The Daily Reflections


By life-j

This is not the first time you may have heard me being down on the Daily Reflections, and it won’t be the last, but I’m going to approach it a bit more systematically in this article.

I realize that the futility ranking of this project is on level with a scientific treatise on why they sell more Christmas trees in December than in July. I should have just thrown the damn thing over my shoulder and never looked back. But here we go anyway.


The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.


This truly is a fact in my life today, and a real miracle. I always believed in God, but could never put that belief meaningfully into my life. Today, because of Alcoholics Anonymous, I now trust and rely on God, as I understand Him; I am sober today because of that! Learning to trust and rely on God was something I could never have done alone. I now believe in miracles because I am one!

They do give you a five day break without god after this one so you can recover a bit, but this is how the Daily Reflections start on January 1st. It sets the general tone.

Bill Wilson had indeed said more or less outright that the purpose of AA is not so much sobriety as it is bringing us closer to god. For instance in the Big Book (page 29) he talks about the stories in the back of the book: “Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language and from his own point of view…” – and then, not “the way he recovered” – but “the way he established his relationship with God”.

Daily ReflectionsDaily Reflections was published in 1990 when I was just a few years sober. We were happy to see it at the time: we needed something. The 24 Hours a Day from Hazelden was popular, though not with me. I thought it was way too religious. The Daily Reflections turned out to not be much better in that respect. I would even say it is worse, because so much of it makes no real sense. Just people mindlessly yakking AA lingo, as in the quote above. I’m a miracle too, but do we have to check our brain at the door?

There isn’t much information about its origins. The General Service Conference decided to undertake making it in May of 1987. I joined AA History Lovers in preparation for writing about this and one member there reports that:

I’ve used over 30 daily reflection books over the years & a few years ago when I started to go through the AA Daily Reflections book. I found it to be a little on the weak side compared to many other ones I’ve worked with. I didn’t find it worth my time so I moved on to another one. I asked around about it & was told by a friend at GSO that when they were putting together the book & asking for submissions to be included from members of the fellowship, they didn’t get much of a response. The normal editing process for a book like this would be that they get more submissions than they need & then they exclude the weaker ones & include the better ones. In this case they didn’t do that because they didn’t have more than needed, they just had about 365 of them so they just included them all, whether they were inspirational/profound or not. That explains why my experience with the book is that it’s not something I would recommend to my Sponsees.

From Michelle Mirza, the GSO archivist I got the following, which seems to agree:

In October 1988, the trustees’ Literature committee reported the following with regard to the response of the mailing:

“In response to a summer mailing to all delegates with guidelines for submitting manuscripts, material has been arriving at the General Service Office almost daily. The article in the October/November issue of Box 4-5-9 inviting contributions is resulting in additional manuscripts. The subcommittee plans to review manuscripts in December with the hope of having material for the committee to see in January.”

However by January 1989, in a report of the status of this project, the trustees’ Literature committee reported that there were an insufficient number of manuscripts suitable for publication and that the deadline for receiving additional manuscripts be extended to April 1… 

Finally, in 1990, the General Service Conference approved a daily reflections book… (and) the first printing of Daily Reflections was completed in September 1990.

In the Foreword in the book it says they received 1300 contributions.

My problem with the book is that I think that a particularly god-focused group of editors must have been responsible for how it turned out, that it seems to follow a particular formula, and it still puzzles me. Let me explain.

There are probably a couple of dozen daily readings in there which one might call secular in the sense that they do not have any religious message in them (even if maybe a “spiritual” one), but the vast majority follow this script:

No matter what the beginning quote, and no matter what the following “reflection” says about that quote, and even no matter whether or not it even says something intelligent, or coherent about that reflection, which is far from always the case – somehow, even if there has been nothing up to that point to warrant it – they invoke god in (usually) the last three lines. Gratitude toward god, or just plain talking about the things god does in the ordinary course of existence which apparently can’t be otherwise understood. There is an obsessive quality about it which it seems couldn’t have happened at random if they indeed just barely got enough responses to put the book together. There must be more at work. Or is it really just me having a god persecution complex?

Anyway, I will try to support this in the following. I eventually got statistical, though it took a couple of hours, and I divided the daily entries into 3 groups. I did not single out the perhaps 50 entries which were about the traditions, and those were more likely to be of a secular nature:

  • The religious, where god is the most important part of whatever is being talked about. The ones where AA shows the side of itself where it is more of a religion than a recovery program. And you just can’t get all religious without talking a bunch about god, so those are nothing but, such as January 1st. There were 34 days of that.

  • Those entries where a god or higher power is invoked for no good reason, such as where a person may be talking in a perfectly sane and sensible manner about their subject, but then feels compelled to thank god at the end, or in some other manner get Him involved. There were 208 days of that.

  • The secular ones. I have to confess that there were more secular ones than I had expected. I did define secular as broadly as I felt able to do, including quite a few which generically talked about spirituality, some which in passing mentioned faith, in a couple of instances even prayer – however, so long as they didn’t specifically refer to a deity, but only to the state of being as it relates to a person themselves, and one for quoting the 6th step where the reflection itself did not invoke god. There were 124 days of these, and my broad definition may include about 20 which some people would say belong to category 2.

So the overwhelming majority invoke a god in some manner. What I find so annoying about these is that with the majority of them it is entirely unnecessary. They would have been every bit as meaningful without. Someone offhandedly remarking how grateful he or she is to their god or higher power, where they could simply have said they were grateful.

Take May 19, “Giving Without Strings”. A bit naïve like much in this book is, but otherwise much in tune with the strong core aspects of the program – until they throw in “my life is full of a loving god of my understanding…” – a piece which could just as well have been left out, and the reflection would have said exactly the same with respect to its applicability to the real world.

