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. [1] Along the way, the third, fourth and ninth traditions have also been abused or abandoned. [2][3] 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 [4] 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. [5] 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

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.”

Agnostic GroupsChris 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.


[1] Does religion belong at AA? Fight over ‘God’ splits Toronto AA groups
[2] Intergroup Votes Against Re-Listing Agnostic Groups
[3] Yet Another Intergroup Fight
[4] A History of Agnostic Groups in AA
[5] 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.

65 Responses

  1. Roger says:

    This list of agnostic groups in AA is maintained by Deirdre S. in New York. It was actually started by her husband in 2002. Amazing. Deirdre was a fellowship speaker at the convention in Santa Monica. It was a real delight to meet her. You can list your agnostic group anytime by contacting her at Below is our link to the Agnostic AA New York website:
    Worldwide Agnostic AA Meeting

  2. Faith R. says:

    Hi Don, Just tried sending a response, but seems to have fallen off. We did get a “We Agnostics” meeting started in Palm Springs…. Sun, 5:30 pm. Had great support from our Central Office manager and chairman of our Central Intergroup. In fact, we’re already listed in the online directory! When we have 3 months as a group, will get registered with GSO and ask that we be put on the list maintained by aaagnostica. Thanks for your support and for what I learned at the WAAFT conference in Santa Monica. Faith

  3. Roger says:

    We’ll connect you folks via email…

  4. Don F. says:

    I would be interested in helping to get agnostic recovery happening around Palm Springs.

  5. Russ H says:

    James –
    The availability of “something new” may be the best bet for many alcoholics and drug addicts. In fact, a number of secular alternatives to AA are currently available. Some of them have been around for decades. They include Rational Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), LifeRing Secular Recovery, SMART Recovery and others. Agnostic AA meetings are already widespread but far from numerous – especially considering that they first appeared 40 years ago. Whether they will one day be numbered in thousands or tens of thousands rather than hundreds and be fully embraced by mainstream AA remains to seen. A careful reading of the all of the AA literature (not just the big book and 12X12) reveals that Bill W was clearly in favor of AA welcoming all alcoholics regardless of their beliefs. There are very many AA members today who also feel that way. If we are both still around in 20 years maybe we can revisit this question and see what has happen. My sense is that agnostic AA meetings are here to stay and will continue to grow in popularity.

  6. james O. says:

    AA was founded primarily by Christians, and the program they created unambiguously reflects their religious beliefs. The inclusion of words and phrases such as “suggested” in reference to the program of recovery, “as we understood Him” attached to steps 3 and 11, “the only requirement for membership…”, and the very deceptive list of entities AA is not allied with in the Preamble (the glaring omission is RELIGION) create the illusion that all beliefs are welcomed in AA, that AA really isn’t religious, and that one belief is considered to be as valid as the next. Nothing could be further from the truth in actual AA practice. The only program of recovery mentioned, encouraged, or endorsed in AA literature is the 12 steps. “As we understood Him” allows those who believe in god the freedom to create their own deity, but offers non-believers nothing. “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking” is technically true, but since there is no provision in the “suggested” program of recovery which allows doubters or atheists to practice this program, it becomes a rather disingenuous statement. Lastly, it’s very difficult to believe that in a document as carefully-worded as the Preamble, the inclusion of “denomination” (a term applying to various christian sects) instead of “religion” is an oversight.
    I think that, while the effort to open up AA doctrine to include atheists, free-thinkers, and their fellow travelers is a well-meaning one, it ultimately is probably futile and unnecessarily divisive. Because most people who don’t accept the god-based philosophy of AA don’t become long-term members, AA consists mainly of people who are convinced of its infallibility, who don’t welcome dissenting views, and who have no desire to change the program which works quite well for them. I don’t claim to have knowledge of the entire AA membership. My statements are based on observations I’ve made in various regions and countries since getting sober in 1985.
    Though it is daunting to consider leaving AA to the god-believers and creating something new which would combine the numerous valuable and life-saving practical aspects of AA with a secular and rational approach to addiction, that would seem to be the best way to reach ALL who need help.

  7. Roger says:

    We’ll add a link to site on the homepage of AA Agnostica, Chris.

  8. Chris R. says:

    A site for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in AA in Asia has been created.

  9. Duncan says:

    Hi Walt It seems to me you have a lot to learn about AA. Especially the bit about no rules. Just have a wee look at your letter and see how many rules you made.

