AA Atheist

Rumrum31 Says:

I am needing some feedback from any members of AA that are atheist. I am secure in my beliefs and appreciate AA. For me, the two are reconcilable. However, I would like some recovery feedback regarding this issue…and please NO HATE mail.


259 Responses to AA Atheist

  1. The Atheist says:


    Hopefully someone that shares your circumstance will see this and post and respond. In the mean time, I was able to find a few posts that you might find helpful:


    I hope you are able to prevail against your alcoholism – I have friends that are alcoholics and I know that it is a very difficult struggle. I also know that admitting alcoholism is in itself a very difficult step to recovery. Having taken that step, you have already begun a journey to recovery.

    • joe mama says:

      So, rummy, I too am an atheist and a drunk. I struggle with AA because everyone expresses their success as the result of a ‘god’ rescuing them from themselves. I have not found a meeting that I feel comfortable in because of the overwhelming religiosity. I cannot have a higher power as an entity, and find many suggestions to be unacceptable. I could go into an elaborate explanation of my take on the god concept, but as an atheist you have been through that. I beleive we can find a way to reconcile this contradiction, but through AA? I don’t know.

      • Barry Clark says:

        They say the higher power cannot be yourself. I say it can. The whole god myth was manufactured by man so your higher power can be whatever you want. I used myself as the higher power while at AA meetings. Not drinking is always up to me, and therefore, I really am the higher power. Highest power.

        • Anonymous says:

          the idea is to over come a personal maladjustment, The individual with the issue must take charge of their own recovery. It is an individual endeavor. The alteration of personal and social practices without losing my beleifs has proven difficult. Most of the social support that is available is from religious people. The addiction couciling classes I took were taught by religious people and were infused with religiosity. It is not easy to find a comfortable environment in which to pursue self improvement with a lack of available information that is objective.

        • happy heretic says:

          Yes the religiosity can be nausiating and what passes for logic astoundingly infantile. Yes,you can use anything as a higher power. But why the myopic insistence on a higher power anyway? Don’t let AA blinker you. I never thought and do not think in these terms but simply use AA as a support group. I share my comittment to living without alcohol. Full stop. Have been alcohol free for decades. Good luck to you. It can be done.

        • Andrew K says:

          Barry, It’s great that you are able to stay sober. It sounds like the method you are using is primarily your will. There are a great many people who can, with sufficient reason, stop on their own power. Some of them still use AA as a support group, some of them do not.
          The AA book makes a distinction between that type of drinker and my type.
          My type has tried stopping on my own power many, many times. The consequences became more and more dire each time until I finally threw in the towel and admitted, (right or wrong), that I lacked the power to do it on my own.
          This is a tough spot for a true atheist to be in because we are not very well understood in the meetings, and the literature shows a lack of understanding at best and is more specifically belittling and condescending.
          I have been lucky that I was able to drink the kool-aid enough to become a happy sober person and still feel welcome, (most of the time), in the general population of AA.

    • sharp spoon says:

      I am also a godless heathen drunk. I found your post while looking for how others handle the god issue in AA. I found for me, all the people in the rooms are succeeding in their battle over this disease are doing it without god. They may feel it so, but I don’t believe that. I have developed a higher power and that is the compassion of and for my fellows that began to come to me as the fog lifted. I am no longer uncomfortable with any of the god talk. To me they are simply words. Some people need that and who am I to try to convert them. I don’t want them to try convert me. I have a sponsor that believes in god, but is able and willing to help me work the program. I don’t “preach”, and every time I share I thank the Group of Drunks, my god, for helping me stay sober one more day. I hope that helps. I would hate for someone to short change the AA program and fellowship.

      • Anonymous says:

        “we deal with alcohol. Without help it is too much for us. But there is one who has all power. That one is God.”. How’s that for a bit of sh*t logic.
        But, they say, god’s just a word. OK, of I say alcoholics can drink shandy, that’s just words too. The god delusion is a cancer in AA and it will not grow as it should till it afapts to 21st century thinking.

  2. Richard Wade says:

    What do you need?

  3. Rumrum31 says:

    Well, I really don’t need anything. What I would like is a comparison of what other athiest use as their HP…I mean do just go without, do you use the group, is there some form of philosophy. Just curious. Truly there isn’t that many folks that I met that feel this way. My concept is humanism and the power of the human spirit. Who knows maybe its crap but it works for me…

  4. Richard Wade says:

    Rumrum, if it works for you it’s not crap. All recovery is based on pragmatism, meaning if it works, use it. Humanism is a good philosophical foundation for your recovery in my opinion IF it leads you to practice respect for yourself and others, a desire for mutual kindness and fairness, and a commitment to honesty. I don’t know if there is a well developed philosophy per se for recovering people who are atheists. We tend to be very independent and idiosyncratic. Our methods for recovery can vary widely. Some need very little support beyond their initial sobering up, while others find that they do better with the regular support of a group such as AA.

    I don’t know where you live, but out here in California there are many AA meetings called “We Agnostics” where the 12 steps are followed and the fellowship is there, but the “God stuff” is lighter for those who just cringe at its mention. As you say, many AA members use the group itself as their higher power. Certainly a well-practiced crisis support relationship with a dozen other recovering friends will be far more powerful than one’s own fragile will power.

    In general most of the people I have seen who are recovering long-term and living healthy lifestyles are somehow involving other recovering people in their lives. They can know each others games and can lovingly keep each other honest. Recovering people can slip into all sorts of unhealthy behaviors if they isolate themselves. Even if they don’t drink or use, they can fill their lives up with crap.

    Rational Recovery and Seculars in Sobriety are two resources you might look into. Click on the link to friendlyatheist that “The Atheist” provided in the first comment above. It’s a thread started by a question similar to yours. About the third comment contains several useful links to more secular-oriented recovery tools.

    I hope these suggestions are useful. I’ll be on vacation all next week and often not near internet access, but I’ll check in here when I can to see if you have more questions or things to report. Let us know what you find.

    All the best,
    Richard Wade

  5. Rumrum31 says:

    Richard, thank you so much. I certainly appreciate the information. I live in a small Texas town…so we move to a different beat but the drum is the same LOL. Have a geat vacation.

  6. nigelina says:

    Hey Rumrum,

    I’ve been sober in AA 5 years and I am still an athiest – and I’m vocal about that too. I had a good description of a higher power from my (then) sponsor which she called “God” but I don’t and it works for me:

    It’s the feeling I get in my gut that everything will be ok – no matter what other people think and no matter what happens to me and the other feeling that I get when I am truly honest and open with another person – the love that is shared between us in a very human way

    To get that feeling did take time and effort on my part but it did happen, and yes I have been ok – not marvellous – but ok. I’ve even had to go into the psych ward for treatment for my other depressive illness and I have been ok and not had to drink.

    this is of course only part of how I have worked the program as an athiest – I haven’t got time or space here to go into how I did the steps etc but if you need more info email me on nodrog@tpg.com.au

  7. Mike Wilson says:

    I’ve been sober for 12 years, had an un-spiritual awakening about three years ago. After a long struggle with the spiritual stuff I gave in and declared myself an atheist. I feel the honesty with myself and others has helped me a great deal. I have only heard two other people openly share similar views. I don’t have any HP as such. I cultivate honesty with myself and about myself. My own theory of life is that if I behave rudely, selfishly, contemptuously, dishonestly etc with other people, I shouldn’t be surprised if I find people behaving in a similar way towards me.

    Probably the most significant change in my own quality of life came from reading Dr. Seligman’s books Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism. I don’t usually go in for self help books, finding them head-in-the-clouds nonsense, but Dr. Seligman is the real thing — a proper academic who actually researched and measures happiness and the causes of happiness. He has an excellent web site at http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/

    • Mike says:

      Hi Mike, I struggled with finding a higher power for years and gave up. I finally had to admit that the evidence for a supernatural being is extremely suspect and judging from the times our holy books were written, had to be a compilation of thoughts or dreams, of ordinary primitive tribal men, surely not divine revelations. My huge problem with AA is that it is the only game in town and I read quite clearly from the book that it REQUIRES a divine being, who inter seeds in your life and redeems you and grants you salvation (sobriety in this case) if you become a moral good boy, clean up your act and worship him. And the problem I have with that is that I was never a bad kid to begin with and consider myself to be quite moral and fair in my dealings with people. Why all the admission of fault and atonement for past sins as a requirement for sobriety. One can water down aa and say those words are not in the book but I can list you dozens of phrases that point straight to that religious gobbledygook. “God could and would if He were sought” , “No human power could relieve our alcoholism” …. “God” is listed 69 times in the book……..It is clear that bill was referring to the almighty god of the preachers and only softened it up to god of your understanding to be inclusive of the other major religions. He was definitely not referring to the group or the Sun as an HP. I’ve seen secular alternative 12 steps and they all still try to emulate AA and so fall into that same trap of a program of admitting, confessing and atoning for sins. Working on our so called character defects (which in the original manuscript of the book bill did call Sins! but other members wanted it toned down for obvious reasons) . To me it’s a no-name form of Christianity plain and simple and has nothing to do with staying sober.

      • Frank M. says:

        Hey Mike,

        I have benefited from a holistic approach to sobriety. My drinking problem and my unskillful way of approaching life were deeply interconnected. This may not be the case for you.

        But I had to learn to live differently, and I had unchain myself from my lies–which I thought served me, but which I ended up being a slave to.

        I couldn’t drink normally. I had a delusion that I could and my ability to reason my way to the right choice was deeply impaired. I lived in a way that generated suffering, and that drove an obsession to escape, which fed the delusion. It was all interconnected.

        AA’s approach basically addressed all that for me. I call it medical/psychological/transformative. I learned why I couldn’t drink normally. I learned ways to overcome the delusion that I could. I became a man who doesn’t need to drink any more.

        AA’s big mistake is in the transformative part. It assumes, falsely, that the only or best way to accomplish this transformation is with the God idea. My experience and the experience of thousands of other atheists speaks very loudly that this just isn’t so. There are lots of sources of strength and direction that can drive transformation through action which are not in any sense God or a Power.

        You can be happy. You can be sober without God. I hope you find your own way.

        Frank M.

        • Anonymous says:

          Hi Frank, I liked what you said about the transformation you found without the God stuff. I agree, we need to change something in our thinking, no doubt. But the 12 steps is about submission to an omnipotent being, the required cleansing of the soul through confession and atonement, and the hope that Mr. Omnipotent will lift your character flaws with the wave of a hand and keep you sober, one day at a time, if you continue to do all the prerequisites mentioned above.

          To me this is simply old school Christian doctrine, that you are born of sin, and in sin and are destined for hell if you are not saved by God before you die. This is exactly what was preached in the Oxford Group, from which the 12 steps were plagiarized by Bill.

          People try to water it down and say it can be a “god of your understanding”, or call it a “higher power”. That’s blatant nonsense to anyone who has studied the book and the steps. God with a capitol G is mentioned 136 times in the first 162 pages of the big book, not to mention the countless times it refers to God as Him with a capitol H. “Higher Power”, the phrase we defer to so often to soften the God word. is just that, an attempt to distance ourselves from the “god stuff”, and is mentioned a grand total of two times in the book. Hmmmmmm. Back in 1938 the “god of your understanding” meant you could call it Allah or Jesus or Mohamed or Vishnu, but there was no new age spiritual talk at the time. You know darned well that Bill was referring to Mr. Magician in the sky and not the peacefulness of nature or Wicca. In fact you can’t get through half the steps as intended if you don’t believe in a personal deity who suspends the laws of physics in your favor, but not for the countless unfortunates who never reach an AA room and die a painful, pathetic, and useless protracted death from alcoholism. Another source for the arrogance and egotism I find in AA and their cause. Read, we are the chosen ones, obedient to His word and will. Ever hear that one before. Hmmmm.

          In step one you surrender to the fact that you are a wretched loser, incapable of functioning in life. It’s hopeless, throw up your hands, give up. Your ego is your worst enemy, your own thinking is your worst enemy. Some way to start off on a positive note for change. We need to accept the problem and empower ourselves to solve it, not more ego battering and defeatist thinking to solve the problem.

          Step two, the hopeful step says that if we swallow this shit, we will be saved. Are we ready to swallow shit? Good, then on we go.

          Step three is where we willingly put the slave collar around our necks. You cant be a slave to the Sun or the group or a door knob (it is suggested that you can use anything for your higher power, including inventing one of your own, which makes all these propositions ridiculous). I tried to use the Sun as an HP for a while but then I had to, ask the question : how a ball of burning Hydrogen, 93 million miles away is going to run my life, or care to. Might as well believe in alchemy or astrology. I made up my own higher power like it was suggested. I chose Willy Nelson, the country singer, because he seemed cool and wise and kind and fatherly. Didn’t work, could never get hold of him. Then I went back to Jesus. But he said he was coming back. Hello, 2012 years later, and still a no show. So I picked a guy I knew would be coming back. Arnold Schwarzenegger, because when Arnold says “I’ll be back” you gotta to believe him. Can you see how ridiculous this exercise becomes. No, the 12 steps only makes sense if you believe in an Omnipotent being who intervenes in our personal affairs. I’m sure Arnold “will be back” but equally sure that if I pray to him to remove my character defects, I’ll be waiting a long time for results.

          Step 4 and 5 are all about confession. A peculiar penchant of devotees of the faiths of Abraham.
          Your goal is to aspire to be a more pious or “gooder” person, get to the root of your self made problems, resentments, realize your problems are a result of your inflated ego, selfishness, greed, ambition, and sexual degeneracy. You are instructed to knock yourself out on this one. (fearless and searching). What good comes of this I ask? Oh, yes, just like they said in AA, apparently I am a selfish, egotistical, grandiose, perverted, scumbag. How nice. Alcohol, as an addictive substance is not at fault, no no no, long live the alcohol industry, its your scummy nature that is the real cause. Don’t bad mouth alcohol, badmouth yourself. If that approach were taken with nicotine we would still be in the grips of the powerful, utterly deceitful, Tobacco industry.