Then take May 20, it talks about “One Day at a Time”. A fine reflection for that day and without any deities invoked. But of course they *could* just as well have taken the opportunity to thank their higher power for it.

When I sit in a meeting and say I’m offended over something like May 19, and the religious people get offended over me being offended, I sometimes ask, now what about May 20, are you offended that they did *not* invoke their higher power on that day? I usually get blank stares in response. Well, if you weren’t offended that no god was mentioned on May 20, then couldn’t it also have been left out on May 19 where it was absolutely uncalled for? I usually get another blank stare for that.

It doesn’t seem to register how offensive it may be to some whenever all the god talk is there.

While there are a few dozen good, and even some “very good” entries (for instance January 12), many of the reflections by agnostic standards do seem unusually naïve or even irrational for having been published so relatively late in the century.

I credit this book with much of the fundamentalism that has taken root since its publication. Many places where I find myself in meetings it is read at the beginning, and its overwhelmingly god-laden material sets the tone for the whole meeting. I even sometimes go to a Living Sober meeting where the first half, or more, is taken up with discussing the daily reflection, as are all the other meetings there during the week. Results in an awful lot of god talk before we can get to the Living Sober part.

In the end it’s difficult to say whether they indeed got enough contributions. Further investigation into this book’s history could include looking into who were the people on that literature committee, and the people who selected the stories, and were they edited? Did they say hey, we better throw a god comment in here and there, or was that truly from the people submitting the stories? I imagine this would be in the area of the almost impossible. I just have this funny feeling that something’s not quite right about it all.

All in all, the book is offensive. All the more since it was not put together in the 1930s or 40s, but in more modern times. Offensive in light of the requests non-believers have made for material to support our recovery better, starting more than a decade before publication of this book. Not possible, apparently. But more of this religious stuff? No problem, it seems. Hopefully the times will be changing.

* * *

But then, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

We do have other daily readers which are better. There is Touchstones from Hazelden (written for men) and though it still has quite a bit of god stuff in it, it’s a much better book. Mostly because the authors seem to not have checked their brains at the door while that’s mostly the case with Daily Reflections.

Then we have of course Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life by Joe C. which was published in early 2013. We (my girlfriend and I) have been using various readers for a few years, and we were grateful when we found Joe’s book.

365-taoHe’s using an amazingly broad range of quotes – from Mother Teresa to Albert Einstein – for his daily reflections, which take us into philosophical areas often not touched on at all by most recovery literature.

My absolute personal favorite is 365 TAO by Deng Ming Dao. We’ve all been discussing whether and how AA is or should be “spiritual but not religious”. 365 TAO accomplishes this better than anything else I’ve seen.

This last year we used Forgiving & Moving On by Tian Dayton. We weren’t particularly happy with it, though it did help us look at how forgiveness is every bit as important as making amends. Still too much god stuff, though not as bad as the Daily Reflections, so it got us through this last year’s mornings. For the new year so far we don’t have anything. So for myself, and for all of us I would like to ask all of you to tell about your favorite daily readers, it would be a good resource for us to have a list of them.

* * *

So we do have some choices for daily readers. We don’t have to read about god 242 out of 365 days of the year. It’s a shame that with this as with many other issues we non-believers have to look outside AA for good books, or write our own. The worst of it is of course that many doubters and non-believers in mainstream AA never get exposed to those alternatives. So all they have is books like the Daily Reflections which promote an interventionist deity to such an extent that its suggestions in many cases are not only useless to a non-believer, but often quite offensive.

While we have seen signs that the General Service Board is staffed by open-minded people, the General Service Conference which makes all the decisions for AA literature seems bent on exercising “tyranny of the majority” by keeping all of AA as Christian as possible. Some of our early literature has specifically Christian roots. What Bill wrote in 1938 with three years of sobriety is forgivable. The way Bill’s every word from those beginnings is canonized while his later writings are ignored is not.

The publishing of a book like the Daily Reflections fifty years later when we should all have known better or the recent pamphlet “Many Paths to Spirituality” is deeply shameful and offensive for an organization which claims to be “spiritual, not religious”.

Wake up, AA.

YouTube Audio

65 Responses

  1. Tim M. says:

    I don’t read the Daily Reflections because I don’t like it. I don’t participate at meetings end when the meeting closes with the Lord’s Prayer because I don’t like it. I don’t put cream in my coffee because I don’t like it that way.

    I do like that AAWS has put the Greater Toronto Intergroup on notice that they will lose their standing in AA if they don’t stop their ill treatment of agnostic/atheist AA meetings. Imagine that!

    Later today I am going to our local, Rochester NY intergroup meeting to share with them the news. My expectation is that they will recognize that if AAWS can do it to Toronto’s Intergroup they can do it to them.

    So. I use AA to great advantage and encourage others to do the same.

  2. Carol M. says:

    Thank you for a great article. I have always hated that stupid book. It’s so irritating to go to a meeting looking for inspiration and sit down only to find out they plan to read that crap.

  3. Lance B. says:

    Life; Once again you’ve picked a topic and written well to reflect my frustrations. I read your article and look forward to all the great comments it generated. But first I must find a place to stay for a week in Sydney, Au.

    Talk with you later and thank you.

  4. Jim says:

    I call it the Daily Afflictions.

    • Jim R. says:

      I’m coming up on 40 years sober in AA. When I realized that I couldn’t drink safely and AA would keep me sober I was confronted with this higher power thing. I decided I’d call it reality. I’m more in touch (contact) with it than I used to be. If the Christian thing gets over-bearing I go to another meeting. I like the Daily Reflections better than that other, non-approved, daily book. I read it along with Chuang Tzu, Han-shan, and Chögyam Trungpa.

    • Tim R. says:

      Daily Afflictions, I like that… I’ve been calling it Daily Rejections.

