The Secular Wing of AA
By Bill White
Originally published on March 2, 2018 on The Selected Papers of William L. White
AA is so decentralized that in a very real sense, there really is no such single entity as “Alcoholics Anonymous” – only AA members and local AA groups that reflect a broad and ever increasing variety of AA experience. To suggest that Alcoholics Anonymous represents a “one size fits all approach” to alcoholism recovery, as some critics are prone to do, ignores the actual rich diversity of AA experience in local AA groups and the diverse cultural, religious, and political contexts in which AA is flourishing internationally. (Kurtz & White, 2015)
All are self-identified alcoholics and go by many other names: agnostics, atheists, nonbelievers, skeptics, cynics, rebels, freethinkers, humanists, secularists, and rationalists. What they share in common beyond the experience of alcoholism is need for a personal program of recovery not dependent upon belief in any religious deity. Such needs have propelled the growth of secular alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and a growing secular wing within AA. The existence of the latter challenges AA critics who argue that those without religious faith cannot find a home within AA.
The growth of a secular wing of AA is evident in many quarters. The number of registered secular AA meetings in the U.S. has grown from a few dozen in the early 2000s to more than 400, and two international conventions of atheist and agnostic AA members have been held to date. Online secular recovery support resources for AA members (such as AA Agnostica, and AA Beyond Belief) have grown in tandem with the increase in face-to-face meetings. An October 2016 special issue of the AA Grapevine was dedicated to “Atheist and Agnostic Members,” and there is a planned Grapevine book containing previously published stories of atheist and agnostic AA members. Also of note are the increased number of books on secular recovery within AA (see below) and the increased national media coverage of secular AA meetings.
Chronology of Secular AA & Related Recovery Literature
- 1991 Martha Cleveland and Arlys G. The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery
- 2010 My Name is Lillian and I am and Alcoholic (And an Atheist)
- 2011 Marya Hornbacher Waiting: A Non-Believerʼs Higher Power
- 2011 Vince Hawkins An Atheists Unofficial Guide to A.A.
- 2012 Joe C. Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life
- 2013 Archer Voxx The Five Keys: 12 Step Recovery Without A God
- 2013 Roger C. The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps
- 2014 John Lauritsen A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous
- 2015 Adam N. Common Sense Recovery: An Atheist’s Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous
- 2015 Roger C. Do Tell: Stories by Atheists and Agnostics in AA
- 2017 Thomas B. Each Breath a Gift: A Story of Continuing Recovery
Two recent books by Roger C. provide a fascinating window into the world of secular AA. Published in 2014, Don’t Tell: Stories and Essays by Agnostics and Atheists in AA is a potpourri of secular recovery stories, alternative wordings and interpretations of AA’s 12 Steps, book reviews, snippets from the early history of atheists and agnostics in AA, description of a secular AA convention, and discussions of some of the controversies triggered by the growth of secular AA.
Published in 2017, A History of Agnostics in AA provides engaging accounts of early secular groups within AA in the U.S. and Canada. Together, these books provide insight into the challenges and triumphs of achieving recovery without religiosity within AA. They are above all a celebration of the “multiple pathways of recovery” mantra that has gained such prominence in recent years.
Anyone wishing to learn more about the secular wing of AA and secular styles of recovery may do so by exploring the rich collection of stories, articles, and other publications posted at AA Agnostica and related websites or by reviewing the growing body of secular AA literature.
The secular wing of AA and the growth of secular recovery mutual aid groups beyond 12-Step groups are both cause for celebration. As the new mantra goes, “Recovery by any means necessary under any circumstances.”