No Grapevine Book for Atheists in AA
By Roger C.
I want to share with you two letters, with a document in the middle of the two letters.
The first letter was written to the Grapevine and to the AA General Service Office and mailed in early January.
This letter was a follow-up to many things: some 40 articles by nonbelievers published by the Grapevine between 1962 and 2014 and collected together as a possible book by life j; a lengthy discussion by several people involved at the time with the AA Agnostica chat room including life j, Chris G., Dianne P., Alyssa S., Ann M., JHG, Robert Mc., Gord A. and Thomas B.; a letter written by Thomas B. to officials at the Grapevine; and, finally, several articles posted on AA Agnostica.
Following the letter is the document, “The need for literature specifically for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in AA”. This document – composed of requests made by readers of AA Agnostica – was included with the first letter and sent via traditional “snail” mail. Grapevine officials had indicated that a book of its previously published articles by agnostics in AA would not be considered unless there were requests for such a book.
And at the very end is the response of the AA Grapevine, a letter which was received yesterday, February 17.
1. The Letter to the Grapevine and the General Service Office
Terrence Bedient, Chair AA General Service Board
Phyllis Halliday, General Manager, General Service Office
Mary Clare Lynch, GSO Literature Committee
Michelle Mirza, Chief Archivist, AA World Services
Ami Brophy, Executive Editor and Publisher AA Grapevine
Jon Witherspoon, Senior Editor AA Grapevine
The most haunting quote I have ever read in AA came from Bill Wilson and was published in the AA Grapevine in 1961: “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.”
In these later years have things changed for non-believers – atheists and agnostics – in AA?
Meetings are invariably held in churches. There is usually a huge poster with the 12 Steps – six with a God or a Him or a Power in them – somewhere at the front. Increasingly at meetings, “How it Works” is read and at the end everybody joins in for “God could and would if He were sought”. And most meetings in North America now end with the Christian Lord’s Prayer.
Need I go on? Suffice it to say that in some ways things have gotten worse – much worse – for non-believers in AA.
Perhaps fatally so.
Certainly, one of the things that is in short supply in AA is literature for agnostics and atheists. And I don’t mean something like “Many Paths to Spirituality” in which a Jew says the Lord’s Prayer and an atheist does the 12 Steps “just as they are written in the Big Book”. Please. Show some respect.
I have attached a document called “The need for literature specifically for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in AA”. It is a somewhat expanded version of a document I had previously sent to some of you.
The comments in this document eloquently express the need for a Grapevine book consisting of articles by and about atheists and agnostics in AA and, more generally, for literature of all kinds by and about non-believers in AA.
And I would like to make two formal requests:
- That the Grapevine decide whether or not it will publish such a book, and
- That the document “The need for literature specifically for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in AA” be distributed to ALL those attending the 2015 General Service Conference.
It is my hope that the latter request will result in Conference-approved literature truly by and about agnostics and atheists in AA.
All we can do is try, right?
Folks, as noted in the attached document, in 1976 a member of the trustees’ Literature Committee wrote that conference-approved literature was necessary to “assure non-believers that they are not merely deviants, but full, participating members in the AA Fellowship without qualification.”
It is now 2015.
The need for that literature is even greater than it was 40 years ago.
Conference-approved literature. A Grapevine book of already published articles by and about agnostics and atheists in AA.
Your consideration of this letter and of the two requests is much appreciated.
2. The need for literature specifically for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in AA
On September 7, 2014 an article was posted on AA Agnostica calling for A Grapevine Book for Atheists and Agnostics in AA. It listed thirty-nine articles by sober atheists in AA published on the Grapevine between May, 1962 and June, 2014 and then asked: “Now, wouldn’t this collection make a wonderful book?”
Next, AA Agnostica published a review of a new AA Grapevine book, Sober & Out, a collection of fifty-seven stories about gay, lesbian and the transgendered in AA. These stories had first been published by the Grapevine between 1975 and 2011.
Finally, on December 21st, a Grapevine article about an atheist in AA called From Believer to Non-Believer was re-published on AA Agnostica.
At the end of these three articles there was a form that could be filled out which allowed a reader to explain why a book specifically for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in our fellowship, published by the Grapevine, would be of value in AA.
Following are comments culled from the responses after the articles were published. What is most interesting is how modestly and yet eloquently people explain the need for this literature.
I would like to feel more included. My quest for sobriety is as valid is a person who believes in God. A Grapevine book without constant reminders that I must have a higher power or believe in God would be very helpful.
Patrick W. (Atheist, 2 months)
It is imperative for the still suffering nonbelieving alcoholic yet to come in, and the newly sober nonbelievers to be fully assured they are in fact welcome, and that AA is a place that truly desires to be of service to every alcoholic who wants help. All too many of us are the objects of scorn, ridicule, and harassment simply for what we do not believe. This can be corrected easily with a handy publication that lists stories of experience, strength and hope from nonbelievers who remained nonbelievers, and who found profound assistance and change within the Fellowship of AA.
Mark C. (Atheist, 4 years and 9 months)
It would help to balance the overwhelming god talk with practical experience without it and help AA as a whole be more like the spiritually inclusive fellowship it claims to be and not the religious fellowship it appears to be.
Christopher G. (Possibillian, 12 years)
This would be a very useful book for non believing newcomers and would encourage them to stay around and receive the love that the fellowship has to offer.
Ed S. (Atheist, 27 years)
I have struggled with this “God of the Bible” concept for a long time. A few weeks ago, I finally admitted to myself and the groups in my town of my decision. Boy, did the “merde” (pardon my French) hit the fan. I began standing outside the group circle when they said the “Lord’s Prayer.” One evening a few weeks ago, the chairman of the group decided that we would recite the AA Responsibility Statement instead of the LP. Then one of the devout Christian members said, in effect, “You mean you are going to let one idiot (looking straight at me) decide that we are not going to say the Lord’s Prayer?” He then, followed by one other member, stepped out of the circle as the rest of us recited the AA Responsibility Statement. I have not been back to a meeting since then. I participate in Agnostic/Atheist chat meetings online, since there are no such meetings within 200 miles of my town.
I live in southern Illinois in a small, very conservative Christian community. I have no choice but to attend these very “Christian oriented” AA meetings, or choose other outlets available to me online. Please consider making the Agnostic/Atheist members of AA more a part of AA. The higher power talked about in the Big Book of AA does not have to be the “God of the Bible!” There are other choices. I have heard many AA members say how they felt at their first meeting to hear about the “God” idea in our literature and in our meetings. If those people had access to a book such as the one being suggested, the newcomers might feel more comfortable about attending meetings. Thank you for considering the needs of us “outsiders.”
Donald J. (Agnostic, 1.5 years)
It would provide many stories of how one got and stayed sober without the religious entity, God, and without an assumed external/nebulous force, a Higher Power.
Dianne P. (Atheist, 6 years)
I have stopped going to AA meetings because of the constant emphasis on god in my area and then if I express myself openly, someone invariably tries to talk to me after a meeting to convince me that I am wrong. This is simply not right. I would love to be able to attend meetings freely, be myself and be able to give back. I know I could help the newcomer.
Susan B. (Agnostic, 22 years)
This is my fourth experience with AA, the last being over twenty years ago. Had there been more literature welcoming a non-theistic viewpoint, rather than insulting it, I might not have had such a struggle. I have known two people who died of their addiction rather than finding sobriety because of their exclusion from the AA way. They were open atheists and were shunned by the available groups of the era. It’s time to take a closer look at the Third Tradition and the Responsibility Pledge.
Andy L. (Buddhist, 3 months)
The book will enable, empower individuals who believe in Socratic methodology, critical thinking and inductive and deductive reasoning to feel that they have their own ability to decide what is right and wrong for them.
Frank P. (Atheist, 2 years)
My sobriety is still young, and vulnerable to any hint of false hopes. As with alot of us, this path of recovery is the only road I can take to go forward and I cannot afford to allow myself to be misled. The absolute, harsh reality of my situation and life itself must be faced straight-on for me to find the strength to stand-down this hideous disease.
