Secular Alcoholics Anonymous Groups in Toronto Have Been Kicked Out of AA June 4, 2011

Secular Alcoholics Anonymous Groups in Toronto Have Been Kicked Out of AA

Alcoholics Anonymous is a religious organization. We’ve known that for a long time. These are the infamous “Twelve Steps” (PDF) you must overcome to cure yourself of alcoholism, according to AA (emphases theirs):

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Half the steps have a direct reference to God (or some “higher power”).

So groups like Smart Recovery, Rational Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, and Women for Sobriety have sprouted in order to offer secular alternatives for people who want to cure their addiction without introducing another one into the mix. None of them are officially affiliated with AA.

It brings up a question: If you like the principles behind the Twelve Steps, but don’t want to use the language offered by AA, can you still be considered an AA affiliate?

Right now, two secular recovery groups in Toronto, Beyond Belief and We Agnostics, have been disaffiliated by Alcoholics Anonymous.

They’ve been removed from the list of local meetings, they’re no longer on Toronto’s AA website, and they won’t appear in the upcoming AA directory. And it’s all because they used a revised version of the Twelve Steps.

Here’s their version (with changes in bold):

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to accept and to understand that we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the AA program.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to ourselves without reservation, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were ready to accept help in letting go of all our defects of character.
  7. Humbly sought to have our shortcomings removed.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through mindful inquiry and meditation to improve our spiritual awareness, seeking only for knowledge of our rightful path in life and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

It’s essentially the same thing, but with no reference to a higher power. But that’s enough for AA to say no to them:

“They took issue with a public display of secular AA,” says Joe C., who founded Beyond Belief, Toronto’s first agnostic AA group, 18 months ago. (In keeping with AA’s tradition of anonymity, members are identified by first names only.)

“They (the altered Twelve Steps) are not our Twelve Steps,” says an AA member who was at Tuesday’s meeting of the coordinating body known as the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup. “They’ve changed them to their own personal needs. They should never have been listed in the first place.”

One man wept in dismay over the delisting at Beyond Belief’s Thursday night meeting at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education on Bloor Street West. Thirty-two people, mostly men, sat at desks in a classroom.

“I do believe in God,” he said after the meeting. “But you don’t need to believe in God to recover and I don’t think it’s appropriate at AA.”

As hard as it is for me to say it, I think AA is right. If you’re not going to use the Twelve Steps exactly as written, then you can’t really call yourself an AA group. You might be equally as effective — hell, one peer-reviewed research paper has shown that secular version of the Twelve Steps is more effective than the “spiritual” version — but you’re still not technically an AA group.

No one is telling Beyond Belief and We Agnostics that they can’t exist, only that they can’t call themselves an AA-affiliated group. The problem with that is, without the acknowledgement of the groups’ existence that comes from AA, it becomes much harder for people who need help to find these secular alternatives. When alcoholics want help, they’re going to search for “Alcoholics Anonymous,” not “Beyond Belief.” Most probably aren’t even aware that AA has anything to do with a god in the first place.

It’s unfortunate because everyone involved wants to help people get off of alcohol addiction, but AA has every right to disaffiliate the secular alternatives.

(Thanks to Heather for the link)


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • You’re absolutely right. But we can at least help spread the word about these secular organizations for those who need help. Rather than rail against AA, let’s take the proactive step and help those who need it find groups like this. A blog post like this is a big step. Thank you Hemant.

  • Shane A

    I’ve been a member of AA for 20 years in the local fellowship we have here in Sonoma County, CA. In all that time the emphasis has been reliance on some kind of higher power. It has always been up to the individual what they choose to be that higher power. The term “religion” doesn’t seem to apply as the program does not require any dogmatic belief system.

  • Larry Meredith

    “They’ve changed them to their own personal needs. They should never have been listed in the first place.”


    “They don’t even attempt to proselytize. What the hell is the point in affiliating them if they aren’t helping us convert people?”

  • An interesting note about AA. As a part of many courts diversion programs, many are mandating AA attendance as condition of probation, nolle prosequi or dropping of charges. In a number of cases this is now being found a violation of the First Amendment. Here are a few of the relevant decisions:

    Id. at 480; Warner, 115 F.3d. 1068; Turner v. Hickman, 342 F.Supp.2d 887, 893-894 (E.D. Cal. 2004); Catala v. Commissioner, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31695 (D. N.H. 2005) (unpublished disposition); Edmondson v. Curry, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45119 (D. N.H. 2006) (unpublished disposition); Rainesv. Siegelman, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15542 (M.D. Ala. 2006) (using coercion test, court found no violation where plaintiff had secular alternative); Cummings v. Darsey, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4257 (D. N.J. 2007) (unpublished disposition).

  • Steve

    I can understand disassociating themselves from those groups as far as organizational and administrative matters are concerned.

    But not referring people to them is flat out immoral. If someone told AA that he would be more comfortable in a more secular setting, he should receive information about possible alternatives.

  • Marguerite

    I agree. I don’t have a problem with AA “disaffiliating” (is that really a word?) these groups. I just hope that doesn’t make it harder for atheist and agnostic alcoholics to find help. But it seems inevitable that it will.

  • John Perkins

    It’s actually more odd to me that atheists would want to have anything to do with AA in the first place. It’s not just that it’s a religious organization, it’s that their program does not work. I generally associate atheists with rational thought, and the first two steps of AA are insanely irrational.

  • Larry Meredith

    You’d think AA would want secular associates if for nothing else than to boost their overall success rates.

  • Lucette Smoes

    I support John Perkins’ position.
    It is not OK for atheist groups to hijack religious groups. Even if it is easier. We cannot be lazy.

  • That is tough. I have an atheist friend who just got out of rehab for narcotics 1 year ago and doing fantastic with his 12-step group. He has made a non-interventionist, monistic type of higher power for himself (found among certain types of Buddhists and new-agers). So their “higher power” is not a theistic higher power — so that makes them “A-theistic”, no?

    If we look at the mind as multi-modular, building such a concept (if held loosely) can help create and tap into other sides of yourself — not the sides that messed up before.

  • treedweller

    “The problem with that is, without the acknowledgement of the groups’ existence that comes from AA, it becomes much harder for people who need help to find these secular alternatives.”

    Also, as alluded to in an earlier comment, one wonders if courts would accept a secular program as meeting the requirements of probation. Assuming they would, I’m fine with AA denying anyone they care to. Assuming they wouldn’t, this is yet another front in the war for free thinking.

  • Mattir

    No, these groups have not been “kicked out” of AA. They’ve been “delisted” from a particular meeting list in a particular city, which is very very different.

    There is an increasingly active and vibrant atheist presence in AA, including an online group at, and, I believe, an atheists-and-agnostics-in-AA group on FB. These groups have been around for 30 or 40 years, and some of the founding members of AA in the 1930s were lifelong atheists who died sober. Some of their stories are in the freaking AA literature, for crying out loud, including several stories in the Big Book itself.

    This is an example of a pathetic Roman Catholic narcissist deciding that he needs to take steps to enforce HIS way of AA, which is actually not how AA works – it’s almost chaotically decentralized. It also strongly resembles the struggle over whether gay-and-lesbian-identified groups could be listed in local meeting guides. That battle was won by the gay-and-lesbian groups, which are now incredibly common. This battle will also be won. It’s part of a greater cultural struggle around public non-theism.

