Ten Years Old!

The Growth of Secular AA

By Roger C.

Early History

AA Agnostica was launched a decade ago!

The website was created by me and another person on June 15, 2011. It was initially called AA Toronto Agnostics and it was created simply to let people know about the times and locations of two agnostic meetings, Beyond Belief and We Agnostics, after the groups had been booted out of the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup (GTAI).

At the time these were the only two secular AA groups in all of Canada. Beyond Belief was my homegroup. The groups were expelled from the GTAI for one simple reason: we used a secular version of the 12 Steps.

Traditional AA can be rather dogmatic, and in Toronto it certainly was way back then. In the conference-approved Big Book, published a million years ago, God is an essential part of recovery. With a “God” – or a “Him” (this deity is both Christian and male) – in six of the 12 steps, a secular version of these steps was not allowed by the GTAI. Thus, the expulsion of the two groups. After a legal challenge that lasted roughly six years, we were allowed back in in early 2017.

In the early months of the website, there was plenty of pressure to remove a secular version of the 12 Steps that I had added to the menu.

The Steps were never removed. The Alternative 12 Steps (there are six different versions on the website these days) is the most popular menu item for people visiting AA Agnostica: roughly 150,000 viewers over the past decade, and that’s forty or so each and every day.

Indeed, I was inspired by the interest in the secular 12 steps to write a book on the topic. Published in early 2013 it is called The Little Book – A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps (with a second edition and a French version, Le petit livre jaune, published earlier this year).

Okay, back to the first days of AA Agnostica. Early on I decided to invite people to post articles on the website. I don’t remember why I did that. There are very few sites that invite people to share their experience, strength and hope and at the time I didn’t know of a single such website. Certainly, none that invited recovering alcoholics and addicts to write articles. Nevertheless, in the first year, forty-six articles were published on AA Agnostica.  These were written by twenty-two people from three countries: Great Britain, Canada and the United States.

The growth of the website was on its way.

Middle History

Over the next few years, we became rather busy.  For instance, in the period between mid-June 2014 and mid-June 2015 a total of 94 articles were published, written by 50 different people. And all of this is compared to 62 articles the previous year and 46 in each of the first two years of AA Agnostica.

Moreover, two important things were launched in April 2013.

First, AA Agnostica decided to help nonbelievers start their own agnostic AA meetings.

On the Home Page we added a message that read, “Want an agnostic AA group in your town or city? Click here”. And literally thousands of people did just that.

They filled out a form with their location, email address, and an optional phone number and comment. Others nearby that did the same would be connected, filled in on what needed to be done (How to Start an AA Meeting), and often a new meeting would be launched.

This was all managed by Chris G who estimates that this project helped start approximately eighty meetings throughout North America. More about that here: My Brain Goes Fuzzy When They Talk About God.

The project was ended in June of 2016. It was simply felt the goal had been achieved.

Okay, more numbers. When AA Agnostica was first launched there was a grand total of 87 secular AA groups in the entire world. In 2012 there were 99. When the conference in Santa Monica was held in 2014 (more about this coming up) there was a total of 181 agnostic AA meetings. In the next year, growth spiked to 288 meetings. When the 2016 conference was held in Austin there were now 320 secular AA meetings worldwide. (These numbers were shared on a website launched in 2002, Agnostic AA New York City).

Okay, now on to an event launched in April 2013.

WAFT IAAC Logo

At the time it was known as the WAFT (We Agnostics and Free Thinkers) IAAC (International AA Convention). Two women, Dorothy H and Pam W, who had met at the We Agnostics meeting in Hollywood, were the main planners of the convention. They chose to hold this first ever secular AA event in Santa Monica, California in November 2014.

What a plan that was! And it was so very well executed. Dorothy travelled across the United States and into Canada to attend as many of the 150 secular AA meetings as possible and encourage people to attend this upcoming convention.

And AA Agnostica also did whatever it could to help. Our first topic about the convention was an interview with Pam, posted in mid-June 2013: An AA Convention for We Agnostics. Overall, five articles were posted prior to the convention, one on each day of the convention, and two after and about the convention.