    I could not give a stuff about the Steps, but I don’t mind others doing them. To me AA is a fellowship, no more and no less.


  10. Chris R. says:

    Thanks Roger. I am hoping to put together an event for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in AA in Asia in 2015. The meetings in Toronto were a great inspiration to me to continue to carry the message here in Japan.

  11. Roger says:

    I will pass that along to the New York people who have been keeping a list of agnostic AA meetings since 2002. To see that list you can see click here, Agnostic AA NYC, or on the image:
    Worldwide agnostic meetings

  12. Chris R. says:

    The Atheist and Freethinker meeting in Hong Kong should be added to the list.


    19:00 OPEN
    Atheist & Free Thinkers. Mariners-Club.

    Discussion meeting

  13. larry k says:

    That decision is made by the general service board of Alcoholics Anonymous. They are the guardians of the 12 traditions and now the 12 steps. It isn’t their current opinion and I doubt it ever would be. So your opinion is yours alone, not shared by AA. I am sure there are thousands who feel the same as you… which, for the most part, is why our groups are forming. To be a little distanced from absolutist and divisive opinion.

  14. Tommy H says:

    Nicely put, Russ.

  15. Russ H says:

    Well, Walt, everyone is entitled to their opinion. As it happens, most of AA (including the General Service Office in NY) has reached a different conclusion than you have reached. The worldwide fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous has embraced agnostic AA meetings almost universally. My guess is that you will see more and more of these meetings cropping up everywhere as time goes by. Maybe you’ll get used to it? We are here to stay.

    Russ H

  16. Walt C. says:

    There are references to AA not being a religious group throughout AA literature. Steps 2 and 4, tradition 2 and page 572 in the Big Book 4th edition to name a few. So,in the above article when Chuck K is quoted as saying “People simply want to sober up, not get involved with a religious group,” that does not apply to AA because AA is not a religious group.

    The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA are AA. Any change to that is not AA.

    Anyone and/or group that cannot adhere to steps 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, traditions 2 and 4 and the entire chapter entitled “We Agnostics”, to name a few examples, are not members of AA. Anyone can start a meeting for agnostics and atheists, just not under the umbrella of AA.

  17. Faith R says:

    Thanks for your post, Alfred. I have a meeting I’ve been going to for years Wed 7-8 pm. That conflicts with your meeting Wednesday 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. I’d like to go. A bit of a drive for me from the south end of Palm Springs. Right now focused on getting a meeting going in Palm Springs or Cathedral City. Let’s stay in touch. Faith

  18. Alfred W. says:

    We’ve been chugging along fairly conflict free, here in Joshua Tree. (Although the group itself has avoided most difficulties, I myself am frequently portrayed as the devil himself at other meetings in this area – people are told to avoid me as if I had the plague. I’m quite serious about that). Typical meeting runs 10-20 people, with 3/4 nontheist and 1/4 theist (the theists who show regularly always mention how much they enjoy our meeting – how it focus solely on getting and staying sober) – a refreshing group with people ranging from 28 years to the just-out-of-treatment, newly sober. Feel free to stop by anytime, or contact me – I’d be happy to be of whatever small help I may be if you want to start your own. Have a great day! – Alfred W.

  19. Russ H says:

    Hi Doris –
    The list on maintained by DeirdreS was actually the starting point for my research. I have shared my results with Deirdre.

  20. Mike S says:

    So it is. Perhaps the Phoenix meeting is relatively new? I think I’ve seen that link/list before (but hadn’t checked recently) but either there was no AZ listing or only the Tucson one. In fact, the website list even has contact info for the PHX meeting, which the PDF didn’t. THANKS!

  21. Doris A says: has always had a link to a list of agnostic meetings worldwide that is published by a group in NYC. It is on the right side of the page in a blue box, currently it is under the link to the “little book”. It mentions the group in AZ. However, the list provided in this particular article is much more detailed and organized, and seems to be in pdf format. Maybe the author’s list should be shared with the NYC list for continuity.

  22. Jim G. says:

    Thanks Russ,
    It is very encouraging to see the numbers on our growth, and to get a sense of how many people are being helped by the important alternative that Agnostic AA has to offer.