    AA is certainly NOT for everyone, and I’m very glad that there are other treatment modalities. But it’s not accurate to say that an atheist can’t be part of AA just fine. The numerous 20-and-30 year sober members of the google group, from many countries and states, are good evidence that one’s “higher power” can be gravity and the collective wisdom of people who’ve struggled with the same problem.

    (There’s also a plan to form an atheists in AA intergroup and have a conference in one of the cities that decided not to list the non-theist meetings in their meeting list. Bwahahahaha!)

  • “When alcoholics want help, they’re going to search for ‘Alcoholics Anonymous,’ not ‘Beyond Belief.’ Most probably aren’t even aware that AA has anything to do with a god in the first place.”

    Yes, and this is exactly what the religionists at AA are counting on. They’ve latched onto a vulnerable group, i.e. addicts looking to recover, and suck them in, telling them (once they arrive) that they NEED a “higher power” (aka religion) to succeed. Being vulnerable, the desperate-to-recover addicts all too frequently aren’t able to question them about this, and don’t have the wherewithal to leave and go find a secular alternative.

    It’s a pretty unethical way to proselytize, but then, ethics and proselytization have little to do with one another.

  • Mattir

    Also, meetings have names. The NAMES of these meetings were Beyond Belief and We Agnostics, just like the names of some other meetings might be Tuesday Together or No Knitters or Sober Sisters.

    Beyond Belief and We Agnostics are still official AA meetings, it’s just that newcomers in Toronto might have a bit more trouble finding them. Probably not even that, though, since the decision will almost certainly be overturned.

  • DanStlMo

  • NotYou007

    I’ll drink to this.

  • The steps are only suggested as a program of recovery. The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking. If you ask most members of AA, they will tell you that AA is a spiritual program not a religious program, even though it is more often than not practiced as such.

    When the opportunity arises for groups in AA to truly distance themselves from religion, instead of embracing that opportunity many AA organizations circle the wagons to protect their religiosity, which was never supposed to be a part of AA in the first place.

  • littlejohn

    AA (and, I assume, all 12-step programs) has about a 5% success rate. Thats about the same as tackling your addiction with your own willpower or praying to Zeus. Why courts can force people who are ill into flagrantly Christian systems is beyond my understanding. It is clearly unconstitutional. And if you suffer from an addiction, it is almost certainly a waste of your time. Work with a secular doctor.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    I sought help with acoa, it seemed ok at first, bought some books, worked the program, then hit roadblocks when no practical help programs or exercises appeared. After moving I gradually became disenchanted. Looking around the web I found another, problems started fast when I suggested the steps got in the way of the help I needed, they banned me. I discovered a now defunct site, (an archive available here )and eventually found some non aa sites but nowhere could I find the local or online support I sought. I’ve had horrid run ins with aa people at other sites, and am fully convinced it is a very harmful cult, that has done much harm to the health care system in the US and helped create and maintain the neo prohibition and war on drugs with it’s bad science and propaganda. I have been and know others who have been banished as a result of conflicts on needed support sites with the complete incompatibility of AA dogma and rational real help. I think AA needs to be exposed for the ineffective and very harmful inherently religious cult many believe it is.
    Thanks for posting on the subject Hemant. I think atheists are well rid of any AA affiliation. I’ll add a bunch of related links later perhaps.

  • Teliria

    I absolutely, 100 percent agree that AA (the organization) has every right to do this. I do, however, feel that their doing it makes them very small and petty indeed.

    If they really want to help people, they should be doing everything in their power to create friendly and comforting groups where everyone feels welcome. If that means having different groups for different people (including those who do not wish to be god-coddled), then that is what they should do.

    But again… I absolutely agree… they have every right to do this… people have every right to be jackasses.

  • Nordog

    Yes, and this is exactly what the religionists at AA are counting on. They’ve latched onto a vulnerable group, i.e. addicts looking to recover, and suck them in, telling them (once they arrive) that they NEED a “higher power” (aka religion) to succeed.

    Having spent about 9 years in 12-Step groups I can say with certainty that you don’t know anything about how they operate. In fact, I’ve found as much, if not more, resentment and hostility to religion in 12-Step meetings than I do here.

  • Minus

    Let me make a couple of points to add to this discussion. For one thing, AA is not an organization. It is a loose fellowship of groups. There is no top down authoritarianism. This is both a strength and a weakness, a weakness in that is extremely difficult to change the AA culture – which very much needs changing. There is a growing sense among many AA folks that AA must change or it will die. We will never know how many people have been repelled by the religious content of so much of literature and thinking in AA. As one old timer I know put it, “The Big Book should be bronzed like your baby shoes and relegated to a museum.”

  • @Nordog,

    I don’t know how you can be so sure I don’t know what I’m talking about. I have, for instance, read the AA Big Book. Its chapter 4, called “We Agnostics,” declares clearly and explicitly that belief in God is required in order to recover. Rather disingenuously, its author feigns having been an “agnostic.” Really, though, the text was written by a definite, unapologetic theist … and one who has never actually been an agnostic (or any other kind of non-believer).

    I have no idea how any organization that follows this particular book, can possibly be “hostile” to religion. The two are contradictory. Either AA isn’t following the book any more, or they’re not hostile to religion. It can’t logically be both. But … since they post the full content of the Big Book on their Web site … my guess is that they DO follow it.

    I also know for a fact that proselytizers troll AA meetings looking for people to get their talons into. I’ve met some of the folks they’ve preyed on. You can deny it happens, but I know otherwise.

  • You can tell who’s in the cult just by looking at the comments.

    AA is, without a doubt, a dangerous mind-control cult.

  • Stephen P

    Apparently the leadership of AA, or at least this group, aren’t really interested in curing your addiction. They just want to replace your alcohol addiction with an addiction to unhealthy fantasy stories.

  • My beef with AA is personal as well as philosophical because, prior to her involvement with AA, my mother was agnostic. Then, she got involved with AA and affiliated groups and now she insists that she was helped by a, “higher power.” I frequently point out the suspicious coincidence of this help from, “God,” with her own personal decision to take control of her life, but alas, to no avail. Her brain was thoroughly scrubbed of skepticism.

    Nonetheless, she continues to maintain that AA is not religious. But whether we call it religion or, “spirituality,” it’s still purely imaginative nonsense and I think AA is worthy of contempt for slipping it into the drinks, as it were (forgive the pun), of struggling substance abusers. This kind of backdoor proselytism is precisely why I so staunchly oppose faith-based initiatives and the government’s funding thereof.

  • Anyone who has doubts about the FLAGRANT RELIGIOUSNESS of AA need only go to: “”, or “”, and read those pages contents. It does not get anymore analyzed then that!

  • gsw

    If looking up AA in the phone book displays AAA (Atheists Alcoholics Anon) right next to it, where is the harm?

    If the name AA is a reg. TM then register the new AAA name.
    I agree that Beyond Belief is a little confusing – having nothing to do with alcohol.