  5. John F. says:

    By most counts, AA is a religion and more generally, an institution. Huston Smith’s common features of religions offer a starting point; religions offer explanations, a sense of mystery, tradition maintained by ritual, an authority, and for me, most importantly, a sense of grace. All institutions, especially religions, are strongly resistant to change. It took the Catholic Church centuries to switch from Latin to living languages. Why should AA be different? But change happens, and when it finally comes, it is usually a good thing. After years of conflict, my home group now recites the Serenity Prayer far more often than the Lord’s; however, it has also adopted what I call the Pagan Chant – keep coming back, etc. (We can’t win them all.) We go along blithely believing we are an inverted pyramid of authority, with the groups at the top. Not. Institutions are self-perpetuating. The first drive is maintenance of the status quo. My own stance is to push for change, and especially to recognize that forces such as AA Agnostica are crucial to bring it about. (Please, never stop publishing Ernie K’s comment on the AA we love! Every Christian, Jew, Muslim, and Sikh is just as important to our survival as are we atheists and agnostics.)

  6. Phil E. says:

    Thanks. Fortunately I found Living Sober and an open minded sponsor in early recovery. All other AA literature was cult propaganda for me. I wonder now if we need approved AA literature at all. Why not just share our experiences,and what works for us. I don’t use any AA lit now, or meetings,(no agnostic meetings locally) except for the sharing on this sight, and helping others occasionally. I read excerpts and quotes by Kahlil Gibran, Mark Twain, Abe Lincoln, John Kennedy, MLK etc. for comfort, humor, and inspiration. Dogma free since ’83. Just pondering.

  7. Ian C. says:

    Just to say this thread led me to ‘American Protestantism in the Age of Psychology’ which – via the google sample pages from the link below – gives a fascinating insight into the ‘get down on your knees and pray to Jesus’ push of early days of AA.

    But also the resulting acknowledgment that this was failing new members (majority of who were agnostic or atheist).

    American Protestantism in the Age of Psychology

  8. John S says:

    This was an excellent article, and I share Life’s feelings about this book. I have hated it from the day it came out. When I was first coming to meetings, my home group at the time would read from As Bill See’s It, which was a pretty good book with some writings from Bill, some of which were pretty secular. I liked that at each meeting, the topic would be on an entirely different subject than the meeting of yesterday or the day before.

    Then came Daily Reflections, which insisted we devote an entire month to a single step. The worse part of the book, in my opinion, are the commentary that follows the reading. They are written in an overly flowery language and are extremely religious.

    Daily Reflections easily, in my opinion, is the worst book ever published by AAWS and maybe one the most horrendous books that I’ve ever encountered in my life.

    Thanks for writing this Life.

  9. Brent P. says:

    Sadly AA, during its critically important formative days, weeks and months, adopted as it was by the fundamentally Christian Oxford Group, was made in the image of the latter. Borrowing not only meeting formats but core principles from the Oxfordites, it is no wonder that God came to explain that power that seemed present when one alcoholic honestly sought to help another.

    Had there been no Oxford Group in those early days, would God have come to be so central to the AA we know today?

    I mean Banting and Best didn’t credit God for being there when they discovered insulin. Yet it’s hard to imagine both doctors not acknowledging that either one of them, toiling on his own, might never have made the discovery.

    Nor could one imagine Kenny, The Snake, Stabler, quarterback for the great John Madden’s Oakland Raiders, manipulating the 2 minute clock like he did to make those heroic marches downfield to score, without his favourite receiver Fred Biletnikoff. Stabler always believed, and stated so, that he and Biletnikoff became one when the two minute warning was sounded.

    The simple truth is, whether Banting and Best, Stabler and Biletnikoff or Wilson and Smith, none of them knew for sure how or why together, they were greater than the sum of their parts.

    The exception I believe is Dr. Bob Smith who, perhaps a little more predisposed to this than Wilson, accepted the Oxford Group’s explanation for that power; it was God.

    The Oxford Group has gone through multiple name changes starting with Moral Re-Armament in 1938 to Initiative for Change in 2001. One Oxford Group member who sobered up at the same time as Bill observed, “He was never interested in the things we (the Oxford Group) were interested in; he only wanted to talk about alcoholism; he was not interested in giving up smoking; he was a ladies man and would brag of his sexual exploits with other members, and in Houck’s opinion he remained an agnostic.”[44]

    Many suggest if it weren’t for the Oxford Group Bill might never have gotten sober to begin with yet, it was after his hallucinogenic experience in Towns Hospital that Bill finally gave up drinking. But his true epiphany didn’t occur until that fateful day, on a missionary mission, he met Dr. Bob, a shivering, shaking fellow alcoholic, and it dawned on him how critical that meeting was to his, Bill’s, sobriety.

    Reading Bill Wilson, particularly after the publication of the Big Book and the 12 & 12, he recognized that AA was not the (dis) organization he’d imagined it to be. A true communist’s spirit shaped his vision. Equality, no absolute authority, anybody can be a member if he/she wants to stop drinking, help without seeking reward; these among many more seemed to be the non rules that would keep AA vital and self refreshing. And while he would be as tolerant of a Christian as he would an agnostic, he would not have had you building your life around the imagined inspirations of a single spirit. If you did, think of all the other great stuff you’d have to ignore. I think he’d have found Daily Reflections lacking in imagination and all too pedantic for his tastes.

  10. Bob K. says:

    So, a piece of conference-approved AA literature mentions God, and a LOT? Wow!! Forgive me for not seeing that as “MAN BITES DOG!!!” breaking news.

    Years ago, I was presented Came To Believe as a book some well-intentioned pinhead thought might put me on the path to salvation. It didn’t. The book is crap, so I never read it again.

