim “To Thine Own Self Be True.” And I’m interested in finding meetings where we don’t need to debate about anything. I’m looking for other post-spiritualist recovering people to help each other manage our behavioral disorder.
After 33 years of solid sobriety and belief in an interventionist higher power, I have come to the certain conclusion that while there may be a higher mind or consciousness of some kind, it has no interest in whether I turn left or right in my life. The god talk in my community of AA is difficult to take, but I love sobriety and what I’ve learned from the principles. I need to find some place I can relax in AA.
We see here that the urgency to find or start AA meetings inhabited by kindred spirits may be experienced just as acutely by agnostic AA members with very long term sobriety as by members who are brand new to the AA program of recovery.
We all know that the selection criterion for membership in AA is simply the desire to stop drinking. As a result, AA membership crosses all boundaries of: culture, politics, geography, economics, education, religion, philosophy, gender and sexual preference. AA really does bring together people who would not otherwise mix. The history of AA has witnessed struggles for acceptance by women, various ethnic groups and gay-lesbian-transgender people and, from the very beginning, agnostics and atheists.
The struggle has been particularly difficult for agnostic and atheists members because the foundations of AA’s spiritual program clearly convey the Christian ethos that informed the lives of nearly all of the early members. From them we have inherited AA’s primary texts, Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. These texts are destined to remain unaltered as they should. Unfortunately, they both convey a condescending perspective toward nonbelievers that assumes one day we will find our way to spiritual faith – especially, as we all know so well, Chapter 4 of the Big Book. Perhaps we ought not to complain too loudly about that, however, since its title does provide the delightfully ironic name that so many agnostic AA meeting adopt.
The full corpus of Bill W’s written message to AA emphatically conveys a much different point of view. In his classic essay, The Dilemma of No Faith, he poignantly shares his genuine regret over his early eagerness to convert agnostic and atheist members to his way of thinking and acknowledges the likely result that this approach drove members away from recovery in AA.
In AA’s first years I all but ruined the whole undertaking… God as I understood Him had to be for everybody. Sometimes my aggression was subtle and sometimes it was crude. But either way it was damaging – perhaps fatally so – to numbers of non-believers. (Bill W, AA Grapevine, April 1961)
With this wonderful example in mind, we might try find a similar degree of compassion in ourselves as we join and support members of the remaining agnostic AA meetings that continue to struggle against pockets of resistance to we nonbelievers.
 Does religion belong at AA? Fight over ‘God’ splits Toronto AA groups
 Intergroup Votes Against Re-Listing Agnostic Groups
 Yet Another Intergroup Fight
 A History of Agnostic Groups in AA
 Worldwide Agnostic Meetings – AgnosticAANYC
Russ has been a sober member of AA for 19 years and lives in the East San Francisco Bay area of California. He is one of the original members of the first agnostic AA meeting in Contra Costa County which meets on Monday evenings in Lafayette, CA. He has a background in organic chemistry and spent most of his career working for software companies on the development of computerized methods for managing chemical structures and related data of all sorts. Russ now focuses on playing guitar and enjoying an active but leisurely retirement.