  23. crescentdave says:

    We have a group on our island that is called the Monday Night Mindfulness Meeting. It’s essentially non-theist, but people can, have and do talk about their gods if it is a part of their recovery. We just ask that discussion be grounded in what is that we do to grow in our recovery and help others to do the same. The group wouldn’t probably exist if it had been explicitly named as an agnostic/atheist meeting.

  24. Thomas B. says:

    Hello John,

    Several of the regular attendees at the Portland, Oregon Beyond Belief meeting are in their first year of recovery and most grateful to have a non-theistic meeting to attend to balance out the more theistically-oriented meetings. Our group also includes a number of persons with longtime recovery in AA who are also most grateful to have a meeting where they feel comfortable in sharing their non-theistic process of recovery.

  25. George S says:

    I know of some AA’s in my area that have what they refer to as an email meeting. They are not agnostics/atheist/freethinkers but possibly that concept might be helpful. I have a small circle of like minded AA’s that I phone, email, and attend AA meetings with; I’ve found contact with these AA friends to be very fulfilling. We have discussed starting a meeting with an agnostic format, but thus far conflicting schedules have been a problem in doing so. Hopefully we will be able to do so in the future. I live in South Jersey and sometimes travel to Jersey City to attend the meeting Russ listed in this article. For me it’s been 30 years without a drink or a drug. For my sponsor it’s been 39 years. I’m most grateful for aaagnostica!

  26. Laurie A says:

    115,000 AA groups worldwide, including
    195 agnostic groups … but we are the future!

  27. Chris says:

    Thanks for this most encouraging article. I hope to see some of you at the Freethinker meeting in Tokyo.

    Chris R.

  28. Lech says:

    I went to a meeting in Berkeley many years ago that sounds like this one. What impressed me was that they omitted the first word of the serenity prayer during the recitation. I have a fond memory of the occasion.

  29. Lech says:

    Wise move, in my judgement.

    No point in making waves.

  30. Faith R. says:

    Dear Russ, Thanks so much for your great article. Your language and explanation has been very helpful. Because of your article, I haven’t given up the hope of getting a meeting started around Palm Springs. Thus far, people are very hesitant to accept such a meeting. All the best to you and all who contribute to those of us who would like to see WAAFT accepted all over.

  31. Faith R. says:

    Thanks, Christopher. I’m still working on getting something going. AA people are quite leary of anything not familiar. Great to see you at the WAAFT convention!

  32. Christopher G says:

    Right now the preponderance of members are from current traditional meetings with a smattering of actual newcomers and visitors from nearby areas. But then we are a remote and rural area.

  33. Christopher G says:

    I think RJ from Omaha, Nebraska mentioned a lot of online stuff. Something about google meetings, facebook, twitter, and some others but I don’t have her connections. Maybe someone at WAAFT conference can put you in touch. I just found out that Encore Audio will also be posting mp3 downloads of the convention speakers, panels and workshops. Don’t know if there is a fee or not.

  34. John S says:

    This was a great article. Thank you so much for putting this information together. I would be interested in knowing if these meetings are attracting newcomers to A.A. or mostly people from other groups.

    What I have noticed at our group is about half of the people who come are newly sober having tried traditional A.A. but couldn’t stand the religiosity. If this is true at other groups as well then this movement will prove to be a life saver for the individual alcoholic and A.A. as a whole.

    Thanks again. I love AA Agnostica. You all do great work here.

  35. Christopher G says:

    Hi Faith! We could always meet at Denny’s or something if you have some peeps who are interested. Heck, Mary and I would make the trip just to see you once in a while!

  36. Roger says:

    Any other suggestions, folks?

  37. Christopher G says:

    Hey Russ, nice essay! Here’s another quote to go with the other one I sent you regarding readings of other than “conference approved”. “Any literature that pertains to the principles of AA, or is approved by a group conscience, is perfectly acceptable to be read by any AA member or in an AA meeting.” (Box 4-5-9 from GSO, Vol. 23:4, 2006) And this little gem is perhaps the best line I have ever stolen and will be included in any and all meetings I ever start: “Our guidance for discussion is to focus on what we do to stay sober and not on what we believe.” Thanks again for the news.

  38. Danny says:

    Thanks Roger! Unfortunately I’m in the Central Time Zone and I have to get up too early for work to stay up for an 11:00 pm meeting start time. I really appreciate your reply.

  39. Roger says:

    There’s a Skype meeting here: Conference Call Meeting. If that’s what you mean…

  40. Danny says:

    Does anyone of any Athiest or Agnostic phone meetings or any recorded meetings? Thank you all for your posts!

