The Purpose of AA Agnostica

By Roger C

This week AA Agnostica turned into an eight year old website! And a dynamic and busy site it truly is: in all, counting today’s post, 522 articles have been published. That’s an average of one and a quarter every single week. For eight years.

As our friend bob k put it in a recent article, Unintended Consequences:

There have been contributors from England, Ireland, Poland, Australia, and Scandinavia, and from all parts of Canada and the United States. The overall caliber of writing has been remarkable, and the impact of the website is beyond measurement…  (AA Agnostica) very quickly evolved into the hub of an international movement of secularists in Alcoholics Anonymous.

And, although we had at one point planned to retire the website in 2015, our work goes on…

A Voice for Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers

AA Agnostica has two related purposes.

First, it’s to provide a voice for agnostics, atheists and freethinkers. A crucial part of recovery is the feeling that “you are not alone”. Non-theists often feel demeaned and even rejected at traditional AA meetings. We often cannot be honest about our own beliefs – or lack of beliefs – and, frankly, the inability to be honest is a serious obstacle to recovery.

There is far, far too much god in AA. The word “god” or a version thereof is used 281 times in the first 164 pages of the Big Book and in six of the 12 Steps. “How It Works” from Chapter 5 of the elderly Big Book is often read at the beginning of traditional AA meetings. It includes the godly 12 Steps and ends with the claim that if you need help staying sober “God could and would if He were sought”. If that weren’t enough, many (most?) meetings in North America end with the Lord’s Prayer. To then assert that AA is “spiritual not religious” is ignorance or hypocrisy.

One more point: the higher power thing. While you are told in your early days in AA that you can choose your own higher power – a doorknob if you want – the fact is that over time you are expected to come to understand that God is your higher power. You know, the One who “could and would if He were sought”.  A Christian God: an anthropomorphic, male, interventionist deity.  And if you don’t get to that God, well… You’ll go back out drinking and probably kill yourself.

That’s traditional AA.

Eight years old with 522 articles – 1 1/4 every week! It takes a lot of time, energy and expenses. Want to lend a helping hand with a modest financial contribution? Click on the image above…

There are some of us agnostics and atheists who can tolerate all of the above and attend these meetings (often we hold hands but don’t say the Lord’s Prayer at the end) but there are others who simply cannot or will not.  No non-believer should ever be forced to attend a traditional AA meeting, which is the legal decision of Courts in the United States, which you can read about here: The Courts, AA and Religion.

That’s why we fully support Byron Woods who lost his job because, an atheist, he refused to attend AA meetings. You can read about that right here: Atheist nurse’s fight against mandatory AA  will go before B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

All of the above is why About Us on the AA Agnostica menu begins this way: “AA Agnostica is meant to be a helping hand for the alcoholic who reaches out to Alcoholics Anonymous for help and finds that she or he is disturbed by the religious content of many AA meetings”.

As a voice for agnostics, atheists and freethinkers over the last 12 months we posted a total of 62 articles.  These were written by some 40 different authors mostly from the US, Canada, Great Britain and with one from Poland, Witek D who wrote The Wave of Religiosity. The articles cover a wide variety of topics including book reviews, the growth of the secular AA movement, experience, strength and hope, research and the many paths to recovery. That’s a voice for non-theists in all parts of the world and with a variety of topics.

By far the most popular article over the last 12 months was posted last week, a review of Staying Sober Without God. Now that’s a great book! And while Staying Sober Without God is not “Conference-approved” it is definitely “AA Agnostica-approved”.


It is very clear that the co-founder of AA, Bill Wilson, believed that the most important principle in AA was inclusion. Not god. Or the 12 Steps. Inclusion.

We agree. And that’s the second purpose of AA Agnostica.

Time after time, speech after speech, Bill talked about the need for AA to be more inclusive. By 1965, thirty years after the origins of AA, it was clear he was concerned that the fellowship was moving in the wrong direction. He said the following at a Conference in New York:

Simply because we have convictions that work very well for us, it becomes quite easy to assume that we have all of the truth. Whenever this brand of arrogance develops we are sure to become aggressive. We demand agreement with us. We play God. This isn’t good dogma. This is very bad dogma. It could be especially destructive for us of AA to indulge in this sort of thing.