I was extremely lucky to figure out for myself early on that the god concept is a gimmick to help us “let go” of some of the overwhelming burden we have accumulated over the years to clear the slate a bit for the serious positive changes we must make. By understanding the truth that I really don’t carry the weight of the world, whether there is a superhero to lift that burden from me or not, was a defining moment in my sobriety. I do not think I could have come this far if my only choice was to blindly trust in a concept that just doesn’t make much logical sense to me.
I live and attend my meetings in the Bible belt, and I know that my struggle could have been eased and my strengths made more obvious to me sooner had I been dealing with rock-solid realities from the very beginning rather than having to block out large portions of the program out of a sheer survival instinct.
Ted M. (Agnostic, 10 months)
To reach out to agnostics/atheists who are alienated from AA by all the god-talk.
Hilary J. (Agnostic, 3 years)
I love AA. As an atheist with over 26 years of continuous sobriety, I don’t have any trouble taking what I like and leaving the rest, but I have met a number of people who get the message from AA that they have to believe in God to be a member. I want them to be able to view of AA through the eyes of people like them and to know that it is possible to get and stay sober without having to violate their own sense of integrity.
John G. (Atheist, 25 years)
We have recently started a secular meeting in Swanley (England). There is, I believe, a real need for believers and non-believers alike to realise that A.A. can work for and accommodate everyone. This is particularly the case for the countless newcomers who are put off by some members overly religious posturing. Please publish a book that helps recovering alcoholics.
Lee C. (Atheist, 8 months)
There is no AA-approved literature that truly represents the agnostic or atheist in AA. Since there have been articles about this in the Grapevine, a compilation of those would easily meet this need.
Nita S. (Agnostic, 23 years)
Please publish a book of the stories of atheist and agnostics in AA. It is much needed.
Jo-Anne K. (Atheist, 27 years)
Most of the people that I associate with have lost faith in a Christian God, and prefer to be known as agnostic. They tell me they can live “not knowing”, rather than believing in something that might not be true.
Edward C. (Agnostic, 27 years)
AA folks who describe themselves as “agnostic” (of any level including “atheist”) are generally supportive of the original concepts which Bill Wilson articulated in founding AA… except, an agnostic AA-person chooses to live without a belief in God or Higher Power, and therefore rejects those portions of the AA-12-Steps in gaining (keeping) sobriety.The GRAPEVINE articles… many already published dealing with agnostic open-mindedness, would be great as a collection encompassed in a book exclusively dealing with agnostic views regarding that subject. As a Foreword, it would be wise to make the point that “agnostic AA-folks” are NOT ridiculing God-believers… they are simply saying that the need for a Deist orientation is NOT necessary for themselves. Education and fairness would be the only objective. I believe that the GRAPEVINE is well justified in being a publisher of such a book.
Les C. (Agnostic, 10 years)
To help all those members in AA that are atheist, agnostic, humanists etc feel accepted within the fellowship as legitimate.
Steve K. (Humanist, 9 years)
This would be a great addition to AA. I hope they allow the publication.
Camille L. (Atheist, 25 years)
This will offer hope that many do indeed stay sober without an interventionist higher power, and will help reflect AA in a 21st century light. We can’t keep telling people that have found a different, or no, path to spirituality that they are doomed. It is NOT true.
Ian B. (Freethinker, 6 months)
I tried to get sober in 1994. I was told I had to believe or I couldn’t get sober. I was told to fake it til I make it. In other words, lie or die. I did. But I didn’t come to believe. After 3 months at a party I had a beer. I didn’t feel safe to tell anyone, and eventually left. Took me 10 years to come back. I lost everything. But this time, because of my past experience, I knew what to expect. You don’t have to lie or die. You can be who you are and get sober. I follow the steps. I sponsor women and men, atheist, theist, agnostic and unidentified. It doesn’t matter. And as a result of my experience, I understand that all roads lead to Rome. I would like others for whom interventionist deities are not part of their belief system or not sure, know that you don’t have to believe in a god to get sober. You can be honest and thrive, not lie or die.
Jim B. (Atheist, 19 years)
There is a significant population of AA members who are not believers in the “God” or “Higher Power” described in AA’s most prominent texts (“Alcoholics Anonymous” and “12 Steps and 12 Traditions) and referred to in the “12 Steps” and “12 Traditions” posters displayed in most meeting rooms. We are minority but a substantial one. We have achieved and sustained sobriety as active and devoted members of AA. A collection of Grapevine stories written by people from this minority and published by AA Grapevine would be a meaningful statement of inclusiveness. We have yearly editions of the AA Grapevine devoted to alcoholics in prison. Why not a collection of stories written by people who hold alternative belief systems? I hope the Grapevine editorial staff gives this idea full consideration.
Russ H. (Atheist, 19 years)
It would include all who suffer.
Dan V. (Agnostic, 30 years)
We need to make the door to AA as wide as possible – this book will widen that door.
Ernie K. (Seeker, 4 years)
I came into AA an agnostic who was fearful and angry. I felt comfortable in AA because I was with my fellow alcoholics. I did not feel comfortable with the emphasis on god or a higher power because my politics and experience did not justify such a belief. However I was fearful and tried to adapt. As time went on and I began to gain confidence, due primarily to the fellowship and service, I accepted that I was not all powerful (as I insanely believed) but that the State or two people were more powerful than me. Eventually I accepted and understood that time was the arbitrator on all human and material existence and so I gained peace of mind. I was raised in a religious family but rejected god from an early age. The emphasis on a “Higher Power” or a “God” was only important to me in that it encouraged me to investigate and understand the subject. However I do believe that many folks will either not go to AA because of its emphasis on the need for a supreme being or be chased away due to members’ hostility.
Charles M. (Atheist, 32 years)
Experience has shown us that a humble surrender to the truth and willingness to live life on life’s terms (not mine) lies at the root of the healing spiritual experience. This is just as possible for the hard atheist as it is for the agnostic, pantheist or born again believer. Good sources of truth and healthy direction come from many places and many systems, a fair number of which are not theistic and do not employ the God idea in ANY sense at all. This is a fact, and we do know it if our eyes are open. Let us always be willing to surrender to humble truths such as this on a fellowship level, the same as each of us must do individually with all the facts of life.
Frank M. (Non-theist, 5 years)
I’m sick and tired of hearing the word miracle, as if the gift of sobriety is God’s work (a “miracle”) then bad things are an “un”miracle? I’ve yet to hear a member who relapsed say I had an “un”miracle. I want to read stories of agnostic/atheist members who take responsibility for their actions and the results. The AA Chapter to the Agnostic did not reassure me that it was ok to be agnostic in AA. It assumed that eventually I would see the light and have God as my Higher Power. To be truthful being an agnostic in Florida AA I often feel like a leper in AA. The nearest agnostic AA meeting to me requires a 100+ mile round trip. I’m planning to start making this trip once a month. Yes, yes, to a Grapevine Book of atheist and agnostic member stories.
Marnin M. (Agnostic, 43 years)
As a Buddhist, I do not believe in God. The insistence from AA members that I had to find a “higher power”, meaning God, kept me bouncing in and out of the rooms for 5 years. I was finally fortunate to find a sponsor who told me it didn’t matter what I believed in. What mattered was what I did to stay sober. 25 years later I am still sober and not for one day of it have I believed in God. And 25 years later, I still feel like outsider because of the standard belief that sobriety without God is impossible. The only reason I still attend meetings anymore is to be there for the person questioning the God issue, as proof that no supernatural higher power is required for full, meaningful sobriety. Publishing a book of such stories would go a long way to eliminating an obstacle many are facing in their recovery.
David M. (Buddhist, 25 years)
It would provide a resource for all AA’s to improve the ‘opening of their minds’ in relation to a proposed concept of a HP, whether believer or non-believer. Such a book would allow a further resource to be available to the general public, the same as Beyond Belief is, and show by personal experiences that ‘sobriety’ is continuously achieved and sustained by members of AA who hold no belief, or differing non-religious beliefs related to a concept of a HP. A reasonable proposition as I see it.
Harry C. (Atheist, 27 years)
I keep wondering about AAs future – some time in the future it will be irrelevant unless we evolve.