  41. JEB says:

    How encouraging to read this thoughtful reflection on the growing openness to groups that share in a common purpose of hope and support for anyone desiring and seeking sobriety. In October 2013, a small group of non-theists in recovery started gathering officially as an AA meeting and continue to grow as a supportive fellowship of men and women who share from the heart and experience exactly what they are doing to stay sober, growing in understanding and effectiveness. Unlike the majority religious meetings in our area, no one feels compelled to pretend he or she believes or is doing anything simply to gain acceptance. This is a meeting where members seem to be comfortable being true to themselves.

    Unfortunately, we still can’t get local listing with Denver Central Office, although registered with GSO and committed to doing our best to carrying the message. However, thanks to the internet, alkies continue to find us with simple Google searches, and we are currently in the process of setting up our own website:

    Freethinkers in AA meets every Monday from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. @ The Secular Hub, 3100 Downing St., Denver, CO 80205.

  42. Thomas B. says:

    Bravo, Russ for a well researched and reasoned article, which points out effectively that by far the vast majority of WAAFT meetings are accepted within the large tent of AA as a whole. This is most encouraging and will be helpful for me to keep a more positive perspective about how well we are doing within mainstream AA.

    I am encouraged to continue to share my non-believing truth within AA, knowing that WAAFT opinions are fully in accordance with our traditions, as well as being deeply rooted in our history going all the way back to our earliest beginnings.

  43. bob k says:

    I have been both surprised and encouraged by the rapidly escalating number of “agnostic” groups in AA. I suspect there are several more “flying under the radar,” so to speak.

    When we started the Whitby Freethinkers Meeting in January of this year, we tried to avoid the problems experienced by our Toronto counterparts. We wanted to be listed with the rather conservative Oshawa Intergroup. It was our hope to draw our particular type of “clientele” by means of our identifying name. We intentionally dodged the possible “affiliation” element of being listed as an agnostic group.

    There may be many like us. We are definitely fulfilling an unmet need in the AA market.

  44. Mimi says:

    Well done!!! great work and much appreciated. Thank you.

  45. Faith R. says:

    Thanks, Dorothy. I’ll keep plugging along and see if I can sell it at another board meeting. I haven’t been to Joshua Tree meeting – that’s a ways from me. I live in Idyllwild during the summer hand have enjoyed the meeting there. In the meantime, wish me luck around Palm Springs area!

  46. Eric T says:

    Thank you Russ, this article and link to the international listings is a wonderful resource that I’m already sharing. Your efforts are much appreciated!

  47. Dorothy H. says:


    Thank you for putting all the hard work into this article! It is truly timely and an invaluable story that must be told. 🙂

  48. Dorothy H. says:

    Hi Rick!

    If you do move to the LA area it would be grat to meet you! I know the We Agnostics, Friday night group in Hollywood at 8:30pm would love to welcome you as a member. 🙂

    Hope to see you there.

  49. Dorothy H. says:


    I am not sure if you are aware of the WAAFT meeting in Joshua Tree, which I believe is not far from you. The Worldwide Agnostics Meeting List has the information that you might find useful.

    Earlier this year I had the privilege to meet the group in Joshua Tree. They are a lovely and engaging group and I am sure they would love to help you with the growth of your group. 🙂

    Joshua Tree

    Agnostic/Atheist Meeting
    Joshua Tree Fellowship Building
    Park Boulevard – 1 Block North of the Traffic Light (Note: Very rural area 1 hour east of Palm Springs)
    Joshua Tree, CA 92252 Wednesday 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
    Contact Alfred W.: (760) 366-3791 x5992

  50. Garry U. says:

    Thank you Russ for your sober and encouraging reflection on this topic. Many who are concerned about the inclusion of atheists and agnostics in AA seem a little intoxicated by resentment and self-righteousness, some to the point of suggesting a schism. What I sensed at the convention was that the vast majority in attendance wanted to remain within AA and help it grow and become more inclusive. Your comments at the “Spirituality and Agnostics” panel at the convention, and I paraphrase, “Spirituality is a personal and subjective experience”, appeared to trump anything said from the dais. Your comment was immediately followed by a very well informed opinion sighting “esprit de corp” as evidence to something like “spirit” occurs in groups of people that can improve personal performance. We all are evidence of change within the fellowship. I am still surprised at the number of large communities that lack agnostic meetings but that is changing. Thanks again.