You can read more about this talk here: Responsibility is Our Theme.

Bill wanted inclusion! Later that year he had the Responsibility Declaration adopted at the International Convention of AA held at Maple Leaf Gardens in downtown Toronto: “I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that I am responsible.”

Inspired by this unconditioned affirmation of inclusion, agnostic AA groups invariably end their meetings with this declaration.

Now, let us note: within AA some real progress has indeed been made over the  last year or two.

Just last month AA World Services published a book with sixteen of Bill’s talks at Conferences (including his talk in 1965). It’s called Our Great ResponsibilityA Selection of Bill W.’s General Service Conference Talks, 1951–1970.

And what is “our great responsibility”? It’s one word: inclusion. As an editor of the book puts it, “Bill focuses on inclusion and reminds us that we are all human and that we often see things in different ways.”

Right on.

Another recent step forward: in April, 2018 the General Service Conference voted to adopt the British conference-approved pamphlet, “The ‘God’ Word: Agnostics and Atheists in AA”. The pamphlet isn’t perfect but there are some fine articles in it, three of which can be viewed here: The “God” Word.

One Big Tent FeaturedAnd, finally, another important inclusion effort was made last fall for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in AA. That was the publication by AA Grapevine of the book One Big Tent – Atheist and agnostic AA members share their experience, strength and hope.

Beginning in 2014, an enormous amount of effort was made by AA Agnostica – and writers on the website – to get this book published. Here’s where it all began, with an article by life-j in September of 2014: A Grapevine Book for Atheists and Agnostics in AA.

There are 43 articles by non-theists in the book. These are all articles that were published over the years on the Grapevine, the earliest in the book having been written in June of 1964. You can read a review and some history of the book written by Thomas B, another writer who worked hard to get the book published: One Big Tent.

And what is this title, One Big Tent, all about? Well, inclusion, of course. While there has been some success in the pursuit of inclusion within AA, we are clearly not there yet. Alcoholics Anonymous needs to stop behaving like a 1930s Christian based organization. Only then will it be able to stop pretending to be for “anyone, anywhere who reaches out for help” and truly fulfill its great responsibility of inclusion.

Moving Forward

Our goal now is to keep AA Agnostica up and running for another two years, until mid-June 2021. It would then be ten years old!

And our purpose shall remain the same: to provide a voice for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers and to work for our inclusion in AA so that someday we are actually treated with respect.

This struggle for inclusion has been going on for a long, long time.  In July 1976 two AA Literature sub-committee members were trying – unsuccessfully of course – to get “a pamphlet for the Agnostic and/or Atheist” published by AA World Services. Why? They 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.”

AA clearly needs to grow up some more, much more, my friends. For example, there is no way in hell – please excuse the language – that AA can call itself “spiritual not religious” as long as its meetings end with the Lord’s Prayer.

And out of a sense of absolute necessity many of us – and that includes our AA Agnostica – are trying to encourage and help it do that.

And let me, as we near the end of this post, mention two other websites that have much the same purposes as AA Agnostica and have done some unbelievably good work over the years: AA Beyond Belief and Rebellion Dogs Publishing.

So. Will we succeed?

Well, as our dear friend Joe C once put it: “My bold prediction is that if AA doesn’t accommodate change and diversify, our 100th anniversary will be a fellowship of men and women with the same stature and relevance as the Mennonites; charming, harmless and irrelevant.”

Onward and upwards…

For a PDF of this article, click here: The Purpose of AA Agnostica.


38 Responses

  1. Scott A. says:

    At the risk of referencing the “virtues” of the 12 traditions, per Wikipedia:

    In 1870… Acton opposed the moves to promulgate the doctrine of papal infallibility …in a letter he wrote: … POWER TENDS TO CORRUPT, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means. You would hang a man of no position like Ravaillac; but …the greatest names coupled with the greatest crimes; you would spare those criminals, for some mysterious reason…

  2. Diane I. says:

    Congratulations Roger and thank you so much for all of your hard work!! I love this website and have learned so much! Thank you too for starting our We Agnostics group in Hamilton which I have been attending from the start, after leaving traditional AA meetings because of the god stuff and dogma. I really appreciate your hard work and dedication!