Con J. (Sober agnostic, 32 years)
Being an atheist or believing in god doesn’t get you sober. Taking a set of actions does. Keeping company with fellow travelers helps. People who cannot or will not believe in god can achieve long term sobriety. I know quite a few examples personally. Those who have difficulty with the religious nature of AA need examples of how other alcoholics have stayed sober by taking action and that they are not alone in AA.
Garry U. (Agnostic, 25 years)
It will help retain persons who otherwise would leave AA because of its religiosity.
Daniel H. (Atheist, 25 years)
Many years ago, in 1976 to be exact, an AA trustee and member of the Literature Committee, wrote that an AA pamphlet was needed “to assure non-believers that they are not merely deviants, but full, participating members in the AA Fellowship without qualification”. That pamphlet has never been approved or published by the General Service Conference. Agnostics and atheists in AA often do not feel comfortable in the rooms of AA. They do feel welcome.
A book by the Grapevine for agnostics and atheists in AA would go a long way towards making us feel as though we have a right to be a part of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many of the articles by agnostics and atheists that have been published by the Grapevine over the years are encouraging and inspiring for we un-believers. Please consider putting together and publishing such a book. It would well reflect the Responsibility Declaration adopted by AA in 1965 and its International Convention in Toronto, Canada: “I am responsible. When anyone anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA to always be there. And for that I am responsible.”
Roger C. (Agnostic, 5 years)
I NEED to hear stories of other nonbelievers that have been successful in living a happy sober life. I need understanding of how to approach the steps from an atheistic point of view. And I need to know that there are other people with the same AA struggles I am having.
Nichole K. (Atheist, 5 months)
One third of young people in the U.S. now identify their religious affiliation as “none,” according to scientific surveys. U.S. courts, in deciding that the non-religious cannot be ordered to attend A.A. meetings, have ruled that A.A. is, in fact, religious. We need to make it clearer that our doors are wide open to the increasing number of non-believers in today’s society. None of our current literature, including the new pamphlet “Many Paths to Spirituality” makes this clear enough. I heartily endorse the suggestion that Grapevine publish a new book of previously published articles written by nonbelievers.
Eric C. (Atheist, 31 years)
I spent many years in AA on the “fake it till you make it” plan. There were many AA’s that said if you don’t believe in God or you don’t pray, you’ll drink. I now know that is not the truth. I think getting the message to the others who do not believe in a deity, that they too can get sober and stay sober is the fair and humane thing to do. A book such as this would be most helpful in doing so.
George S. (Atheist, 30 years)
Over the years I have sponsored many women who struggled with the GOD word and with the religiosity of some meetings. I have been able to help them with some AA literature (Living Sober) and also most of the pamphlets are now gender neutral so women feel included. To have a collection of Grapevine stories from over the years from non believers would be VERY helpful to be able to hand to new comers and non believers alike. I have stayed sober without a belief in GOD and enjoy a wonderful, happy life full of AA friends and service work.
Sandra T. (Free thinker, 27 years)
I have long appreciated the Grapevine’s breadth of coverage of the world of alcoholics. No one could read an issue without recognizing what a varied lot we are. It would be well within the spirit of AA, and another credit to The Grapevine, if you were to agree to allow publication of selected articles related to nonbelievers as a means to bring still-suffering nonreligious alkies into our fold. They deserve a chance to live.
As the recent Pew study shows, almost 20% of Americans are non-religious, as am I. I have heard many newcomers in We Agnostics meetings express their relief at finding a nonreligious setting in which to get well. That’s what AA is for, Let those who prefer or are indifferent to more traditional God-talk continue to have the bulk of AA meetings and literature, but let’s make sure we encourage those who can’t stand religious references. Keep up the good work!
Pat N. (Atheist, 34 years)
It would be nice to read about others belief in the power of themselves or their higher self to keep them sober.
Mary Ann H. (Humanist, 2 years)
Widen the gate.
Jennie K. (Freethinker, 1.5 years)
Since I’m the one who wrote the article about it, I have already argued at length for it. Seeing the responses we have gotten I guess I would just like to stress that this needs to be a book by us nonbelievers, and for us, and about us.
We have seen plenty of attempts to write a book with stories about and for and by everybody, such as Spiritual Awakenings, which I really think is a good book – at any rate I found quite a few stories of “our kind” in there, and read those, and even some of the others. I do appreciate that we got some representation in that book. But representation is not enough, we need our very own book, and with the stories selected we can have it.
Again I think this is important because it does help foster unity if this is done within a mainstream AA framework, and the grapevine can help us with that. We can easily write books with our own stories, and already have. But we need to feel welcome in AA, we need a gesture to the effect that AA does not want to keep sending non-believers out to drink some more “until they are ready”, but wants to include us, the way we are.
life-j (Agnostic, 26 years)
“Our atheists and agnostics widened our gateway so that all who suffer may pass through regardless of belief or un-belief.” (Bill W., AA Comes of Age) Perhaps many AAers are not aware of statements like this from Bill W. The word must get out!!!!
John M. (Freethinker, 7 years)
I came to AA in 2002 because I was unable to control my alcoholic drinking. I struggled for nearly two years trying to understand and accept the Twelve Steps and the writings of The Big Book into my life. I failed miserably. I finally arrived at a treatment centre, Homewood in Guelph, in July 2004. I finally realized I had to take responsibility for my own life and change accordingly. This I did and continue to do.
When I talk to new fellow alcoholics I find that accepting a higher power external to themselves the greatest stumbling block to their recovery. I try to relay my own experiences and it would help greatly if there was AA literature (i.e. The Grapevine) which also expressed an alternate view.
Bob H. (Agnostic, 10 years)
After almost 17 years of sobriety, I admitted I never felt “connected to H.P.” So, I threw in the towel when my shoelaces broke, never having “gotten” steps 2 & 3 with this “God” business. After all that time sober in AA, I convinced myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic. But, quit the fellowship? I figured if I really tried harder to sabotage everything, and sank even lower, “God” would answer my prayers once I really qualified as an alcoholic. THEN I would believe. Been there. Done that. Several times. Still don’t have the T-shirt. Coming up empty-handed again.
Laura M. (Agnostic, 6 months)
I feel so alienated by the literature in general, there is nothing in the official cannon from AA that makes me feel welcome or identified with. Guess you guys would rather have me die than find a way out that doesn’t include your concept of a higher power. Thanks for that.
Suzana V. (Non-drinking, nil)
I continue to see people driven away from the help they need by the religious language and practices in most AA meetings, e.g. beginning and ending with prayer, any kind of prayer to an unseen being. They need to at least read that there are non-religious members who find and grow in sobriety through support of the Fellowship and/or practice of the 12 Steps without the “god idea.”
Jeb B. (Monist, 36 years)
Since I got sober, there has only been one other man who was openly agnostic/atheist. He got fed up with being told he had to find a God & pray in order to stay sober. He left AA. Fear keeps me quiet about my NON-belief. I am in the closet in sobriety, which is pretty sad. I am so grateful to a man named Wally from CA, who was sober 30 years & visited our group one day. He spoke openly about being agnostic & gave me so much HOPE! Sound familiar? What are you guys so afraid of?
Joy R. (Agnostic, 9 years)
I’m not going to be polite about this. AA service structure as a whole, its unwillingness to acknowledge the secular nature of a vast contingency of its members through official literature publication, in a respectful and collaborative manner, is a slap in the face. For AA to continue to remain relevant and actually help newcomers recover in an inclusive non-theist manner, it is absolutely necessary to address these individuals in an open and direct manner through literature channels. Publishing of such a collection of alternative non-higher power related recovery experiences would be a step in the right direction.
P.S. The recent publication of “Many Paths to Spirituality” as a means to address more atheist members in AA was downright vile. I piss on that pamphlet.