    Daily Reflections I perused, but never read through. Not my cup of tea. Reflection books are kind of personal, and there are plenty to chose from. There are even MORE Christian ones for those not finding AA’s offering to be godly enough.

    Lobbying for secularized AA literature, of the conference-approved variety, is a fool’s mission. It’s not going to happen. We can easily seek elsewhere.

    Daily Reflections is irrelevant to me, and to my AA experience. In my area, I’ve only ever seen one meeting centered around the book. People quote it in meetings almost never. It’s not as if I’m assailed with it. Are there “Daily Reflections Thumpers” somewhere?

    There are more worthy battles that draw my attention.


    • Roger says:

      I don’t quite get it, Bob. You don’t think that suggesting that AA publish literature that is less religious, less “god-laden”, as it were, is worth the effort? Hmmm. Odd, that.

      • Bob K. says:

        AA is not going to secularize the conference-approved literature in the next few decades (minimum). They might become open to it, about 10 years after it’s too late.

        Daily Reflections is irrelevant. We are writing our own literature. Why seek changes to the conference-approved stuff when the sentiment against such change is overwhelming?

        That’s a prescription for frustration.

        • Roger says:

          No, I think it’s exactly the prescription that resulted in an October issue of the AA Grapevine devoted to “Atheist and Agnostic Members” of AA and also resulted in a commitment to publish an entire Grapevine book devoted to atheist and agnostics. You don’t ask you don’t get. Simple as that. I laud life-j for his efforts – and successes – in following this prescription.

      • Bob K. says:

        We’re talking about an organization that clings to the Lord’s Prayer like a pitbull on a poodle, 40 years after the prayer was taken out of public schools.

        We’re talking about an organization that had to be taken to a Human Rights government agency to get them to put a few agnostic meetings back onto their meeting lists.

        • Roger says:

          Well, I ain’t – and neither is life-j or Larry – rolling over and playing dead. Uh, sorry Bob.

          • Paul E says:

            The last thing we need is a flame war among ourselves, or am I misreading something.

          • Roger says:

            Here’s the way I understand things, Paul.

            Requests for a pamphlet for agnostics in AA date back to 1976. At that time, a trustee on the Literature committee wrote that such a pamphlet “is needed to assure non-believers that they are not merely deviants, but full, participating members in the AA Fellowship without qualification.”

            Over the decades, several genuine efforts were made to have such a pamphlet approved and published by the General Service Conference. They all failed.

            The end came in 2011 when the Mt. Rainier Group presented a motion to the General Service Conference to exclude the mention of atheists and agnostics in all Conference-approved literature. While that motion did not pass, it became obvious that a pamphlet devoted to atheists and agnostics in AA (such as the “God Word” pamphlet produced in Great Britain) would not find acceptance within a General Service Conference.

            While the “Many Paths to Spirituality” pamphlet mentions atheists and agnostics, it still boils down to just One Way, “the 12 Steps just as they are written in the Big Book”, and in no way at all legitimizes the presence in AA of those of us who reject a God as their source of our sobriety. It has not – in the least – made traditional meetings more accepting of and open to non-believers. And I have never yet heard a secularist newcomer say that because he has read the “Many Paths” pamphlet, he or she now feels welcomed with open arms in AA.

            For more on all of this I would suggest you read the following post on AA Agnostica: Still no Pamphlet for Agnostics in AA.

            And then there is this article on attempts to get AA literature for agnostics and atheist in AA: An AA Pamphlet for Agnostics: The 1980s.

            I am very happy and proud of the growth of our agnostic movement within AA but all I am saying is this, my friends: more work needs to be done.

      • Brent P. says:

        Roger, I think I know what Bob is getting at. And if I’m wrong I’m certain I’ll be corrected. Given the contemporary, empirical insights we have into the disorder called Addiction of which alcoholism is a subset, God or no God doesn’t really seem to be the issue. If there’s a push for anything, it should be the inclusion of scientifically determined insights into addiction rather than the mere addition by subtraction battle being waged by secularists. I mean, in the unlikely event that AA were to openly embrace a secular interpretation of the steps, where would that leave things? I would contend, if that isn’t accompanied by new information and procedures that are working to help addicts abstain and/or drastically reduce the harm they inflict on themselves and others, isn’t the simple omission of God lacking substance? I mean there has to be something to replace that central article of faith that AA currently provides or, by its removal, do you not leave but the skeleton that was home to the viscera that was the AA program that is being challenged by the secular movement?

    • Bill G. says:

      Thanks everybody for being mindful about what is laid before us to use and read at the tables. AA is caught in a time lock and refuses to grow up when it comes to literature. Our language we use for recovery is slowly adopting to current times. Because of sites like this one. We sure have a hard time with an organization that is based on honesty and open mindedness. Let alone tolerance! My favorite AA book is As Bill Sees It. In part because you can see some of the growth in Bill W and it being more open to alternative ideas. In the last 9 years of 37 years of sobriety I read almost all Al-Anon literature which seem to come out of the dark ages and is much more open to alternative thinkers.

      Bill G. born again cosmic naturalist / agnostic.

      • Boyd P. says:

        Ooooo. Cosmic naturalist. La Luna is waning, early in the morning, showing their beautiful crescent face. And Venus in the evening. Abundance is ours, if we can quiet the committee.
        Thanks Bill.
        From the unrepentant agnostic.

  11. Tim A. (Homegroup: Progressive, Not Perfection - Philadelphia Agnostics) says:

    Straight from the book: “Never talk down to an alcoholic from any moral or spiritual hilltop.” That’s exactly what Daily Reflections then proceeds to do, even when it doesn’t mention g-d, and it annoys me to no end. Do people really have problems with the “Many Paths to Spirituality” pamphlet? Why? While I wouldn’t call it progressive, I thought it was several orders of magnitude in the right direction.