  51. larry k says:

    I am glad I read this report. Well done and encouraging. It sure speaks to small pocket problems only. I believe Chicago in the mid-seventies probably had a build up of “fundamentalism” which created a need for a middle road.

    I have felt the world swing right so to speak and what is happening for us is the logical consequence of that shift. All is well. I do hope we all find shelter inside the tent.

  52. Russ H says:

    Life J –

    Did we meet in Santa Monica? Trying to recall. If there is a problem with any AA meeting it’s up to that meeting (not well wishing outsiders) to make that determination, it seems to me. I have no direct information about the meeting in question. I trust the AA members actually involved will find their way.

  53. Tommy H says:

    Well said, Russ.


  54. life-j says:

    Russ, agree, basically.
    All should be free to express their own stuff at a meeting, but an atheist meeting that is indistinguishable from a regular meeting, except for its name being read in the welcome greeting is, strictly speaking, not an atheist meeting at all.
    And I don’t know whether we can, or should try to do anything about this from the outside, though it would be a good service to the atheists in Berkeley to help them out with this.

    The problem is that this meeting is just part of the regular schedule, there is a meeting every night at 7 (not 8), so anyone needing a meeting will go, and indeed, a meeting on the regular schedule should be a regular meeting.

    How do they for example avoid a lot of guys showing up at the women’s meeting? they have it at 4 pm on sunday, outside the regular schedule, like they have a men’s mtg on saturday at 4 – and the atheist meeting should be outside the regular schedule too.

  55. kevin b says:

    Thank you for this overview of an increasing interest in atheist/agnostic/freethinker groups in AA.

    In many respects, I think that I am pretty fortunate in this regard. Quad A meetings have always been available to me as an option yet early in my sobriety there was enough of a variety in religious and secular approaches to AA (including two of my sponsors)that I was exposed to that I was getting what I needed even with the occasional AA fundamentalism… it was easy enough to stay away from those particular meetings.

    Since then, much of the Fellowship and approaches to the Steps seem to have become much more rigid, fundamentalist and downright suffocating… so I have found myself attending at least 2 atheist/agnostic/freethinker meetings a week and my resentment at the AA program itself seems to be subsiding.

  56. Russ H says:

    Hi Life J –

    I assume you are referring to the Tuesday evening 8PM meeting in Berkeley called “Atheist and Agnostic”? I have never attended the meeting so I can’t speak directly to your question. Of course, AA members sharing about “God” in any AA meeting are neither surprising nor unwelcome I would think. Inclusiveness is a two way street. Russ H.

  57. VeganSyd says:

    Hooray for agnostics and freethinkers; can you believe the Portland meetings are saving my (aspirations) at 41 years sober? I feel the welcoming vibes at every meeting. Love, Syd

  58. Mike S says:

    Thanks for the link to the Worldwide list! From it I learned that there’s a meeting in Phoenix, AZ – ‘only’ 50 miles from me. If that info had been available on this site before, I’d never seen it. Perhaps it should be prominently placed and more obvious?

  59. Pat N. says:

    Thanks, Russ,
    Great summary, and I especially appreciate your emphasis on the overwhelming NONrejection of secular AA within the fellowship. My perception is that most AA members are just glad to see folks get sober.

  60. John R. says:

    Thanx for the report. We have just started a meeting here in Cottonwood, Az. It’s a pretty small town, but we have already had good participation. Still haven’t named ourselves yet, so when we do I’ll add it to the list. As a member of our Intergroup, I don’t think that we will have a problem with listing, since we are very traditions conscious.
    Although I no longer have as much of a problem with all the “god” stuff, it was a struggle for a good 15 or 20 years … I’ll try to write up an article some time in the future, but until then — thanx!

  61. life-j says:

    Thanks for this post. It is important for those of us who have been “rejected” by our local intergroups (Northern Cal in this case) to remember that there are many places where we are embraced.
    (Incidentally, Russ, since you live nearby, are you aware of the status of the Berkeley Fellowship atheists meeting Tuesday nights? Last time I was there it had just slipped into the regular schedule of things, and the secretary was talking about god all over the place. All that’s left is the name. don’t know that we can necessarily do anything about it.)