  • I agree with Mattir. I’m understand the controversy because I am an “out” atheist in A.A. who is a District Committee Member in my District AND the local Central Office manager. I put any group on the meetings list because I don’t have the power not to. “Every group is autonomous” says A.A. and only its own “group conscience” can tell it how to be a group, and what kind of group to be. However, if a group called itself the “Only the Abrahamic God Works Group” I would not list them because no A.A. group ought to be affiliated with any particular sect–says A.A. But the atheist and agnostic group I helped start in this District almost 3 years ago was put on the meeting list by someone else before I took it over as my assignment. Why? Because some other very adamant (and cranky-mean-about-it-when-challenged) atheists arrived on the scene before me and paved the way. On the other hand, maybe that is not why. Maybe it is because in my District we are fair and open-minded.

    You see, it is up to the local Central Office/Intergroup–if they are the publisher of the list–who to publish. But many Intergroups are denying a place on the meeting list to groups who have been legitimized by the the General Service Organization (the A.A. HQ) with a registration number, like my group.

    The ironic thing is that the GSO publishes a huge book every year with the names and address of every registered Group–but the local Intergroup won’t do it? Do they have the right to be MORE strict than the GSO–which is run by a “Class A Non-Alcoholic” who happens to be a Protestant minister? (Not all of the leaders of A.A. are ministers; this one just happens to be–and he has stated that he doesn’t like what is going on so far as the evangelical movement within A.A. is going. He says it ought to stay out.)

    That is one reason I disagree with Lucette Smoe, who says above: “It is not OK for atheist groups to hijack religious groups. Even if it is easier. We cannot be lazy.”

    So Lucette, you say A.A. is a “religious group”? Then the courts MUST stop sending people to A.A. meetings because of the separation of church and state. Perhaps when a case reaches the Supreme Court and that Court rules that A.A. does infringe on a person’s right to be atheist, then the practice will stop. But the Supreme Court will not rule that, because it is not a religious organization.

    The Grapevine books “Spiritual Awakenings” have stories by atheists and agnostics. The pamphlet “Do You Think You’re Different?” has an atheist and an agnostic story–and neither of them apologizes for it. And A.A. is in the process of writing a pamphlet on spirituality that will include more stories by atheists and agnostics.

  • Carlie

    I hope this is a small step in releasing the stranglehold that AA has on addiction recovery in general. As mentioned above, the best anyone can find out it has about a 5% success rate and they’ve just clarified that they’re explicitly religious. It has no part in court-mandated sentencing and therapy.

  • Simon

    FYI CFI has long had SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety) for exactly this reason:

  • I spent 23 years in AA defending myself against bullies spewing hate at me that I would never stay sober unless I found god. That I wasn’t sober unless I was spiritual.

    You cannot work the AA program (i.e. the steps) WITHOUT a belief in god. Read the Big Book. It is condescending, demeaning and utterly insulting to atheists.

    The meetings open with a prayer and close with a prayer.
    The slogans are based upon a belief in god.
    I can’t, He can, I think I’ll let him.
    Let go and Let god.
    There but for the grace of god go I.
    If God seems far away, who moved?
    I can’t handle it God; you take over.
    God is never late.
    Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.
    GOD= Good Orderly Direction
    Faith is spelled a-c-t-i-o-n.
    E.G.O.=Edging God Out
    to name just a few.

    These are plastered all over the walls of the meeting rooms and the treatment centers.

    The entire premise is god has saved me from myself. Does this sound like indoctrination? uh huh If you refuse to do the steps, you are berated as being “in denial” “and I ain’t talking about the river in Egypt” I can’t tell you how many times I heard this. Condescending? uh huh
    Where do you think this tactic and technique was learned?

    For those claiming that a higher power can be a tree, gravity, a doorknob or anything else, how ridiculous. The BB and the step book consistently and constantly refer to god, the creator Him, with a capital H,. The literature cannot be clearer that you must find god to stay sober or “are doomed to an alcoholic death”

    I escaped 3 years ago and am still being bullied by people in AA that it is their way or NO WAY!

    AA is dangerous as it has gotten a stranglehold on treatment centers and our court system. We allow it to be used as THE treatment for substance abuse but the treatment is merely “find god”

    If you were to go to an oncologist for cancer treatment and he stated that you simply needed to have a spiritual awakening to be treated, you would walk out, (hopefully) But this is exactly what we have come to accept and expect for substance abuse treatment when there are effective alternatives. Medication treatment, behavior mod models etc. But they are scientifically based.

    People wonder why the success rate is so low? It doesn’t work! The people that stay sober would have with or without AA. They were motivated at the outset and made the decision. Revolving door rehabs? Learn AA for a mere 30K.

    Am I angry about this, You’re damn right I am. Not only are we wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on ineffective treatment, we are killing people sending them to useless treatment centers and ineffective programs.

    For those atheists in AA- Why not start a secular program?

  • littlejohn

    @nordog: All I can say is your AA meetings must have been very different from mine. Prayers and “portraits” of Jesus are all over the walls. Everyone holds hands and prays together. It’s like a fundamentalist tent revival. When I announced my discomfort with the religion I was invited to leave. No loss. I deal with my problem on my own as best I can.

  • Bob H.

    You people have done the impossible; turned atheism into a religion. Complete with the sins, the high priests, the excommunications, the fears, that are a sad product of your garden variety religions. How can an anonymous organization be a religion; you people have become as ridiculous as some of the fundys down south. Please stop wasting my time with any more emails.

  • I remember my step-dad going to AA back in the 70’s and him telling me they were trying to sell him “god”. He only attended a couple meetings. Probably couldn’t handle the religious bullshit. Thanks for nothing AA. Keep your proselytizing for the after world.

  • i have strong, negative feelings about the AA cult. my dad participated for years and years, and struggled with the guilt and shame their programs instill. and he learned to control his alcoholism all on his own, *after* he stopped going to AA.

    my mother, after their divorce, went to Al-Anon or whatever the program is that is for spouses of alcoholics, and wow, did she come back with all the wrong lessons. that program basically taught her to blame anyone and everyone who drinks for all the problems in her own life. it’s really awful when she starts spouting off the crap she learned in it.

    the pseudo-religion of AA is little more than protestant guilt therapy, and if you study the history of the founder and many of the early adopters, it’s clear that “getting right with gawd” is as central to AA as getting sober. i’ve been to many meetings, both with my father and on my own, because “everyone knows” that “AA is the only hope for true alcoholics.”

    then i discovered a secular, science based program that uses nutrition and medication to help people control alcoholism. wow, it was like discovering a whole new world. instead of being told what a worthless, immoral, lazy, selfish person i was for drinking, i learned about how genetics, nutrition, and brain chemistry make alcoholism more problematic for some people than others. it was like a huge weight off my shoulders to realize that alcoholism IS NOT A MORAL ISSUE, it’s a medical one.

    so i sort of despise AA. it’s a backward, warmed over pseudo-religion masquerading as medical and psychological therapy. and it doesn’t really work for a large number of people, nor should it. atheists should steer clear of it entirely and use science based recovery programs, imho.

  • Let’s just be very clear-

    you can be an atheist IN the AA program.
    You cannot be an atheist and DO the AA program

    You simply CAN’T.

  • Guest Pest
  • Nordog


    I don’t know how you can be so sure I don’t know what I’m talking about. I have, for instance, read the AA Big Book.

    You’re quite right. I could not have known (or know) what it is that you know.

    I have no idea how any organization that follows this particular book, can possibly be “hostile” to religion. The two are contradictory. Either AA isn’t following the book any more, or they’re not hostile to religion. It can’t logically be both.