    • Roger says:

      In “Many Paths” there is a Jew who recites the Lord’s Prayer and an atheist who does the 12 Steps “just as they are written in the Big Book”.

      Nuff said.

      • Bob K. says:

        “Many Paths” has drawn criticism from both sides. Trying too hard to find a place in the mushy middle, the pamphlet produced an almost universal loathing, and thus, for an all too brief moment, united AA. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, or some such shite.

      • Tim A. says:

        I’m glad that AA is an anarchy in the best sense of the word, and love reminding people of that. I’m putting together my own worksheets for sponsees and open-sourcing them, our group has changed the preamble to be “a fellowship of people”, and our “What We Value” statement states we value free expression. We close with the Responsibility Pledge. Because AA is an anarchy, nobody can say we can’t.

        What’s funny is we now have a few members who come by on their way to church, because they say they get more spiritual honesty from our meeting rather than “g-d performance.” I always have appreciated your writing, Roger, but I’ll disagree here; I do think “Many Paths” is at least an attempt at an olive branch. I’m also very lucky to be in Philadelphia, where AA was founded by Jim B, rather than a city like Toronto, to be fair.

      • Thomas B. says:

        Jumping on the tale end of this thread a bit late from the foggy mountains of Pennsylvania where Jill and I are visiting one of our daughters.

        I believe very strongly, Bob K., that what we secular AA members are doing in General Service work within AA is exactly what Jim Burwell and other agnostic/atheist voices did in early New York AA. They successfully widened the door just a wee bit in opposition to the predominant Christian cant of Oxford-Group-influenced Akron AA with the insertion of the phrase “as we understand Him” in the steps and the Big Book.

        Now granted by today’s standards that is not nearly enough, so we in secular AA who are involved in General Service work must continue to seek to widen the door with more appropriate literature. At last year’s conference we gained conference approval for the Grapevine to publish a collection of the some 45 stories that have been published since 1962 written by agnostics and atheists. That book when published will be hugely important to those who have other beliefs beside the majority of Christian believers and those of us with agnostic or no beliefs.

        What I experience as most sad is that during the 44 years since I’ve been gifted with recovery in AA traditional AA has narrowed the door considerably to be primarily a Christian-only ideology for achieving recovery. This is certainly indicated by Daily Reflections, which was unduly influenced in my opinion years by the growth during the last 25-30 beginning with the” Reagan Revolution” of the so-called “Back to Basics” movement throughout traditional AA.

        Most traditional AA members today ignore, or do not know about, how radically Bill Wilson especially, but even Dr. Bob, changed before they died during the later years of their recovery, which can be seen in the article Relevant Quotes for Secular AA that is here on AA Agnostica.

        My experience of AA is that it was more open and inclusive during it’s first 40 years than it has devolved to become in the last 40 years. The current evangelical cant of the Trump inauguration certainly does not bode well.

        Nevertheless, I too, shall continue to push the envelope within AA to widen its doors following the example and spirit of Jim Burwell and Bill Wilson’s later, more enlightened writing.

        • Bill D says:

          Thank you Thomas. As seen in this thread, we can certainly toss the ball around between ourselves like a Harlem Globetrotters pregame warm up. The only way to move the ball down court is to be in the game. We didn’t write the rules but we can play within them and maybe affect their interpretation. Those of us that believe that AA can be moved toward a fuller realization of it’s promise of recovery for all that wish it need to be involved. We may be the last ones manning the ramparts; the last to keep AA from becoming an anachronistic footnote in history.

          Keep telling YOUR story, let the whirling dervishes whirl and stay on the firing line.

          Happy trails to all.

      • Bob K. says:

        The article is about AA’s Daily Reflections book. I care very little about this publication, AND I agree with life-j’s own assessment:

        “I realize that the futility ranking of this project is on level with a scientific treatise on why they sell more Christmas trees in December than in July. I should have just thrown the damn thing over my shoulder and never looked back. But here we go anyway.”

        I think it’s naïve to think that AA will remove, or tone down, the God talk in any of the conference-approved books in the foreseeable future. Seeking change in Daily Reflections is the wrong place to make a stand, in my opinion.

        Grapevine has had some liberal moments over the years, and I hope, will continue to do so. I think, at some point, we’ll even get tossed a pamphlet or two, more satisfactory than what’s been seen to date.

        Re: Reflection books, and the like, it’s tremendous that we are producing independently a growing body of secular literature.

        As far as the conference-approved books, the most likely (albeit still extremely UNlikely) point of potential change is to the TO WIVES chapter of the big book. A change there would open the door to more sweeping reform.

        Expectations have to be kept to a realistic level, and that won’t include the agnostic tail wagging the AA dog any time soon. Sentiment opposing change to the main literature (books) is by far the majority position. The true avenue to what we are seeking to accomplish lies in group autonomy, and the independent action of websites such as this.

        I’m too old to pin much hope on a notoriously inflexible organization being prodded into more than token gestures of flexibility.

        • Tommy H says:

          I am with you, Bob.

          Very well put.

        • life-j says:

          Hmm, I thought we all knew this Bob, but thanks for pointing it out.

          Anyway, book reviews are not typically aimed at changing the book reviewed, they’re more just an opener for discussion sparked by its content. Most such discussions seem valuable, and occasionally lead to action that changes things.

          And yes there are ‘daily reflection thumpers’ here around where I live, almost every meeting uses it. So it feels like a worthy battle to me.

          As for the ultimate effectiveness of it? We’ll see, but everything we don’t do makes things just a little worse. I think we’re at least holding a solid trench line at present or maybe even advancing a bit.

  12. Peggy H. says:

    I would like to suggest “Believing In Myself” (Ernie Larsen & Carol Hegarty) as a daily reader. I have been using it for nearly 21 years now. It is down to earth and secular with the exception of perhaps two passages (which aren’t terribly god laden).