  3. Roger says:

    A special thank you to the seven people who, à la Tradition 7, made contributions over the last day or two to the eight year old AA Agnostica! These are: Beth W, Patrick Y, Ralph B, Arthur S, Eric D, Susan E, and Dan V. Encore une fois: merci beaucoup!

  4. Arthur S. says:

    AA Agnostica is planting trees that others will someday find refuge.

    There’s no greater spiritual practice than this; congratulations and keep up the good work of changing minds and recovery in emotional sobriety!


  5. Dave says:

    Thanks for being here.

    I am currently 4 years sober as of last October. In the time prior to that I had tried to attend traditional AA. It did provide me the thing we all need – the companionship and being able to relate to others struggles of breaking free of our behavior. It was awful for me though that I am agnostic and a questioner. It didn’t take too many meeting before I was trying to find options. Eventually I turned to online and found you and Hello Sunday Morning (which is different and gone now) which gave me the non-traditional removal of the Lord’s prayer, or whatever Christian specific pointing are deeply integrated into much of AA, and sometimes not even thinly veiled.

    At one meeting the leader was a pastor, and was clearly hawking for his own flock growth from the ranks of an AA meeting. Also, I was a high bottom abuser. I quit before it wrecked my life entirely, and that never seems to sit well with the AA crowd. Always felt like “Come back when you find God, and lose your job, wife, and ability to drive.”

    You were among a few other resources a great strength to knowing the program is good, you just need to not allow anyone’s personal agenda to wreck your personal recovery. You need to find a group who will listen, share similar stories, understand failure, and allow you to be of service to others in sharing your past and journey.

    Anyway – thanks for the resources and reminders of how you can face these things without being damned for not going against your faith – or lack of same.

  6. Neil F says:

    Congratulations and many thanks Roger.

  7. Dan V says:

    Congratulations Roger on everything you’ve done and for the memories of you and Denis K and the time spent together.

  8. Roger says:

    My thanks and gratitude to all those who have said kind words about AA Agnostica in their comments on today’s article.

    You know, I occasionally receive emails from people who say that finding the website helped them to realize that they were not alone and because of that helped them to move forward. That is precisely why, a few years ago, the decision was made not to shut down AA Agnostica. Even though it’s a lot of work!

    So once again, thank you so much. Or to put it in my own French Canadian language: Merci, merci beaucoup!

  9. Glenna R. says:

    Many many or a thousand thanks Roger! You have no idea how important this web-site has been to my sobriety. After having one group close and another on the brink in a religion-laden area, I have always been able to get refueled from your site and was so grateful that you decided to keep it going. Hope it will continue beyond two years.

    I read every post and will continue to do so. Rarely respond. but that has nothing to do with my interest or my gratitude.

    Been in mourning for awhile after my husband died in Dec. 2017, but could always rely on this site to give me hope and keep me in recovery.

    Thanks thanks thanks.

  10. Heather C. says:

    Thanks, Roger, for your constant clarity and courage.

  11. Mary M says:

    Congrats on this enormous achievement. I don’t know what I would have done without this haven of sanity. I refer many of my newcomer freethinking women to an article I wrote for you many moons ago about Women in AA. To show them they are no longer alone and can rebel against the patriarchal religious BS of so many meetings. Less and less though. There is some hope out here on The Rock.

    Women’s Meetings

    Thank you Roger for all you have done and continue to do.

  12. Brien O. says:

    Thank you Roger. I really find the strength and the support I need to help me stay sober from this site.

    Three weeks ago a member talked about Jesus dying on the cross so we could have eternal life through him. Well I choked on my need to say something. I know this group is a Christian based group and once my service commitment is up this Tuesday I am out. I refuse to step on the toes of my fellows, whatever works for them that is great. After Tuesday I do not have to be there.