Neev G. (Freethinker)
Newcomers, especially millennials, younger people born between 1980 and 2000, many who profess no religious orientation, need stories which demonstrate that one can get and stay sober in AA without belief in God. Since 1962 the GV has published many such stories, relating the reality that long-time and successful recovery does occur for agnostics, atheists, freethinkers and others who don’t follow the predominant Christian orthodoxy as depicted in the Big Book and the Twelve and Twelve. Why not collate these stories into a book for non-believers? Our co-founder Bill W. often emphasized that anyone, with belief or without belief, are members of AA if they ascribe to the Third Tradition that the only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking.
Thomas B. (Apophatic, 42 years)
So other with beliefs such as mine will feel included.
Peggy H. (Agnostic, 2 years)
There is a countless amount of people like myself who believed that AA was unsafe for unconventional believers or non-believers. I was lucky enough to have a WAFT group in my home town who gave me the love and support to remain sober but more importantly didn’t care if I believed in a higher power or god because ALL that mattered to them was not picking up the first drink! I believe a collection of Agnostic/Freethinker/Atheist voices will save people’s lives and will fulfill AA’s mission of 12th step work!
Dorothy H. (Agnostic Pagan, 3.5 years)
Although I have only been sober 3 years I first attended AA 42 years ago and was a repeat offender but did manage a 10 year sobriety but always got fed up with the divine message and stayed away but then after various periods returned to alcohol. I had to come back or die but feel I am always being judged for my non belief with most telling me that it is my lack of faith that is making me drink. The ironic part is that I am the only member that still attends my local meeting that I first attended 20 years ago after moving to Ireland; all the god fearing members seem to have departed.
Lionel M. (Atheist, 3 years)
AA isn’t supposed to be an exclusively Christian organisation, but is not very welcoming to non-Christians.
Sean M. (Atheist, 18.5 years)
I know that as many believers go back drinking as Atheists. Whatever else God may be, He is not the way. Of course people can believe in whatever they want to believe in and for some their belief may help them, but, getting and staying sober is different. An atheist feels insulted by Chapter 4, and it does them no good at all. All mentions of God, prayer etc. is also an insult to Atheists so that is why I find it hard to swallow. AA should be for everyone.
Duncan Mc. (Atheist, 36 years)
It’s been tricky trying to stay honest and true to self when listening to suggestions by believers in a personal god/higher power. This type of literature (adhering to the 12 steps & principles) has been extremely comforting and helpful.
Carolyn O. (Agnostic, 3.5 years)
So many of us don’t buy the magical, miracle or the mythical preached as necessary to stay sober in AA. Life is a beautiful gift, full of wonder, awe and mystery, without sobriety I missed it all. Other alcoholics who, like myself, are realists, need to feel welcome in AA without any form of coercion to believe in the bizarre! All we want/need is sobriety.
Andy M. (Skeptic, 32 years)
A.A. today is stuck in binary thinking and this book could shake our fellowship lose from the “Either God is or he is not” ultimatum of “We Agnostics.” Deists believe “lights are on – nobody home,” or more literally that a supreme being created the universe then left. So while there’s a god there’s no one to pray to. Humanists believe in the goodness and value of people. They believe in a “higher purpose” more than a power. Do they have to squeeze themselves into some G.O.D. acronym for full membership in AA? The Big Book is not central to every A.A. member’s sobriety nor is such adherence obligatory or necessary. Having literature that describes the A.A. experience that doesn’t assume an interfering/intervening higher power levels the playing field for those who want A.A. but don’t care for the Amish-like devotion to old, quaint practices and tenets.
Give A.A. members a choice and let them vote with the power of the purse. Given more choices, we will engage and grow the membership. Living Sober is a secular A.A. text but written by one person. This Grapevine Book could be a collection of the A.A. way by skeptics, doubters, apathesits, realists, and the rest of a much wider membership than was conceived in 1930s middle-America.
Joe C. (Realist, 38 years)
I am a current subscriber to Grapevine, and appreciate your work. Such a collection in a book would be a great help to me, and many of my friends in AA. I “take” an AA meeting for women into a local rehab facility each week. Having a book like this to share and distribute would be a great thing.
Mary R. (Atheist, 7 years)
This book will make visible to all that the family of AA is open and tolerant to all who have a desire to stay sober, and that they can achieve successful sobriety as non-believers.
Wally K. (Atheist, 42 years)
For me, for the newcomer, for the believers and the non-believers.
Vic L. (Agnostic, 35 years)
AA has many SOBER Agnostics, Atheists, and Free Thinkers who get shouted down by more dogmatic AA’s all too often. This book would help to balance the tide waters…
Herb Y. (Sober, 7 years)
I have been sober for 30.5 years and for 30 of those years I have been a nonbeliever. I came in and was hungry and hit the ground running… I loved it all so I never really cared that “normal” AA members thought I should believe in God, I knew the Third Tradition meant what it said (My sponsor was Earle Marsh, the Author of Physician Heal Thyself) but I have seen others struggle mightily and I think we are disenfranchising an awful lot of people with all the higher power stuff and we are stagnant in our growth.
David S. (Nonbeliever, 30 years)
AA’s fellowship is both its prime attraction and dynamic for me. I could use more readings that don’t rub religion or spirituality in my face, but keep up the welcome I find – and need – in working the program alongside everyone who simply is an alcoholic first & foremost.
Kurt W. (Agnostic, 10 months)
I believe we need as many tools as we can provide to our fellows so that nothing may impede one’s progress in recovery. Such a book will be extremely helpful with newcomers who are unsure of their “religious leanings”.
Devon D. (Agnostic, 10 years)
I’ve read many of these titles, but would love to have them all in one place. They would be of good use to Newcomers who aren’t Religious and feel outside the group – give them a sense of belonging and help with the loneliness we all feel as alcoholics. It would be nice if they were able to satisfy their deep need to belong. The alcoholic who comes to AA feels quite alienated from society; he/she does not need to feel this from fellow alcoholics. Perhaps it would free them to add their experience to the group and we all might gain thereby.
Glenna R. (Skeptic, 17 years)
It will increase unity in the AA fellowship for nonbelievers and reach out the hand of AA to those who think they have to adopt another’s concept of higher power. Bill Wilson wanted all seeking sobriety to find a home in AA. Not just believers in an interventionist god. The only requirement is a desire to stop drinking. Thank you.
Craig C. (Freethinker, 33 years)
This collection would make for very useful and supportive reading in my effort to end my dependence on alcohol.
Jack W. (Atheist)
It would provide examples and ideas for likeminded AAs, and, more particularly, to encourage atheist and agnostic prospects and newcomers.
Gabe S. (Atheist, 2 years and 10 months)
Being a humanist, freethinker, atheist, agnostic, etc. is not a character defect.
Robert B. (Humanist, 1 year)
This book would help those in early sobriety and are reluctant to fully participate in AA due to the sometimes intense emphasis on God to better understand how AA can work for non-believers and non-religious types.
Paul M. (Agnostic, 2 years)
I never found the BB of any major help except for the stories which helped me to identify. Grapevine was a major tool for many years-again due to the storoes shared. A book of stories from fellow atheist /agnostic / freethinker / non-theist alcoholics who have found ways to stay sober in AA by finding their own tools or by modifying / adapting those of the “12 steps”, I believe would help many who now are lost to sobriety due to the great insistence on the “god factor” by most AAers.
Sarah C. (28 years and 9 months)
I would love to see a grapevine book published which speaks directly to the agnostic or atheist AA. This would surely help to make more newcomers feel welcome and at home in AA.
Ingrid S. (Agnostic, 26 years)
There is not enough literature for freethinkers and such. This book would just be one more small step in the right direction.
Whitney P. (Epistemology, 1 week)
I am an alcoholic and an atheist. AA has saved my life, however I have never felt 100% comfortable in meetings until I came across an Agnostic meeting in London. After that I started two other Atheist / Agnostic groups with the help of like minded AA members. Had there been a pamphlet or book such as the one proposed, which had a bunch of stories from members who are sober without belief in God or a higher power my journey would certainly have been helped.
Andy B. (Atheist, 6 years and 6 months)
This will be so helpful, especially with sponsorship of newcomers who are struggling.
Devon D. (Agnostic, 10 years)
It might make the difference between a non-religious newcomer deciding to come back or keep running. Which is what it is all about isn’t it? Our Area does not have any AAA meetings, so this book could be very useful for the newcomers as well as myself and others.