          Not saying that the spiritual path is bad or wrong, just that it has nothing to do with alcoholism. Alcoholism is not a vise. It’s a condition that develops over time to the best of men, of good character and bad. If alcoholism is a disease or malady of the brain which can afflict anyone, good or bad, why the emphasis on the bad boy in you. If we are “sick and not bad people” then why the focus on the bad again? Makes no sense. I don’t see anything in the 12 steps that focuses on your own personal power and strengths, encourages you to believe that you can do it if you keep trying long enough. Only ego bashing and deflation and heaping on the guilt with the 4th and 5th. Where in there is a list of your good qualities, the ones you should be focusing on? It’s just an all around negative look at yourself for the rest of your life.

          Step 6 and 7 are silly if you don’t believe in an omnipotent power to wash away your defects. How is Arnold going to remove my character defects.

          Step 8 and 9 take us back into guilt and shame mode. The place to be if you like being a groveling slave for the rest of your life. When I think of all the incidents in my life that resulted in negative consequences, I made decisions at the time that were the best I thought possible with the information that I had and the capabilities and resources I had at the time to deal with them. They could not have turned out any other way.

          I may have over reacted at times when I should not have. But I don’t see the point of beating myself up for it now when the past is gone and can’t be changed. Even the over reaction was certainly due to a childhood trauma and the defense mechanisms I developed to protect my tender self around that.

          When I looked at my 4th, I found that in most instances, I was pushed, manipulated, or used repeatedly by others before I reacted and stood my ground. I will not punish myself today for defending myself yesterday.
          Yes there are bad boys who live off others and use others but sorry, I am not taking the heat for them.

          Step 10 is simply a thing that all successful people do. It’s common sense. Nothing magic here.

          Step 11 is again more for the people who think there is some great being out there to get in touch with. If I don’t feel that way then what’s the point of me trying to work step 11 the way it was intended. If I want to be more in touch with my self and my feelings, that’s cool. In fact not a bad idea.

          Step 12 is a basic cult rule. Sell the product and recruit others. Walk the walk. I have no problem with that if I think AA is going to help others. And I do think it helps in some ways, just not the ones that are advertised.

          Comes down to the people for me. There is power in others who you join with to fight a common cause. It’s always harder to go it alone. But I’ll say it again if I haven’t before. People in AA get sober despite the 12 steps, not because of them.

          • andrewk says:

            Hello Anonymous,
            Very interesting stuff you posted. While I intellectually agree with most of what you said, I am stuck here in the world of reality.

            My big question to you is, what are you doing to get results, and what do those results look like?

            My life history seems to show 3 distinct modes that I have gone back and forth through.

            1. drunk. drug dealer, mom cried when I had contact with her, could not hold a job, could not have meaningful relationships, constantly in trouble, killing myself and talking fatal risks, etc.

            2. sober in AA. happy most of the time, looked up to by my family and friends, good dad, good citizen, less egocentric, more honest, less fear, more fun. etc.

            3. sober and not in AA: could kind of hold down a job, had relationships that eroded mostly due to my selfishness, occasional jail, pissed people off often, few close friendships, etc.

            From my experience, I have found that when I am not taking the suggestions in AA, and try to stay sober using rational thought, will power, self knowledge, medicine, psychiatry, hypnosis, isolation, ignoring the problem, and many more, my life goes to shit. I am unhappy, alone and at odds with the world. While I think the ideas and reasons behind the steps are utterly foolish… THEY WORK.
            I have personal experience, and have seen many others start to follow the “aa is a crock” path, and have never myself, or seen anyone else succeed at living anything like #2.
            If I believed that some people can live like #2 with a program other than AA, that does not make me pray to thin air, I would jump on it in a second.. so please SOMEONE show me something that works. I’ve been looking for 20+ years. (please don’t respond with REBT.. I have been down that path, and it was not fun).

            • Ron says:

              There are a lot of good things in AA – such as not trying to take control of everything. It sounds as if in #3 you are confusing the idea of control with rationality, but it’s hard to tell from just a posting. In NA there’s a common saying – take what works and leave the rest. I’ve not heard this in AA meetings, but then I haven’t been to years of AA meetings. When one looks beyond the face of the 12 steps and the obvious derivation of them as has been pointed out, there is still something worthwhile there. What I’ve found what works for me is the concept of mindfulness. When I am actively talking and thinking about recovery – listening to other people and thinking about how that applies to me; reading blog posts and trying to explain what works for me, etc. then I am actively working in recovery. I’m thinking about what works for me and what doesn’t. I’m thinking about how to make my life better.
              There are many paths to recovery and we have to find what works for us. Just because something works for one doesn’t mean it will work in toto for another; hence – take what works and leave the rest. Going to meetings, working in service, working on the 12 steps works for you? Awesome! Leave the rest – the god stuff doesn’t have to come along – that is your choice, and there’s nobody in AA or any other 12 step that can tell you otherwise even though I’ve had many attempt to do so. There are many personalities in any group, especially 12 step, and it’s natural for dogma to develop as a result. Recognize this and step around it, if you can, or find another way.

          • Frank M. says:

            I won’t try to address your thoughtful post point for point. I will agree that all the steps can be misused as you make clear. And all of them can be applied (in adapted form at least) for good recovery too.

            Just to take step four as an example–I can misuse that step to try and convince myself that every single painful conflict I’ve ever had is just a result of my fighting where I could have knuckled under and just given up. But I agree with you that this wouldn’t be useful at all. However, I could use the step to consider whether some of my suffering is the result of unskillful navigation of life, based on a mental map that doesn’t fit the territory. And then I could look to where my map may need adjusting and my navigation skills may need improving.

            Mostly I just wanted to address your post where it relates to the transformative and disease aspects of the AA approach. I’d like to use an analogy I find useful, which I understand is common in the rooms these days, but which I actually came to on my own.

            Like diabetes, alcoholism is (in my own understanding) a primary disease. And it responds to direct treatment. But also like diabetes, alcoholism is in part generated and exacerbated by lifestyle. The path to developing diabetes resembles the path to developing full blown alcoholism in many ways. I have found that learning to live in a way that doesn’t generate suffering for myself or others relieves MY alcoholism in the same way that diet and exercise improve the lives of some diabetics.

            I don’t use God or religion to effect those lifestyle changes, and contrary to the misunderstanding of many in the rooms, AA doesn’t say that I have to.


  8. ycantu? says:

    “The Virtue of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand. I am sober, I am disabled with Lyme disease, I am in a lot of pain, I do’nt drink. I disagree with almost everything I hear in AA. I go to drink coffee.

  9. Rinny says:

    I have been sober 20 years in AA and love it dearly. I diligently looked into the question of a higher power for my first 12 years in the program. I studied a lot of philosophy and theology, but I was starting to think I could never come to a confident conclusion, that I would always be an agnostic.

    Finally, my research took me to Ayn Rand’s philosophy (Objectivism) and that made all the difference. My doubts are gone. I am a convinced atheist.

    The first Objectivist presentation I discovered was an audiotape of a lecture by Harry Binswanger titled “Psychoepistemology.” I found it instructive, and sought more Objectivist materials to learn from. The philosophy proved to be a gold mine.

    Another good recording for beginners is “Foundations of Knowledge” by David Kelley.

    Another good starting point is the West Point commencement address by Ayn Rand herself titled “Philosophy, Who Needs It?” It’s available in print.

    If those stimulate your interest, start in on the works of Leonard Peikoff, who is Ayn Rand’s designated intellectual heir.

    Miss Rand got a lot of things right that no philosopher has ever gotten right before, and you don’t have to e a professional philosopher to understand her main ideas.

    I still attend a ton of AA meetings. I mention my atheism when it is relevant to the topic of discussion, and always get thanked for that afterward by other atheists who prefer to remain silent about it. The religious people don’t give me any flak at all. They just want me to stay sober, and we are doing that together, harmoniously.

    I currently sponsor two Christians, one Jew, two agnostics and two unaffiliated believers. They all know where I stand, but I respect their choices and we have no problem going through the steps, traditions and concepts together.

    You are definitely not alone. Thanks for starting the thread.

  10. Heathen says:

    Reality is my higher power.

    The reality that the party is over. The reality that I used up my life-time ration. The reality that drinking doesn’t work for me any longer – if it ever did.

    If recalling the last drunk doesn’t work to keep from “picking up”; reflecting on lame episodes further back (the ones’ that I can remember) helps “keep the plug in the jug”.

    BTW – in my eleven months and two weeks sober: those that are most vocal at meetings about their christian god, that they believed in all along, are the ones that “slip” the most; and, the only other person from my rehab group last year that is still sober is one of the other (we three) atheists.

  11. The Atheist says:


    That’s an awesome testimonial for the power of reality. Congrats on your success and to the other atheist as well! By the way, since AA requires you to acknowledge a “higher power”, I think that citing “reality” as your higher power was a very creative way of meeting the demand without compromising your intellectual honesty – while still being able to take advantage of the helpful parts of the program. Kudos for that too.

  12. Monica says:

    I am so sincerely happy for you, Heathen.

  13. Donna says:

    Thank you so much for this thread. I have been sober for 31 years in AA. I am an atheist. Recently I have really been having a problem with the assumption I hear at meetings about God. I am going through a tough time with my mother’s health, my father’s death, and the economy. Someone managed to comment that “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle” and I just lost it. What an inane platitude. I am a great follower of Ayn Rand and am going to follow up on the suggested readings.

    I am thinking I have to find a new group to join to stay sober because living in the heartland of Colorado the thinking is not as progressive as NY where I got sober.

    It concerns me not to have the support group. I’ve seen the failure rate when you don’t go to meetings. Any suggestions? Maybe there’s an online blog where I can go for support instead of going to meetings where I hear stupid comments about God getting you through anything. I don’t think Daniel Pearl “got through” being beheaded, among other examples of things “God” gave someone which they couldn’t handle. I’m angry about this, yes, because it just feels like another opitate to suppress really dealing with reality. As Karl Marx said, religion is the opiate of the masses.

    Your higher power can be so many other things. The basic goodness of people, the power of the forces of good in the universe.

    • Don Severs says:

      Happy to see this:

      “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle” and I just lost it. What an inane platitude.

      Other empty slogans:
      Everything happens for a reason.
      Everything works out for the best.
      Coincidences are God being anonymous.

      Can you imagine telling the chimp-attack lady that “everything happens for a reason”? Or the tsunami victims that God knows what he’s doing?

      People will torture logic to comfort themselves.

    • sheryl says:

      Hi Donna, i know how u feel. i just had to stop going. im looking to go to a freethinkers meeting not far from me. I live right smack in the middle of christianity.not the bible belt. but close enough in michigan. when my mother died last year ,the first thing i did was call my sponser after coming home from the wake. i was a mess and really needed to talk to her.she said that she was sorry about my mother but, she wasnt a therapist. I asked her if she was a sponser cause i feel like drinking .she gave me instructions to go to a meeting everyday and dont share just write things down. great support huh.

  14. The Atheist says:


    31 years is an incredible accomplishment – my hat’s off to you!!

    Not having personal experience with chemical addiction, take what I am about to say with a grain of salt – maybe run it past some others you trust who do have some personal experience. That said, my advice is to stay in the group that you are currently in until you find another group that you like better. I say this because if I were in your place, I think I would prefer to be offended by inane religious platitudes (and I have had plenty of first-hand experience with that) than to blow 31 years of sobriety. DO look around at other groups, DON’T put yourself in the precarious position of not having group support while you are looking.

    If you do find a group that doesn’t foist religious views on its members, would you please post what you find? I’ve seen this question asked quite a few times and I wish I had some references to pass on.

    By the way, I’m angry about the comments too. Those jackasses are threatening the sobriety of others (which translates to a threat to family life, job, and even life itself sometimes) by alienating them from the group.

    • Michael Hiebel says:

      Excellent insight … I have found that my negative reaction to “jackasses” is an indication I need to correct something in myself.

      When I am okay with me and my thinking, I generally react to “jackasses” with: “Whoa, is he off base”.

      But when my reaction is negative I probably have a viewpoint that needs analyzing. It might be a long held misconception, it may have injured my ego, but whatever it is, once I uncover it and release it … I am in a more peaceful place.

  15. brandon says:

    I’ve got a little over a year in NA and I am about as hardline athesist as they come.

    I’ve learned, you are going to have some people who try to shove the religious aspect down your throat. but heck that’s life, and sometimes you have to take what applies to you and leave the rest. I know they mean good and that’s all that matters. I’m not so thin skinned about my beliefes where I can’t tolorate christans/overly religous people doing what they do.

    now if they start saying things like, this one guy in a meeting last month said that you will relaspse if you don’t find jesus christ, and he had like 40 years, I got up and walked out. Not only is that not true, that goes against the 12 traditions.

    I work the steps, and all I know is damnit I have not used in over a year. I don’t try to get intot he overly technial aspects of it all, it works for me.

    If there were other groups as large as AA / NA I would jump at the opprotunity to attned them but you have to do what you have to do

  16. The Atheist says:

    Thanks for your input on this, brandon. Welcome to the blog!

  17. Heather says:

    I started off as an agnostic and developed into an atheist. I no longer struggle or have any conflict with my beliefs. In fact my tone of sobriety got better once I acknowleged them.
    I have shared about my atheism in AA and been told its denial and ego. All of which, are the downfall of the addict, of course. At the end of the day, its all about what type of recovery you want, and this suits me. My Higher Power is all about doing the right thing and behaving as well as changing the way I think.
    I was told by an ex-sponsor that if I didnt believe in God I would drink again. How irresponsible is that?
    For me recovery is all about personal change and taking responsibility for myself. I think that in someways the powerlessness/hand over to God/ disease/sick person model of “recovery” can set people up for a relapse. Thanks to all for your imput-its been uplifting. If anyone is interested look at SMART RECOVERY. It has a web site.

  18. The Atheist says:


    Welcome to the blog and thanks for weighing in on this. The Smart Recovery site looks good. Do you have any first-hand experience with Smart Recovery and would you recommend it over AA for atheists (or even for believers perhaps)? Or do you think AA is the way to go?