It was an historical event, to say the least, held at a Unitarian Universalist Church which turned out to be so much better than a conference held in a hotel! Here is a quote about the conference: “The convention lasted three very busy days. Consistent with its theme of Many Paths to Recovery, it was stunningly rich and diverse with fifteen panels, twenty-three workshops (and) ten speakers.” That is from an article I wrote at the very end of 2014, The Impossible Becomes Possible.

Two other conventions – now called conferences – were held after that, one in Austin, Texas (2016) and one in Toronto, Ontario (2018). Of course, articles were published before and after both of those here on AA Agnostica. And the next in-person International Conference of Secular AA (ICSAA) is now expected to be held in Bethesda, Maryland at the end of October.

A final topic in this section of today’s article: Books!

Over the years, AA Agnostica has published a total of 10 books. Except for the second edition of The Little Book and its French version, Le petit livre jaune, all of them were published in the middle years of the website: between 2013 and 2017. One of my favorites has always been The Alternative 12 Steps – A Secular Guide to Recovery. Written by two women, and first published in 1991 – amazing! – we published its second edition in 2014.

Let me explain why these books were published. When I got sober in 2010, I couldn’t find any books that helped me with my recovery. None. Nada. And I couldn’t stand the Big Book. Too much God, too outdated and ancient…

So, we published these ten books. And two of them were by friends who had written a number of articles for AA Agnostica. One was by Thomas B, who wrote 21 articles, and his book is called Each Breath a Gift – A Story of Continuing Sobriety. The other was by bob k, the author of Key Players in AA History. bob has written a total of 54 articles shared on AA Agnostica and I am now helping him produce a second edition of Key Players (this one will be personally published by bob).

Overall, 93 books – each and every one of them about secular recovery – were reviewed on AA Agnostica! An average of 9.3 a year, I guess.

In fact, the fifth article posted on AA Agnostica on July 27, 2011 was a review of Marya Hornbacher’s book Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power. The review was written by my friend John M (who now lives on Vancouver Island). A few years later I had the pleasure of being on a panel with Marya at the WAFT International AA Convention.

Another one of my all-time favorite books was written by Jeffrey Munn, Staying Sober Without God. The review was written by another friend, Heather C, and I was delighted to meet Jeffrey Munn at the Secular Ontario AA Roundup (SOAAR) held in Hamilton in 2019.

Now, why am I telling you these book reviewers were friends and I met the authors? Simply because that has been the result of creating AA Agnostica: I have met many people and participated in many events. It’s all about connection.

And not just connection for me. The goal of AA Agnostica has always been to connect people with the reality of recovery without a God. And this happens – more and more these days – in Alcoholics Anonymous, despite the million-year-old Big Book. There is no need for an anthropomorphic, interventionist and male deity. The website connects people with people who’s recovery is all about their wonderful and non-godly experience, strength, and hope. That – from day one – has been AA Agnostica. I could go on and on with this topic but, well, I’ll stop here.

Alright, that’s our middle history. Secular AA groups worldwide. Three conferences, the first being in Santa Monica. And books! And now…

Today’s History

Over the past twelve months, ninety articles have been posted on AA Agnostica. Twenty of them were chapters of the book Do Tell, which had already been shared on the website when the book was published in 2015. Another twenty articles had been posted on other websites and were reposted here because they were well-written and useful, for example: Atheists and Agnostics: The Meaning of Life.

The fifty original articles were written by people from several different continents and countries: Canada, the USA, Latin America, Australia, Poland, England, Thailand and South Africa. Over the last decade, and counting today’s article, a total of 695 articles have been posted and the vast majority have been originals.

More numbers. There have been 3,500,000 views on AA Agnostica over the decade. These views are people who visit the website once, and never come back. And readers who regularly read our articles – a bunch of the viewers! Now, I know that total is not very many compared to, say, the Walmart website. But remember, these are recovery people, and mostly secular recovery people. That total over the years amounts to roughly 1,000 people every day – the first two years the number was not nearly that high – and these days roughly 200 different articles are viewed each and every day.

For the record, the most popular article is An Atheists Guide to 12-Step Recovery. Posted in 2012, to date it has had a total of 200,000 viewers.

And now, a question: Is AA growing up? Yes, it is. Slowly, but I hope and believe, surely. When the Big Book was written, 92% of Americans self-identified as Christians. That has dropped by almost a third; today 65% of Americans identify as Christians. As Bob Dylan put it: “The times they are a changin’”.