    Again thank you for all your hard work.

  13. John M. says:

    Dear Roger,

    As you can see from the various replies, aaagnostica has brought so many of us much joy and comfort. Northrop Frye once wrote that a true miracle comes about when an imaginative effort meets with an imaginative response. Your imaginative response (vis-a-vis aaagnostica) to AA’s early pioneering efforts (vis-a-vis one alcoholic talking to another alcoholic) will play a part in bringing about a secular miracle in AA: a truly authentic and insuperably inclusive AA for all.

    Thank you Roger!

  14. Eileen T. says:

    Thank you Roger! I look forward to your Sunday postings. Eight is Great! Hope we have many more to come.

  15. Dennis T. says:

    Hello again Roger! We spoke in Austin a while ago. I applaud all y’alls efforts in this. I still live for and eagerly await the day when we start discussing how this (process) is effected. The idea that it is “beyond our understanding” is part of the overall problem, and who better to “figure it out” than this platform. I was disappointed by the (to me) avoidance of this in Austin, and I’m still not satisfied that there is enough (or any) attention to the idea yet. How can we explain AA to the “god people”, if we don’t reduce this to the nuts and bolts? I don’t mean that it works “thru the actions”, I mean why, how, and what, in (somewhat) medical, biological, and technical terms. It’s important that we do this, as they can tell us why their ideas are working (god is keeping me sober!!), which, of course, is at best primitive, so we must (someday) explain why it’s not “god” who’s throwing lightening bolts! Thanks again for all your hard work!!!

    • life-j says:

      Dennis, I think we may be on the same page (at least for right now) about where to take it from here. I for instance just got the book Staying Sober Without God, and it looks like it is an unusually good book, but no religious-minded person would buy it. Without being given good reasons to, and on their own terms, in their own language (well somewhat, anyway) why would they want to sober up without god? A ludicrous idea to them, even if an obvious one to us. So the question is how do we sell a secular program to the god people? We’ll need to if we are to do more than just gain acceptance for ourselves – if what we really want to do is to save AA from itself. Maybe too big a task, but one which I think ought to at least be attempted.

      • Joel D says:

        I agree fully. I welcome any intelligent discussion with a believer on how God affects or influences their recovery. I have yet to have one. We have a budding Secular AA movement here in NE Connecticut. Myself and Marty N. have made great progress in starting a couple of meetings with the hopes of starting a few more. I also got a Secular AA committee started at the district level and we are recognized by the State. The big question is where do we go from here? GSO’s acknowledgement that we exist as evidenced by some recent literature is huge but as you put it, no religious minded person will buy it or read it. I read recently that Atheists, Agnostics, and free-thinkers know more about religion than those claiming piety. Those claiming to be “originalists” will never get off their sanctimonious pulpits. There is no point in engaging in a battle of wits with the unarmed. I fear that all we can do is stand our ground, share the message of fellowship not fantasy and as much as it might pain us, turn the other cheek. If all else fails, at least I have a few fellows, and this website.

    • Roger says:

      Hi Dennis! In my personal opinion, the International Conference of Secular AA (ICSAA) in Toronto in 2018 was much better than the one in Austin in 2016. And that is precisely because of what you talked about in your comment. There was a great effort in Toronto to identify the assets that help us in recovery and the liabilities that make staying sober and clean much more difficult. There were exceptional keynote speakers who discussed these in their talks and in various panels: Dr Ray Baker and Dr Vera Tarman, two addiction medical specialists who have successfully struggled with their own addictions. Was a god mentioned as an asset in recovery? Nope. But this kind of information as it becomes more public and shared is, again in my view, exactly what will assist AA in growing up. I trust the next ICSAA in 2020 in Bethesda, Maryland, will also be insightful and progressive in much the same way.