    • Heather says:

      Apologies for this late reply. Yes I do have experience of SMART.It is an excellent opportunity and place to think about how to give recovery another angle or indeed empower it. In fact I know of individuals who have walked out of 12 Step Treatment Centres and gone into SMART and have never looked back. My experience was very positive and now I know that there are many ways to recover. All the answers do not lie in the rooms of AA or with a belief in God. It is akin to a voodoo curse in that it will work if you believe it.
      SMART helps individuals look at stuff differently and can offer everyone something atheists and believers alike. Also it is not incompatable with with traditional 12 step recovery.
      As for is AA the only way to go? No its not. But for me the key has been this
      1.You have to be ready (to recover)
      2.You have to want it (recovery)
      3.You have to go and get it for yourself. However that may be. Its up to you.

  19. Wendy says:

    Hi I’m Wendy and I’m an alcoholic. I will have eight years of sobriety on the 23 of this month. I must say that it is refreshing to read this thread. I am doing research for a five minute presentation on whether there is a need for a pamphlet or literature addressed to the Atheist or Agnostic. It has been discussed by the groups, the Trustees Lit. Committee, and the Conference Committee on Literature dating back to 1979. It has obviously been found that there is not a need, and that of course is decided by the groups, but this has been eye opening for me. Especially the concept of reality being a power greater than myself. Thank you!

    • Kevin says:

      Wendy, I am active in AA and consider myself an atheist for all practical purposes. I heard that there was talk of a pamphlet for agnostics and atheists and I can definitely say that WE COULD USE IT! I know several others like me, and although now I feel comfortable with my beliefs in AA, for the first two years, especially right around my second year, I really struggled with it. I’m glad I stayed but I would like to make it a more conducive environment for others struggling with the HP idea. Some move to be more accommodating by the GSO would likely trickle down to individual people in individual groups.


      • Kelly says:

        This doesn’t have to be approved by GSO or General Service Conference in order to be accomplished. You could try working through your homegroup, district, central office, and/or Area. Many Area’s have developed their own materials on Bridging the Gap (approved by the homegroups of that Area in order to be AA approved literature, of course). I’m just saying you can still do this working through the general service structure. I think it’s a fantastic idea, and agree there is a need. In fact, maybe a group of us could figure out a way to work on a project like this over the internet? This idea excited me. I am a long-time agnostice, and AA member. I have struggled from time to time with the concept of God and Higher Power in A.A.. It seems like there are phases with a lot of “God talk”, and this annoys me because it gives the newcomer (and outsiders) the impression you must find God in order to do A.A. If there were true, the A.A. program never could have worked for me. I do think I’ve struggled more than was necessary because of the unclarity and mixed messages though. Which is sad.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Wendy, I think atheists are a threat to what is obviously a religious program that convinces you to rely on God for your recovery, in fact is convinced that it can’t be done on your own. There are moderates who tolerate us but you are a living example to the vast majority that every thing they were brainwashed to believe in is nonsense That’s why the powers in AA don’t like us, only tolerate us because they have to (traditions) and would rather we just go away. It always bugs me when I see posts here that claim that their group is OK with atheists. I’ve been to 1000’s of meetings and conferences with 50,000 people and not once have I heard anyone admit that they were atheists. They mumble about something when a God step comes up in a closed meeting and I have never heard an open meeting speaker admit it.

      • Frank M. says:


        I’m secretary at a special service AA group online that is mostly atheists and oriented toward a naturalistic view of recovery and the world. There are face to face group like this as well. Obviously we’re completely accepting of non-believers.

        Most mainstream AA groups are as you describe. On the other handy home group has four “out” atheists in it, two of which have multiple decades of sobriety. Maybe that’s why no one can really say anything about it!

        The online group is here:


        Best regards,
        Frank M.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hi Mike I am an atheist and have been sober in Scotland 36 years O.D.A.A.T.
        When I hear anyone sounding off that you cannot get sober without a higher power I always mention I am an atheist have nothing against their religious beliefs and ask them to keep an open mind.
        I then mention how long I have been sober to make a point.
        In Glasgow we have a starter pack for the newcomer and in it is an official pamphlet authorized by AA that states you do not need to believe in a HP TO GET SOBER .
        Thankfully some members moved away from the Oxford groups teachings and some of us have kept an open mind.Their again their is always NARROW MINDED PEOPLE who cannot see an other person point of view

  20. The Atheist says:


    Thanks for your post and welcome! Congrats on your long sobriety!! I’d love to see the product of your research if you would care to post a link here (or send it by email if you don’t want to make it public yet). Is this independent research or is it sponsored by a school or some other organization? Just curious.

    By the way, are you looking at whether atheists & agnostics need the pamphlet, or whether theists need the pamphlet to better understand the atheists & agnostics among them?

  21. Wendy says:

    Exactly, on your last question, it started with the question as to whether or not there is a need for atheists and agnostics, but the result thus far, has been the misunderstanding even I have had and what clarity and compassion and inclusiveness I feel discovering ideas outside my scope, and the need seems to be for “the believer”, to create a better unity, to enlighten, to stay open to new ideas.

  22. Curtis C says:

    Alcoholics can get sober without god, since there is none. Bill was wrong about self-will; but we must direct our will toward what keeps us sober. A higher power must necessarily be something that exists, or it is no power at all. This is a support group for atheists in Alcoholics Anonymous.

    • Don Severs says:

      You’re right, but AA doesn’t claim that God has to exist to get sober. The way I read the Big Book, you only have to believe He does. This maneuver completely discards any concern for truth. It’s the ultimate pragmatism, with reason utterly sacrificed.

      We hear it all the time in meetings. Your God can be a doorknob. There is a God and you’re not It. Choose any God you like.

      I’ve said in meetings that the accuracy of our belief can not matter, because people of conflicting beliefs get sober in AA. Someone has to be wrong, but they all stay sober.

      The spiritual hoop in AA is so wide it doesn’t really exist. We don’t need to worry about what, or whether, we believe anything. Deeds, not creeds.

  23. Christine says:

    This has been a very enlightening thread. I don’t know what I am – aetheist, agnostic, etc. All I know is that I am not god. I am 4 years sober, May 2, go sober in NYC and moved to Miami a year ago. It has been tough. The meetings closest to me, in South Beach, seem to be overrun with religious freaks. I have no problem with your decision to believe in god but do have a problem when you decide I need god. I have had a great 4 years without god. My sober friends in NYC all believe in god but would NEVER tell me what to believe. But here in Miami? I heard a woman from the chairpersons seat say “This is a god program and if you do not believe that then you didn’t get drunk enough.” What infuriated me was the fact she did not say “This is my opinion” or “This is how I got sober.” It was as tho she knew for a fact for everybody how it worked. What about the 3rd tradition? The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Period. Not qualifiers, no means tests, no fealty oats. Nothing. Anyone in the Miami area know of other AAs believers or not who will accept my right to not believe? Thanks again for this thread and for all who shared. I believe I am sober today because of AA not in spite of it but want to stay sober and have a sober support network.

  24. The Atheist says:

    Congrats on your 4-year sobriety, Christine!! There is definitely a more militant Christianity in the South. It’s adherents are bent on “saving your sole”, even if it kills you in the process (or in this case, endangers your sobriety). This sounds serious. Have you considered finding another group even if it’s not as close? Or even moving if it comes to that extreme? This is just my opinion based on your one post (and I have no personal experience with alcoholism to draw upon), but it sounds to me like you are at a pretty high risk where you are.

  25. Lezlie says:

    Thanks to everyone that shared their views.
    I am an atheist in recovery. I attended a meeting today (my home group) that focused entirely on the grace of god or hp. I felt that I was at church not an AA meeting. I left with a huge resentment. I am quite vocal about my non belief, and have had other similar thinking members share their appreciation for my candor. However, I have witnessed other non-believers being treated dismissively or rudely by chair persons.
    This particular meeting closes with the Lords Prayer, which is clearly Christian, and in my opinion inappropriate. I say the Serenity Prayer instead.
    I need AA and typically get a lot out of meetings, but the emphasis on god can be alienating and annoying. According to the traditions AA is not affiliated with any religion, etc. etc. Hypocracy abounds in life, and AA is no exception. Since there is no viable alternative at this time I will try to live with it and speak out when necessary.

  26. Trevor Spencer says:

    I am an atheist and left the rooms of AA about 12 years ago.I have remained sober through all the challenges of my life.How? I used the sobriety I desired as my goal if you wish my higher power.
    I found the emphasis on the spirtual became intolerable I also refuse to pray so I end up being unhelpful to the newcomer.After all who needs to witness dissent when your drowning.
    I still remain in touch with some AA friends and help others when I can.I stay sober on the same daily basis as many others but just as a simple human.

  27. The Atheist says:


    I feel for you – hang in there. Continue being vocal about your beliefs to maintain your piece of mind. But do what you gotta do to stay sober.


    Very inspiring!! And good advice!

  28. suzanna says:

    Twenty or so years ago when my ex-husband was in AA, we were told that those in AA who don’t choose to turn their life over to a HP statistically don’t do as well and relapse because addiction is a problem with self control. They said people who don’t accept a HP still believe they can “will” themselves to get better. They recommended that if you can’t believe in a “god” you can believe in a “tree” in your yard, or anything outside of yourself for that step. Have you all heard this commented in AA? Has it been revised over the years and are Atheist’s in AA seeing more success with their recovery based on the diversity and inclusion of different groups in our society in general? Just curious.

  29. Andrew Kerwin says:

    It’s a tough road sometimes at one point I lived in a very theistic part of the country, (Richmond, VA), and found a lot of well-meaning theists that could not give me advice that made sense, even sometimes being rude or mean. As a result, I moved to a place where there is a little more religious tolerance, (MN), and LOVE it.
    I guess the pilgrims and I share something after all.

    The term, “take what you want and leave the rest”, was a big part of my life before I moved. I had to literally accept that some of my AA advisors were wrong… not a good habit to get into.

    I think one of the big topics that is easy to explain in a theist context is the idea that I do the work, God does the results. This works in atheism as well but it sounds much less elegant, it’s more like, do the next right thing and be happy with any outcome. I would much rather believe that god is planning something big later. Unfortunately, it’s not true.

    I struggled with figuring out my belief system for years and still have trouble with it sometimes but the things I do believe in are:

    1. If I pray, things are better, (even if it’s only in my head)
    2. If I do the next right thing, everything will work out
    3. I am only responsible for the action, not the result

    As far as defining my H.P… I found it to be detrimental to my spiritual condition. I leave that alone altogether, ACTION is the key, not thought.

    To be a good A.A. I have to:

    1. Pray
    2. Go to meetings
    3. Work steps to the best of my ability
    4. Be of service
    5. Have a sponsor and sponsees
    6. Be willing to do things that
    I don’t want to do
    7. Stop acting like god

    That’s it..

  30. The Atheist says:

    Hi Andrew. Interesting perspective. And a big congrats for doing what you had to do to stay sober! What you would think of these steps:

    1. If I pray, things are better, (even if it’s only in my head) I’ll leave this one untouched – if it makes things seem better, do it!

    2. I am responsible for the doing the next right thing – regardless of the result. That is because if I do the next right thing, things stand a MUCH better chance of working out than if I don’t.

    3. I AM responsible for the result, but ONLY to the extent that I can affect it by doing the next right thing. Sometimes “shit happens” even if I do the right thing. (this is really just a restatement of #2)

  31. Hank says:

    Thank you so very much to all. I am currently in a rehabilitation center with mandatory AA, NA, CA, etc. meetings (27 days sober today), and was struggling a great deal with the imposition of god being necessary for my recovery. Y’all have given me the strength and hope i needed to happily continue the fight. Its euphoric to feel amongst a common cause and i was beginning to think that i was all alone in this. I will certainly continue to keep in contact with people of my like mind for that seems to be the greatest catalyst to my sobriety. Im ready again to take on the world with enthusiasm.

    Rejuvenated Hank

    • Don Severs says:

      Great to hear, Hank. We KNOW belief in supernatural stuff isn’t necessary for recovery. There are millions of sober AAs. Some of them believe opposing things. They can’t all be right, but they’re sober.

      The essential element seems to be that we should not be our own God. We should seek to be of service, seek advice and not blindly follow our lower nature.

      Don’t let anyone keep you out of AA. You are the reason we’re here.

    • The Atheist says:

      Congrats on the sobriety, Hank!! Whatever you are doing sounds like it is working – don’t stop!

  32. The Atheist says:

    I found this list of recovery programs on Wikipedia, several of which are secular. Does anyone have any experience with any of the secular ones?

  33. Samuel Upchurch says:

    Joseph Campbell said, “I have faith in my own life experiences.” I am an atheist and I believe you learn about yourself through your relationships and experiences with other people. It seems the more religion someone has the less faith they have in their fellow human beings. Doing good for others. Simple things like writing thanks you notes or calling and old friend — is the best thing for me to do.
    I have 21 years of sobriety and I worked the steps. I just substituted “My Future Self” for “My Higher Power”

  34. Also An Athiest says:

    I originally found recovery from substance abuse in AA and NA in my home state of Oregon back in ’93. I gravitated to the AA group because I felt that my sobriety was threatened by the people I met in the NA groups, especially in the beginning when I felt very fragile. I struggled mightily with dealing with god concept, reading the big book didn’t help because it basically said you had to accept god, with the capital ‘G’. No way around it. What helped me was something I heard in a therapy group I was in at the time: whatever god might be, it’s not you. It’s not you that makes the sun come up in the morning, and no matter how hard you try it’s not you that makes things come out the way that they do. This made sense to me because I was super-controlling, trying to manage the unmanageable. It gave my poor mind a way out. I knew that if I could find a chink like the god concept I would use it as a way to undermine my sobriety, so I grabbed onto that concept and it kept me clean and sober.
    When I relapsed it was because I moved to the east coast and stopped going to meetings. Without the group interaction and service I fell out of recovery. Several years later (2006) I started trying to drink like a gentleman, and eventually wound up doing the drugs also. After trying to get clean again by myself and failing earlier this year, I knew I had to get back to AA meetings, so I started going to as many I as could.
    Now, I moved from Oregon to Atlanta, GA. You probably couldn’t find more opposite cultures than if I had moved from San Francisco. The AA meetings are full of god talk, people mentioning “god shots”, the lord’s prayer at the end of every meeting, etc. I find all that pretty repulsive, but if I want to get clean I have to suspend judgment for now. I only have 7 days clean at this point and I don’t need to derail. I will take the time to explore other groups in the area, but I will also start talking more about what works for me in the whole higher power thing. I’m an atheist. I don’t see the point of magical mystery mechanisms. That’s not ego – that’s pragmatism. If it was ego I’d be telling people that they’re wrong, but obviously it works for them, and who the heck am I to say otherwise. All I know is that it doesn’t work that way for me.
    This forum has been very helpful to me to help form some of my thoughts (like I said, it’s only been a week so I’m a bit fuzzy), and to feel that I am far from alone – my own little AA meeting this morning, if you will. And there it is – right in front of me. My higher power is not what’s inside of me, it’s what’s all around me. How I interact with what’s around me is how I stay clean and sober. I don’t need to worship it – I just need to live within it and not within me/my own head.
    Atheist, your 3 points (or really 2 points plus one clarifying point ;) ) seem like a good start and I thank you for expressing them here.
    Thank you all for your comments and a really good forum.

