Websites and The Growth of Secular AA

by bob k

On May 31, 2011, Alcoholics Anonymous was dramatically altered, both in Toronto, Ontario and far beyond. In the short run, the changes produced were precisely as they had been intended to be. However, the long-term results were exactly the opposite of the goals of the crusaders seeking to purify Toronto AA.

Back in September of 2009, Beyond Belief, an agnostic AA group, had been formed in mid-town Toronto. It scooped up some members from nearby groups and garnered the enthusiastic support of many others. There was nothing surreptitious about the group’s operation. The intergroup’s listing linked to Beyond Belief’s personal page describing the prayerless meetings and posting, alongside the traditional steps, a secular interpretation of AA’s Twelve-Steps.

From the start, Beyond Belief was popular and successful. Within a few months, a larger room was needed and acquired. A second weekly meeting was added. At some point, a break-out room helped to accommodate the growing attendance. In September 2010, another nontraditional group, We Agnostics, was organized at a different location. Nonconforming newcomers were drawn to the secular format and experienced success not attained during previous forays into conventional meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Older members found a renewed passion, now freed from the unappealing options of having to “go along to get along” or staying silent.

Despite seemingly endless protestations that the organization is “spiritual not religious,” atheists, agnostics, and many others find Alcoholics Anonymous to be quite religious. Perhaps the heathens’ misunderstanding of the enormous difference between spirituality and religion comes from the unfortunate fact that the spiritual and the religious versions of the Lord’s Prayer contain precisely the same words. The broader definition of “religion” aligns closely with all that goes on in AA.

Rarely has any society been more attached to the status quo.

On May 31, 2011, the two agnostic groups were unceremoniously booted out of Toronto AA. The motion had prompted lively discussion but a separate motion to defer the vote to the following month was defeated. The anti-agnostic element was bloodthirsty and wanted their pound of flesh right then and there.

What happened in Toronto became a topic of conversation in many locales far afield from Toronto. “Experts” from Pittsburgh, Seattle, Topeka, and Jacksonville weighed in on the issue, undeterred by their complete lack of direct experience with the events: Of course, they were delisted — they changed the steps. Delisting isn’t a big deal. A real AA group engaged in real 12-Step work doesn’t really need a listing.”

To be clear, the two Toronto agnostic groups were not simply delisted. They were disenfranchised. When a motion came in 2012 to revisit the issue, relist the groups, etc., Beyond Belief and We Agnostics could not speak for themselves nor could they vote for themselves. The Intergroupers had done all that they could within the limits of their power, but they tried to do more. They reached out to the General Service people pressing for further purging actions.

This was more than a delisting.

In the shortest of times, the website organized to advertise the meeting times and locations of the two non-religious AA groups morphed into Seemingly nanoseconds later, the Toronto website had viewers from all over the globe. Some came to love and some came to hate. Others were merely curious. “What is agnostic AA? I’ve never heard of that.”

On June 22, webmaster Roger C. posted “Anarchy Melts,” essentially a condemnation of the delisting and disenfranchising actions of the Toronto Intergroup through the words of AA founder Bill Wilson: “Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA Group.” The assault on the oppressors continued. Groups facing Intergroup attacks in other regions weighed in with their stories. During the five-year period that the groups were out of Toronto AA, AA Agnostica acted as the voice of a growing movement.

When secular literature was published, AA Agnostica offered book reviews. History essays were presented, and satires ridiculed fundamentalists and their proclivity for inconsistency.

Agnostic AA was growing and there was a thirst for information about it. “How do I go about starting a secular meeting in my town?” It’s a delicious irony that the agnostic AA movement owes a debt of gratitude to Toronto Intergroup. Following the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” the intergroup crusaders’ efforts to purify AA led to the creation of the AA Agnostica website. It’s undeniable that the tremendous growth of AA’s secular movement has been significantly spurred by the material presented here.

There’s a tremendous amount of work involved in operating a busy website. When John S. of Kansas City agreed to take up the mantle, Roger C. planned to retire from active posting. Of course, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Activists have a hard time sitting back and viewing the action from a Lazy-Boy. The period of inactivity was brief. There followed five glorious years during which we had two marvellous websites, AA Beyond Belief and AA Agnostica.

John added podcasting and that’s his niche. He may have overloaded himself. For someone with a full-time job in the real world, it was all a bit too much, so he dropped the weekly essays, retiring AA Beyond Belief. As AA Agnostica winds down, we will soon have no such venue. Perhaps someone reading this today will be moved to take up the task.

We need a new website and webmaster.

A total of fifty-three articles by Bob K have been posted on AA Agnostica (those by Bobby Beach have a check mark – ✔):

Key Players in AA Historybob k is the co-founder of the Whitby Freethinkers Group just east of Toronto. He is the author of Key Players in AA History, published in 2015. A second edition will soon be published.