  16. Harry C. says:

    Congrats Roger. It was your site that drew me in as soon as I found it. I’ve always been an atheist in AA here in Scotland for my three decades plus but your site brought me info, other voices, and a place to feel ‘associated with’. There have been many others providing books, other sites, and even Larry fighting a much needed fight against GTAI. So congrats again, to you and to all, and may the resources for atheists in AA, like me, keep developing. ???

    • Dave J says:

      Hi Harry… I was on a three week binge in 72… lost in the highlands in a rented VW van looking for Brigadoon… Was so sick with a hangover I could hardly get on the train in Dundee to get to Prestwick… I got a b and b in Glasgow (my flight was 11 the next morning for Detroit) it was Saturday or Sunday. I can’t remember but what I do remember like it was ten minutes ago is that I was out of booze and there was no place to buy any (you’d think the country that gave us the head butt would at least be civilized enough to serve alcohol after 10 PM). In Detroit some bars opened at 7 am for the guys making cars all night but this was Glasgow. I was out of alcohol by midnight and almost at the DTs when I shakily grabbed a drink from the flight attendant… my first in 12 hours… The next year 1973 I checked into a rehab in Michigan and that was it for me… last drink… I was 23… I will always thank Scotland for the life lesson… You know I just might make Scotland my honorary higher power this week, lol.

  17. John B. says:

    Roger – About a year and a half ago my wife bought me a MacBook Pro and a smart phone and shoved me into the 21st century. As a result I found AA Agnostica, AA Beyond Belief, and that pack of Rebellion Dogs – Joe C’s entry for today clearly describes the core of my own recovery – that is the necessity to build quality personal relationships. Our lives are richer,..”when we give a damn about others.” (June 23). Congratulations on rising to the 2,000th subscriber level, but why plan to close up shop in 2021. I don’t know who the folks are who defined “our goal now” but please redefine it. Please make it “your goal” to find competent replacements and announce them in June 2021. I’ll be 83 in four days and am looking forward to my 85th birthday present on June 27,2021 (one day at a time). AA Agnostica moves forward. John B.

  18. Ngaire says:

    Congratulations on 8 years!

    We voted out the Lords Prayer at my home group a couple months ago and replaced it with Responsibility Statement. Voting out the Lords Prayer has started a lot of controversy.

  19. Martin T says:

    As a non-Christian I commend and appreciate your efforts to make AA more open-minded. However, I do also urge you secularists to be open-minded about finding and employing a higher force, be it Yahweh, the Tao or your Fairy God Mother (mine I know as “Grace”). In early sobriety (more than 30 years ago) I read William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, wherein he suggests that it is better, ie more personally beneficial, to behave as if there were a higher power than to behave as if there was not (which AA appropriated as “Fake It Til You Make It”). This took the pressure off of me to “believe” in anything or anyone in particular as a higher power. So I did pray and meditate, which at times amounted to, “Just what the fuck is your will for me?!”. Apparently, the response at times was, “Figure it out for yourself, bitch. I’m not your co-dependent”! Other times, usually out of the blue with no supplication on my part, I have felt guided and advised and assisted by something greater than myself, in a “state of grace”, if I may borrow the Christian terminology. If I had flatly denied the possibility of the existence of that source my life and my recovery may not have continued in the face of insecurity, disillusionment (with people, places and things, including AA) and chronic clinical depression. Call me superstitious, but by the sheer number of times that this has taken place and contrary to my Buddhist non-theistic philosophy, seemed irrefutably, empirically, a “God Shot”. Just sayin’….Take what you like and leave the rest.

  20. Pat N says:

    Hooray times eight, Roger! I don’t know where the secular AA movement would be if you hadn’t had the guts and sweat to get AA Agnostica going. I was literally thrilled when I discovered it soon after its birth, and I can imagine the thrill/relief/hope that first glimpse gives a desperate, secular newcomer. I know a lot of other pioneers played a role, like the Santa Monica folks, Secular AA, the risktakers at the Grapevine, life-j, etc., but I think you were the spark plug.

    Cautionary tale: Did you hear about the oldtimer whose AA group gave him a medal as the Most Humble Member? The first time he wore it, they took it away.