    • The Atheist says:

      This is the best explanation of a “higher power” that I’ve ever heard! It’s definitely the first one that made sense to me – “whatever god might be, it’s not you.” I like it! We’re not in absolute control of the outcome, but we are absolutely responsible for our own actions.

  35. Barry Clark says:

    I’m going to my first AA meeting tomorrow. I’m 13 days sober fresh out of detox and still in group sessions at the hospital as an outpatient.

    I have been struggling with the god references. I know the higher power is not supposed to be yourself but I liked Samuel Upchurch’s “future self”. god did not create man, man created god which makes man a higher power than god.

    But now I just had another idea. It was mentioned that “It’s not you that makes the Sun come up in the morning”. Well the Sun doesn’t come up, the earth spins to make it look that way. Without the Sun there would be no atmosphere and no life on Earth.

    I think I will use the Sun as my higher power.

    • Helen says:

      Yep – bring back the Sun an Earth god/ess! I hope you’re still traveling well Barry, all the best to you, Helen :)

  36. Andrew Kerwin says:

    Congrats on getting sober, it’s really much better in the long run.

    My experience with being a newly sober AA atheist was not really that much fun. Part of it was that I was in a god-fearing city, (surrounded by closed minded folks), I moved to Minneapolis and found it to be MUCH easier to talk about my lack of supernatural beliefs.

    You will find a TON of understanding people on the web and can find help easily. I am available for sponsorship if you need someone, (moving to Maryland in a couple months). I have 8+years without a drink and have not killed anyone lately. You can get me at andrewk at glideout dot com.

    As far as the Sun, I have found esoteric HP ideas to be an unhelpful way of appeasing the godders, I literally had to stop thinking and start doing. I pray in the mornings because they tell me to and I found my life to be better when I do. I go to meetings, work steps, talk to my sponsor, talk to my sponsees, admit when I am wrong (sometimes) and do servie work.
    I know it sounds like an easy way to get indoctrinated into a religion, (which is the type of thing I have always prided myself on not doing), but at some point I need to be willing to do something I don’t want to do.. that is the key.

    I have been able to make it this far without praising Jesus or speaking in tounges, but if I did.. who gives a crap, it’s better than sleeping in urine and vomit.


    • Mike says:

      Hi Andrew,

      I too am an atheist who tried and tried the AA program with no results. In fact I drank more when I was in AA than when I went on my own. A couple of points. How does doing something you don’t want to do (like a 4th step for example) help keep you sober. I don’t want to sky dive, so if I did, would that help me stay sober. Of course you are talking about doing the “do” things in the program, which essentially is working the program. But the entire program was designed from day one under the premise that we can’t help ourselves, we are born sinners, doomed to vice and drink and hell unless we confess and atone for our dastardly sins, and ask GOD to grant us one more day of sobriety, as if he hands out favors to those who worship him. That’s the program in a nutshell. It’s faith healing plain and simple. So how can you “work” that nonsense if you don’t believe in it. I don’t doubt that meetings are helpful. Support is always better than no support, but if it means swallowing my true beliefs, then I am not being true to myself and that’s the worst sin of all, pretending to be something that I am not. If I go to an AA meeting and tell them what I really think, I will get ostracized and eventually ignored. The exact opposite of what I need. It just does not work, it can;t work. Try substituting the group or the sun for a higher power. So I ask the sun to help me stay sober every morning and give thanks to the sun at night. How does the sun manage to help me, pray tell? Is the sun listening to me, answering my prayers? No it has to be a supernatural being who grants favors to a select few who worship HIM. When I have a craving I ask the sun to turn my car away from the beer store? How can this nonsense help me. No, it just drives people nuts is all. Which is why the program has a horrible success rate. Because today people think for themselves and don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore. Nor should they.

  37. Don Severs says:

    It is impolite to talk out loud about these things in meetings, so this is a welcome tonic for me. Thanks, everyone.

    I find this fascinating: If you can choose your own conception of God, then truth claims go out the window. This is an open secret in AA. It means that the Higher Power business is a trick and/or a placebo. Anyone who thinks it through can see that AA’s formulation of HP says nothing about whether there is an actual, sentient Being who is helping you. Here’s why:

    All beliefs imply that opposing beliefs are untrue. Let’s say your HP, Jesus, helps you stay sober. Another guy believes in an impersonal, deist, Ultimate Cause who takes no personal interest in human affairs. They can’t both be right, but they are both sober.

    Another guy believes Allah keeps him sober and another guy thinks Vishnu keeps him sober. Another stays sober on good vibes from vortexes in Mother Earth. All sober, all deluded, all good AAs.

    This shows that the content of your belief in a Higher Power makes no difference. You can even be an atheist, as long as you are not your own God.

    I marvel at the blissful glare I see in people’s eyes when they extol AA saying, “Isn’t it wonderful that we can all believe whatever we want and stay sober”. I suppose it’s a good thing, but it means that you’re probably fooling yourself. That’s a small price to pay to stay sober, I’ll agree, but there is a way to get sober, have a Higher Power and not fool yourself. Give up supernatural claptrap and rely on the wisdom of the group.

    • The Atheist says:

      I agree that the beliefs are mutually exclusive – if one belief is right then the others must be wrong. But the mutually-exclusive beliefs seem to have something in common which remains true regardless of the belief per se: that you can’t have absolute control – something “larger than you” does, whether that something is God or the nature of the universe. I think this can help in one’s struggle for sobriety (and perhaps it can help in other struggles) – you can accept absolute responsibility for your actions without being absolutely responsible for the outcome for which you don’t have absolute control. As it relates to the 12-step program, the most that can be expected of you is that you choose not to drink right now, and that’s what you are responsible for – no more and no less.

      I’m not an alcoholic so I’m not speaking from personal experience, and I might well be all wet on this – any thoughts from anyone who can speak from experience?

      • Andrew Kerwin says:

        I’m with you on the “you can’t have absolute control” part, but accepting that “something larger than you does” was the part I had trouble with. I reject the idea that there is control out there. I am more on the chaos side of things, but not really sure, nor do I care anymore. I think the idea of not being responsible for the outcome works either way and is the important part for AA.
        The reality is, as much as I may disagree with the fundamental ideas about an HP with plans, opinions and wishes… AA works. I tried a bunch of other things and they did not work, so I had to figure out how to either reconcile my lack of belief or simply learn to ignore it. I was not smart enough to do the former, I chose to ignore it and just do what I’m told.

    • Sam says:

      I disagree with the sentiment that “you are not your own god”. On the contrary, I believe we ARE our own gods and what realization could be more empowering? Believing that outside forces control us? Isn’t that what causes addiction to start with? C’mon. People just need to understand their own thought processes to gain control of their behavior. Shit happens, we self-talk about it which causes us to feel something which in turn causes us to behave. Understanding that the key to controlling our behavior is to control our emotions and to control our emotions we must control our self-talk is the most liberating, empowering and fulfilling feeling in the world. Simply control what you say to yourself about what goes on around you and you become your own master, your own god. Good luck to those struggling with these issues. Read up on Ellis’ REBT if you are interested in this approach. I’ve sworn by it for over 30 years.

      • Andrew Kerwin says:

        Unfortunately there is a huge symmetrical impasse between REBT/CBT/SMART and AA. No one on this thread is saying that they do not have power over their own life, (god of themselves), on the contrary the core of AA is that I have a choice to make on a daily basis. I think the main distinction is that without recovery, I start thinking that I have or should have absolute power over the outcome of my actions. I get pissed when I turn the car over and it’s dead, but the freedom comes when I can just accept the bad luck and call in late to work. REBT teaches the same thing, just from an opposite perspective.
        Volumes could be written, and have, about the semantics of AA vs. Smart/REBT but it’s not very constructive for me to spend too much time there because I am too busy making a beautiful like for myself.
        I wish there were more REBT type support groups. I have never found a place that has a strong fellowship and if there is one thing I have learned through and through is that I am no good on my own, REBT or no REBT. I need someone else there, counting on me to be there, or I WON’T do the work.

        Sam, You seem really hung up on the actual words being used and not about the results, maybe your should “self talk” about it.. (don’t bite my head off, I’m just poking fun)

        If you have suggestions for me from your experience.. please send them my way offline. I’m always interested in knowing more about the growing REBT community.. you can get me at andrewk (then the at sign) glideout (then a period) com

        Self Bless You! (more fun)

  38. Andrew Kerwin says:

    I like the wisdom of the group, it is a little dependant on the quality of the group though. I’ve been in meetings where sleeping with a newcomer was not challenged.

    If you find yourself in a good, happy joyous and free meeting with long term sobriety, WOG works great!

    It took me a loooong time to get it straight, immersing myself in service to others really helped me get through.

    • Sam says:

      Sorry, Andrew, but a statement like “I need someone else there, counting on me to be there, or I WON’T do the work.” may seem to you like self-enlightenment but it sounds like another form of addiction to me, co-dependency. That said, replacing a destructive addiction for one that is less so is great but having no addictions at all is even better. I’m not trying to be critical here. I guess I just have perhaps too high of expectations of people, especially those who’ve already seen the folly in superstitions like godism. Can you help me understand why you think you “need” a group in order to stay in recovery?

      • Andrew Kerwin says:

        I’d love to write about this more offline, shoot me an email and I can give you a full picture of my mind’s workings, andrewk, (at sign), glideout (period symbol, com

  39. jesmondgirl says:

    FYI.There is a very interesting book called One Journey Many Roads: Moving Beyond The Twelve Steps by Charlotte Davis KASLS. It may help someone, who, like me was clean and sober for a good period of time, but still felt like hell. I dont want to open a debate about anything to do with step work/sponsorship and the correct/incorrect use of them, becuse its irrelevant and often unhelpful. I am just posting this as it may help (women particularly). It explores concepts of spirituality in a very enlightening way.

  40. tomperson says:

    Having been a “deep thinker” about god and the universe took me from religion to atheism, then back to religion, then to spirituality, and then to agnosticism. In my dualistic view a person could only be right or wrong on the subject of god, and I thought it was my job to figure the whole thing out!

    Then, after emerging from treatment from alcoholism, I needed something to keep me sober, so I tried AA. I panicked over the “god stuff” quite a bit at first. I still get somewhat annoyed when I hear someone promote their own ideas of god in disrespect of the traditions and tolerance which AA should try to promote.

    However I, too, had to become tolerant of those with whom I disagreed. My higher power remains without definition, but if I tried to describe it, it would begin with me admitting that I certainly was not god, or even “a” god, and it was NOT MY JOB to solve the whole “god or no god” question!

    I began to draw strength in the fact that there existed people and things other than myself which could help me achieve and maintain sobriety and live a happy life. In AA, I was free to choose the things that helped and discard those that didn’t, including other people’s belief in and conception of god.

  41. Janice says:

    I am an atheist, and have been for many years. If I make it until the end of this month, I’ll have 25 years of continuous sobriety. I spent the first five years of it active in AA and the last 20 on my own. I’d recommend AA to anyone trying to sober up.

    Whatever it is, it’s better than being drunk.

    After sobering up, one’s mind is clear enough to think for oneself. Until then, even a belief in an invisible friend is better than the pain of active alcoholism.

    Trust me. I’ve been there.

  42. Don Severs says:

    I’m really interested in whether beliefs are true. Apart from their utility, benefits or harmfulness, why does it seem to matter so little whether religious beliefs are true, that is, supported by evidence?

    It seems that most people are not scientific thinkers, and even if they are, they are not philosophical naturalists. That is, they don’t have a purely naturalistic worldview, that they include elements of the supernatural. This is partly due to the fact that science reveals uncomfortable facts about being human.

    But most adults I know consider accepting facts simply a part of growing up. They disdain people who put their heads in the sand. They don’t consider themselves to be superstitious. In the recovery community, this is often memorized in treatment:

    “Sanity is reality. Reality is seeing things as they really are and acting appropriately.”

    This is key, because addiction is all about denial. Understanding and accepting the facts of being an alcoholic are crucial to recovery.

    Patients are also taught the Serenity Prayer, which counsels acceptance as the most serene way to live in reality. We all know that reality includes many objectionable things. If we fight or deny them, we are in a constant state of friction, which is not conducive to comfortable sobriety.

    Good advice, but it’s followed by the suggestion to believe in a Higher Power of their understanding and practice relying on it for guidance, in place of their flawed instincts, fears and lower drives. This “God as we understand Him” is left wide open. It can be the group, the Steps or anything other than our unaided intellect and will. It’s wide enough that people of all types can get on board. They aren’t required to believe anything in particular, just that they can’t recover by themselves.

    This freedom is a key element in reaching the still-defiant alcoholic or addict. Many of us would refuse to attend AA if there was a creed or dogma that had to be followed. So, it’s a trick, but a trick that works.

    In practice, though, this leeway has an interesting effect. People pick and choose or invent their own philosophy/religion/mythology that suits them. It seems to work, and whether it’s true or supported by evidence is rarely discussed. Some elder AAs view it as a trick to get the newcomer to try spiritual activity. Then, when they see themselves sober for a year and on a completely different footing in life, they often have a spiritual awakening in hindsight. Step 12 starts this way: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps..”. It is common for people to then identify the source of this newfound power to be God.