    Well, people can be very illogical. Especially alcoholics. Besides, I would think an atheist would expect to find a lack of logical consistency in a group ostensibly founded on spiritual principles.


    @nordog: All I can say is your AA meetings must have been very different from mine. Prayers and “portraits” of Jesus are all over the walls. Everyone holds hands and prays together. It’s like a fundamentalist tent revival. When I announced my discomfort with the religion I was invited to leave. No loss. I deal with my problem on my own as best I can.

    Yes, our experiences have been very different.

    I think the disconnect between your experience and mine might best be summed up @ Minus at 11:21 PM.

    I suspect differences in regional cultures are reflected in the various groups in the respective regions. For example, I’ve never been to a meeting in the Bible Belt. Not hard to imagine those meetings being more evangelistic for God and Church than the very secular type meetings I once attended in Southern California.

    Best to you in your journey in dealing with whatever issues with which you struggle.

  • John the Drunkard

    Too many comments have stacked up for me to feel that my voice will be heard, but here goes:

    Some pertinent facts:
    I am an out Atheist AA member, sober for 23 years in July.
    I have never had to pretend to believe in any gods to be a member of AA.
    The steps are optional, the book says so, the book itself disclaims any kind of scriptural authority.
    AA is an anarchic organization with no effective enforcement system.
    AA has had atheist members from the very beginning (see the 1st edition story ‘Educated Agnostic’ and the 2nd edition story ‘The Vicious Cycle.’
    AAs ‘consensus at all costs’ atmosphere has permitted religious infiltration of many AA groups.

    Enough of listing. AA literature sits warts-and-all, at the root of the fellowship. The book is replete with errors, misrepresentations, and stupidities. AA is NOT the book. AA defines itself as ‘a fellowship of men and women’ without outside affiliation, this should include religious affiliation.

    Toronto intergroups schedule exclusion seems to be based on the presence of altered, group specific literature. If a group conducted Bible Studies, they would qualify for exclusion as well.

    One ‘godless-heathens’ group I attent (listed with no fuss in the local directory) does keep the altered version of the ‘steps’ on hand, but they are not posted or proclaimed as being AA material.

    AA is vulnerable to Xian infiltration and has no effective mechanism to defend itself, except for members who will stand up for the traditions (e.g. self-support, non-affiliation, group autonomy without affecting other groups, etc. etc.) As an AA member, I owe my loyalty to the newcomer, not to any false image of ‘real’ AA as some sort of generic religious club.

  • thalio

    “Anti-God, anti-medicine, anti-our Recovery Program, even anti-each other–these rampant individuals are still an A.A. Group if they think so!”

    –Bill Wilson writing about AA and inclusiveness in the July 1946 edition of the Grapevine (AA’s General Service Office approved monthly magazine)

    AA today disavows connection to secular AA groups at the cost of violating its own principles and traditions of inclusion and non-dogmatism. The folks in Toronto who voted to de-list certain groups don’t know their own society’s history. It’s a pity.

  • Adrienne

    A few years back, suffering from depression and drinking to much, I came to AA. Everyone was so friendly and caring and I was so miserable that I was ready to try anything. It worked for a little less than two years. As I got better, I also got help from a psychiatrist who worked with me to find the right combination of medicine for my depression. Some of that medicine also reduced my craving for alcohol. I was thrilled to be back in control of my life and brought up the idea of medication to help other members fight “relapse”. You don’t have to guess how that came over. Soon after, my sponsor–who could not get me to work step two–accidentally sent me an email that was meant for her sponsor. She though my ideas were crazy and making her crazy. It was all over soon after.

    AA was not meant for atheists. One of their books even describes how founding members struggled to accept an atheist and prayed for his relapse. He finally caved when they abandoned him in his relapse–something they would not consider doing to a fellow member.

  • I agree that AA has a right to do this and I’m glad they did. It reveals them to be what they’ve always been — a small-minded, petty, proselytizing religious organization.

    20 years ago, I went to AA. I drank heavily through most of the 1980s and was consuming well over two liters of vodka a day. My doctor told me I had to stop or I’d never live to see the age of 40. When I went to AA, the first thing they told me was that I was absolutely helpless to tackle my addiction, that I was incapable of doing anything about my problem. I pointed out that I’d come to them for help. They insisted that THEY couldn’t help me. They said that in order for me to stop drinking, I would need an imaginary friend. They used the words “god” and “higher power” to refer to this imaginary friend, and they said it was absolutely necessary. I told them to have a nice day and went home. I stopped drinking on my own. It wasn’t easy — in fact, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life — but *I* did it, not some “higher power.” And I’m a stronger, better person because of it.

    Someone in this thread already pointed out AA’s abysmal success rate, which is the same for those who do not enter 12-step programs. AA is a beautiful example of marketing over substance, image over reality. It teaches the addict to move his dependence from alcohol to some invisible entity that simply isn’t there. Telling someone they are incapable of doing something to help themselves is NOT PRODUCTIVE in any situation.

    I’ve long hoped that people would start other groups for those who do not want to rely on an imaginary friend to deal with an addiction. AA is the cock of the walk in addiction programs only because it SAYS it is. It’s time to start programs that actually make people reliant upon themselves, that strengthen people rather than enabling their weaknesses.

  • Anansi

    “They’ve changed them to their own personal needs. They should never have been listed in the first place.”

    He says that like it is a bad thing.
    If a program can’t adapt to the personal needs of its participants, then it is going to be much less effective in achieving success.

    An organization should not be putting its own orthodoxy above the needs of those it is supposedly there to help.

  • Bill

    The entire AA process rests upon what you might call linguistic or memetic eugenics. Limiting the way people talk about addiction is supposed to lead to limiting the way people think about addiction which is supposed to limit the way people with addiction act.

    If you’ve spent any time in the rooms at all it is amazing how non-approved discourse is shut down or re-directed, and particularly how vehement some people can get if someone continues to talk in non-approved language despite the efforts of the group. It doesn’t seem to be a conscious thing, more of an outgrowth of the religion-like process involved.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    I like these 12 steps better than either set above.
    by John

    1. We admitted we were powerful– that our lives are not unmanageable.

    2. Came to believe in ourselves.

    3. Made a decision to reclaim our autonomy.

    4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of Alcoholics Anonymous.

    5. Admitted the exact nature of their wrongs.

    6. Were entirely ready to revoke our A.A. membership.

    7. Stopped going to meetings.

    8. Made a list of all the things that we love to do.

    9. Took the time to engage in these activities whenever possible, and made an effort to cultivate new friendships along the way.

    10. Continued to take AA’s inventory and when we were wronged promptly admitted it.

    11. Sought through communication and contemplation to access our own innate wisdom, seeking to embrace our independence and free ourselves permanently from the bondage of Alcoholics Anonymous.

    12. Having regained our personal integrity as a result of these steps,we tried to live our lives according to the dictates of our own conscience, and to choose the path that serves our greatest good.


  • Kim

    I’m a detox nurse and I work for a non-profit organization that works on getting people clean and sober from alcohol and drug addictions. I love everything about my job, except having to use AA or NA as part of my discharge planning. I’m all for giving my patients any tools they’ll need to stay clean and sober, and if they are religious, I won’t hesitated to send them to a 12-step group. However, more and more I’m encountering patients who declare that they are agnostic or atheist. As an atheist, who has done extensive research and training on recovery support groups, it pisses me off that I’m not officially allowed to give patients material from SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety). I do however recommend them unofficially all the time. They’ve been pretty successful for the past 26 years and no one I’ve ever sent to them has reported negative experiences.

