The Growth Rate of Secular AA

By Joe C.
Originally posted on the FaceBook Page, The Secular AA Coffeeshop

Secular AA seems to follow the same growth rate as AA as a whole. We are growing as AA did in the 40s and 50s. There were three meetings of AA in 1939, by 1941, we had 200, by 1945 we were at 560 groups of drunks. What’s exciting, if AA’s story is going to be similar to atheist/agnostic/freethinkers groups is what happened after this first doubling from under 250 to over 500. There were 1,000 groups in 1946, 2,000 in 1948, 4,436 in 1951 and over 8,000 by 1959.

We hear about the Jack Alexander article in The Saturday Evening Post in 1941 as a turning point for AA growth.

What is our “Jack moment(s)”?

The internet, for one; early this century, I found out that there was a thriving atheist/agnostic culture inside AA and what a relief it was to find like-minded people in AA. That was a Yahoo Group called, AAWR (AA Without Religion). From there I found the New York City AA agnostics site and decided to catch a secular meeting or two the next time I was in New York City. Facebook and Google Groups, AA Atheists and Agnostics (AAAA), the AA Agnostica forum, AA Beyond Belief and now Facebook places of reason offer online connection. The internet is evolving and it’s making it easier for isolated people to find our kind and for groups around the globe to learn from, and communicate with, each other.

The Internet as one of our “Jack moment(s)”: here are three private Facebook Pages for secular AA members:

Secular AA Coffeeshop

Secular AA Coffeeshop

AA Beyond Belief

AA Beyond Belief

AA Michigan

Secular AA in Michigan

The initiative of Pamela Waddell and Dorothy Jean Hamilton to say, “What the F***, why not organize an international AA conference for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers.” Having a face-to-face place to meet and hang with some of these friends we haven’t met yet online is vital. Santa Monica 2014, Austin 2016, Toronto 2018 and (hold the date) Washington DC in 2020. Several regional AA gatherings without a prayer have followed this lead. Arizona and Washington started biennial events on the International off-years and Ontario Canada joined in with a 2017 event in Toronto and we’re back at it in Hamilton this September with SOAAR (Secular Ontario AA Roundup).

Some geographical places take off faster and others struggle to keep afloat when it comes to Secular AA meetings. Toronto’s first agnostic/atheist meeting will be ten years old in September. It isn’t the first time someone thought of this – in 1996 there was a We Agnostics group in the East end. I never knew about it; I would have gone. Our Toronto archivist found it in an old meeting list. But since our first gathering in 2009, Beyond Belief Agnostics & Freethinkers Group meets three times a week, We Agnostics started and later, Widening Our Gateway. The North, East and West suburbs all have one or more agnostic/atheist meeting nights and there are over 20 meeting times across Ontario each week.

Last weekend I had a family event in Montreal and I planned a couple of visits to secular AA groups. Kingston has a nooner on Friday and that was a great way to start the weekend. Later than night I went to Laval Secular AA. Part of the Greater Montreal Area, Laval is one of three secular AA groups. It’s the first English meeting for nonbelievers. Only one member was there, Isabel, who’s the contact online. She told me that her group wasn’t in the Montreal AA directory yet and it had grown to three members and it’s just her now. The format now is to log online with Esprit Ouvert, a francophone secular meeting in St Jean (on the South Shore of Montreal). So it was her and me and three members in St Jean. Isabelle is bilingual and so are the three members in St Jean. They all insisted on sharing in English because they had an out-of-province visitor. We discussed getting active in AA. It was a great meeting.

My first AA meeting had been on a Saturday night in Ste Anne de Belleview. You know, one member was talking about never finding a traditional higher power and I swear the person right beside me was taking a pass like I did with the closing prayer. Hmm, maybe there will room for more secular AA in Quebec.

Secular AA meetings have doubled in size more than four times since the turn of the century. Is that remarkable? Is it underwhelming? I guess it depends where you live. If you have a meeting a day that are easy to get to, you find this growth remarkable, maybe. If you are a five hour drive or more away from any secular AA meeting (face-to-face), it may be hard to sincerely feel the excitement.

Some of you don’t have a meeting to go to – just this and maybe other sites to hangout with your heathen brethren. Interested in an online meeting perhaps? Information about those meetings is available on this particular website: Secular AA. It is an exciting time in AA. The whole secular movement has renewed my interest in AA as a whole, our milestones and our troubles. I’m glad to be a part of history in the making.

Here are three Secular AA Websites:

Secular AA Websites

There are also a number of regional secular AA websites. And those are on this website, on this particular page: Secular Group Websites.

Joe C was one of the founders of the Toronto group and meeting, Beyond Belief Agnostic and Freethinkers Group, Canada’s longest running secular AA meeting. He is also the creator and manager of a fourth secular AA website, Rebellion Dogs Publishing.

Joe is the author the ever-popular book Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. This is a book of daily reflections that is often read at the beginning of secular AA meetings and followed by a round-the-table discussion.

11 Responses

  1. Bobby Beach says:

    Vous detestez le Dieu. Pourquoi?