    But AAs rarely compare notes about the specifics of their beliefs. If they do, they have a hyper-tolerant, anything-goes attitude. “I can believe whatever I want. And so can you.” They all use the word “God” and credit it for their recovery. But we know that many of them believe things that are incompatible. It’s not an issue, because their beliefs are personal. But now the issue of whether their beliefs are true is left completely out of the picture. No one cares, because the practical, lifesaving problem of recovery has been addressed. The content of their belief is completely unimportant.

    This principle is raised to its extreme in some New Age thinking. Humans are co-creators with God, and mere thinking brings things into reality. It is thus vital that we make good choices about our thoughts. Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale preached a less airy version of this 50 years ago.

    When Bush was re-elected, I realized millions of people seemed to live in a different reality than I did. How could good people, looking at the same facts, reach such different conclusions? The answer is they weren’t using a scientific worldview to come to a unified, consensus view of reality. They believed all sorts of stuff. It was a free-for-all. This “right to believe whatever I want” is fiercely defended. The cost of such a right is very high. Our beliefs ought to conform to the real world, particularly when you are the President.

    I find this constraint is recognized by a minority of people. While not usually enunciated overtly, when you pin down a believer, they proclaim their right to believe whatever they want. They often say that nothing, absolutely nothing, can change their mind, as if that is laudable.

    We die. There is abundant evidence from Alzheimer’s and other neurological patients that when the brain stops working, our personalities end. There is no good reason to believe in a soul or to think we can survive the death of our brains and bodies. If we are to practice the acceptance suggested in the Serenity Prayer, then sooner or later, we have to confront this fact. Believing in an afterlife is the opposite of acceptance.

    It takes courage to live in a reality where we live once and die. Where our children and loved ones can get sick or in an accident and be taken from us at any time.

    Sanity is reality. I think most of religion is an attempt to live in a world other than the real one. I’m compassionate toward believers, because I know the fear of being human. But my recovery walk has given me a commitment to living in reality.

    People behave as if they are addicted to their beliefs.

  43. Rumrum 31 says:

    Hello, I had no idea this post was continuing. I am the original poster of the question.
    For an update, I have been sober now for 3 1/2 years… and yes, still an atheist.
    I am comfortable still with my viewpoint and beliefs and yes, there have been a couple more come of the “closet”
    Thanks all for posting such good information

  44. Ras says:

    This thread is amazing, I’m so glad I came across it. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my chest since I’m not religious in any sense of the word. In some ways it seems like such a triviality when looking at the big picture of my personal alcoholism, but the constant mention of ‘god’ makes me cringe. I’ve only been to three meetings so far so am quite a newbie. I was browsing the big book last night and had to put it down halfway through the ‘We Agnostics’ chapter since it was far too preachy for my liking. There’s so much I appreciate about AA already; I’m constantly hearing fragments of my own story and this sense of loneliness is melting away.

    I’ve kept a journal since I was a child and take this habit as my form of ‘praying’. It’s simply reflection and introspection and a way of collecting my thoughts. I’m still trying to find a concept of a higher power that works for me. Funnily enough, as I learned more about quantum physics and the origins of the universe, I changed my atheist views to agnostic. The idea of a man made god never bode well with me so I disregarded the idea altogether. But the idea of an unidentifiable ‘something’ that governs the laws of the cosmos struck a chord with me in a spiritual sense that I hadn’t experienced before.

    These first few steps I’ve been taking into sobriety already has me thinking critically in ways I haven’t for years. I suppose all I really want to say in this post is a huge thanks for the insight that everyone has offered and providing a forum that isn’t dominated with thoughts of god in the dude-who-gives-a-fuck manner.

  45. Sam says:

    Praying is self-talk. Why do non-theists use that religious term? I’m not opposed to the practice at all. On the contrary, I believe self-talk is the only effective way to control one’s emotions and behavior. I’m just opposed to using religious vernacular when a perfectly rationally descriptive term like “self-talk” already exists and serves to eliminate even the slightest tendency to think some caring force outside ourselves can/would intervene on our behalf. OK, admittedly, yes, I’m a rather militant atheist who is very much against organized religion that I would even like to see religiously connotative words like prayer, evil and sin completely eliminated from our language. Sorry if that offends anyone’s sensitivities but I just don’t see how people can help themselves when they use words that contradict self-reliance.

  46. Nancy Brown says:

    I am so glad to read all your comments. Thank you very much. I am 18 years sober, a member of AA and have tried in the past to conform to AA’s 12 steps, but alas, most of them do not work for atheists without rewriting them. My most important recovery work has been done in therapy, necessary to unravel childhood and early adult trauma for me to have any understanding of what I was made, how to accept those facts and feelings and how to make informed choices and to respond rather than always react. And, what limits I have and how to challenge those limits when possible.

    Have to admit that lately I’ve become more irritated by the the pejorative and dismissive comments from fellow AA members when they hear (again) of my atheism. As my father used to say, I should not take this personally, but it is really rather annoying after all these years. Societal changes seem to be bringing back a latent judeo-christian morality play which is played out in AA more frequently and reminds me that AA acts much like a cult… what is ‘right’, what is ‘wrong’, what is your higher power, what was your spiritual awakening, etc. I do not describe myself as spiritual because I do not understand what the heck that means. According to what I have heard over the years, it can mean almost anything and mention of a physic change has dwindled. I’ve changed my favorite sentence in the book Alcoholics Anonymous to read, “After all, we have brains to use.” (those that have read the book will know that it actually reads, “After all, God gave us brains to use.”) Another concept is that there is good use of the will.

    My recovery could not began until I was able to say aloud that I couldn’t stop drinking. I didn’t pray to be sober or get sober. I woke up one day and decided that if I were to stay alive, no more alcohol could enter my body. My father, a physician, described me well as an chronic end stage alcoholic at 36.

    While I find non-god centered meditation very helpful in stopping obsessive worry in times of excessive stress, clearing my mind of doubt and relaxing, I do not pray because I find myself in pursuit of a childish wish list which is in fact a flight from reality and absolves me of making changes that may be needed for a more fulfilling life. While I understand that reality itself is complicated and somewhat relative, the contradictions implied by the multiplicity of definitions of higher powers members have ‘chosen’ implies a self definition of a personal powerful servant and perplexes me. Isn’t this self-obsession? But – when all is said and done – whatever works for others to stay sober.

    As a last thought, thank you all again. I know that it is fear of alcoholic insanity that keeps me away from a drink. It does help to have other alcoholic friends, be they realists, naturalists, humanists or believers in god.

  47. Christine says:

    thanks for this site and all your comments. It has been helpful to me since I move to Miami which seems to believe that only BELIEVERS can get sober. I actually heard someone say, in the chairpersons seat, that “This is a god program and if you don’t believe that you did not drink enough.” Huh!!! My friends in New York, all believers, were ASTONISHED by such a statement. They could not believe that such a dictate would be uttered by a sober person, someone with 10 years no less. But I tell myself, whatever it takes for this person to be sober, so be it. It IS FRUSTRATING, I kid you not, but I plug along. I have found a meeting, after a friend suggested I do a 90 in 90 after, I think, she was sick of my complaints. Guess what, working to fit the program in my life instead of my life in the program, really helped. Keeping an open mind and trying different meetings enabled me to find a meeting that at least tolerates me! LOL I believe in the steps, maybe because I am an ex-Catholic and a long term therapy patient, self reflection is my default nature, but I do them with the idea that the collective wisdom of AA is my higher power. I am reading Bucky Sinister’s book Get Up, which is aimed at non-believers doing the program. He suggests his higher power is his better self. http://www.buckysinister.com/sec2_books_cd.html I don’t like this for me because it centers my world around me. I find my life is infinitely better when I don’t put myself front and center. I believe in Let Go, I just don’t believe in Let God. I just have come to understand that I DO NOT CONTROL anything that happens to me. Does that mean I should do nothing? NO Does it mean I have no control over myself? NO Does it mean that I should not care for my fellow human beings? NO As for spirituality, I have learned that anyone who talks about how spiritual they are, I should run in the other direction. Spirituality, again for me, is waking up and recognizing that Iam not alone in this world and to some small measure I am my brother’s keeper, and the earth, and animals and etc. I am not alone. That is the promise of AA, I am not alone. I am a loner, that is my basic nature, but I am not alone. So, what does someone do who lives in a small town and is a non-believer? My first inclination is to say MOVE!! But that isn’t possible. My suggestion is to keep coming, work the program to the best of your ability, remember that your fellow alcoholics are sick human beings who need compassion, even the dogmatic, gurus who think they know everything, and that to keep plugging away. Find connections alone, read books, seek out others outside the program who have similar non-beliefs, keep posting here but REMEMBER what it says on the coin To thine own self be true!!! Doing otherwise will send you to the bottle or to a dry miserable sobriety. Also, in Bucky’s book there is funny quote, to paraphrase, “The problem with Aetheists is that they are always talking about God” Some famous person said that. That is why I don’t go to freethinkers, agnostic or aetheist meetings. Also, another suggestion, pick up “YOunger Next Year” There’s a chapter on what happens to the nervous system and brain when we make emotional connections to other people. That was the AHA moment for me. The science of what AA is about. It might be helpful. Keep posting. I will keep reading. Thanks to everyone for my beautiful, wonderful and precious sobriety. My life got better when I stopped drinking, admitted Iwas an alcoholic and started talking to another alcoholic.

  48. Christine says:

    Me again, Christine, adding to my post of this morning. A friend sent me an email with some AA meditations in it. The following is from Bill W. himself, which a believer will point out is contradicted in a million other places LOL, but here it is. A believer would also say it is a God Shot – you know, there are no coincidences. Yeah right! LOL There are coincidences all the freaking time.

    BTW, my faith? It is that another alcoholic and AA are going to save my life. That is my faith but just not in God.

    As Bill Sees It

    Unlimited Choice, p. 201

    Any number of alcoholics are bedeviled by the dire conviction that if
    they ever go near A.A. they will be pressured to conform to some
    particular brand of faith or theology.

    They just don’t realize that faith is never an imperative for A.A.
    membership. That sobriety can be achieved with an easily acceptable
    minimum of it, and that our concepts of a Higher Power and God–as
    we understand Him–afford everyone a nearly unlimited choice of
    spiritual belief and action.

  49. Steven says:

    I am a sober atheist in AA
    I go to meetings regularly
    What bothers me is the attitude of the “churched” AA members who are all to quick to shun and ostracize me.
    Its hard to be a real, open minded AA here in bible belt Tennessee

    • Nancy Brown says:

      Don’t know how long you have been sober or how long you have been going to the same meetings, but what helps me is to bring voice to my atheism from time to time. There are more agnostics and atheists in AA even here in the North Carolina (and the rest of the U.S. bible belt than you might know. To voice my stance is also to speak truth to my own power to live soberly and have peace of mind. The best thing I found here on this site was not an answer, but to realize, again, that I am not alone in being a sober atheist.
      If you need any more encouragement, reply and perhaps we can correspond off site.
      Good luck.

  50. Tammy says:

    This is the first time I’ve come across this forum. First I’d like to say, I’ve read some real amazing thoughts here and agree with the majority of it. What I would like to add though is; whatever works for each individual, is what they should stick with! Just as opinions change as we mature, surely our opinions on what gives us our strength will also change. I’ve been a member of AA for almost 20years yet some of those years were spent ‘practicing’ or ‘researching’. I never gave up on the idea of leading a completely sober, productive life but have also had many downfalls throughout the past 20 years. I continue to attend AA, continue to learn more about myself and continue to gain more self control. I am not the center of the universe and have learned to put others first (most times. What I KNOW for certain is; when I drink my life spirals out of control and devastating negative things happen. When I don’t drink I manage to plod along on a maintainable plateau, experiencing more gratitude for accomplishments. Simply said; I love myself more when in positive frame of mind.

  51. spr says:

    Hi all,
    I looked through some of the comments made here and feel like I am in a meeting. I came across this site because I was searching for help. I feel I have come to a stop of my recovery (9 months)due to my denyial of any form of HP. Just giving it fancy names does not work for me. My most difficult time at meetings come when people discuss their prayer habits, something that detests me. Although, of course, well done and good luck to them. I don’t have a sponsor since I have not found anyone close enough to my thoughts.
    Any help?

  52. Andrew Kerwin says:

    Hi spr,

    This has been a great thread to keep away from hate mail, thanks to all the posters here for carrying the message, not the mess.

    First of all let me explain to you where I am coming from. I do not have proof but I tend to not believe unsubstantiated or loosely circumstantial claims made by others about gods, supernatural beings, bogeymen, aliens or spaghetti monsters.
    I am in my late 30’s, almost 9 years sober in AA, have a great life, a ton of money, cool toys, great relationships with friends & family, an amazing wife, a new baby and many other gifts.
    Note: I did not have ANY of those things until I found AA and followed a few suggestions.

    I say all that not to get into a debate about aliens or gloat about my material successes but to give you some hope that it IS possible and may be easier than you think. One of the main things I needed to learn was surrender.

    This is where my advice might start to look like a cult indoctrination.. just remember what I said above.

    We are not asking you to BELIEVE anything, but we are asking you to DO things.

    If millions of alcoholics put on Native war paint and danced to drum music for an hour a day to have great lives, guess what I would do for an hour a day?

    Praying to a god that does not exist in order to recover is absolutely ridiculous, it cannot possibly have anything to do with my happiness.. right? Well, what I found after kicking and screaming like a 2 year for old for months is that all I have to do is DO IT. It does not matter why it works, all that matters is the surrender and the action.

    Here are some of the suggestions that I have found to work for atheists:

    1. Get a good sponsor immediately and do what they say whether you want to or not.

    2. find 3 or 4 meetings that you feel are the most open to non-theists and try not to get on a soap-box there.. it only draws attention to the god issue.

    3. pray (to a non-existent thing if you have to).

    4. make sure that your sponsor is pushing you to working the steps.. you can only go so far without them.

    5. get into service.. make coffee, open meetings, lead meetings, be a greeter, get involved with intergroup, etc.

    You do those things and we promise it will work for you,(read step nine in the big book for the exact wording of the promise).