    Their take on recovery is this: SOS is an alternative recovery method for those alcoholics or drug addicts who are uncomfortable with the spiritual content of widely available 12-Step programs. SOS takes a reasonable, secular approach to recovery and maintains that sobriety is a separate issue from religion or spirituality. SOS credits the individual for achieving and maintaining his or her own sobriety, without reliance on any “Higher Power.” SOS respects recovery in any form regardless of the path by which it is achieved. It is not opposed to or in competition with any other recovery programs.
    SOS supports healthy skepticism and encourages the use of the scientific method to understand alcoholism.

  • Just to clarify: In the US there have been 6 Federal Circuit Court of Appeals decisions and 3 State Supreme court decisions regarding the right to a secular alternative treatment program when in a correctional setting. ALL concluded that the 12-Step Program is “pervasively religious” and that a secular alternative must be offered to atheists, agnostics, Buddhists (1 case). 1 case (Warner) was appealed to the US Supreme Court by the Atty. General of NY: certiori was denied [case declined]. A lower (state) court in Indiana ruled that a secular alternative must be OFFERED (as opposed to waiting to see whether the subject objects to the 12-Step referral)or the availability of such is obscured and thus denied. However, the real issue is one of self-empowerment vs. powerlessness. All the alternative programs rely on the former, 12-Steps on the latter.

  • I lost one friend to AA. She’s in ACOA, and fully believes the lies. She’s so convinced that she will die without the group… it’s scary. And she won’t go see a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist because “they can’t be trusted.”

    I feel bad for her, but I can’t deal with everything having to be about 12-steps this and Program that and Woe is me, blah blah blah. So I cut off all communication. I don’t like to do that to someone who, literally, has NO friends or support, but… for my own well-being, I had to.

    I, myself, have been accused of having a “drug problem”, their only evidence being that I’m “in denial about the effects of cannabis on the brain” and their unfounded assertion that I “just want to get high”. (I’m well aware of how cannabis affects my crazy mixed-up brain, and I’ve found the effects to be beneficial — such as relieving my joint and muscle pain, and slowing down the ADHD Super-highway that is my thought process.)

    Now, if I were addicted, real and truly gotta-get-my-fix addicted, I’d be seeking cannabis at all times, and willing to do or sell anything to get it. You know, acting like a crackhead. Nope. I stay within my budget, use just enough to take away the pain and calm my mind, and quite happily get on with being productive.

    While at some point down the road, I may want or need to quit, for now… *shrugs* whatever.

    …whoa. Sorry about the full-on ramble, there.

  • Michael

    The secular groups need to re-brand themselves. Maybe we can come up with something that still has the acronym “AA?” Would that be allowed?

    “Anonymous Alcoholics?”

  • Lindsay

    As a recovering addict in Kentucky, a secular support group was impossible to find. While in in-patient rehab i was told more than once “you will never get clean until you believe in God”. I was new in my atheism and really struggled with this. I thought there was no hope for me. Everyone I talked to affiliated with AA told me that God helped them through and I needed to find him. Well, I’ve been sober for 4 years and am still an atheist! I would love to help other addicts, but refuse to use the AA 12 steps.

  • John the Drunkard


    Sorry to pop up like a troll, but this gives me a chance to make an important point.

    [all caps] aa is not a treatment center, aa doesn’t run treatment centers, treatment centers do not and cannot use aa as a ‘treatment modality.'[end caps]

    The (mis)appropriation of AA material by treatment centers is a major source of creeping religiosity in AA.

    Check out:
    to see some AA members resisting the subversion of AA by creepy nutsos.

  • exo

    In other words they went against the traditions of AA. You cannot make up your own steps and be affiliated with AA, it would no longer be AA. If you are so afraid of the word God, then you have another problem all together. GOD Group of Drunks, ever hear of it? if not you have not been in AA and should not be commenting on this. This is total bullshit. I am an atheist and had no problem with it. Get over yourselves.

  • RollTheBones

    I’m 50 and grew up in a drinking environment which carried on into adulthood. I suppose I was a functional alcoholic. I heard about Rational Recovery and read their website in about a half hour and used the quick tools they teach you (rationally) to quit. That was 4 years ago. The book is available at most libraries as well. Simple-Rational-Effective pretty much the opposite of AA.

  • Exo- really? how about just going back to that GOD and leaving the atheists alone?

    I, certainly, never liked the derogatory term drunk and it doesn’t help rid the disorder of the stigma.

    Pretending one thing is another? Nope, no thanks. Got out of that silly game when I became an atheist.

    Get over myself? Why? That’s how I stay sober. The power within. Not GOD (group of drunks) or any other silly mindtwist.

    What makes me mad-
    people defending AA saying it really works.
    what makes me furious-
    atheists defending AA- ridiculous!

  • john

    The two Toronto meetings have been portraying themelves as victims, while they’ve been EXCLUDING most drunks from their meetings. Insisting that meeting participants refrain from mentioning God is exclusive, not inclusive. AA generally de-lists meetings that impose a second requirement on membership. To be considered an AA group, there must be no requirement for membership beyond a desire to stop drinking. The same de-listing action would have been taken by the AA office if those two Toronto meetings had limited attendence to barbers, jockeys, or Communists. Meetings with an additional requirement are special purpose meetings, not AA groups. Special purpose meetings have existed since the 1940s. They’re not impermissable. They just aren’t LISTED as AA groups, because they’re not. AA groups are inclusive, not EXCLUSIVE like those two Toronto meetings that are censuring a viewpoint that differs from their own.

  • john

    The headline is blatantly incorrect. There are no “Secular Groups” in AA, any more than there are Socialist Groups in AA. Those two Toronto meetings have been portraying themselves as victims, while they’ve been EXCLUDING most alcoholics from their meetings. The only requirement for membership in AA is a desire to stop drinking. Any meeting that imposes a second requirement on membership is a “special purpose meeting”, not an AA group. AA is open and inclusive of other viewpoints, including DISBELIEF in God. Suppressing mention of God is EXCLUSIVE, not INCLUSIVE. The AA Office properly de-listed the two meetings because they were insisting on a second requirement for membership. The same de-listing would have occurred if the two Toronto meetings had limited membership to barbers, jockeys, or Communists. Special purpose meetings have existed in AA since the 1940s. The two Toronto meetings were NOT “kicked out of AA”, as the headline claims. The “kicking” was done by the two meetings that censored the viewpoints of their members. Those two meetings were de-listed as AA groups because they’re not.

  • First of all, to Friendly Atheist, thanks so much for bringing up this topic. In recent years I’ve been more and more involved with the atheism and skeptic movements (and seen Friendly Atheist referenced elsewhere several times), am a member of the Atlanta Freethought Society, and I’ve been appalled at the lack of mention of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs in current “mainstream” atheist/skeptic/humanist/secular/whatever-other-label-one-uses communities and discussions.