Janet Z. (Agnostic, 19 months)
AA literature that does not emphasize a Judeo-Christian patriarchal philosophy would provide an inviting alternative to many suffering alcoholics who are turned off by by what they experience as a limiting religious focus. It would also provide a welcome relief to those many AA members who accept a higher power, but whose spirituality is not religion based.
Lee O. (Spiritual, 28 years)
So that we can feel connected to other sober atheist and agnostics and know we are not alone.
Holly D. (Athiest, 4 years)
I have been an active and sober member of the Fellowship for 30 years, in constant service, sponsoring etc, but hugely regret the absence of any literature or support for those of us who respectfully do not share a god consciousness as classically described in the Literature. This initiative gives us the opportunity for AA to rectify this, primarily as many potential members who are currently put off by AA because of their personal belief, are missing out on the opportunity for a healthy and sober life which is our primary objective surely.
Cyril C. (Atheist, 30 years)
I am aware of how many people either will not come near AA or whose relatives and/or other professionals will not tell them about AA because it is a “religious” programme. I was with two professionals only recently who both stoutly told me with certainty that “AA is a religious programme” so they “would never recommend it to clients”. We have to change this image which seems to be gaining ground. My daughter has a friend to whom she would like to talk about AA, but she has told me clearly that she will not do that “because of all the talk about God”. AA has to change with the times – people nowadays are highly suspicious of religion and the religious – however much we may stress that it is a “spiritual programme” we must acknowledge that the word “spiritual”, however mistakenly, is now seen as a synonym for “religious”, and we have to change our language to reach out to those still suffering the lonely disease of alcoholism. I believe that a book such as is being suggested would be a wonderful tool to convince people that there is room in AA for all sorts of people and beliefs and that sobriety is possible for all, and has been achieved by many with non-religious and non-spiritual beliefs and practices.
Mary-Rose P. (Alcoholic, 37 years)
To retain new members who retreat because of the religious undertones of the program.
Lisa T. (Atheist)
Why would it be helpful to print Grapevine stories by recovering atheists for nonbelievers? Because the third tradition demands it. Period. Whenever ANYONE anywhere reaches out for help, let the hand of AA always be there and for that I am RESPONSIBLE. Everyone is in a different stage of development regarding belief in a higher power. Who are we to judge those behind or ahead of us? Start where the client is. Welcome both nonbelievers and believers. Don’t discourage them to quit before the miracle.
Helen L. (Non-hierarchic, 25 years)
I find the traditional AA book to be too religious, sexist and outdated. I tried to read it and it didn’t help. I couldn’t get through it. I’ve had more luck finding articles and blogs on-line that I can relate w/that have helped me stay sober. It’d be nice to have these in a condensed book that could be readily available to newbies to AA, like me. 🙂
Tab W. (Agnostic, 231 days)
I’ve been to many thousands of meetings in more than 40 states and love being sober. I’ve been to all sorts of meetings, obviously, and am convinced AA would better serve its Primary Purpose if it practiced inclusion of people who believe in something other than what our Christian founders did. That includes Freethinkers, Buddhists, Atheists and Agnostics, and non-religious people. My home group is primarily composed of people who see God as an anthropomorphic interventionist masculine deity and it makes it hard on me as well as many, if not most, newcomers. The Big Book is still treated like “The Gospel”.
Curt F. (Non-theist, 32 years)
Over frustrated by the god thing in AA!
Tom V. (Agnostic, 8 months)
A book of collected Grapevine stories from atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, non-theists is something needed by both long-term members and by newer members of AA with sincerely held viewpoints involving the non-existence of any sort of higher power or god. I believe that such a book will reduce isolation that is currently experienced by those of us who are not believers. It is also something that I may give to newer members who are committed non-theists.
I have been a long-term member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I am tired of the disrespect and callous indifference that is foisted on anyone who dares to state that he or she does not recognize any sort of intercessory supernatural deities.
Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
Chrissy Q. (Atheist, 34 years)
Very recently I was about to step out of AA. I was so scared and torn. I know I am an alcoholic and I know I need recovery, but I couldn’t stand trying to fit a square peg into a round hole anymore. I just couldn’t pretend anymore. I’m so glad that I spoke out, as a fellow member led me to aaagnostica.org and all of the wonderful information and resources that have made me feel like I am not alone. I have new hope and enthusiasm for my recovery. I believe that a book of this sors would help SO many people. Not just help people, but actually save lives. I wonder how many people leave the program and die each year because they don’t believe in god? Please publish the book!! I know Bill would agree.
Tiffany O. (Atheist, 2.5 years)
Please continue to print agnostic atheist stories that show that members stay sober but don’t find God. Too often times the stories are shaming in so far as the storyteller sees the error of their ways and finds God. Recovery is possible without this being the case. I am proof of that.
Nick C. (Atheist, 8 years)
After a good try in my youth and college years, I decided there was nothing to it – religion, that is, and I dumped it. Fairly quickly, I felt like I’d shed a ball and chain, and I’ve never looked back.
Dave B. (Atheist, 1 year)
I’m still an agnostic, even after trying to believe in God for all of my life. It would be helpful to read a book of AA literature that didn’t tell me that I will eventually “get over it.”
Denise B. (Agnostic, 27 years)
Literature that tells the story of how “even” athiests like these speakers, managed to get and stay sober within the fellowship of AA would go a long way toward helping potential members scale the god-barbed-wire that keeps so many of us at bay and perhaps doomed to the alcoholic’s alternatives to recovery.
Further, for those who do make it into AA, this particular consolidation of ESH could help many athiests stay in AA without using the god-excuse to flee in horror from a fellowship that is meant to be about staying sober and helping others achieve sobriety and not about the g-word religions so many members are peddling in the rooms of AA.
Scott A. (Atheist, 14 years, 1 month, 2 weeks)
Because “the truth” is important. There are many in AA that are telling newcomers that if you do not believe in God/A Higher Power you cannot stay sober. This is simply untrue. Some those who stay sober without God are not “real alcoholics”. I think AA needs to be accepting of all who want a sober life. Should I live a life of alcoholic pain and misery because I do not believe in a deity? We need to make everyone feel welcomed in AA. A book such as this would be helpful in doing so.
George S. (Atheist, 30 years)
It is a mystery to me that it isn’t already written and available. All minority groups in AA should be catered for. Our Fellowship is open to people of every persuasion who wish to recover. Why should atheists and agnostics be excluded and disregarded?
Ian H. (Freethinker, 28 years)
There are no meetings of nonbelievers in my area and I have yet to meet any non believing members. It would be important to me that AA as a whole recognizes the struggle and success of nonbelievers in the program.
Alan S. (Atheist, 5 months)
We must be an inclusive organization or fall by the wayside in a changing world.
Charles M. (Atheist, 32 years)
It would certainly make it harder for critics to call AA a religious cult.
Ted R. (Non-theist)
From my first meeting in 1981 to May 1, 1988, I never put 90 days together in a row. I heard consistently that it was vital that I believed in God or there was no chance that I could be sober. And I believed it. I had begged to believe in God those 7 years, but I never had any indication there was such a force. Then in November 1987, I went to We Agnostics in Hollywood. I saw a group of people who were sober, studying the steps, and who either did not believe in God or were uncertain. A few more months stewed but thinking of this, I went to the hospital on February 1, 1988 for my 4th detox, and have been sober since.
The suggested book will provide a means for those who do not believe in God, whether they are certain there is none or (like me) have no clue, to understand that they too can stay sober. Isn’t that the idea? “When anyone anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA to always be there. For that, [WE] are responsible.”
Sherril Nell W. (Agnostic, 26 years, 8 months, 7 days)
As the world moves in a more secular direction, AA is seen as religious, especially by young people. Although there are sober atheists and agnostics in AA, it is my experience that we do relatively poorly in helping this demographic. The wider our gateway, the better.