Another book by bob is in the works: The Secret Diaries of Bill W. This will be an intriguing biographical fiction of the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

13 Responses

  1. Dan S says:

    I am a retired computer professional and although “webmaster” is not on my resume I am a technical guy and learn quickly. I am happy to volunteer to help keep the website up and running. I am in the Seattle WA area.

    • Roger says:

      Hi Dan. I will keep this website up and running… as you shall see in next week’s article. But new secular AA websites? That’s what bob would like to see.

  2. Bullwinkle says:

    I attended my first AA meeting in 1965. I have recovered from alcoholism, where in May, I entered my 42 year. I didn’t recover attending any AA meetings, especially meetings that tend to be dogmatic. As an atheist, I recovered by taking the 12 Steps which has no dogma, due to the steps being suggested. For me the best recovery article published by AAWS, Inc., NYC, is the Allen McGinnis lecture, A Member’s Eye View of Alcoholics Anonymous. Paraphrasing Page 21, that applies to me. “By accepting the consequences of my actions, I use only myself as a frame of reference for my recovery”. This is emotional maturity.

    There are two posts, one referencing an American Indian song, the other a Lakota song. My father was born in the Choctaw Nation. I don’t use American Indian to reference my heritage, because it’s historically incorrect, this is my spirit. When on rare occasions at an AA meeting I’m asked to lead in prayer, from those that are unaware that I’m an atheist, I just say thank you, but I’ll pass. I don’t need to indulge myself by announcing my non-theism, or citing / verbalizing anything, this would be rubbing it in, that some of faith tend to do by subtle testifying.

  3. Doc says:

    I’ve been involved in similar battles in which the local intergroup has refused to recognize groups which do not adhere to their ideas of “correct” format. My current home group, Red Road, uses an American Indian talking circle format, readings from an AA (i.e. from Central Office) book of Indian readings, and closes with an Indian song. I’ve seen the vehement rejection of any hint of non-Christian elements in AA.

    • John R. says:

      waste, kola. I was asked to do a closing prayer at a main-stream meeting and told them they didn’t know the words. They asked for it anyway, so I sang a Lakota song. I’ve never been asked by that group again 🙂

      • Doc says:

        We actually close with an Anishinaabe hunting song – a song that was traditionally sung after harvesting an animal and giving thanks to the animal.

        • John R. says:

          I remember being at an Area assembly in which someone was bragging about telling one of our tribal AA meetings that they shouldn’t use a talking circle or stick because it “wasn’t AA” … clearly he had no knowledge of the traditions. I was shocked by his arrogance. This was actually over 30 years ago and things have changed somewhat since then.

    • Ana says:

      Amazing….would love to attend your meeting. Is it currently on Zoom? If so, how can I find it? Thanks!

  4. Brendan F says:

    A huge thanks for the work and toil put into Secular minded members need a collective voice which ultimately will need to be raised via the normal AA service structures around the globe.

    I would hope the present need for a separate “secular Voice” will no longer be required and would urge groups to make main stream AA accept the need for change and full acceptance. This can only happen by group representatives getting involved and carrying the wishes of secular groups to Intergroup and beyond.

  5. Harry C. says:

    Although we once existed as individuals and various small groups, the group’s existing mainly in US and Canada, as an atheist in AA in Scotland, I found AA Agnostica many moons ago and have anchored myself here ever since. From Larry facing up to the TAI (Toronto Area Intergroup) and Joe giving us his Beyond Belief Daily Reader, we have a lot to thank Toronto for. From Whitby and the impeccable insights of Bobby Beach served to us ‘hangers on’, to Hamilton and Roger sacrificing his love life to give Bobby Beach a vehicle for his hilarity, we owe you ALL collectively. No need to apologise! ?

    I always brighten up when I see we have another contribution from Mr K, and I look forward to more ‘Key Personalities in AA’. I had the great pleasure of attending ICSAA in Toronto in 2018 and being party to the welcome of the wonderful hosts, and was delighted to engage in the fellowship created by the wealth of visiting ‘personalities’ from near and far. As much as ‘principles’ matter, I just love the ‘personalities’ for their colour and often colourful language and opinions that they bring. I’ve appreciated my past years as a recipient of all that I’ve received from AA Agnostica and it’s contributors. Thank you TAI. ? ? ???????

  6. John R. says:

    As usual, great posting from you, Bob. There is now so much material on Agnostica that I am hoping it will be maintained for those articles at least. If I were a bit younger, I’d probably want to take up the mantle and carry on, but alas I am not.

    • Roger says:

      The website will be maintained, John! More details coming up next Sunday in my article “Ten Years Old!”.

  7. Ron W says:

    AA Agnostica is winding down? I am very sorry to hear that. I just discovered this website and Secular AA, and it has meant so much to me in a short period of time. I do hope that AA Agnostica continues to be as it appears to be a worldwide website for all in AA who are on the secular side of things. I am not a webbie webmaster type, but would like to do something to help. Thank you.

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