    Tim Farley tweeting as @krelnik mentioned this article on Scientology’s alcohol and drug treatment program called Narconon:
    but perhaps he doesn’t notice that Narconon has only perhaps 2 to 5 percent of the “recovery/rehab” market, whereas about 95 percent of alcohol-and-drug treatment centers are based on the 12 steps of AA. Skeptics are glad to point out the dangers of cults of various kinds (see Farley’s site, but without giving the first mention to AA (again, there’s no mention on nor many other skeptical sites).

    I even searched the online archives of Skeptical Inquirer, and I only found THIS article:
    which mentions several unrelated things, but ironically enough, criticizes a book on a “secular” version of AA for not being as secular as advertised, and having “new age” terminology. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ORIGINAL AA, does anyone a Skeptical Inquirer see any problem with THAT???

    I’d like to know why AA seems to get a pass among skeptics, but even more, I want to CHANGE that.

    That’s my basic rant, and I do hope to inform and stir up the “greater secular community” regarding AA and other 12-step programs, and I hope others will take a skeptical and critical study of them.

    Here’s my response to a couple obvious AA members trying to say some things about AA:

    “The steps are only suggested as a program of recovery.”

    Yes, that’s even the wording in the intro to the 12 steps in chapter 5, “how it works” of AA’s big book. In the same way it is “suggested that when you jump out of an airplane wearing a parachute that you pull the ripcord.” That’s what I heard in many of the AA meetings I attended, clearly saying that the “suggestions” are the only way to stop drinking. As “Bill S.” (he was also active at 8111 and organized the Atlanta Men’s [AA] Workshop) said at NABA decades ago (yeah, I was there and heard him with my own ears), “If you want to quit drinking, we have these twelve suggestions. We don’t have any other suggestions.” I never heard anyone contradict such hard-core AA-is-the-only-way statements. AA has it both ways about “suggestions.” It’s redefinition of the langaage. In AA, when your sponsor gives you a “suggestion,” you can either do it or die a miserable, horrible, drunken death. They’ll gladly tell you it’s your choice.

    “Having spent about 9 years in 12-Step groups I can say with certainty that you don’t know anything about how they operate. In fact, I’ve found as much, if not more, resentment and hostility to religion in 12-Step meetings than I do here.”

    I can say with certainty that most AA participants DO NOT BELIEVE that AA a religious group, as they’ve bought into the “spiritual, not religious” slogan repeated so often in AA. The resentment and hostility AA members have (OMG, how can they stay sober while having those BAD FEELINGS?) is against mainstream Christianity, the religion most people in the USA are brought up in. AA is “not Christianity” despite its origins, and despite so many meetings being in the basements of Christian churches. So yes, you’re right, and many AA members get uncomfortable when they hear about AA’s Christian origins. They really WANT AA to be “spiritual, NOT religious.” AA’s God supposedly gives “unconditional love” whereas the Christian God only lets you into Heaven if you believe in Him and completely turn your will and life over to His care. Wait, that Christian God sounds a whole lot like…

  • PickledGherkin

    Please have a look at this site, dedicated to uncovering the abuses, rapes, murders and all round hokey cokey in the cult that is corporate aa.

  • Shryve

    Well AA instructs members to use a God of their own understanding, so shouldn’t AA use a hands off attitude with anything anyone does with their God of their understanding?

  • Typical AA behavior, as they will say changing these steps without official permission violates their intellectual trust.

    However, the real error here comes on the part of the groups cited.
    They ought to know better using Steps which have little efficacy and hence little use in recovery from addiction, which after a time, becomes more of a recovery from the erroneous belief that “addicts” have an incurable disease or a disease at all. The Twelve Steps will not work well no matter how well re written or altered-I have done it many times, but finally found that other strategies produced better results.

  • David F

    I am an Atheist who got and has stayed sober in AA. Religion is an outside issue in AA. The steps are written and accepted as they are. The newcomer and the old timer are both accepted as they are. There is no pressure to conform to any deity or religious ritual. All these choices, including atheism, are ENTIRELY one’s personal affair. In twenty-two years of continuous sobriety, I have never been asked what my personal beliefs or lack thereof are…not once. In fact, I find AA to be one of the most zealous guardians of individual freedom and true democratically spirited organizations I have ever been associated with.

    We simply don’t quarrel over these matters. AA’s are a society of people in action, constructive action. No debate, no think tank, no rock stars…no argument.

    AA is fiercely concerned about helping Alcoholics find their way to a contented, useful life without booze. In that purpose, I have seen people do extraordinary things.

    Also, no one speaks for AA. If the Toronto Inter-group makes a decision about whether or not a group actually is an AA group or not, this is a reflection of that local organization, not AA as a whole.

    Oh, and in addition to being an active AA member, I am a husband, a father, a business owner, a community activist, a taxpayer, and a lifelong pursuer of liberty and a defender of your right to do so as well. I used to be a falling down, miserable, unreliable, sometimes violent drunk.

    AA has only worked in my life for 22 years though… I’d keep an eye on me!

  • David F. glad to hear you are not drinking but that drivel is written like a true AA apologist and cult member.

    And guess what, for someone that says, ” no one speaks for AA” you just did and did in a big way selling us the AA party line.

    AA didn’t keep you sober- you stayed sober in spite of it; why don’t you give yourself credit.

  • Troglodyke

    Apparently the leadership of AA, or at least this group, aren’t really interested in curing your addiction. They just want to replace your alcohol addiction with an addiction to unhealthy fantasy stories.

    I’m not addicted to anything, and have never been a member of any addiction-recovery process.

    I have acquaintances and colleagues who have been in AA and NA, and the above quote is exactly what has happened to them (and, from what I can tell, many many other people).

    Now, is an addiction to recovery programs, or an addiction to the concept of a “Higher Power” helping them worse than an addiction to alcohol? In the grand scheme of things, I’d say no. I believe addiction is a disease, and disease causes harm–often great harm–when left unchecked.

    But I will say this, and it ain’t gonna make me sound good: 12-steppers annoy the crap out of me. I am truly happy that you are no longer addicted to that harmful substance. I really am.

    But you are still an addict. And I just can’t stomach the 12-step mentality. And it makes me feel a bit wretched to admit it, but there it is. I know I have no concept of how horrible addiction is. You are right. I don’t.

    I just prefer to associate most closely with those people who are not addicted to recovery. AA is not an organization I support.

  • David F

    There is a difference between speaking for AA and describing my personal experience in AA.

    If my experience is perceived as drivel, then I can see I’m speaking to a closed mind.

    Everything I wrote are the facts of my experience. Not one observation of a friend or relative. Not a single opinion or projection has been offered.

    I am, in fact, an atheist who got sober and remains an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous for the last 22 years. It is a fact that I have never been pressured to believe anything.

    If I am a brainwashed cult member, then I am a member of a cult that never asked a dime from me, rejoices in my participation in community and family life, and vehemently protects, allows, and encourages me to think, feel, and believe anything I desire.

    I can see where that level of tolerance and true freedom of thought and expression are intimidating. I recognize the rather human desire to put things in a box that makes sense to them and label it. It requires less energy to think this way.

    I tried for nearly ten years to get clean and sober on my own. I simply couldn’t do it. All my self help books have high ball rings 🙂 Today, I spend a good portion of my time helping others get sober. I know the joy of of watching people recreate their lives and the feeling of maybe having helped them.