  2. Thomas B. says:

    Thanks Joe and thanks Roger for publishing his most informative article. I’ve been privileged to have been most active in the Secular AA Community since it’s founding moments.

    I look forward to hearing you when we gather in Hamilton, ON during early September at SOAAR . . .

  3. Joel D says:

    I’m in Northeast Connecticut and two of us have successfully started 2 secular meetings. We have also gotten an accepted committee for Secular AA at the district level and at least acknowledged at the State level. We have a Secular AA pamphlet available for download on the State’s web page and our meetings are listed with GSO. It hasn’t been easy but the reward of being able to spread the all inclusive message of secular AA is a vision fulfilled.

  4. Mick S. says:

    I’m from Brisbane Australia and started a secular meeting here in February after attending the Toronto convention last year. We still struggle for numbers but I remain convinced the need exists and we need to be more active in getting the word out that we’re here. There are several other secular groups in Australia . We have made an approach to have a secular meeting at the next National Convention of AA to be held next year in Toowoomba , Queensland . If that could happen I believe it could advance the cause of secular AA in Australia enormously. Our approach has been of the “ you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” type and it can be a tightrope sticking to one’s principles yet avoiding outright confrontation. Whilst there’s always the talliban to contend with I’m sometimes surprised where support and encouragement can come from.

  5. Mike O says:

    There probably won’t be an explosive growth of agnostic/atheist AA meetings. Whether we like it or not, “spiritualism” is the core of the AA program and the Big Book is very clear in its “We Agnostics” chapter about its antipathy towards atheism. In fairness atheism was a pretty exotic concept to most ordinary people in the mid 20th century and the author(s) of the “We Agnostics” chapter (assumedly Bill Wilson, but also any other input he received) were woefully uninformed about the actual nature of atheism or agnosticism. Even in the early 21st century, secularism is rapidly gaining ground, especially among the young, but among Americans it’s still almost a dirty word in many places. Being an atheist/agnostic in AA means straddling two worlds, the religious and the non-religious. At the local agnostic meetings I’ve been to the regulars are basically older guys (very few women) who started the meetings and often act as AA apologists, a flittering of ephemeral young and confused newcomers who come and go quickly either back out into the world, some stay sober, some to moderate, some to drink or some to mainstream AA, and finally a few irregular, intermittent semi-regulars who stay sober and know the scene but are busy with their lives and mostly stop by to catch up and say hello (I probably fit most in that group). Agnostic AA can be a way-station to just get your feet back underneath you, develop a supportive community of people who understand what you’ve been through and a way to reintegrate back into regular society. It’s difficult to see it as a charismatic movement onto itself.

    • Joel D says:

      It is a conundrum. Some of the secular crowd tends to get over zealous to the point of fanaticism. Yet others, as you point out, become AA apologists. In our nascent Secular community we strive to be accepting to all regardless of belief or lack thereof. The more radical secularists bristle when a person who is a believer or perhaps just hedging their bets mentions God. This attitude as well as the Big Book bashing that sometimes occurs will keep us relegated to the realm of a passing fad. Our meetings will be at best seen as a passing fad and tolerated until we go away.
      My convoluted point is Secular AA has to either be AA with a secular bent (leave the Big Book, Bill W. and 12 step, and God bashing out of it) or it has to be something else entirely. Trying to meld the two extremes is like trying to cross a man and a horse hoping for a mythical centaur. It ain’t likely to happen.

  6. Bill L. says:

    The Hispanic community has not joined secular AA yet, and there is a lot of us we need our an AA Agnostica website.

  7. Joy says:

    I am in the Texas Hill Country, where the Big Book and the Good Book go hand in hand for most members.

    I first found Secular AA on AA Agnostica, and there I found the Beyond Belief and Children of Chaos groups in Austin. It’s a long drive and well worth it. I was at Beyond Belief just yesterday and it is my life-line to intelligent, all-inclusive AA. I firmly believe that mainstream AA will change or die. Mainstream membership is dwindling & secular membership is booming. Just a matter of time.

    There is a need for it! A desperate need. One year ago today, we started the Freethinkers meeting in Marble Falls. Our numbers aren’t solid either…. one week there will be 9 and the next week 2. I think that’s the norm with new meetings of any kind.

    We (meaning 2 or 3 of us) are determined to keep it going. I can never forget the very first agnostic member I ever heard in one of the local LP (Lord’s Prayer) meetings. A man named Wally from California that doesn’t even know he saved my life. Unabashed. Unapologetic. This is who I am.

    I hope someday I’ll get the chance to tell him what he did for me that day.

    Any one of us might be the one to reach that person sitting in their “home” group today, thinking they don’t fit in & there’s no place in AA for them.

    Never give up.


    • Mick S. says:

      A couple of us in Brisbane Australia are trying to get some traction with our secular group which we started in February. We remain convinced that there is a need but struggle for numbers. Our attendances have varied from 1 to 12 randomly rather than a specific growth pattern. Some have come to scoff but left with a greater understanding of what we’re about. Support from mainstream groups is lukewarm at best and vitriolic at worst. The struggle seems to be in making agnostics snd atheists aware that we’re here. To hear that our experience echoes that of North America is encouraging.

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