  21. Thomas B. says:

    Indeed, Roger, congrats on eight years of service to non-traditional (i.e. Christian) members of AA. When I found AA Agnostica in 2013, Jill and I were ostracized from our neo-Fascist, very religious AA group in Bandon, OR, so different from the AA I was accustomed when I first attended AA in New York City and for most of my subsequent recovery on Long Island.

    Who knows, had I not encountered AA Agnostica, I may have stopped going to meetings altogether, perhaps even relapsed. So, for my continued recovery, I heartily and most graciously thank you, Good Sir.

  22. Marty N. says:

    Please keep it going. I look forward to seeing it every day. Also, it’s an excellent resource for me to send new or curious people to. Thanx for everything.

  23. life-j says:

    Roger, congratulations, and thank you for all your hard work, and I am grateful to have been part of it since quite early on.

  24. CathyM says:

    Your service connects us all Roger – thank you.

    Good thing you shared this milestone with us?

  25. Tom says:

    After several discussions at my home group, we let the meeting chairperson decide how to open and close the meeting. Mostly done now with a moment of silence to remember the still suffering alcoholic and close with “I AM RESPONSIBLE” or the Unity Pledge. Works for us. Thirty-five years ago when I came to AA, there was no holding hands or chanting at the end of the meeting. I do not like the way it has evolved, but continue to attend meetings.

  26. Oren says:

    Congratulations, Roger! This site and all the articles have enriched my life and my recovery. Thanks to all for the great service you provide.

  27. Andrew H says:

    Thanks for providing such an immensely great service to each suffering alcoholic. I cannot emphasize how integral both this site and your personal friendship has been for my own path of recovery.

    Many thanks for your tireless work.

    Andrew H

  28. Larry says:

    Well said Roger!

  29. Mike S. says:

    Thank you so much for your efforts. I have been sober for 28 years in AA. It has saved my life, but I have felt more of a second class citizen because of the religiosity.

    In my area of central Ontario province, all meetings end with the Christian prayer. Recently I brought the subject up at a business meeting. Several of the older members indicated they did not want to change anything, while younger members mostly did not speak.

    The discussion was polite and civilized and I felt I had, at least in a small way, started the long path to make AA more welcoming to all. I felt strongly that this particular group would vote down any motion to replace the Christian prayer with the pledge so I did not press for a possibly divisive vote at this time.

    However, having the courage of personal integrity has helped me stay sober.

    • Marty N. says:

      In 1995 we took out the LP. I guess we were ahead of our time. Dudley Day At A Time group, Dudley, Mass.

      Fear not, it will happen.

    • Mike O says:

      As you probably know, part of the reason the younger members probably mostly stayed silent was because they had been made to feel that with less time that they had less “sobriety” and therefore less of a voice. You mentioned yourself how you had 28 years, maybe almost as a subconscious qualifier. It’s like showing an unofficial rank of sorts. It’s the idea that one can only be taken seriously by fellow AAers by having double digit years of sobriety, only by achieving that time through “working the steps” with a sponsor (who has a sponsor), that only those who are deemed to be “spiritually fit” should feel comfortable participating and taking vocal lead roles in business meetings. Everything else is subject to being labeled “bullshit” and that you “can’t bullshit a bullshit artist.” I live in a relatively cosmopolitan metropolitan area and I still see the same dynamics going on with “bleeding deacons” jealously and often tyrannically running the upper infrastructure of AA. These are mostly people who seem to live and breathe AA all the time and frame everything in their lives through a “sobriety” prism. Those who are younger, possibly sponsees, and certainly not as experienced often are made to feel as if they do not measure up, especially when they’re told by many of these self-appointed gurus to “find somebody who has what you want and do what they do.” AA has many strengths and good attributes and has helped MANY of us find community at desperate and vulnerable times in our lives but there also comes a point for many of us where we need to challenge the status quo and find our OWN voices in recovery.

      • Joel D says:

        I feel your frustration. Time does not equal wisdom. The deference given some of these old timers borders on idolatry. As a community all opinions should be heard.

  30. John L. says:

    Congratulations on anniversary!

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