Thus, this website and the interest in it. But it is not the only such website these days. Joe C, the author of Beyond Belief, launched Rebellion Dogs Publishing in 2011. John Sheldon has been responsible for several websites. One of them is Secular AA, which first was created – with a different name, WAAFT Central – in 2014 after the Santa Monica convention. John also created AA Beyond Belief in 2015 which has now evolved into the Beyond Belief Sobriety Podcast.

Moreover, Alcoholics Anonymous is learning to accommodate we secular people. In 2014 our friend life-j wrote an article, A Grapevine Book for Agnostics and Atheists in AA. We asked AA Grapevine to publish a book of the 40 secular stories it had posted since 1947. In 2015, they said “no”.  We pushed and pushed. In 2016, they said “yes”!

Finally, in 2018, the book was published: One Big Tent – Atheist and Agnostic AA Members Share Their Experience, Strength and Hope. It isn’t the best possible book, but it is certainly a move in the right direction.

As well, the GSO now has an online list of all AA meetings in North America, and it is called the Meeting Guide. And guess what? One of the categories is “secular”.

Does the GSO need to do more. Damn right! One of the things it must do is ditch “conference-approved” as its only category of literature. Go to a traditional AA meeting and the only things on its literature table are “conference-approved” books and pamphlets. Sad, given that so many good books about recovery have been written since that million-year-old Big Book, but true.

A final thought about the growth of secular AA meetings. As mentioned earlier, the total worldwide was at 320 in 2016. By 2020 the number had grown to roughly 500. So, what happened next? Well, the pandemic hit hard in March 2020. Had you ever heard of “zoom” meetings before then? It has had a huge impact on the secular AA movement. As bob k put it in an article on AA Beyond Belief, “The pandemic has taught us some things – one being that the thirst for secular AA exceeds our most optimistic imaginings” (Pandemics, Zoom & Happy Heathens).

It will be interesting to see the new numbers, post-pandemic…

Our Last Original Article
The Eleventh Year of AA Agnostica

After a decade of sharing every Sunday and sometimes on Wednesdays, today’s post is meant to essentially be the last original article posted on AA Agnostica.

Over the next year, the eleventh year, we are considering re-posting some of the most popular articles on the website. Perhaps the top 50 of our total of 695. Frankly, we haven’t decided how many yet.

But certainly, no more new articles every Sunday. None on Wednesdays. As we mentioned earlier, a couple of hundred different articles are viewed every single day. And for that very reason, we do indeed plan to keep the website up and alive for the next years.

AA Agnostica: A space for AA agnostics, atheists and freethinkers worldwide. It has been a great decade! I have enjoyed it very much and have learned a great deal. And the connections. Amazing. There is no doubt that the secular AA movement will continue to grow and expand over the next years. As it should. And as it must.

Onwards and upwards, folks.


For a PDF of this article, click here: Ten Years Old!


The founder of AA Agnostica has written and posted a total of 84 articles on the website:


Roger C has been an alcoholic in recovery since March 8, 2010. Later that summer he joined the Toronto group Beyond Belief, at the time the only secular AA meeting in all of Canada. In September, a second Toronto group, We Agnostics, was launched. The two were booted out of the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup on May 31, 2011. And that’s exactly what inspired Roger to launch a website in June of that year that became AA Agnostica.


 

26 Responses

  1. Mike O says:

    Many thanks and congratulations to all involved in AA Agnostica! This has been a wonderful resource for me and many others like me who have been seeking recovery through a road slightly less travelled. At times that road has seemed SO much less travelled as to be completely unpaved. LOL

    Still, for those of us who have sought to FIND our voice in recovery rather than have our voice dictated to us solely through the Big Book and 12 Steps, especially as interpreted by hardcore self-appointed AA gurus and Bleeding Deacon Oldtimers, this has been a safe space and a breath of fresh air. There are as many ways to get and stay sober as there are those who pursue sobriety and having an open community of those also just trying to find their voice and their own way has been a support and inspiration. As the larger society in North America becomes more and more secularized I truly believe those seeking their own paths in sobriety will be better positioned to roll with those changes.