    I am available for sponsorship, I have 2 successful long distance sponsees now. If you want to check me out first, you can friend me on facebook, my name is Andrew Kerwin, I’m the one in Richmond, VA as of March 2010 (if you are reading this later I might have moved but I’ll post again when that happens)

    Hope that makes some sense.


  53. Tammy says:

    -KEEP COMING BACK- ‘it works if ya work it, so work it, we’re worth it!’

  54. Chris says:

    I am a lifelong atheist and also committed to abstinence from alcohol and am coming up on my 4 year anniversary this June 1st. I like AA- I personally find it therapeutic to hear some of my feelings mirrored by the other members; it is a reminder that my pain is not unique, far from it. I haven’t tried to work the steps that have anything to do with a Higher Power, etc. Bill W was a man not a prophet and like most people I think he was putting together something in line with his personal value system and more power to him; he created a worldwide phenomenon that has helped a huge number of people achieve sobriety.
    I don’t feel it contradictory to go to meetings and not pray at the end or ponder the steps that refer to a Higher Power. If it works it works. Some folks in AA might say that I am deluding myself or am doomed to failure but my experience has been one of acceptance and an “agree to disagree” stance. The fact remains that I haven’t had a drink in a few years and don’t intend to drink today- isn’t that the whole point?

    • Andrew Kerwin says:

      You are certainly not doomed to failure, you have every right to not pray at the end of meetings. I find it to be a ritualistic event that if I buck, only draws attention to my lack of beliefs. I do it without any meaning, just words out of respect to my host.

      On the other hand.. and my experience might be totally unique, but When I used AA to stay abstinent but did not work all the steps I found myself miserable and in jail at 5 years sober. Ironically, I would have sworn I was happy the whole time.

      Once the reality of life caught up with me, I did some work and discovered that there was more to recovery. I found that the promises can come true if I am painstaking in my effort. I found out that a new and wonderful life awaited.
      And on top of all of it, I did not have to succumb to ridiculous beliefs of supernatural beings. All I had to do was to stop fighting it and follow the instructions given to me. Stop talking and start doing, so to speak.

      We atheists are so suspicious of cult indoctrinations that we fight and fight until the alcoholism makes it impossible to fight any more.
      I was somehow able to get out of the fight and keep my objectivity. I’d like to be able to pass it on to all struggling atheists, but remember, surrender and willingness are key.

      As to your question, “isn’t that the whole point?”, which I’m assuming was somewhat rhetorical but I offer a response anyway. This is what I found the point to be for me:

      We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
      We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.

  55. Don Severs says:

    (I submitted this to the Grapevine. Hope you enjoy it.)

    Beyond Belief

    We hear it all the time in meetings. Your God can be a doorknob. There is a God and you’re not It. Choose your own conception of God. AA history tells us that Christian references were removed from the early drafts of the Big Book to include people of all faiths. But what about nonbelievers? We know specific beliefs aren’t necessary for recovery. There are millions of sober AAs. They believe a wide range of things, and they’re all sober. But what about those with no belief or faith?

    In an April, 1961 Grapevine article, Bill W worried that nonbelievers might not feel welcome in AA:

    “They [nonbelievers] just don’t realize that faith is never a necessity for AA membership; that sobriety can be achieved with an easily acceptable minimum of it; and that our concepts of a higher power and God as we understand Him afford everyone a nearly unlimited choice of spiritual belief and action.

    Perhaps more often than we think, we still make no contact at depth with those suffering the dilemma of no faith.”

    In conclusion, Bill commented on a nonbeliever doctor he knew and says actions matter more than belief in this passage:

    “This was the story of a man of great spiritual worth. The hallmarks were plain to be seen: humor and patience, gentleness and courage, humility and dedication, unselfishness and love – a demonstration I might never come near to making myself. This was the man I had chided and patronized. This was the “unbeliever” I had presumed to instruct!”
    Deeds, not creeds.

    Bill W wrote that the spiritual hoop in AA is wide enough for anyone to get on board. The essential element seems to be that we not be our own God. We should seek to be of service, listen to advice and not make a god of our lower nature. In other passages, it was clear that after working the 12 Steps, the alcoholic would find God. In the chapter We Agnostics, Bill writes:

    ”Much to our relief, we found we didn’t have to consider another’s conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and effect a contact with Him. As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of all things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps…To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek.”

    This passage seems to say you can believe in any God you want, as long as you believe in one. To get over this hurdle, many nonbelievers mentally replace God with Group Of Drunks or Good Orderly Direction. Those of us who hold no supernatural beliefs can still have a higher power; we just don’t call it God. Step 12 begins this way: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…” It is common for people to then identify the source of this transformation to be God. Page 161 of the Big Book says “They had visioned the Great Reality—their loving and All Powerful Creator.” Finding a god through the steps is certainly common in AA, but is it necessary to stay sober?


    All organizations are born inside a culture. The fact that most AAs are religious is not a fact about AA, it’s a fact about America. Just as many, but not all, Americans are religious, many, but not all AAs are religious. The same is true of Kiwanis, Rotary and Amway. Any organization is going to reflect the demographics of the area it is founded in. AA isn’t a religious group, it’s a group that happens to have a lot of religious people in it.

    I know many AAs who had to change their idea of God to get sober. A few words of my own story show that I’m typical: I gave up on a punishing god 30 years ago, but continued to believe there was something helping me through life. Later, I realized that a helping god was the same thing as a punishing god because he didn’t help everyone equally. When I read the news I saw that people were abandoned to horrific fates every day. Where was their god? It was a relief to accept that there was no god playing favorites, no god to be mad at for human suffering. I’m grateful to be sober, but I need to get busy. We are the only angels people are likely to see. It’s up to us. If God is going to get someone sober, He’s going to need our help.

    Many AAs have a personal God. I had one for 8 years or so, and have now been sober another 10 without one. My beliefs changed, but my attendance at meetings, efforts to carry the message and living by AA principles didn’t. And I’m still sober.

    The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Sure, there are a lot of religious people in AA. There are a lot of religious people everywhere. Don’t let anyone keep you out of AA. You are the reason we’re here.

    (There are atheist and agnostic meetings in large cities and on the internet. All AA meetings, regardless of the format they use, welcome nonbelievers.)

    • PaigeB says:

      HI DON!!! Thanks for the link!! I am all signed up to get the emails!!

    • George C says:

      Bill W, for all he is reputed to have done to make AA palatable to a wider range of alcoholics, nevertheless always emphasized the “spiritual” nature of the AA path to recovery, which I have to state is the weakest point of the whole approach, since the potential AA member now finds himself in the position of being further stigmatized as being incapable of rational thought and thereby being coerced into depending on some entirely irrational mystical entity outside himself from whom the essential key component of his recovery must always come. I say “bullshit” to that. Nor have I any use for Ayn Rand’s hedonism or any other approach that attempts to replace the higher power concept with any form of solipsistic reasoning. All I really need to do is to confront my addiction and own up to my sick behavior and learn how to follow basic human ethics.

  56. Don Severs says:

    Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. – 3rd Step in AA and other 12-step programs.

    As we understood Him. The founding of Alcoholics Anonymous can be traced to this idea. Before he sobered up for good, Bill Wilson (one of the co-founders of AA) received a visit from an old drinking friend named Ebby. This story is recounted in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, which serves as the basic textbook for the AA program. It’s November of 1934, during the depths of the Great Depression and Bill is at home drinking alone while his wife is at work. Ebby calls and Bill is elated that Ebby wants to stop by. When Ebby arrives, he is sober and explains to Bill that he has found religion. Bill is put off, having been raised with a scientific education, but he listens because Ebby is clearly a changed man. At one point, Ebby says to Bill, “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” Bill writes:

    “That statement hit me hard. It melted the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I stood in the sunlight at last.

    It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself. Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning.”

    Later, in 1939, Bill incorporated this idea into the 12 steps. It appears twice, emphasized each time, in steps 3 and 11. It was vital to make recovery as inclusive as possible and this idea opened the door to just about anyone who wanted to join AA. Bill wrote a lot about the subject of a Higher Power, and even took pains to reach out to atheists, although it appeared he thought they would eventually find some sort of god through the steps.

    From a practical standpoint, “as we understood Him” is an inspiration that has led to great success. But there are some logical implications of it that are rarely discussed. There are over 200 12-step organizations and AA alone has millions of members. These people hold a wide range of beliefs which can not all be correct. The unintended consequence of “as we understood Him” is that there is now no requirement that our beliefs be true. A fundamentalist Christian and a strict Muslim can both recover, but they can’t both be correct about their beliefs. One or both of them is wrong.

    This is, of course, a problem with religious faith in general. We value freedom of speech and thought and we have abolished religious persecution in the Western world. Tolerance of competing beliefs is essential for living together. But notice that we only do this regarding faith. Say you buy a piece of land and your new neighbor disputes the boundaries. When you go to the judge, she isn’t going to practice tolerance and say you are both correct. That’s impossible and everyone knows it. No one gets their feelings hurt. Someone hires a surveyor and you settle the matter.

    In religious matters, some of which can’t be adjudicated scientifically, we have evolved another method. When we hear of someone’s belief that differs from ours, we nod respectfully, while inwardly thinking they are wrong. It amounts to “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Sometimes, we can gloss it over by saying “Everyone’s right!”, but this requires very fuzzy vision and ignorance of scriptural and doctrinal claims that many religious people take very seriously. So, we have a sort of stand-off that seems to work as long as we can tolerate the unresolved logical tension. If the idea that someone has to be wrong crosses our minds, we all assume it’s the other guy who’s wrong; but it’s usually easier just to not think about it at all.

    In AA, most people speak of God or Higher Power. These are code words for “my inner belief”. They can’t all point to anything real because they sometimes point to mutually exclusive concepts. Some people believe in Jesus, others are Pagans, others are Muslims, but they all say God or Higher Power. When a term is used in this way, it loses all meaning. It is like having a word, say ‘glovis’, that means “a cat, rat, mouse or weasel”. In religion and AA, though, this imprecision is essential. It’s the way we avoid conflict, yet still act like we have unity. Sure, it’s a bogus unity, but it seems to work for keeping people sober.

    So, the question becomes, “can we formulate the 12 Steps in such a way that we can be intellectually honest and avoid tolerating these kinds of contradictions?”

    As far as I can tell, there is no way to do that while retaining our respective religious beliefs. For most people, this is an easy problem to resolve: keep my beliefs and tolerate the logical problems. It is a matter of values. If you value consistency between belief systems, then we have to look beyond religion. In typical folksy fashion, many AAs say that God is Good Orderly Direction or Group Of Drunks. This works because it does away with competing, supernatural conceptions of God. But it won’t work for a committed Christian or Muslim. To them, there really is a God and He has specific traits and a specific name. Yahweh or Allah aren’t going to be happy being reduced to a catchy acronym.

    It seems that if you are a religious AA who values logical consistency, you’re in a bind. “God as we understood Him” leads to contradictions. Most people I know resolve this by saying that “His beliefs are true for him and mine are true for me. Our beliefs don’t have to be reconciled the way you’re suggesting”. Ok, but notice the price you’ve paid. It’s called Scientific Naturalism, the idea that there really exists an external reality that we can get to know through our senses. If contradictory beliefs can simultaneously be true, then we each live in a unique world of our making. Reality is subjective.

    That’s too expensive for many people. What’s the alternative? Can we have a Higher Power without abandoning a shared, external reality? Sure, as long as it’s not a supernatural Higher Power. As soon as you allow yourself to subscribe to or concoct a supernatural being with certain traits, you’ve opened the door to everyone doing the same. And they’re not going to reach the same conclusions.

    To avoid this free-for-all, we must constrain ourselves to support from natural forces and natural phenomena. They aren’t hard to find. Bill W himself said that the fellowship of AA is a power greater than our own that we can use as a Higher Power. We are social animals. We can’t exist by ourselves. When we were drinking, we cut ourselves off from social support. When we recover and resume our societal roles, our relationships straighten out, deepen and sustain us once more. Nothing further is required. We know this to be the case since so many people, with conflicting beliefs, have recovered in AA. It can’t matter what, or whether, we believe in a supernatural god.

    The issue is how much we value consistency among belief systems. When we value consistency, we have the prospect of a real unity, one that is based on a shared, external reality and that is sufficient to recover from alcoholism. We need each other, both for support and to lend support to. It is enough to seek help, clean house, make amends and depend on one another. Believing that we can help each other entails no contradictions, only grateful action.

  57. Andrew Kerwin says:

    Great stuff Don, I have had many philosophical debates about this exact subject. You are right; there can be no Truth with a capital ‘T’.

    I do take issue with the idea that there can be no unity without a shared supernatural belief. Pro baseball players come in all sorts of flavors and yet still manage to work as a team and win the World Series, and this argument can be adapted to many groups.

    I also think you, as I once did, are putting far too great of an importance on the accuracy of your own belief. Nowhere in the book does it say we need the correct or true HP. It does say that ANY will work. This implies that we are not ever going to know if we are right, (unless there is an after-life in your future).

    It doesn’t matter if it’s true, that’s the part that many Atheists agonize over. It took me years to figure out that even if I’m wrong and there is a God, I can still stay sober and be happy by using my “Group Of Drunks”, or “Good Orderly Direction” or whatever.. the point is that the empirical evidence proves that AA works, even though I can’t prove that my HP is true.

    Nowadays, I’m happier with positive results than with being right.

  58. Don Severs says:

    Thanks, Andrew. The only consistent belief system I’ve found is scientific naturalism. Because any of us can access nature and, in principle, do the same experiments, we can reach a shared reality based on the natural world. Whenever we embark on separate, supernatural adventures, however, we will lose a shared, consistent worldview.

    >I do take issue with the idea that there can be no unity without a shared supernatural belief.

    What I meant to say is: There can be no unity WITH a shared supernatural belief. In supernaturalism, there is no way to verify that people are believing the same things.

    >Pro baseball players come in all sorts of flavors and yet still manage to work as a team and win the World Series, and this argument can be adapted to many groups.

    I don’t dispute the utility of inconsistent beliefs. I’m just pointing out the cost. The cost is that the members of the group don’t subscribe to a shared worldview and each lives in their subjective worlds.