    My mind is open. I am many things besides an atheist and an alcoholic. I have no position to defend. But, I cannot ignore my own experience. It is, by its simple existence, valid.

    My sole motivation for this contribution is that there may be a suffering Alcoholic reading this discussion who has the impression that if he goes to AA for help, he will be swept up by some hysterical bible thumper and turned into a mindless non-entity…or worse, a mindless non-entity without a drink!

  • I have read all the comments and I am torn… by the truth of much that has been said by those critical of AA, and the knowledge that most of these critics do not speak from personal experience.

    Like David F (the last commenter), and others before him, I have 20 years in AA. I’ve been an atheist since the age of 13 long before I picked up my first drug or drink. Today – let’s just say I’m a GNU-atheist. Presently, I’m a board member of one Humanist group, director of a secular coalition, member of most national groups, and attend national conferences. I’m also a psychologist.

    I think Toronto Intergroup was wrong to de-list the groups because of Traditions three and four. And, if you don’t know what those are, do some homework and quit flapping your jaws about a program you don’t know much about! At present I am fighting within AA to increase the presence and tolerance of agnosticism and atheism. I don’t run into much resistance, but then I go to whatever meetings I choose, and surround myself with friends of my choice. I sponsor several non-theists – I’m glad to do it, and they are thankful they are not alone.

    As David F said:

    My sole motivation for this contribution is that there may be a suffering Alcoholic reading this discussion who has the impression that if he goes to AA for help, he will be swept up by some hysterical bible thumper and turned into a mindless non-entity…or worse, a mindless non-entity without a drink!

    That is my sole reason for writing as well.

    The fellowship has been tremendously healing and supportive, and I’m proud to be a sober, atheist member of AA.

  • If you want to refer to the traditions of AA perhaps you should NOT have skipped right over tradition two-

    Tradition Two—For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
    and how about
    Tradition 12-
    12.—And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all.

    And, I speak from a great deal of personal experience- 26 years of it. I went to thousands of meetings. All you have to do is look at the posters on the walls. The slogans speak for themselves. It IS proselytizing.

  • Sally Forth

    John, you are mistaken. Of course the agnostic groups are AA groups. There are “women’s groups” in Toronto on the Intergroup list. For those AA meetings, you should have a desire to stop drinking AND be a woman. There are gay meetings, young people’s etc. So what? They are still AA meetings. 

  • Atheist in AA

    Interestingly, these two groups were taken off the meeting lists in May, and then the next month voted out.  They no longer have a voice on the floor at area meetings, quote from June 28 minutes: “In response to a question from the St. Clements Group, Barbara stated that, as a consequence of last month’s 

    General Meeting vote to de-list the two meetings; the groups Beyond Belief and We Agnostics will no longer have a 

    voice on the Floor of the GTA Intergroup General Meeting. A discussion ensued among Floor members. ”

    .  The Toronto Area did that even though the  AA General Service Office in New York said the following about the issue: “Letter from GSO: 
    Thank you so much for being in touch, and for your question.  I am Correspondent for Eastern Canada 

    and am glad to be able to respond to you. I read your message several times, and what I keep coming back 

    to is something that I wish I could phrase a little more delicately.  What the other AA group does is none 

    of your group‟s business. In taking another group‟s inventory with regard to the Traditions is just not 

    done.  But what a slippery slope that could be.  AA experience suggests that business meetings are used to 

    conduct business of the AA group and its meeting.  This is described in the Conference-approved 

    pamphlet, The AA Group.   

    The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are adopted and adapted without permission by other 

    fellowships, but AA groups use them as they were written.  As GSR of your group, you might offer to 

    bring this observation about the other group changing the Steps to the attention of your Area Delegate.  

    The AA members who first came to you can also communicate directly to the Delegate.  They do not 

    need to discuss it at the business meeting first.  In fact, in the interest of AA unity, as per the first 

    Tradition it would be most inappropriate to discuss another group at your business meeting.  A more 

    mature course of action is for the individual AAs is to simply contact the Delegate with their concerns.  I 

    sincerely hope that you will impress upon them the importance of considering that option, especially if 

    they are concerned about confusing or upsetting the Newcomer. 

    We all send warm wishes your way, Mary Clare Lynch ”

    Yes, these two groups were marginalized, but not by AA as a whole, but by an AREA that thinks they can take another groups inventory and stamp out their voice.  Unfortunately, they are hurting alcoholics who need secular alternatives.

  • Spulaw

    I love what you say.  And I am NOT an atheist, but AM a very active member of AA, sober for 4 years now thanks to this way of living.  AA of COURSE welcomes all with a desire to stop drinking (“believers” and “non believers” alike), and the steps work AS WRITTEN with no need to revise.  If revised, they are no longer the AA 12 steps, by definition.  Not rocket science.

  • Clinnton903

    I was sober for 5 years in AA, here in RURAL East Texas. I am working the NA program for about a year and a half. NA is much less “God-centric” here but still I cringe when I hear a very simple minded member confuse the magical thinking of religion with the  “power” NA ask you to find.  NA is much stricter when it comes to not sharing your personal god stuff at meeting level. One of the reason AA repulses me here in Small Town USA, is because they don’t even try to adhere to the traditions and opening share of Jesus, church and Sunday school.  As a broken hearted, spiritually  crippled gay man, I could practically see them wink when they advised people to find a “power greater than ourselves” and the unspoken was “and eventually you will come to Sunday school where you might teach lessons one day.

    I tried with all that I had to believe in Religion.  It failed me on ever level.  It’s frustrating to have friends in NA who are so smart and bright and then say stupid stupid stuff regarding their magical beliefs that I feel unsafe. I’m a gay man and when I here someone claim what a Christian they are,  I tense up ready for the blow from “God hates fags” theology of the nuts that are in Texas.

    At one point in the NA literature it says they are going to use the word “God” simply out of convenience, since we will understand the concept they are referring to. I think it’s a complete cop out. They use God WAYYY more than “higher power” and “god of your understanding”. It pisses me off to read one of the suggested literature pieces and have to say “god” when it is written.

    If i had not been raised in hideous , slow thinking, bible belt Texas, I may not have been beaten by religion they way I have and I might not react like you have just offered my a drink of radiation when you mention it to me.  I have a great understanding of life and how I fit in it and I am a part of the flow of energry. It has nothing to do with praying, asking Santa in the sky for blessings, presents or miracles.  To speak of God or religion to me is to me is to show me you can’t think for yourself and you need to make yourself feel better with mystical robes, communions and one horn short of  unicorn magic. I do my best to respect the few friends or people I care for’s relationship to religion BUT, I never let down my deflector shields a hundred percent with any of them.

    AA is still a great place to sober up if you are white, Christian, straight and Caucasian, (and a middle aged-business man). Women and minorities suffer in both AA and NA in Texas.  NA which I really like still has only a handful of minorities locally and way less than half the women compared to the men. That makes me wonder.

    I don’t have a choice in my circumstances to find any sort of organized approach to not using other than NA. I’m fairly vocal about my dislike for all the god-shit in the rooms. If there is a shot at me finding long term recovery and some peace/acceptance in a 12 step recovery I’m going to continue giving it a try. What choice do I have?