  62. Joe C says:

    Nice work Russ. Even before AA was being reaffirmed in non-thistic terms (and I say this because AA has always had members that dismiss the theism as unnecessary mythology) here in the West, Buddhists were reworking the AA Steps withought a higher power in the 1940s. AA policy was to encourage such imaginative liberty (page 81 of AA Comes of Age).

    Ontario, Canada has a few more Freethinker Groups that have intentionally avoided either being on agnostic/atheist AA sites or using these descriptive words in their group name to avoid possible hostility from local intergroups or central offices. It is a shame that people fear discrimination and harassment in this day and age but some dogmatic AA stewards do resort to bigotry.

    It’s great that AA offers back to basics home groups for those who want them, women’s or men’s or young people groups, LGBTQ affirmative groups and the like. Secular AA is just another obvious option for alcoholics.

    Again, great idea for a post Russ. I look forward to others’ comments.

  63. Faith R. says:

    Faith from Palm Springs…. I hope we can get a meeting started here, soon. I’ve tried a couple of places and have now been asked to go before their boards and make a presentation about such a meeting several months hence. So there have been delays. Let’s see what happens. Or perhaps I should contact another place to see if they’ll take us.

  64. Rick D. says:

    Thanks, Russ, for the post! Very poignant. It’s fantastic to see the acceleration in growth of meetings that are established that do not focus on God, religion, Chapter 5 readings, big book studies, 12 and 12 studies, reverence of Bill W as some sort of demigod, etc. Whenever I have challenged the need for change through the years, the rebuttal was always “The program works for millions of people.” In that vein, so does Scientology, the Catholic Church, etc. Percentage wise, however, Traditional AA works for a feeble 5%. So what about the other 95% of the people who are legitimately seeking help without selling their souls for the price of admission? Can that many people be wrong? That’s why I have always cringed during the reading of Chapter 5, How It Works, during every damn AA meeting! So dehumanizing and demoralizing and a big lie! I had to eventually refrain from reading it when asked at meetings to the horror and surprise of the secretary or person running the meeting that day. “You never say ‘No’ to an AA request” was often the response with a rolling of eyes.

    The desire to stop drinking and the community support is what I believe keeps most people sober. Not the big side of religion and all those steps, slogans, reading the big book like it was the bible, having a sponsor make life decisions for new comers that are none of hers or his business, etc. My favorite meeting is “Free Thinkers” which allows critical thinking and the autonomy to not even identify oneself as an “alcoholic” after each time one speaks in a meeting. I hated that after a while. I won’t forget that I drink alcoholically when I choose to drink, so it’s not necessary for me to label myself every time I open my mouth. I get it – trust me! It’s just too bad that there is only one Free Thinkers meeting in Columbus, Ohio, attended by only a handful of people each week. This meeting has restored my faith in growth, intelligence, acceptance and change. My spouse and I are moving back to the LA area next fall, which is where I resided from 1996-2012. Obviously there are more choices for meetings and fellowship than here in the midwest. Nonetheless, its’ changing for the better and I feel like I can honestly be myself in meetings rather than use the “program” like I did alcohol to fit in and feel a part of. At some point in my early sobriety, I discovered that it was two sides of the same coin ultimately. I wasn’t authentic self drinking and I wasn’t my authentic self in AA. Additionally, I discovered that I was reenacting my shameful childhood through the members that I would pick (unconsciously) to associate with and to have sponsor me. I felt like a failure and defective because I could not wrap my brain around the “brainwashing” techniques. Either I had to accept that the “program” was insane or that I was insane – hence, growing up in a childhood with chaotic insane mother who made no sense to me as a child.

    Yes, a DESIRE TO STOP DRINKING, and fellowship and support without a life long commitment to meetings without judgment or fear mongering. That’s what I was seeking. Speaking of the traditions, I am appalled at all of the Hollywood AA members who continue to make movies and TV shows that proselytize 12 step programs in spite of the tradition to refrain from press, radio and film. Frankly, and perhaps ironically, they do such a good job of portraying the morose and defected people in meetings that one who is struggling with addiction, would likely not pursue the 12 steps after watching these sad saps sitting around in a circle.

    I enjoy this venue for sharing in discussions about the movement away from traditional AA.

  65. Mauifresh says:

    Very Nice!!!! And hopeful one meeting starting up in Palm Springs very soon! Happy Days!!! Happy Days !!! : ) Excited!!

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