    I look forward to seeing how this community continues to grow, evolve and adapt, especially to new medical information and scientific breakthroughs in the field of addiction medicine. Most importantly, it’s always good to know that however we pursue recovery we’re not alone.

  2. George S. says:

    Thank You, Roger. As a direct result of your efforts, I found many like-minded friends in AA and started a Secular Group in New Jersey. You have much to be proud of.

  3. John B. says:

    Many well deserved accolades. Great job Roger.

  4. Tom K. says:

    Roger, Congratulations on 10 yrs and your efforts to provide a path for many. I am basic AA, believing a power greater than myself has been at my side before and all during my life and 46 yrs of sobriety. But we are many and varied and AA taught me we are all free to believe or not as we trudge our journey. Be well and thanks for ALL the good you have put out there.

  5. Witek says:

    Roger, 
    Thank you very much for these ten years! You did and still do a great job. Agnostica means a lot to me. My self-esteem and hope for the normal humanistic recovery are much bigger now than they used to be years ago. Because of you. So, it is a sad news. I suppose you feel tired; it would be pretty understandable., of course. I know how much we sometimes need to organise only one text for our website or a speaker meeting.
    Best wishes from Poland.

  6. Glenna R says:

    A big Thank You for 10 years of work! I feel I have been with you since the beginning and am so proud of what you have done for AA Agnostica. I think my husband (Deceased in Dec. 2017) did not believe I would last this long at anything. It has been a wonderful ride and I’m so happy to have had a place to grow in sobriety. I’ve looked forward to all your posts and welcomed them all with open eyes and mind. Roger. You deserve a medal for your achievement. Here take it! Don’t bow; it would be too humiliating. The depth and breadth of this website has been a great tool in my sobriety. We had an AA Agnostic Meeting but alas with 3 members & 2 maybe’s we have to leave that part of our journey. The recent death of our other member has compromised our Meeting, Thanks Roger from the bottom of my heart for the wonderful ride. I’ve enjoyed every post and have read them all. Adios amiga. Glenna

  7. Murray J. says:

    I’ll add my congratulations to you Roger for a job phenomenally well done giving us the voices of the secular community. From the floor of the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup during the purge to now has been nothing short of revolutionary/evolutionary for us heathens. The future looks brighter because of you and others providing excellent articles and books.

    Thanks again!

  8. Glenn Rader says:

    Roger,

    The article “Ten Years Old!” was eye-opening. The breadth of the impact of AA Agnostica and the related articles, book reviews, and publications is very impressive.

    I want to use this forum to personally thank you for everything that you have done for the atheists, agnostics, and freethinker’s community. You are a pioneer in the area internationally. I don’t say that casually – I mean it with all due respect.

    Glenn Rader

  9. Bob K says:

    AA has changed over the past 10 years. It’s become somewhat more liberal about the God stuff and more welcoming to people like me.

    One of the HUGE contributors to the new reality was Larry K and his human rights case against Toronto Intergroup. New York AA sided more with Larry than with the local central office. Thanks, Larry. You were the exactly right pitbull we needed at that time.

    A medium contributor to the current reality has been this website. This has been Roger C.’s baby and the credit goes to him.

    I’d like to mention Joe C. and his phenomenal book “Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for a 12 Step Life.” The musings are so interesting that agnostics look really good as a result. Joe is the perfect broker of peace for the current.

    Of course, it all began when two rabid God-lovers decided that Toronto AA (and beyond) needed to be purified of the heathen element. Thank you. I believe their names were Curly and Moe.

    Nyuk, nyuk.

  10. Nina C. says:

    Thank you Roger and congratulations on 10 years. I’ve really come to enjoy reading the articles you have posted on this website. I will look forward to reading the more popular re-posts and seeing what happens post pandemic with the secular community as a whole. Times they are a-changin’.

    I am also very happy to call you my friend.

  11. Dan H. says:

    What a ride, for you and the rest of us! Thanks for launching this project and nursing it for all this time. I’m pleased to have been a part of it.

  12. Thomas B. says:

    It was most gratifying to wake up this morning in the Tucson desert to find your most recent article, “Ten Years Old” – what a rollicking, roilling, topesy-turvy ride it has been.