    My point is only important to scientific naturalists, to whom it is important to live in the real world of facts as learned from nature.

  59. PaigeB says:

    Cool site! I have a mere 9 months of sobriety and some of those that know I am an atheist seem to give me that look, as if to say, “She’ll come around or she’s drink.” I really fretted over it, but I found a great sponsor who really believes that I DON’T have to “come around” to a supernatural HP in order to stay sober. I go to a lot of meetings and I practice tolerance and “semantics” – I haven’t said out loud, except to my sponsor, that all these people are getting and staying sober without godly intervention, all by themselves with the help of AA! (BTW – many AA’s who know I am atheist DON’T care what I am.) The idea that we can gain and keep unity as a group, so long as we maintain no other group affiliations, (ie religion) is a damn good one!

  60. Jay R says:

    Wow, what a most refreshing read! Great stuff, everyone, this was like a breath of fresh air. I’m coming up on 2 years sober, very active in AA down here in Miami, but have been doing a lot of questioning on a deep, deep level regarding the god issue.

    I come from a strict Christian upbringing. Needless to say, I was militantly anti-religious when I first got sober – I wasn’t an atheist. I felt neither theists or atheists knew or could ever know the answer to the god question. But I did feel very strongly that religion served absolutely no value to humanity and was in fact detrimental to our progress, and perhaps even survival, as a species – ESPECIALLY when it came to the western, traditional, monotheistic religions.

    Going to a 12 step-based rehab down here was tough. I’d get into argument after argument with the patients and monitors over the god issue. One thing I especially took issue with was the fact that the literature treats atheists and agnostics as one in the same (they’re not!). Another thing I took issue with was the overly theistic tone of the literature (the “thees” and “thous”), the fact that we close the meetings with the lord’s prayer, etc.

    Eventually, I just shut up and said I’d try believing, mainly to shut everyone up. “Fake it till you make it,” if you will. I was sick of fighting all the time. I worked through my steps faking most of the prayer work.

    I did feel a lot better, and at the time I attributed it to “God.” The word still caused me some discomfort, though. I started looking around for alternatives to traditional, theistic religions, and found Zen Buddhism very much to my liking. I started using my non-egoic self, the path I was on, and reality as it was as my HP (which has been echoed a few times in this thread). Also, the Zen concept of “don’t-know mind” (not having to have all the answers) vined very well with my agnostic worldview. Personally, it’s been working very well for me.

    However, recently, I’ve been feeling more and more like I’m on the fringe of the AA groups. As an Agnostic Buddhist, it’s often very obvious and clear to me how much of a minority I am. People still talk God (capital G) up left and right down here. We still close the meetings with the Lord’s Prayer (I’ve even taken to occasionally attending GLBT meetings, even though Im not gay, simply because they close with the serenity prayer… they know more than anyone how messed up it is to force religion on anyone).

    At my Home Group, the chair told me to take my hat off during the closing prayer – after which I started to see how dogmatic that group was, and have since distanced myself from it. One of the old timers down here, a circuit speaker with almost 30 years sober, will openly talk in meetings how if you don’t read the bible and believe in Jesus, you’re not really sober – and nobody calls him on it!

    There is, thankfully, an atheist/agnostic group here (it’s called the Freethinkers Group… beautiful, isn’t it?), but its very far from where i live. I might have to bite the bullet and venture up there soon, before I feel any more isolated to the point it might jeopardize everything I’ve worked for these past few years.

    The irony of all this is, that while I’m going through such deep questioning, im actually chairing a meditation meeting all month! Or maybe it’s fully appropriate… meditation is the most effective self-examination for me. I’ve also been taught, from an early age (by the more rational side of my family), to QUESTION EVERYTHING. Recovery should be no exception.

    I find myself looking at my 1 year medallion, and the phrase etched onto the back: “To thine own self be true.” I’m glad that finally, as the fog’s been mostly lifted, I can finally give that a good, honest shot. Thanks so much for the thread, and for letting me share. It definitely helped me in my quest.

    By the way, Andrew, I might have to take you up on the sponsorship thing if you’re ok with it. I’ll shoot you an e-mail or friend request soon. I really liked what you had to say.

  61. Jay R says:

    Oh, by the way Christine, the meetings on South Beach are actually not that bad when it comes to the god thing… it’s one of the only clubhouses that’ll close with the serenity prayer instead of the lord’s prayer.

    The meetings around the South Miami area really push it to you. It’s not uncommon to hear people quoting scripture at some of these groups.

    I’m used to seeing it, though – I can imagine it all being quite a shocker after moving from a more enlightened region. I was in San Francisco for a week last year and told some people how Miami meetings close with the lord’s prayer – they couldn’t even fathom the idea, it was so shocking (needless to say, it was very tough coming back to Miami, hahaha).

    Hang in there, and keep coming back.

  62. Christine says:

    Hey Jay R, What a breath of fresh air from Miami. I have felt I was alone and have done exactly what you have done – gone along to get along. But I tell myself, over and over, Tradition 3 and what it says on the coin – To Thine Own Self Be True. I just had my 5 year anniversary and I believe that it wouldn’t have been as healthful in mind and body if it weren’t for AA. I feel gratitude everyday for being sober. I have a chance to live the life I want to live.

    As you noted, since I am from NY and have something else to compare to, the meetings in South Beach are bad and annoying with the God thing. They aren’t as bad as some other meetings, I will grant you that, but they are bad. Once I start talking about having AA as my higher power and don’t believe in God? It sets people off like you wouldn’t believe. Some guy with 3 years spent his little time after accepting his medallion at the anniversary meeting telling people to “Get over themselves with the God thing!” Screaming. And then he was a Wiccan Gay High Priestess as an example of someone who got over the God thing to get sober. I thought, Really? Don’t Wiccans believe in God/Goddess(s)? They have a God so it isn’t necessarily the God thing they would have an issue with, now would they? In addition, as you noted, the Gay meetings to tend to have more open mindedness and your suggestion is a good one. I am close to the LGBT meeting house so can go there. Like you I am not Gay but have never felt excluded at a Gay meeting like I do sometimes feel at an AA meeting.

    I have found some members as friends, who do believe in God, who have been very kind and generous and really understanding that this program works because it has enough room for the likes of me and them. I have found that the only meeting that I feel comfortable in is the 10:30 Mustard Seed meeting. And many meetings in SoBe do close with the Lord’s Prayer. I find it sooooo damn infuriating not just because of the God thing but because the assumption that God is Christian and Male. What about the Buddhists or the Hindus or the Muslims or the Wiccans?

    Aside from that, I tend to prefer regular meetings over Free Thinkers meetings for several reasons. Many Free Thinkers are angry. They really are and I much prefer to not be around that.

    Many Free Thinkers believe that only they are right and that everyone else is stupid because of their beliefs. They are very self-congratulatory about their way of thinking. I hold the belief that there is a possibility I might be wrong but by the same token this means that all the God believers could also be wrong, too. I also have found that many believers are not stupid. They really aren’t. Some are, yes, they are, just as some Free Thinkers are, but not all of them.

    I have found many Free Thinkers have not done the Steps. I have seen for myself that working through the Steps, I haven’t done them all, by using AA in replace of God, that my life has changed. I do believe that it isn’t necessary for everyone to do the Steps in order to be considered sober but, for me, it has helped immeasurably. I have found, for me, that generally, I tend to prefer people who have worked the Steps to some degree. At least Steps 1, 4 and 12. We have done a lot of things wrong in our drinking. I don’t think there is anything wrong with looking at that and trying to rectify the damage to our relationships, our employers or our community.

    My friends in NY, all who believe in God and a few are quite religious, are aghast at the God thing in Miami. When I tell them some of the things I have heard they really can’t believe that these people call themselves “good” people let alone good AAers. They find it offensive on a personal level that anyone would let their personal belief exclude others from the opportunity to experience sobriety in anything other than a non-judgmental, loving way.

    Anyway, Jay, thanks for the ray of hope in Miami. I haven’t been to meetings lately, mostly because of a work schedule change so can’t get to the 10:30am meeting, but also because of how much of an outsider I feel sometimes.

    Keep sharing Jay and good luck to you. As you said, which brought a smile to my face (and lots of thanks for that) keep coming back!!

  63. Don Severs says:

    >Many Free Thinkers believe that only they are right and that everyone else is stupid because of their beliefs.

    This is just insecurity. Of course we’re going to run into some jerks at AA meetings. Pray for them :)

    The difference between nonbelievers and believers isn’t intelligence, it’s a matter of values. It’s more like the difference between conservatives and liberals. I’m an intellectual conservative, meaning that I require scientific standards for believing things. Having a feeling isn’t a good enough reason for me to declare I believe something.
    To a more liberal thinker (like I once was), it’s perfectly reasonable to believe something without scientific evidence. Intelligent people, like Francis Collins, do this all the time. 80% of people believe in God, so it can’t be anything to do with intelligence.

    It just has to do with how much we value logical consistency in our belief systems. To most people, there is no compelling reason to use only scientific thinking to get through life. They switch between modes as needed. I find this inconsistent, but I value consistency. If a person doesn’t value consistency in their belief systems, it doesn’t make them less intelligent.

    I am committed to scientific standards of evidence because, without them, we open a Pandora’s box of belief that results in the fractured world we read about in the news every day. I have given up some freedom by constraining myself to scientifically supportable claims because I see what happens when other people don’t do so. I think the natural world is the best thing to base my beliefs on, but that is because of my values, not because of intelligence.

  64. Hi All,

    I can’t believe we have made it this far in this thread without bickering with each other. We really do have a good thing going!
    I really like the GLBT meeting idea, I never thought of that.. I will try some for sure. One of my sponsees is gay and I’ve always liked his meetings but could not figure out why. My wife will be glad to hear that it’s not because I’m gay.
    Years ago, I started a meeting in Richmond called FreeThinkers, modeled after the one in NY. I think the most non-believers we ever had was 3, and yes we were angry most of the time. The BEST meetings I’ve been to have a strong message of tolerance and solutions. We don’t need more problems. I have gotten to the point now where the word god does not bother me at all. That was not an easy journey though. I had to practice patience, tolerance and letting go… wait that sounds like what they told me to do when I got here.. crazy how even the theists have some good advice from time to time.
    Said it exactly right Don when you said, “It just has to do with how much we value logical consistency in our belief systems. To most people, there is no compelling reason to use only scientific thinking to get through life” That is the KEY to being an atheist in AA, I am not most people because I have alcoholism. I found that my logical consistency and scientific thinking almost KILLED me.
    Now, I’m not suggesting blind faith or compromised consistency, but I am suggesting some blind action. Doing stuff that makes no logical sense at all, but works nonetheless. Action is the answer.
    If millions of people told you that you could applaud your microwave for 2 minutes a day to live happy joyous and free, would you try it? I sure would. But tell that same person, (me) to fold my hands, close my eyes and ask my HP for guidance, and I’ll buck it for years, bringing me to the verge of insanity IN SOBRIETY.
    You find me in a coffee shop and tell me you KNOW there is a god because you should be dead right now and I’ll debate you until the place closes. I’ll knock so many holes in your argument, you’ll leave wondering if you even exist. BUT say the same thing in a meeting and I’ll ignore that one statement and keep listening for the one tidbit of information that might save me someday.
    Like I said, not exactly sure how I got here, but it sure is nice.
    Jay, I would be honored to sponsor you… I’ve never actually has an atheist sponsee before, we are pretty rare.

  65. Christine says:

    All these messages today are getting me to get my butt in the car and drive to Ft. Lauderdale for a Free Thinkers meeting. I haven’t been to this one yet. Maybe I am being too quick to judge? Anyway, I did get to my 10:30am meeting in SoBe, today’s my day off, and got to hear a woman with 28 years of sobriety. It was worth it even if she does believe in gawd! ;) LOL She is one of the good ones with a quiet faith that does not exclude those who don’t have a faith. An example of how this program can work for everyone.

  66. Jack says:

    I’d been feeling alone in this lately, so I wanted to throw in my own experience on this.

    I’ve been an active and sober member of AA for about 5 years. I came in an agnostic and was desperate enough to give any idea a shot if it seemed to work for others. No one ever pushed any denomination or dogma on me, but the language in the book and in the meetings is still rooted in a monotheistic culture, however ecumenical it may be. I didn’t see how I could believe, but I still did the daily prayer along with the action steps anyway, just out of desperation.

    Events in my life eventually brought me back to my prior worldview, based on my limited understanding of cosmology and evolution, which is quite incompatible with a personal deity. A good friend of mine in the program died of a heart attack at the age of 27 (not kidding) while playing cards with other AA members. He had been sober for four years, a single father of two (ex-wife is a drug addict), and was one hell of a good guy. I could no longer accept any notion that “God has a plan” or “I’m right where I’m supposed to be” or any other cliche nonsense.

    The phrase “faith without works is dead” suggests to me that the works are more important. I’m bothered by the language in “We Agnostics” as I’m bothered by the idea that getting sober is apparently proof of god to some people. I continued to do everything except the prayer, and my life pretty much stayed the same.

    The value in the book, to me, is in the ethical system it spells out. I trust the principles of honesty, self-examination, restitution (when called for), and working with others as a way to live a sober life. Call that a higher power, I guess.

    • I totally agree with you about the wording in “We Agnostics” is is condescending arrogant and supposes a single spiritual path that we all will eventually funnel into.
      If it wasn’t for appendix II, I would have no faith in the Big Book at all.

      That sucks because ‘most’ of the rest of the book seems to have been written by someone who has dissected my brain and can tell me intimate details about my secret emotions and urges.

      I think they meant well, but were not able to see things from the perspective of the few of us I like to call “real agnostics/atheists”, the ones that could never have actually believed all that horse-pocky mumbo jumbo.

      Sometimes it bothers me too, it did constantly. At the beginning I was always trying to find an alternative method for recovery. And I’m not saying that there are none, but I sure could not find any that worked as well. I always ended up restless irritable and discontented in the end.

      There is really nothing in the book that says I cannot use a higher power that actually exists; the group, good orderly direction, etc. I heard a pastor’s speaker tape, (Ed Mutem), who says that the only requirements for myt H.P. are to be good and real to me.