    I will look into purchasing the 365 Tao book as I have tweaked Daily Reflections to death.

    Life-j, thanks for an awesome article.

    Believing in Myself

  13. Jeb B. says:

    Thanks for another provocative read, Roger. For me, that’s what meetings, stories and all literature are. They provoke me to examine my own experience, strength and hope. They invite me to articulate my own concepts and world view. If I only looked for writings that cosign my own conceptions, I would deprive myself and others of essentially evocative experience of fully engaging the brain evolution has given us. Open-mindedness may be hard to come by, but has been the result of learning the 12-Step process, minus any kind of “spiritual make-believe,” which I classify as archaic religious make-believe.

  14. Thomas B. says:

    A most cogent, well reasoned article presented with authentic feelings, life-j, much with which I agree and also to which I viscerally respond.

    Of late, however, I’ve been gifted with an ability to be more compassionate towards those who believe so differently from me and must, perhaps fearfully, cling to their ardent beliefs in an external deity to save them not only from eternal damnation after they pass, but from the ravishes of their addiction while still enclosed within their mortal coil.

    I live in the middle of the mid-American, red-stated heartland, aka Trumplandia, surrounded mostly by farmers and folks who supply farmers with what they need to grow corn and soybeans. Except for one secular AA meeting, I attend a couple of mainstream, Christian-oriented meetings, where the Daily Reflection is always read.

    I make sure to respectfully tolerate their views so different from my experience, but I also am sure to state that I have stayed sober for a long while now, without such religious beliefs. During the LP, I scan the room for others such as myself who don’t mouth the words, and try to connect with them.

    I share my experience, strength and hope that I stay sober by using other g-o-d words, group of drunk/druggies, good orderly direction, gift of desperation. It’s a marvelous opportunity for me to practice the wisdom of “Live and let live.”

    Mind you this has not been easy for me – it’s taken many years for me to detach with love from the insanity of the majority’s tyrannical Christian beliefs, but I’m much more calm and centered than when I went on a futile frontal attack into the breech that is never won with ardent evangelists – their god instructs them that if they can’t convert us to kill us and steal our partners.

    Also, thanks immensely for reminding me of 365 Tao, I now have it downloaded on my iPhone and have begun today to incorporate its wisdom along with that of Joe C.s Beyond Belief.

  15. Jenny T says:

    It’s a very helpful analysis. I felt as frustrated with Daily Reflections as I felt with Came to Believe… which I thought was truly awful and indicated that we hadn’t progressed from We Agnostics. I have Beyond Belief but find it far too difficult for a quick read every day. I do use it but I need longer than one day to think about each section. I shall therefore be pleased to try the texts suggested and thank members for these. I have also enjoyed the interview with LeClair Bissell and plan to use some of it when I next chair our AA literature group.

  16. Paul E says:

    I’ve been sober 26 years now, and I’ve never used the Daily Reflections. I don’t want to say I’ve given up, but I think the ‘god’ types have total control of AA now, at least in my area, and I don’t expect that to change.

    They’re organized, and we aren’t. That’s the long and short of it. And they have the horses, and we don’t.

    I just stumble along, believing none of it and ignoring it as best I can. And in the course of doing that I’ve stayed sober.

  17. Risti says:

    Excellent article!

  18. Ian C says:

    Phew – not just me then.

    I was quite shocked when I came across Reflections.

    I’d picked it up in hope, thinking it would be useful for morning meditation.

    Lo and behold – it had me reaching for the bottle instead; and I’m half in half out when it comes to God.

    Thing is, I’m ok with the actual contributors – who knows, maybe their words came from an important recovery experience, one that really helped, and they wanted to express gratitude somehow, but at the time were under the influence of some hardcore types.

    But what I want to know is, who added the bland, spiritually vain comments? They’re so pompous, so pleased with their portentous message (or to use a current put-down, ‘virtue signalling’).

    I can imagine these haughty types quickly turning to the pages they contributed to on the day of publication.

    After reading Jan and Feb, I cheated and fast-forwarded a couple of months to see if things got better. Then another couple of months.
    Nope. Book dumped.

    I’d wager this site would get a fantastic response if it asked for contributions to an agnostic version.

    Ian C, UK (no secular meetings on south coast here).

  19. Chris G. says:

    I read an article recently (can’t remember where I found it) that presented some recent statistics on addiction recovery. Casually buried deep in a dense paragraph was a finding that success in AA was strongly, positively correlated with “low education and low intelligence”.

    That sounds harsh and terrible, doesn’t it? But when I look around over the past years and thousands of meetings, I have to agree with it. And where do you find most religious people, especially the whacko fist-pumping ones, in the general population? Not among rocket scientists, for sure.

    So at the risk of sounding elitist, I suggest that the terribly boring and mostly brainless daily readings life-j writes about may be quite helpful to a certain part of the addict population, while completely off-putting to the rest of us. Until recently, that’s all we had, which was the problem.

    Joe C.’s book is great; in fact it is the only daily reading book I’ve ever been able to use with any consistency and enjoyment. I’ll have to try a couple of the others mentioned in this thread that I’ve not seen before.

    • Boyd P says:

      I suggest we avoid citing material we can’t source, especially when it suits our prejudices! Demographic analysis of AA has been all over the map, much of it psychological gabuldiguck.

    • life-j says:

      Chris, that’s certainly a tempting way to think about AA, and I recall once I sat at a meeting listening to 3 little old ladies, they were obviously buddies, speaking in turn about how stupid they were and how grateful they were for being stupid enough to get the program. Their best thinking got them here etc.