Bob K. (Atheist, 23 years)
In a word, recognition. In another word, acceptance. The AA Grapevine might ask the trustees Literature Committee for the stories which atheists and agnostics submitted in connection with the call for stories made as a result of the Advisory Action calling for literature on spirituality. These stories have not been used and with the issuance of the pamphlet “Many Paths to Spirituality” clearly will not be used. Why not benefit from them?
Paul W. (Atheist, 25 years)
This proposed/suggested book would be a wonderful way for the Grapevine to re-enforce the idea that AA is open to and embraces anyone and everyone regardless of their belief or lack of belief; that a belief in god is not necessary to achieve a lifetime of sobriety.
Denis K. (Atheist, 39 years)
Please, PLEASE: it is an embarrassment that such a book has not yet been published. A.A. should be – and in many respects is – a beacon of open-minded tolerance in an overcritical world.
If we can not only put up with but love drunks, how can we draw a line that excludes any who have the misfortune to be like us?
Ernie K. (Unconventional, 5 years)
Congratulations to the Grapevine for taking yet one more open-minded initiative, publishing a book for LGBT people. Gives me ever more hope that the book for and about agnostics and other non-believers is going to happen soon.
life-j. (Straight, 26 years)
So that those new and not so new to the program can learn that you can stay sober without a personal, intervening God.
Gord A. (Post-believer, 37 years)
I so desperately needed to warm welcome of the rooms of AA to start my recovery. But as I learned that my atheism was not a character defect but a valid part of myself, those same rooms became unwelcoming. The insistence that sobriety could not be maintained without turning one’s will over to a Higher Power eventually drove me away. A recovering alcoholic needs that support, not the dogma. Any small recognition that for some, the path to sobriety does not include a HP, could be the difference between feeling included or feeling cast out.
Kjerstin G. (Atheist, 23 months)
It would help the still drinking or newcomer non theist alcoholic to feel she or he belonged in AA and could stay sober here.
Alma P. (Atheist, 28 years)
After 17 years of heavy attendance and participation in AA, and in the midst of a real mental breakdown, I drank for one day, and then had 4 more drinks over the next 5 months. When I stopped again last March, realizing I was playing Russian Roulette with a bottle, I started processing the rage and resentments that had been building against AA. I was pissed at AA because I had never found “GOD.”
I had tried church shopping, reading spiritual books, praying to a God that I really didn’t believe cared about me. I had been raised in a faith-based home, but my religious upbringing coupled with some childhood trauma made me fear the God of my understanding. When AA said, “God as you understand him,” I finally admitted I had never understood him (and it DEFINITELY had to do with God’s MALE gender as espoused by the Christian religion that permeates AA). Saying the Lord’s Prayer at the end of each meeting made me angry. “Heavenly father” and “earthly father” were definitely being confused emotionally, although intellectually I had already “dealt with” my past. I felt like I was such a freak, not having GOD all wrapped up at 17 years sober. After I drank, by the way, several people told me they were glad I drank because they thought I was going to kill myself.
Since my return this March, I finally started the first “We Agnostics” group in Arizona and have been vocal about my disbelief in an interventionist GOD that AA promotes. I wish there had been more in AA literature about those of us that stay sober without GOD. I wish I had seen the webstite, www.aaAgnostica.org as a resource, a site that connects me to thousands of agnostics and atheist alcoholics who stay sober by staying ACTIVE in AA, not thinking about it (which is what prayer and meditation seem to be for me).
I recently read the Many Paths to Spirituality pamphlet, but found it still condescending to agnostics and atheists, just like the Big Book’s chapter called We Agnostics. No wonder people are looking for other solutions outside AA that offer secular recovery. The problem is, it’s not AA and after looking at the alternative versions of AA steps offered on the website, I just wish AA would allow the experience of atheists and agnostics to be expressed in “AA Approved Literature.”
To me, spirituality is LIVING the principles of the program, not reading spiritual books. I am an action-oriented person, and I’d like to see AA expand itself. Otherwise, more and more people like me will continue to feel like an outsider, and I know that is not AA’s purpose, but it sure felt that way since I wasn’t “buying in” to the God concept.
Laura M. (Adventurous, 8 months again, after 17 years)
AAs who either don’t believe in God or aren’t sure if He/She exists deserve to be represented. Whenever God is a big part of someone’s story I feel that it is far less helpful to me than a story from someone who is an atheist or agnostic. I benefit from anything program related much more in a huge way when God is not part of the equation.
Mireille W. (Atheist, almost 2 years)
A book for the atheists, agnostics, naturalists, freethinkers, rationalists, humanists, and non-theists in AA is a smart idea. We are a loyal, literate, book-buying bunch who are growing in numbers and have been neglected by the publishers of AA literature. Right now we are buying lots of non-AA books about how we can get and stay sober in AA – simply because AA doesn’t publish one.
Your new book, “Sober & Out” is a fine example of the Grapevine’s ability to provide what is needed. Please publish a similar book for the secular community in AA. We will buy it.
Skip D. (Atheist, 13 years)
We nonbelievers have been part of AA since the very beginning. We belonged to the Fellowship of recovering alcoholics even before there was an Alcoholics Anonymous. Our sobriety is based on the true heart of AA: the Fellowship and the 24-Hour Plan. The AA Preamble, written by an editor of the Grapevine, expresses eloquently how AA works for us. A pamphlet for us is long overdue.
John L. (Freethinker, 46 years)
A meeting in print where identification takes place in more than one form.
Chris G. (Agnostic, 12 years)
I first got sober in 2002 and stayed sober in AA for 5, but the god thing was always bothering me. Came back last year and contacted our intergroup and got the names of two Atheist/Agnostics in AA. Shortly after that we do have a “We Agnostics” meeting on Tuesday in Jacksonville, Florida.
Luke O. (Atheist, 18 months)
There is very little in our literature to help the agnostic or atheist who truly wants to get and stay sober, but cannot accept a theistic way of life. Many people get and stay sober without a conventional Higher Power. The Grapevine already has quite a collection of stories that share this type of experience, strength, and hope. It would be great to compile those stories for atheists and agnostics the way it has been done for the gay and lesbian community.
Nita S. (Agnostic, 23 years)
It would be helpful for material for newcomers and meetings.
Chris R. (Atheist, 9 years)
We have just started a “We Agnostics” meeting in Palm Springs, CA. There has been a much greater positive response than expected. Seems like it’s time for atheists and agnostics to come out of the closet. Reading the stories of others has always been helpful to me and I presume it will be for others.
Faith R. (Agnostic or Freethinker, 36 years)
It is essential that the position of god in the AA program does not stand in the way of people’s ability to use AA to get and stay sober. People can get sober no matter what they believe and this position makes AA even stronger. As a side note, people getting sober in, for example, Iran, are not calling their higher power god.
Bob C. (Skeptic, 5+ years)
There is too much emphasis on religion in AA. Many meetings close with the Christian Lord’s Prayer. This puts many a person off the program. I had resentment from childhood against my parents and the religion they indoctrinated me with. This was a factor in a 14 year relapse after struggling in AA based sobriety for 6 years.
An Agnostic meeting in Durham NC saved my life. While I now accept other people’s beliefs and their need to express them, I still don’t think the endless discussions, about god’s will vs. self will, do any good. The whole thing is nonsense. All I needed was to understand that I was not-god; and that there was a power greater than myself in the universe that I could tap into. As it says in the chapter to the agnostics, the great reality deep within me.
Eric H. (Agnostic, 3 years, 11 months)
I feel it would be wise for AA to get ahead of the curve on this. The upcoming generations will find it increasingly difficult to relate to the BB as written, and are also increasingly rejecting and/or reformulating traditional religion.
Consider the responsibility pledge. It is our job to reach out and be there. A book of this sort will serve a population that is only going to continue to grow.
Ian B. (Freethinker, 9 months)
I need to hear & share with others who do not believe in god.
Myrna E. (Fabulous)
My husband who has 6 years, has, and is really struggling with the use of the term God mentioned so much in the literature and at the meetings.
