Beyond Belief Agnostics and Freethinkers

Toronto's City Hall

Fifty Chosen Articles:
Number Thirty-Five.
Originally posted in March 2017.

In January of 2017 secular AA groups booted out by the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup were invited back in by the Intergroup.

This candid history of one of the booted out groups, written by one of its founders, Joe C,  was published in the very next Intergroup Newsletter, Better Times.

By Joe C

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 at 6:30 PM, the first meeting of Beyond Belief Agnostics and Freethinkers Group took place at the University of Toronto. There are now 14 GTA meetings “without a prayer”. I’m a regular around the AA History Lovers clan and periodically, I write and speak about our collective history. Eddy G from Toronto archives was excited to show me a late 1990s meeting list with a We Agnostics Group on Danforth, in District 22. So, if any East-enders remember We Agnostics, I’d love to hear from you.

At the turn of the century, I found an active group of AA atheists / agnostics form around the world, online. I found an international website of agnostic / atheists AA groups that included New York City. “Great,” I decided, “Next New York trip, I’m going.” I told some of my homegroup friends. I got to a couple of New York agnostic groups and I couldn’t wait to help start a Toronto group with my fellow AAs.

Many agnostic groups had web pages with meeting scripts and readings. Living Sober is a popular reading. We adopted this popular opening:

AA agnostic meetings endeavour to maintain a tradition of free expression, and conduct a meeting where alcoholics feel free to express any doubts or disbelief they may have, and to share their own personal form of spiritual experience, their search for it, or their rejection of it. In keeping with AA tradition, we do not endorse or oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to ensure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in AA without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs, or having to deny their own.

There was no praying; some groups recited the Responsibility Declaration or “Live and Let Live” and some just close with “Our next meeting is ___ ; who’s going for coffee?”

BB Better Times

Click on the image above to view this article as posted in the February issue of the GTA Intergroup Newsletter.

A lot of the early Toronto members came from Midtown, Stepping Stones and other groups in the Annex. Alcoholics from Ajax to Mississauga joined us. A lot of long-timers talk about AA recovery, not fitting their beliefs into G.O.D. acronyms or start every share with, “I don’t mean to offend anyone but…”

There are those newcomers who tried faking it and repeatedly not made it but have now found sobriety in our gathering of mostly nonbelievers. Some AAs never have the experience of a prayer-answering, sobriety-granting higher power. At Beyond Belief, we just share from our heart, unabashedly.

There are 400 secular AA meetings around the world. From 2009 to 2017, we went from zero to over 24 Canadian meetings for atheists / agnostics.

The International Conference of Secular AA is coming to downtown Toronto, in 2018. Many of us are busy with our first local gathering called SOAAR (Secular Ontario AA Roundup) September 16, 2017.

AA History isn’t something that happened “way back when”. AA evolves before our eyes. It’s an exciting time to be sober in Toronto AA.

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 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.

Joe has written a total of 22 articles published on AA Agnostica:

For the record, Joe’s first article was the fourth ever posted on AA Agnostica.

For a PDF of this article, click here: Beyond Belief Agnostics and Freethinkers.


1 Response

  1. Joe C says:

    What a blast from the past.

    It’s so AA isn’t it? Something isn’t a problem; someone makes a problem out of something that’s not a problem. Feelings are hurt, sides are taken, the fickle finger of the narcissism of small differences points to a new “other” who is really an “us” and we talk at our meeting about how they at their meeting are letting newcomers down and going to to be the ruin of AA. Fundamentalists bad-mouth the freethinkers for watering down AA. Freethinkers blame fundies for holding AA back with their “Make AA Great Again” worldview.

    Our problem like any problem eventually became page-8 news and then not news at all. Who recognized the 10-year anniversary May 2011 that the “de-listing” happened? The final chapter was the people who were never anti-atheist in the first place asked Beyond Belief to offer a group history in the local Better Times magazine as soon as we were re-listed.

    Everyone has moved on. A lot of people had to do a lot to make it so, people were hurt in a way that still seems to have been unnecessary. No one at Intergroup in the Greater Toronto Area today, even knows or remembers a time when agnostic and atheist groups we’re part of Toronto AA. “Of course they are.” Even most who don’t want to go to our meeting, don’t object to it being there for those who need it. The website meeting list has a “type” filter. So Big Book lovers only see their Big Book meetings, atheists only see their secular meetings. Minding our own business is as good as AA gets, maybe.

    But the same problem is still a problem in other regions. And new problems in Toronto have replaced the what to do about the heathens crisis. It’s all about re-opening: when? how? The Ontario Regional AA, Al-Anon, Alateen Conference is online again this year. Some can’t wait to be back together, all in one room at the Queen Street Sheraton. And I’m sure others will start a new online ORC when the rest go back to meeting in a place.

    What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. AA is better now than it was ten-years ago. I don’t know how we will count noses in brick-and-mortar + Zoom-iverse but when/if we figure it out, I think AA is growing again. With the low-cost virtual way of doing AA, GSO is healthy. Book sales are really down. That once sounded alarms because members and groups were not paying GSOs way (7th Tradition) and we relied on book revenue to cover 40-60% of our operating costs. Last year members/groups covered 90% of operating costs – we don’t have the cost of coffee and rent and something good comes out of another problem.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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