      However, I don’t think it is as simple as that, in fact I find it frustratingly complicated. First of all you have to be able to read in order to “benefit” from the literature, and I have been to many meetings where a considerable minority was functionally illiterate. Add to this that the big book was written by people from the well to do elite of the 30s – who with low education and low intelligence would be able to relate to that? – and the program is to a large degree designed around being able to read and write – maybe that is part of why it seems like you have to be stupid to get it, and why there are so many stupid sayings in the program, many people simply aren’t able to read the literature, and so by default they get by with parachute stories and other bullshit admonitions, but no actual program, just a bit of god stuff.

      Being of reasonable intelligence and education myself, but having remained a low-lifer of sorts even in sobriety I do find it annoying with all the stories in the Big Book about all the high powered salesmen pissing away opportunities, all the high paying jobs they had, and, for that matter got them back once sober. There is a terrible lack of stories by and about and for people who got sober and continued working as a carpenter after they got sober and never got rich again and in fact never had been rich in the first place.

      One could say the program works well for people who aspire toward low intelligence more so than for people who actually find themselves in that circumstance.

      The program certainly works particularly well for people with a strong inclination toward authority, dogma, routine.

    • Mark C. says:

      Hey Chris, can you scratch your head a bit and attempt to recall precisely the article you mentioned?

      There is simply no question that low education, low cognitive function and authoritarianism are linked. There are always exceptions of course.

      • AnaB says:

        At the risk of making a fool of myself, this is beginning to make me angry. Who do you think you are? Where is your humility? Asking myself these questions, for real, was when I got sober. I consider myself an intellectual, raised and rejected Catholicism, but would never disrespect it or others for what they believe. I’ve found Daily Reflections very helpful. As well as the Hazelden readings. I consider myself, or would be considered by others, (certainly my family) an agnostic although I say I believe in Something I Don’t Understand. We’re often arguing over words. A word is a sound and a sign to convey a meaning. Some call it God. Some call it Inner Best Self. What difference does it make? Still I’d like to thank you all for your comments, and for this article.

        • Peggy H. says:

          Mark, You are certainly entitled to your opinion. I, however, feel that religion has overstepped its boundaries with Daily Reflections.

  20. Mark C. says:

    Delightful essay, Life j. Thanks to you and Roger for an enjoying read.

    “I credit this book with much of the fundamentalism that has taken root since its publication. Many places where I find myself in meetings it is read at the beginning, and its overwhelmingly god-laden material sets the tone for the whole meeting.”

    Indeed. And that “tone” in pretty much set in any conventional meeting that uses this book. That tone seems to be more designed for theistic evangelism than anything else.

  21. Dan L says:

    I have never like the Daily Reflections. Right from day one I was struck most of all by its lack of useful content and overall smarminess and glurge. While not quite the servile abomination of the 24 Hour Book it is little more than some vague claims about one thing or another or god. It is remarkable how a life threatening issue can seem to be so boring and pointless. It is also the origin of that idiotic parachute and ripcord analogy that so many of the old guard love so much. I always enjoy reading your essays and contributions Life-j.

  22. Tim Mc says:

    Recently I marked 30 years as a sober atheist member of AA. And locally our Freethinkers Meeting of AA will celebrate our first anniversary on the first Monday in February.

    Prior to its writing, AA had asked for article or comments from the membership. Its purpose seemed to me to be to supplant a 24 Hour A Day book published by Hazelden that had widespread use in AA and that was even more heavily Christian in nature.

    At the time it, the Daily Reflections, seemed to me to have only one saving grace, if you will excuse the pun, that it was written by AA members. And, as one would expect from the heavily Christian membership of AA, this led to its being filled with writings from folks who think that God got them sober.

    We should not expect, nor I suppose even desire, that those who have lives based on things that we don’t agree with are going to stop believing what they believe.

    We can reasonably expect and even demand that those same fellow members of the Fellowship of AA not tread on our beliefs as they should reasonably expect us not to tread on theirs.

    Good Luck to Us All,

    Glad to know that I am alcoholic,

    Tim Mc

  23. Bill D. says:

    Thank you Life. I’ve been a follower of your writings (along with others contributors) at both aaagnostica and aa beyond belief since the inception of these sites and have found much of personal value therein.

    Daily Reflections? How about this idea:
    Carl Rogers wrote, “Neither the Bible nor the prophets – neither Freud nor research – neither the revelations of God nor man – can take precedence over my own direct experience.”
    _Mindful Recovery. (Thomas and Beverly Bien)

    Some years ago I undertook an exercise in compiling my own book of reflections. I would, near the end of my day, write a sentence or two in summary of what living sober meant for me. After faithfully (and I must admit, often grudgingly) recording a years worth of these personal reflections, I then entered at the same page of the ledger the present reflection for that day and have continued this exercise for nearly 12 years now. Amazingly the instances of grudging “duty” have been replaced by a respect for the exercise. I now have a deeper appreciation for the truth of:

    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.”
    _T. S. Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’

    Thank you for reading this far and “Stay on the firing line”.

  24. Joe C says:

    I’m a 365 Tao fan, too. It’s poetic, non-theistic and draws on wisdom that’s stood the test-of-time. I am one of these members who’s relied on many daily reflection books…

    “Beware the man of one book.”(Saint) Thomas Aquinas 1225 – 1274

    It was great meeting you in Austin, Life j. You are one of the many voices of AA experience that enriches my own recovery. Thank you too, for your kind words about Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. I feel more like a herder of kittens than a creator of content. I didn’t espouse my theories or experience although I am sure my voice has bled into the daily reflections. I corralled ideas and experiences shared with me in the rooms and from books – almost all of which have come – from the suggestions of fellow travelers on the recovery journey.