I had a hard time at first understanding his problem with this, but now I can see his concern, and having read a bit of atheist AA literature, I see no reason to exclude their viewpoint. AA is not wholly a religious organization, yet it does seem at times we slip into quite a bit of the religious rhetoric. Even I, who have religious beliefs, become uncomfortable with the members who express the program in a strict religious context. We should be tolerant and open to the atheist, this is a program for alcoholics. Many principles of the program came from many different beliefs, as well as good psychological practices. Please consider the good this will accomplish for the better of all.
Debra S. (Agnostic, 25 years)
This book would be helpful because I feel excluded by a lot of AA literature. I hear “How It Works” read at every meeting, basically telling me I have to have a Higher Power or I will die. It says I can define my own, but that’s not really true. If you read the steps, it has to be something I can turn my will and my life over to, loving and caring, responds to prayers such as remove my defects, listens to me and provides me with direction, etc. I am tired of being told I don’t “get it” and to keep trying. I am a non-believer and I have stayed sober a long time without a higher power, so stop lying to us and telling us it can’t be done.
Beth H. (Agnostic, 29 years)
I’m concerned that if I can’t find a way to feel that I still fit into AA, my sobriety will be at greater risk.
David W. (Atheist, 32 years)
I love the stories in the back of the Big Book but would appreciate stories I can really relate to. For many years I’ve tried to get sober in AA but the continuous mention of “God” would justify my going back out, because I “didn’t fit in” or the persons who would verbally accost me and my lack of belief.
Elyssa M. (Atheist, 6 months)
I know many atheists/agnostics who are not availing themselves of AA due the perception, rightly or wrongly, that it is a religious organization. I urge the organization to display its openness to accept those troubled by alcoholism regardless of faith or lack thereof.
Christine L. (Atheist, 18 months)
I think it is past time to have a book of stories by atheists, agnostics, free thinkers, etc. There are certainly plenty of us out here who would appreciate one.
Tom H. (Atheist, 23 years)
The agnostic, atheist and freethinker in A.A. needs to know that A.A. and the steps can work for them without their being required to change their worldview or to adopt the beliefs of others.
The Big Book and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions portray agnostics and atheists as people who have not yet seen the light. Meetings open with a reading from “How it Works” proclaiming, “There is One who has all power. That One is God”, and then demands that “We find Him now”!
This creates an atmosphere that makes the agnostic, atheist or freethinker feel that his or her views are unwelcome and that the program cannot be properly worked without belief in a supernatural and all powerful God.
A book of stories written by others in AA who are staying sober without belief in a God will provide support to these people, helping them relate to other alcoholics and assuring they have a place in A.A. The book would also be useful in educating believers that there are indeed many paths of spirituality in A.A., and that even an atheist can practice the underlying principles found in the steps and find sobriety and happiness in the fellowship.
John S. (Atheist, 26 years)
Since I was an atheist before I came to the 12 steps, I came up with an acronym for “GOD” as “Grateful, Optimistic Disorder”. Since there is, for me, no “order” in the universe and, further, because being thankful for where I am and optimistic about the future guide me to a better way of life. I adopted that definition of a “higher power”.
Mike P. (Atheist, 3 years)
Such a book would help all members of AA understand that it is possible to get sober, remain sober and have good long term sobriety even if a member doesn’t believe in a god. This would definitely help the non theistic members to be accepted and feel accepted by everyone in the fellowship. Since being a part of the AA Community is a key and perhaps the critical key to recovery, this book would open the gates for many who reject AA because they do not feel accepted by AA. It’s time.
Neil F. (Atheist, 28 years)
It would help others like myself who “go along to get along” about “God” see they could be A PART of AA and stay SOBER without God.
Glen G. (Atheist, 5 ½ years)
I recently started an open meeting for agnostics, atheists and all others not only for myself but for the several alcoholics in our local fellowship who have died by their own hands in recent years, and most importantly for those still alive and suffering. Those that died were atheists, agnostics or terribly ashamed and self-loathing Christians. Identification with mainstream, traditional, God talking AA was difficult for them.
Beliefs are surface identifications just as alcohol is only a symptom, one of many, of alcoholism; but identification is what attracts us to the fellowship and inherent program within it. Atheists and agnostics and attendant beliefs are a special interest group, just as young peoples, LGBT’s, men’s and women’s groups are. I feel that any book, booklet, or pamphlet in each of these venues would be most appropriate as an identification tool of attraction to the fellowship and suggested program of recovery of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Christopher G. (Atheist, 12 years)
I would love to see an AA book that tells of the experiences of sober AAs who do not believe in a “Higher Power” as it is presented in all the main AA literature. I would love it if newcomers who don’t believe could have hope that they, too, could get and stay sober in this wonderful fellowship. Thank you for your consideration.
John G. (Non-believer, 32 years)
There are so many people who come to A.A. but do not stay, and one of the chief reasons I have noticed is the emphasis on God and “God talk.” A.A. needs to evolve in order to serve the changing ideas of people who seek recovery. A book or pamphlet provided specifically for this growing “special interest” group would reaffirm our primary purpose.
Patrick N. (Humanist, 5 + years)
There are some that can’t stomach a “Higher Power” of any sort. This book would be a life saver for those unfortunates who are stranded in areas where non-believer meetings are verboten. I would include a section on how to gently inform the others that “I don’t believe…”. I was surprised when I did it, and everyone there was cool with it. Wisely, I picked the right meeting to reveal that info!
James T. (Atheist, 3 years)
It would be a step forward towards the inclusiveness which our founders repeatedly stressed throughout AA literature.
James O’D. (AA member, 7 years)
Had it not been for an Atheist and Agnostic AA Group in a nearby town, I would never have entered the doors of AA. It took me 35 years to get there. Now that I truly understand what AA has to offer, I feel comfortable (most of the time) going to any AA meeting. I have sat at meetings of alternative programs where people have shared the trauma they’ve experienced via AA because “God” was shoved down their throats. The proposed book would let others know that the only requirement for AA is a desire to stop drinking. Period.
Marianne P. (Atheist, 65 days)
I find myself struggling to feel like an equal partner in recovery. My fellows, who are almost exclusively Christian, are all polite and friendly. However, it’s quite clear that they do not understand my lack of belief. Most of them will openly share that a belief in God is absolutely fundamental to recovery. I find myself avoiding several meetings I used to attend regularly because of the constant testimony. At times I feel very uncomfortable and alien.
Ken T. (Atheist, 9 years)
Many of the new-comers I have worked with over the years have found lasting sobriety because I didn’t insist they have a “God” to get and stay sober. In the last decade or so, the number of people coming in with alternative views to the judeo-christian path, or even the “God” path, has increased. Who knows how many have been lost because of the propensity for some groups to insist they must have God or even a “higher power” to stay sober. A lot of my Native American brothers and sisters do not respond to the idea of “higher power” but do to other powers. It would be helpful if we had an “AA-approved” publication that would show the varieties of non-believers that stay sober in AA. Especially now, when so many of our groups seem to think that such a belief is a requirement for AA and sobriety, which untold numbers have proven throughout AA history is not true (untold, because no such records are kept). I was fortunate to know several Atheists/Agnostics and non-theists in my early sobriety (1981) who helped me tremendously.
John R. (Non-theist, 33.8 years)
I was religiously abused as a child by a teacher. The god message that I drag with me is not only difficult but counter productive. I can tolerate a wide swath of religious concepts, but dogmatic language causes a near allergic reaction. Thankfully I got sober a while back, in a community that wasn’t inclined to proselytizing. It would be great to hear voices that share my experience, strength and hope.
Larry K. (Humanist, 21 years)
Because there are thousands of us out here!
Neil M. (Atheist, 30 years)
Steve A. (Atheist, 6 years)
It can be one more tool I can use in my recovery by hearing from like minds.
Peggy H. (Agnostic, 2 years)
People need to know that they can recover with or without a “god”. AA needs to move away from 1940’s thinking and language.
Ken S. (Freethinker, 27 years)
As time goes on it appears that the Catholic Church and people of Christianity have found one of the last bastions of desperate people to convert or reinforce that which many in the world now find distasteful, harmful and a divisive big business. AA has become less secular as the years go by, when I started AA the Christian “Lord’s Prayer” was never uttered at meetings. The old timers, as religious as some were, recognized that it did not belong in meetings.