    I just want to thank you for our plus-decade of friendship and for sharing this secular journey with me along with the hundreds (thousands?!?!?) of secular folks around the world – what you folks in Toronto have done is no less (IN MY NOT SO HUMBLE OPINION) than to save AA from becoming an artifact of the distant past, like horse-borne carriages or top hats.

    THANK YOU, Thank you, thank you – a million or more times.

  13. Sasha Lee says:

    Congratulations! I believe the full impact of Secular AA, and (more to the point of this comment) of your generous and useful service, has yet to be fully appreciated. I know now – 10 years later – that at the point of finding / being found by you, Dorothy, (she phoned me to get an invite to Happy Heathens) Joe, and then others, I might have dropped recovery completely. Santa Monica breathed new life, reason, sanity and understanding and, finally, on a footing that serves me honorably and reliably. Whatever BoyScout Troop you guys got trained in, they did good. Love and respect.

  14. Alyssa S says:

    So proud of you Roger (Regor) !!
    Your friend, soda
    Alyssa

  15. Piyayo says:

    Muchas Gracias, Merci beaucoup Roger C. Los Grupos séculaires seguiran multiplicandose. En la comunidad hispano parlante estamos presente. Existimos y nos estamos recuperando en línea. Tenemos reuniones todos los dias en tres Grupos Internacionales en español. Yo estuve en Toronto durante la tercera conferencia Secular y allí conocí a un compañero de Francia y que en esta PANDEMIA nos unimos y creamos un grupo de Ateos y Agnósticos llamado París Aagnostic. Ya cumplimos un año y pronto cumpliremos otro año con el Ateos y Agnósticos en español. Gracias por existir.

  16. Thank you for your service, Roger. Your work is appreciated and has been a source of true expansion for me. I actually attended the WAFT International Convention in Santa Monica with a “We Agnostics” group that I helped form in Santa Barbara. We are a Big Tent indeed.

  17. Garry U. says:

    You have done AA and non-believers a great service. Thank you!

  18. Ten great years; thanks for your service, Roger and to all the contributors.

  19. Vic Losick says:

    Who is “another person” who co-founded AA Agnostica?

    • Roger says:

      Vic, I believe his name as Dave. He and I launched the website, originally called AA Toronto Agnostics. But he only hung in for two weeks and then turned the website over to me…

      • Stan R designed our first website: https://aatorontoagnostics.org, 2009. Also, at the time, in the Fall of 2009 Stan designed something Greater Toronto Area Intergroup was offering at the time, called “home pages,” housed on aatoronto.org which – as approved by the GTAI executive committee – displayed both the original AA twelve steps and our interpretation. David R was the second elected web/communications trusted servant when Stan rotated out. When David rotated out of the term, Roger was elected by Beyond Belief as our trusted servant.

        Later, about ten years ago, Beyond Belief launched https://aatorontoagnostics.com which exists today, which replaced aatorontoagnostics.org which became aaagnostica.org as we’ve know and enjoyed it for ten years.

  20. John R. says:

    Thanks, Roger. Great review and info. Thank you for all your efforts. And, it may have kept you sober!

  21. Oren says:

    Congratulations, Roger, and thanks for the splendid service you have provided to all of us freethinkers in recovery from addiction. You are much appreciated!

  22. Hilary J. says:

    Thank you for all your service, Roger, and congratulations! Hope to see you again someday.

  23. Teresa says:

    Roger,
    Thank you so much for this “walk” through the ups and downs of spreading experience, strength and hope for those who have gotten sober and continue to live sober through the human connections made. Both in and out of A.A. rooms…support and encouragement, for ALL who want/need help is key. And we know ALL are not Christian and it was known from the start of A.A., changes would be a natural part of the movement, unless… stagnation prevailed. Thanks to the many who have and continue to be a part of the growth of “widening the gate” of A.A.
    Teresa J. Monterey CA, Live & Let Live Group

  24. John M. says:

    So many thanks, Roger, for the many years of dedication and love for your fellow sufferers and recoverers. I am very grateful to you for pushing all of us to expand the scope of our recovery messaging — especially as it relates to widening the gateway of the AA message which Bill W. readily acknowledged was the great contribution to AA by our fellow agnostics and atheists.

    I am so happy to call you my friend!

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