    I really am powerless over drugs when I put the first one into my body, my life on drugs is completely unmanageable.  So I have to put my hip boots on to wave through the religion spill over at times. I”m thankfully smart enough to separate the core of the  steps from the misguided interpretations of it in Texas.  I have a believe system, in the fact that I know that the energy that can take a seed and grow it to a fruit bearing tree is the same energy taking me from cradle to grave, but that is it. I can’t win favor in an imaginary after life by being good during this life. This whole thing is like independent research or study project for me. I wish there was a place to just go and hang out with like minded people but in the end that isn’t necessary. I’ll recover in NA until they get sick of me and chase me out with burning torches and I will share my experience strength and hope when I get a chance to. There are many many people who sick of religion and how pervasive it is in our lives even when we ourselves aren’t religious.

    I wouldn’t advocate changing the steps for the AA or NA program at all. The steps are theirs. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.   Aside of from the way they handle the God issue, I have more in common with them than not. Ever once in a while a Hispanic man will sit in a meeting. The Hispanic meeting meets less often. He doesn’t speak very much English and I don’t know what he can get from the meeting but he stays. I’m that way with the god stuff. I don’t understand but I wait for bits to be shared about recovery I can use.

  • anonymous

    The same issue has now arisen in Indianapolis AA.  The Indinapolis Intergroup Service Committee has delisted the local “We Agnostics” group, for changing the steps and “affiliating” with an outside organization by having its meeting listed on a site for agnostics and alcoholics in AA.  As soon as the group learned of the committee’s displeasure, it began using the original steps in its meeting format.  The “affiliating” issue is a red herring – its merely public information. Gay groups are listed on gay sites, and small town newspapers list meetings.  Forunknown reasons, the service committee has persisted, despite the group reverting to the original steps.  Representatives of the groups are challanging the decision.  I appreciate the comments here.  The IG should permit this group of alcoholics to be listed in the directory, and acted beyond its authority, IMHO, in delisting them.  The 1946 article by Bill W. is particularly helpful.  Hopefully we will sort this issue out here. 

  • Kenneth Dunlap

    I’ve been to AA meetings in numerous states and many cities in those states. ALL of the meetings start with prayer and end with prayer. Every meeting consisted of people “working the steps” and the primary steps worked on were the 7 religious ones. It’s a religious organisation, with religious steps, and religious literature. 

  • Jesse S.

    Replying to Atheist in AA

    The assumption that I have often encountered in researching the issue of AA and religious proselytizing is that it is a product of AA’s choice as a unified body.  This is a common misconception of those who have only a cursory understanding of AA’s real structure, purpose, and history.  The AA General Service Representative whose letter you quoted addresses some of this misconception by reminding the addressee that AA groups have no business trying to govern each other.

    I have encountered many people whose experience with AA is through captive groups, those that have muddled their purpose with that of an institution, such as a treatment center, a prison, or a church.  These institutions, hearing something about the success of AA, take it upon themselves to form groups and call them AA.  No matter what they call it, that’s not AA.  AA is made up of people who came together entirely of their own choosing, for no other purpose than to stay sober and help others do the same.  Its purpose isn’t to cure people of anything, and it makes that clear.  It isn’t to make people believe in God, despite the use of the word.  AA’s purpose isn’t ever to make anybody else do anything, period.  It’s to choose for ourselves what we want, what we will do, what we believe or don’t believe as individuals, but with the precedent of those who have successfully recovered before us.  If people in AA are going around telling other people what to do, instead of sharing what they did to stay sober themselves in the hope that it might help someone, then they are not acting on the principles of the AA program.

    I’m a Pagan in AA, and I won’t lie:  I get very tired of the God word being used, and the references to Christian teachings.  If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve found my own way of making the program work for me, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.  In fact, I don’t.  I just enjoy it for myself, and welcome people who come through the door, hoping that something I say or do might help them.  If not, then I recommend that they keep trying, keep looking, and keep coming back if nothing else seems to work.  If they die because they were scared I was going to try to convert them to worship Athena, then that’s their own fear getting the best of them.

  • Progree

    AA was not meant for atheists. One of their books even describes how founding members struggled to accept an atheist and prayed for his relapse. He finally caved when they abandoned him in his relapse–something they would not consider doing to a fellow member.     

    You’ve got it exactly backwards.  That Tradition 3 story in the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions book is about, well, Tradition 3.  The ONLY REQUIREMENT FOR MEMBERSHIP IS A DESIRE TO STOP DRINKING.   

    Tradition 3. Long form: Our membership ought to include all who suffer from
    alcoholism.  Hence we may refuse none who
    wish to recover.  Nor ought AA
    membership ever depend upon money or conformity.  Any two or three alcoholics gathered
    together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that, as a
    group, they have no other affiliation.

  • Progree

    by Bill W. in the 1946 Grapevine:

    “Any two or three alcoholics gathered
    together for sobriety may call themselves an AA Group. This clearly implies
    that an alcoholic is a member if he says so; that we can’t deny him his
    membership; that we can’t demand from him a cent; that we can’t force our
    beliefs or practices upon him; that he may flout everything we stand for and
    still be a member. In fact, our Tradition carries the principle of independence
    for the individual to such an apparently fantastic length that, so long
    as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral,
    the most anti-social, the most critical alcoholic may gather about him a few
    kindred spirits and announce to us that a new Alcoholics Anonymous Group has
    been formed. Anti-God, anti-medicine, anti-our Recovery Program, even
    anti-each other— these rampant individuals are still an AA Group if they
    think so!”

  • massive

    I love your post. You may like a radio show I did with blogger Gunthar 2000 called Chapter 5 that episode is archived. We tear up the steps and G2K does a parody on Chapter 5.

  • massive

    Love your post! Agree 100%.

  • massive

    WEll he might be. Or he might be murdered by a violent criminal that is being sentenced to AA unknown to the public or there might be a 3rd level sex offender sitting next to him, or his daughter or his Auntie who needs help.

    Look  up Kristine & Saundra Cass murdered by a man she met in an AA meeting. He was court ordered. 

  • massive

    I love your post. I created a blog called 
    There is also alot of activism going on to expose all of this. 
    on the orange-papers forum you may want to join in . You will be welcomed.

  • Cecily

    I love this site.  I have been a member of AA and sober since 1994.   I go to AA meetings because there are far more than secular organizations have to offer.  I tried SOS, but there is only one meeting a week in all of Los Angeles County.   A real alcoholic needs more support and fellowship than that!  So I decided a long time ago to “take what I need and leave the rest” from AA.    The fellowship itself is my “higher power”.  What I would like to see is for all the secular organizations to band together and really start organizing to get more meetings in more places.   I would switch if I felt there was a bigger, more readily available network out there as an alternative. 

  • Bernie

    I stopped drinking 25 years ago. I did it on my own. With AA all I would be doing is going from one addiction to another.
    Ray you said it all. Thanks

  • Bernie

    I stopped drinking 25 years ago. I did it on my own. With AA all I would be doing is going from one addiction to another.
    Ray you said it all. Thanks

  • Hollywood Hobson

    TraditionOur tradition carries the principle of independence for the individualto such a apparently fantastic length that,so long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral,the most antisocial, the most critical alcoholicmay gather about him a few kindred spirits and announce to usthat a new AA group has been formed.Anti-God, anti-medicine, anti-our recovery program, even anti-each other –these rampant individuals are still an AA group if they think so! – Bill Wilson

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