The world is a much more open and secular place, AA is not although our traditions strictly forbid any affiliation with sect or denomination. Why do most physicians, psychiatrists and medical professionals refuse to recommend AA, because by definition we are becoming cult like.
Suffering alcoholics of all walks need a place to come to to get well not get god unless they choose. The truth needs to be open to all, that to many, any sort of belief system is repulsive, primitive and has absolutely no place in modern AA.
AA literature is rife with miracles and magic. The literature does everything it can to scorn we “savage and belligerent” ones. New comers looking for help need to know that there are thousands who have found happy, contented sobriety and are giving back to AA and society without soliciting the gods help.
Please publish a book about those who have, and continue to find a godless and good life of sobriety. It may upset believers, but is it not our primary purpose not to “stay sober and help others to find sobriety”?
Andy Mc. (Realist, 33 years)
It would add to the (currently very small) armoury of literature that helps people put off by the god stuff in AA. Presumably these people slink away and die. So it would be a lifesaver and expand the number of alcoholics helped by AA.
David K. (Atheist, 16 years)
In Indiana, a large number of people believe that a belief in God is necessary to get sober. There are very few role models for new people who are not believers. A book would help the newcomer find a role model which appealed to him. It would give him hope.
Jan H. (Agnostic, 41 years)
I do think at book of stories about and from atheists / agnostics / freethinkers / scientists would be welcoming to more people than I would have guessed prior to the WAAFT convention in Santa Monica. The halls of AA must have a significant percentage of people who are covering up their true beliefs as was I until recently. I did not want to hurt anyones’ feelings and did not want to be ostracized for my beliefs which do not conform to those expressed in the big book. It is even difficult for me to speak of my beliefs here because I’ve had far more practice acting like I was not so different and finding ways to talk about, for example, the third step, without offending anyone in the room. I have the words to do that but could use stories of how others are able to express themselves honestly without damaging AA. I certainly don’t want to damage the most ubiquitous and inexpensive treatment for alcoholism. But I do want it to be available to people like me as well as people who can accept a belief based on nothing more than faith.
Lance B. (Scientist, 28 years)
I have known far too many men and women who were not programmed as children to believe in unseen deities, and therefore couldn’t swallow the god idea. One such member in desperation committed suicide 30 years ago. I however stuck with it because it is the process of the steps, minus the make-believe, that produces the desired result in my life and those I sponsor. It is an action program based upon rigorous honesty. Freethinkers meetings are a necessity in the modern world. I am responsible when anyone, anywhere reaches out to AA for help… I am responsible.
Jeb B. (Monist, 36+ years)
There are dozens of AA meetings a week in my area (outside Ann Arbor, MI). NONE of them address the needs of non-believers. A book like this would help me immensely. Thank you.
Jill A. (Agnostic, 2 months)
No alcoholic should have to continue to feel “different” in recovery. By different, I mean the feeling that I still need to withhold sharing my truth. The dishonesty of my reticence about what works for me feels like a barrier to me feeling fully a part of my AA meetings.
Phil O. (Agnostic, 2 years)
Agnostics and atheists need to know that the program can work for them too. Most AA literature does not adequately convey this, leading non-believers to reject the program (or feel rejected by it!).
Hilary J. (Agnostic, 3.5 years)
There are many of us in AA who do not wish to leave the programme, but want to feel no longer alone if we are agnostics, atheists, non-believers or freethinkers. We expect to be accepted into a programme that gives us the right to our own beliefs and doesn’t judge us as lesser than, if we do not agree with a religious spitituality or seek to say we are not alcoholic if we have sobriety without religion, Christianity or theism.
Glenna R. (Non-believer, 17 years)
There are many atheists, hidden in the rooms but more importantly, leaving the rooms because it is in the literature we can’t do it. I would like to see more of us out in the open to show what can be accomplished with a little work and understanding on/of self.
Dave S. (Atheist, 2.5 years)
I peeked into AA in 1999, again in 2005, in San Antonio. Both times, the meetings ended in the Lord’s Prayer after much discussion of a supernatural power keeping everyone sober. I left immediately both times. Bouncing in an out from 2009 to 2012, I finally gave up on the aggravating god-talk and the judgement. Then I experienced some trauma and grief that sent me into the hospital several times in a short period during 2014. I’m back now and there is an agnostic/atheist meeting in San Antonio now and I feel I can work a program. If I had had a book oriented to my worldview, I might have saved myself a lot of time.
Michael K. (Atheist, 7 weeks)
It would be helpful to know how people who are struggling with the concept of a Higher Power are able to function within AA.
Philip M. (Male, 1 year minus 4 days)
When anyone, anywhere reaches out for help I want the hand of AA to always be there….. Does that extend to Atheists?
Doug P. (Atheist, 21 years)
There are many that do not and quite possibly will not believe in a metaphysical higher power. To make it seem like one must believe in one in order to be in AA (which I know isn’t the case) keeps some from sticking around the rooms. If not for my most recent foray into speaking with other non-believers in the program I likely would have left A.A. Atheists are a growing segment of the population. The words of Bill W through the years support this population being a part of the program and he stated we must be willing to continue to change as an organization. Please consider more explicitly non-believer friendly literature in the future to help ensure ALL segments of the problem drinking population have the chance at recovery through this program. Thank you for your consideration in this matter!
Benn B. (Atheist, 7+ years)
To NOT assist ANY alcoholics in achieving and maintaining sobriety goes against AA’s primary purpose. If it were not for the efforts and influence of pioneers like Jim Burwell and Hank Parkhurst in the early days, working with Bill W., AA would have been another strict version of the Oxford group and I would most likely be dead. It is hypocritical of AA to state its primary purpose, but reject the needs of any body of its members with a lack of literature or genuine support. By definition and various high court rulings, AA is a Christian sect, period. AA’s “non-believer” population has been around since day one. The need for appropriate, respectful and helpful literature in this area is decades overdue. Thank You.
Bob F. (Non-believer, 10 years)
Although the program teaches us about spirituality most meetings that I have attended lean very much towards Christianity and it makes me uncomfortable.
Sara B. (Agnostic, 1 year)
I welcome the inspiration such a book would provide, written in a “language” that doesn’t require “translation”.
Fred K. (Agnostic/freethinker/Buddhist-ish, 2 ½ years)
There is a lot of fear and confusion among non-believers in AA. We feel the pressure to stay silent about our views and then feel as if we are not being honest with other AAs. Please publish these articles as a collection. AA needs to respect and embrace ALL belief systems including those of freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and humanists. Thank you.
Suzanne G. (Atheist, 7 years)
I want to hear the stories of other people like me. I want to develop more courage to be who I really am in the rooms of recovery and I think this book would help.
Jo M. (Freethinker, 5 years)
3. The response: A letter from the AA Grapevine
First, to explain the process of how such a book for atheists and agnostics would be published by the Grapevine, Ami Brophy wrote the following in an email on January 3 of this year:
AAGrapevine, Inc. has received requests (via AA Agnostica) to publish an anthology about the atheist and/or agnostic AA member’s experience, strength and hope in recovery from alcoholism as a book topic for consideration at the upcoming Conference in 2015.
The process provides that the requests go to the GV board first, then to the GV Conference Committee and then to the Conference.
And now the letter from the AA Grapevine:
January 30, 2015
Greetings from the Grapevine office in New York.
Thank you for sending the request for “A Grapevine Book for Atheists and Agnostics in AA.”
Your request was presented at the AA Grapevine Board of Directors January 29, 2015 quarterly meeting. The Board reviewed the request with great interest, appreciation and lengthy discussion. The Grapevine Board made the decision not to forward this request to this Conference.
We at Grapevine truly appreciate your interest and suggestions. Please do not hesitate to contact us, if you have further suggestions or questions.
Yours in fellowship,
Secretary to the Conference Committee on the Grapevine
cc: Mary Swart Cummings, Conference Coordinator; Andrew Ware, Chairperson, Grapevine Board of Directors; Ami Brophy, Executive Editor/Publisher, AA Grapevine