    Being critical is a balancing act isn’t it? I agree one hand with the, “Just don’t read it – it’s not compulsory or conditional on membership” sentiment. I personally have hid in my own persecution complex which any underrepresented minority will feel in AA or in any society. I have been angered at readings or discussion that assume a theistic worldview. It’s not fair, it’s not wise, it’s certainly not inclusive. But it is a natural tyranny of the majority when so many AA meetings become echo-chambers of the “God could and would if He were sought” narrative. This isn’t the AA experience. It is as Ward Ewing has eloquently described, an AA explanation for an experience that defies concrete explanation. So, when I quip, “If you don’t like the Big Book (or Daily Reflections) just don’t read it; plenty has been revealed since that was written in 1939 and regurgitated in 1990; read something else,” I’m being insensitive. I am ignoring a reality of a typical AA experience in a fellowship whereby (today) the Big Book is ubiquitous and the majority of reflection-style AA meetings read Daily Reflections (Or Just for Today in NA). If this is one’s AA environment it is easy to interpret AA as dogmatically stuck in the past.

    I live in a big city; a privilege that is easy to take for granted. I have dozens of meeting to choose from every day. Now, in Toronto, if I don’t mind driving, I have choices of agnostic AA groups to go to on some days. I have to remember that this isn’t every AA member’s experience. In many AA towns there is one meeting a day – take it or leave it.

    So while I check myself for wallowing in my own self-perceived victim-hood, I don’t disparage criticism of AA’s prayer answering God narrative, especially from active members. It is loyal to expect more. AA takes inventory; that includes criticism. There is a place for well organized arguments like this one today.

    Here’s a little theory I will be developing in future writings. It has to do with the relationship between AA fundamentalism and Big Book sales. If you have been sober since 1985, AA was fifty years old, always growing and the Big Book was everywhere. Bob P and Barry L both spoke at the convention in Montreal; both had walked shoulder to shoulder with Bill W. But when Bill died the Big Book hadn’t yet sold one million copies. It would not be until the Big Book’s 34th anniversary (1973) that it sold one million. Then five years later (1978), two million and in Montreal we cooed at the three-millionth book being presented in The Olympic Stadium. It took 34 years to sell one million and now AA sells one million per year.

    Why does a fellowship of two million need one million more Big Books every year? Well, this is in part, the institutionalization of the Book as a manual, 12-Step facilitation or the Minnesota Model, if you prefer. AA is now reliant on outside enterprises buying and using our book. We have become a publishing company that pays for AA world service – one of the biggest publishers in America. Inside AA there was the Joe and Charlie tours that codified the Big Book view of the AA process, or 164 pages, anyway.

    Now there is a new attitude. We see a post-theist AA, a secular AA. If you got sober after 2010 you’ve never known AA without agnostic meetings. And since 2010, print-on-demand has democratized recovery lifestyle literature. About a dozen secular views of AA were in print before 2010, there have been another dozen great books written since then. Conference-approved literature are views of AA written by AA members. So is any book you find here at AA-agnostica or on Amazon or in more progressive Health and Wellness bookstores. Waiting is written by an AA member, So is Common Sense Recovery, The Little Book or anything by John Lauritsen, Vince Hawkins or Steve K.

    Change starts with taking inventory. Raising concern is a duty of any loyal AA. Thanks Life j; sorry for going on-and-on-and-on a bit.

  25. cron says:

    As the essayist points out, many times the references to god are gratuitous at best, unnecessary to the point of the reading. When at a meeting when a reading seems too theistic, I invariably focus my share on the practical wisdom (if any) being presented.
    An aside: One of my regular meetings over the years was one held a a local church, and we always read from the “24 Hours a Day” book as had been done for decades at that meeting. The group, however, was mostly comprised of agnostics, so not much was ever said about the thee’s and thou’s permeating many of the passages. We kept our meeting materials in a basket in a closet in the basement. One week, after the church members had engaged in a big spring cleaning, we discovered our basket had been discarded, and with it our “24 Hours” book. A few months later, the church closed its door, meaning we had to relocate to one of the AA clubs in town. I might offer the disappearance of the book, and then the closing of the church, as a “non-god thing,” but I would not want to offend.

  26. Jon S says:

    Superb work. Thank you. A really strong essay and a very worthwhile contribution. I couldn’t agree more with the analysis.

  27. Boyd P. says:

    A suggestion for a daily reader, available at, “An African Proverbs Calendar”. Can’t recommend it yet. Will let you know at the end of the year. Today’s Kenyan proverb, “One does not regret having helped another.”

  28. Tommy H says:

    Very well put and thanks for the statistical analysis. I long ago noted the throwing god in for no particular reason.

    “365 Tao” is the bedrock of my readings.

    May I suggest Mel Barger’s book “Walk in Dry Places” as another alternative?

    Walk in Dry Places

    • life-j says:

      Tommy, Hmm, thanks, looking at the first few pages it looks like this book suffers from the same problem as Daily Reflections – invoking god out of nowhere and with no good reason.

      Nice picture on the front, though.

      Funny, this obsession to invoke a god. What I did with Forgiving and Moving On, which we read last year was to sit down at the beginning of the year and cross out all god and higher power reference from one end to the other in a way that made it readable. There were perhaps a dozen entries which were so god-laden that they were hopeless, but I still got a fairly readable, and usable book out of it.

  29. John F. says:

    Pragmatists will tell you that the vast majority of philosophical conflicts can be resolved by clearly defining words. Much AA literature assumes a definition of a god that differs widely from my own concept of a higher power. LeClair Bissell was my hero. She just went along with them, letting them keep their beliefs, as an atheist keeping her own, and didn’t try to push them on others.

    • Thomas B. says:

      Thanks, John, for reminding me how much I appreciated LeClaire Bissell’s wisdom, when I was privileged to work with her in the 80s & 90s.

    • Harley L. says:

      Thank you for the wonderful link to the interview with LeClair Bissell.

  30. Ed S. says:

    Just don’t read it.

Translate »