Questions & Answers – AA Agnostica
The creator of the Polish website Agnostics and Atheists in AA recently asked me a number of questions. Here are the questions
and my answers.
By Roger C
How long have you been in AA?
I’ve been in AA since I got sober a little over a decade ago (March 8, 2010). However, after three months of attending mainstream AA meetings, I became terrified that I would start drinking again, because I couldn’t stand the meetings. All the God stuff, you know. And the meetings ending with the Lord’s Prayer. I then accidentally discovered the oldest secular AA meeting in Canada, Beyond Belief Agnostics and Freethinkers, started in Toronto, Ontario on September 24, 2009. I went to the meeting. I loved the meeting! I remember walking along Bloor Street after it was over and I threw my hands up in the air and shouted “I’m saved!”
Are you an agnostic or an atheist?
I am an agnostic. Life to me is a “Magical Mystery Tour”, as per the Beatles. I certainly don’t believe in a anthropomorphic, interventionist, male deity. Not a chance. I should also note that I have a Master’s degree in Religious Studies obtained from McGill University in Montreal, Québec.
As an agnostic I studied and taught there for a decade, and I read the New Testament in its original language, Koine Greek. But I was always an agnostic. And everybody at McGill knew that and I was treated with great respect.
So, as an agnostic, what was I doing in the Faculty of Religious Studies? Well, one of my main reasons was to figure out why people believe in a supernatural, anthropomorphic deity. It is my understanding that it isn’t until we humans are about nine years old that we realize that our lives will end – with our death. Oh, my! So a main reason for religious belief is the denial of mortality and the invention of immortality – of course not for all other animals but just for we human animals.
Moreover and as a consequence religion is a cultural issue. As Richard Dawkins puts it in his book The God Delusion “Though the details differ across the world, no known culture lacks some version of the… anti-factual… fantasies of religion.” (p. 166). And that is passed along from one generation to another. Religion is hammered into children by their parents. It was certainly obvious that religion had been a key part of the early lives of the soon to be ordained ministers at McGill University.
Did you immediately reveal in the AA fellowship that God was not a part of your recovery?
Yes I did. And it was the huge disrespect I got at mainstream AA meetings as a result that really disturbed me, and made me want to get the hell out.
Is your home group a special group for agnostics and atheists, or is it a regular AA meeting?
I attended three secular AA meetings in Toronto – Beyond Belief Agnostic and Freethinkers, We Agnostics and We Are Not Saints – for roughly six years until I started the We Agnostics meeting in Hamilton (an hour away from Toronto) on Thursday, February 4, 2016. The meeting was a huge success and a second We Agnostics meeting on Mondays was launched on September 10, 2018. Of course since mid-March of this year both have been zoom meetings.
But now – hallelujah! – the Face to Face meetings at the First Unitarian Church are scheduled to recommence on Monday, August 24. We will, of course, play it safe. As Heather, one of the meeting organizers put it, “I think we should err on the side of extreme caution”. There will, of course, be masks, hand sanitizing, social distancing…
But f2f meetings are important, particularly for newcomers to AA.
How many agnostic AA groups are there in the area you live in?
In Hamilton there is only the one We Agnostics group, with two meetings. Toronto has some 500 AA meetings a week. Ten of the groups are secular and there is a secular AA meeting each and every day (when there is no pandemic). In all of the province of Ontario there are 20 secular AA groups and 24 meetings every week.
If an agnostic or an atheist asks you for sponsoring do you use the Big Book or do you rely on other texts?
No, I do not use the Big Book. The word “God” (or “He” or “Him” etc.) is used 281 times in the first 164 pages of the Big Book. A Christian God, by the way. The book is hugely disrespectful of non-believers and of women. I have published, via AA Agnostica, a total of eight secular AA books. One of them was written by two women back in 1991. It’s called The Alternative 12 Steps – A Secular Guide to Recovery. When I first found the book, it had been out of print for over a decade. In order to publish a second edition, I needed the permission of the authors, and it took me a year to find them. I published the second edition in 2014.
Today, another one of my favorite books is Staying Sober Without God. Published in 2019, it also has a good set of 12 steps called The Practical Steps.
What was the reason you started the AA Agnostica website?
Interesting question! The website was initially called “AA Toronto Agnostics” and was launched by another fellow and me in June of 2011 when the two secular AA groups in the city, including mine, Beyond Belief Agnostics and Freethinkers, were booted out of the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup (GTAI). And why were we booted out? Well, because we used a secular version of the 12 Steps. That resulted in a war that lasted for almost six years and was resolved in January 2017, when the groups were re-admitted to the GTAI as legitimate and respected members, with their secular 12 Steps.
Anyway, after six months I changed the name of the website to AA Agnostica. While initially its sole purpose was to provide information about the times and locations of the secular AA meetings it quickly became a popular site where atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in AA could share their views. Finally, a place where they could do that! That’s the historical significance of the website. Since then over 600 articles have been posted on AA Agnostica, usually one every Sunday and sometimes on Wednesdays.
How do you get articles for the website?
There are many ways. First, there is a widget on the home page of the AA Agnostica website that invites people to write an article. Even without that, a number of people who visit AA Agnostica are motivated to write an article. And I will from time to time invite various people – because of their comments, articles they have written elsewhere, etc. – to write for AA Agnostica.
Let me also add that I avoid negative articles, in particular those whose sole purpose is to attack mainstream Alcoholics Anonymous. While there are many problems with mainstream or traditional AA – and critiques are welcome! – mere grumbling and griping is not helpful.
What is your opinion about publishing brochures for agnostics in AA?
I think brochures are a good idea. When I started the We Agnostics meeting in Hamilton I created a brochure about the meeting and I brought it to every mainstream AA meeting – usually about a half hour before the meeting started – and asked them to put copies on their literature table. Some of them did and some of them threw the brochures out. But it was very helpful in terms of getting people to attend our meeting. And recently I posted an article on AA Agnostica about brochures/pamphlets encouraging people to create their own: Secular AA Pamphlets.
Have you thought about organizing annual workshops for agnostics and atheists in AA?
Two – not annual but biennial – workshops have already been organized for agnostics and atheists in AA in Ontario. We call them conferences or roundups. And the ones in Ontario are called SOAAR – Secular Ontario Alcoholics Anonymous Roundup. The first was held in Toronto in 2016. I was one of the organizers of the second SOAAR, held in Hamilton in 2018. (There are articles about both on AA Agnostica.)
At the one in Hamilton one on the speakers was Jeffrey Munn, the author of Staying Sober Without God. He came all the way up from California! The next SOAAR, to be organized largely by the Brown Baggers, originally scheduled for 2020, will now be held in 2022, as a result of the pandemic and so it doesn’t interfere with the International Conference of Secular AA (ICSAA) which will be held near Washington, DC, in the fall of 2021.
Would you like to say something about the situation of agnostics and atheists in AA? How do you see the near and further future?
Well, I think AA needs to grow up. It’s a bit silly to totally depend upon a book published over 80 years ago. That’s the “Conference-approved” nonsense. And it’s absolutely absurd to be ending meetings with the Lord’s Prayer and then pretending to be “spiritual, not religious”. More nonsense.
Roughly 20 years ago the growth of mainstream AA peaked, in spite of the growth of the population – and the growth in the number of alcoholics. But the growth of the secular movement within AA has been impressive. Twenty years ago there were 36 secular AA meetings worldwide. Thirty six! And now, today, there are approximately 550 secular AA meetings.
Our growth – including our regional roundups and the three International Conferences of Alcoholics Anonymous (ICSAAs) – has already had an impact on mainstream AA. So: let’s keep it up!
Onwards and upwards…