      I like your last line about the group, principles, honesty, etc being your H.P… so what if they call that a creator, I can translate that in my head easy enough.
      The important thing for me is to not stop the ‘works’ or the rest will fall like a house of cards.

  67. Martha says:

    Thank you all very much for your insight and for sharing your personal experience. And thank goodness I found this; I’ve been in AA for almost six months now, doing well, have a sponsor, etc. Keep hearing that I’m doomed to drink again because I’m not spiritual, religious, etc. Pretty much a dyed-in-the-wood atheist. Reading your posts has given me much to think about and I feel sooooo much better.

  68. Raindog says:

    Great stuff

    I am 24 years sober and an atheist. The God stuff kept me drunk for about a year in the beginning. I then realized I was going to die if I didn’t get sober and it seemed like AA was the only chance for me. I still think that is true. AA has saved my life and I have found a way to be part of the program and have a mainly happy sober life.

    The Program asks us to be rigorously honest. If we are rigorously honest then we must admit that there is no evidence for a god or any supernatural being. Furthermore, I would say that the ego-driven, self-centered, narcissistic position would be that there is a God watching over me who thinks about me and helps me get sober or not die in car accidents while allowing others to remain drunk or die in car accidents. What could be more self-centered than to think that a being who allegedly created the Universe and its 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars thinks about me and has time to get me out of jams.

    To all atheists, I would recommend reading the Spiritual Awakening Appendix near the end of the Big Book. Near the bottom of the first page he mentions that many of us “tapped into an unsuspected inner resource that we eventually came to associate with our higher power” or something to that effect. Now I can completely relate to finding an unsuspected inner resource. I had no ability to stop drinking on my own but I suddenly had this power within to not only avoid alcohol but to start enjoying my life sober and to get up and do the right thing every day. I had no idea that was in me. I think that this inner resource is made stronger through prayer (which I see as a plea to this inner resource to run the show). When this unsuspected inner resource runs the show I go to meetings, help others, and am a good dad, husband, friend and worker. People lose me when they try to say that this inner resource is the voice of a supernatural being. I have no problem with it just being something that is inside me – full stop. Why bring all this goofy supernatural stuff into it at all?

    So magnifying the voice of this unsuspected inner resource is one part of my “spiritual” program and the other part has to do with altruistic behavior and reaching out to others. The way I see it, life has no inherent meaning. The way I give my life meaning is through my interactions and relationships with other people. When I am lonely and disconnected I feel meaning slipping away. When I reach out to others and feel part of something bigger than me I feel meaning surge into my life. So reaching out, helping others and being a giver rather than a taker is a key to leading a “spiritual” life. Note that when Bill Wilson was standing in the hotel lobby and he heard the inviting sound of ice cubes in highball glasses in the bar he did not rush off to Church – he sought out another alcoholic that he might help. Of course that alcoholic ended up being Dr. Bob. But the really spiritual thing he needed to stay sober was reaching out to help someone else – not praying by himself or at some church.

    So my unsuspected inner resource is my higher power but I also need to be an active part of a group (AA usually works) and to reach out and help others. In my view this is what keeps everyone sober whether they claim to believe in God or not. This is all that it takes.

    • Couldn’t have said it better. Funny we read that part of the book today at a meeting in Key West – I was visiting there. It struck me while it was being read out loud that I could absolutely substitute the collective wisdom for AA as the higher power or resource that I could turn to. When I share on spirituality, which I am doing often now thanks to this blog, I let people know that my spirituality is the connection I have with another human being. I tell people my spirituality was waking up and understanding that I wasn’t alone as in understanding that there were other human beings on this earth with me. I don’t specify always that I don’t believe in gawd- sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.

      I agree so much about the narcissism inherent in believing in a gawd that looks out for the individual but lays waste to other’s lives. I think that if there is a gawd or something like that, it wouldn’t give a flying whatever was going on with me!

      And how puny and small is it of mankind to imagine that gawd is just like them? I think how completely unimaginative it is to think gawd is like them to it even comprehending the language we speak etc. The universe is infinitesimal so wouldn’t gawd be that if there was one?

      I didn’t start getting better, despite a whole adult life spent in therapy, until 1) I admitted I was an alcoholic 2) fully accepted that I could not drink again (Step 1) and 3) talked to another alcoholic. It wasn’t until I did all of that did I lose my obsession to drink and embarked on a path that had me heal my relationships, get off anti-depressants (not saying everyone should be off them), take care of my health (I lost 80 lbs, my blood pressure dropped 40 points, etc) and just about change everything about me. The result? A generally happy and productive life – as they say “Beyond my wildest dreams!”

      Thanks all for your comments. I have turned to these comments many times over the past few months to re-read, including my own comments, so I could reconnect with AA. I have such gratitude for my sobriety and AA.

      • Raindog says:

        Despite his brilliance on many issues, it is clear to me that Bill W was still mixed up on what was actually happening with spiritual experiences. He makes a sort of secular sounding argument at some times but then seems to be arguing for a Christian God or Creator at other times. He went on to take LSD to try to have another spiritual experience in the sixties. That tells you he was a little confused on the issue.

        The fact that it works for people from any religious belief and for atheists tells you there is no true religion and almost certainly no God (unless it is one that doesn’t care at all if you think it exists).

        I think that belief that something outside ourselves is going to fix us actually runs counter the the program in some ways. It was my constant wanting to take things in from outside (alcohol, drugs, sex, food, etc) that got me in trouble. It is when I work from the inside out that I do much better.

  69. CarlyG says:

    I have sat all day reading and re-reading this site. This thread was started 3 whole years ago and yet has kept people coming back and sharing. It’s been such a moment of clarity for me to read all of your posts.

    I attended my first AA session this week and was going to go to another tonight. I didn’t go as I was freaked out with the concept of surrendering myself to this ‘higher power’. I have surrendered myself to alcohol for the last 18 years and the whole point of stopping is that it controls my every waking (and sleeping) moment.

    I stopped drinking a week ago and would like to think that there is something WITHIN me that will help me stay sober.

    I am not too sure what to do next. I might go back to the AA meeting. I might try SMART. I really don’t know. My psychiatrist has recommended a 2-week in-house rehab program but this would seriously interfere with the new job that I started less than a month ago. I can’t risk losing my job, as it’s been one of my motivators to keep sober, so I can succeed there.

    All I know is that I DO meet AA’s ‘criteria’ which is a desire to stay sober but I am scared all the mumbo-jumbo god-speak could create a defiance to make me use it as an excuse to drink again.

    • Andrew Kerwin says:

      Great stuff.
      I have tried SOS, SMART, etc. I was able to stay sober but went a little bonkers in the process. One day after being apart from AA for 3 or 4 months I thought I would be able to outrun a sheriff in my yellow sports car.. what was I doing going twice the speed limit on the way to an optometrist appointment anyway? The point is that the point of recovery is to get better, mentally, physically, emotionally, etc. Those other groups did not give me the support I needed to do anything but stay sober and end up in jail.
      AA works regardless of what your HP is, as long as it’s not the quiet and mischievous voice that says, “it’s OK to pocket a pack of gum.. CVS writes that into their bottom line anyway”. That’s the part of my brain that my HP is NOT. My HP exists in my thoughts when I meditate, or get on my knees and pray to my higher self, or work with a new-comer.
      Bottom line, AA works.

      • anonymous coward says:

        AA works *for you*, and for that I am grateful. It wasn’t working for *me*; I found SMART to work for me where AA wasn’t. I prefer a rational-based approach and not a faith-based one otherwise I will subvert it. But that’s just me. Far be it for me to say what works for me will work for another…

    • Raindog says:


      You said “I stopped drinking a week ago and would like to think that there is something WITHIN me that will help me stay sober.”

      Whatever has kept you sober for a week is your “higher power” – and it is within you. It is within everyone including all the “believers.” They are just confused – they think it is being transmitted to them from a “guy in the sky” but it is really just within them. There is no God so this must be the case. The voice inside you that says “Don’t drink today” or “go to a meeting” or even “brush your teeth” that is what others are calling a higher power. The steps work to make that voice the loudest voice in your head. And there are definitely other voices. Fear, resentment, lust, etc serve to drown out the voice of your inner resource and the steps help to reduce those.

      I strongly recommend AA and if you choose to live in the solution (working with others, finding a way to do the steps that works for you) rather than the problem (dwelling on the clear problems with God as discussed by Bill W in the literature and by some in the meetings) then great things will happen in your life.

  70. sobeiam says:

    CarlyG I am so glad you are trying to get and stay sober – its the stopping that is hard to do. Sobriety has given me many things some of which are completely unexpected – my relationship with my mother; my, hopefully, enduring and loving friendships; freedom from economic insecurity; and my wonderful, balanced self-confidence. And to think all I wanted to do was to stop drinking!!

    Are there any outpatient programs that you can go to in your area?

    Maybe you can go to meetings and then post here like crazy to help balance out what you don’t like in meetings?

    There are definitely other ways to get sober. You don’t have to buy into what you hear in AA that its the only sober way to get sober. For myself, I prefer AA. I just do. I get something from it that I don’t find elsewhere. Plus, and I think this was very important for me especially in early sobriety, since I live in a metropolitan area, I was able to find many meetings that suited my schedule since I had a lot to choose from.

    You might want to consider reading Bucky Sinister’s book Get Up, which is aimed at non-believers doing the program who are interested in doing the Steps. He suggests his higher power is his better self. http://www.buckysinister.com/sec2_books_cd.html
    I prefer to look at the collective wisdom of AA as my higher power. You can choose anything you like.

    I wanted to RUN from AA because of God written in all the Steps. I was furious with the concept with Gawd but for some reason I felt AA was the place for me. I was fortunate that I got sober in a room with a high tolerance for idiosyncrasies so I was allowed to vent. Finally, I got everything out and was able to see what sobriety could offer me. I forgot about the gawd thing and just concentrated on not drinking and changing my life. The one day at a time thing was so new to me and sometimes I had to do it one minute at a time. And just letting go of trying to control things, whew what a relief! lol Now I could just focus on me. I am not saying I am letting go to gawd, I am just letting go of being a control freak and just letting things happen as they would. I did what I had to do which was go to work, make friends, clean up my life, get into therapy, acquire knowledge about addictions etc. It was all worth it. I still do all of those things after 5 years and I hope to do all of those things in 50 years. It has worked for me.

    If you stick in AA try to find meetings that are not overtly into God-speak. I don’t know where you live but if it is in NYC, try Perry Street, the Soho meetings or Clean and Dry over in the East Village. There may be others but I lived in Greenwich Village so these worked for me. In Miami I like Mustard Seed in South Beach. There’s still more God than I like but it is better than many meetings in the area.

    Go online and search for free thinkers and alcohol. You might find meetings in your area. Is SOS the same as SMART? I think its sos.org. This is a program for non-believers getting sober.

    I really wish you all the very best.

  71. sobeiam says:

    A question for this group – the AA goers I am asking. How do you address someone who is open-minded but a gawd believer who is discussing the chapter to the agnostics? I am going to reread it but every time I have I feel insulted. I am not sure how to kindly address this person’s belief system, that I will drink w/o gawd, and detail my critique of the chapter. I think they will accept that I won’t drink, I hear them inching along in that direction, but someone, smarter than I, please lay out a coherent criticism of that chapter for me? It would help. Or start the conversation so I can formalize my thoughts? I don’t want to jump this person and say GAWD DOES NOT EXIST. It is not my place to tell them what to believe. I want to have an intelligent discussion with them. They are respectful, kind and thoughtful. They deserve my respect.

  72. Andrew Kerwin says:

    I’m not sure it’s possible to have an intelligent conversation with a person of faith when talking about faith. The impossibility of god does not seem to compute to those folks. That being said, that chapter SUCKS! The best part of the chapter is the footnote referencing appendix II where it says, “this conclusion is erroneous.” I looked up erroneous and found, “Adjective: Wrong; incorrect.”
    Obviously the faith in a creator is not necessary for long term recovery; I am going on 10 years and am doing great with life and AA. So the question still arises what to do about “We Agnostics”, or as I like to call it, “we were once stupid like you and if you keep coming back, eventually you will come to your senses and believe as we do”. I do NOT have a good answer but things that I do:
    1. Shut up until they are on another chapter
    2. Skip that meeting and go to another one until it’s over
    3. Talk about it at the meeting, (never works well)
    4. Talk about it here, (better idea)

    I have found it possible to totally avoid the chapter and the subject all together and still be OK. The more I talk about it with ‘them’ the worse it gets.
    Good luck.

  73. Kevin G says:

    Pretty much ditto what Andrew said. I also talk about it with some sympathetic and/or likeminded friends in the program.

  74. Raindog says:

    I find it useful to share on the solution I have found rather than dwell in the problem. The problem is that a supernatural god doesn’t exist. When I dwell on that and compare my well reasoned views to those presented in Chapter 4 or to many of the believers in the room I feel alone and isolated. My solution is that I do think I have an “unsuspected inner resource” that keeps me sober. I pray to this inner resource and I try to grow it in strength through prayer and meditation. When I share about that I see a lot of heads nodding and smiles and I feel like I am getting it and living in the solution. On my best days I don’t even need to mention that this inner resource has nothing to do with a supernatural being but I slip that in every now and then. More people than we realize have trouble picturing god but want to believe anyway because that is what it says in the book. When I simplify it down to that inner resource concept I am sticking with what is in the book and almost everyone can relate and I end up feeling part of the group.

    • Don Severs says:

      Raindog’s approach works. Sometimes I use the word ‘supernatural’ when I share: “I don’t believe in supernatural things, but I have a higher power, the support and wisdom of the group.” I’ve had people ask me what ‘supernatural’ means. This blows me away, but it shows that many people don’t even think about whether their god is supernatural or not.

      Some Quakers like to say that no creed fully captures the nature of God. I think they have a double standard because they say they know just enough to say that Jesus is God incarnate.

      For AA purposes, we can stay sober without really thinking about the nature of our higher power. This is very messy philosophically and logically, but those concerns are distinct from simply recovering.

  75. Kevin G says:

    Great stuff, guys! Thanks for sharing ;) Really, this is both positive and consistent. It is so refreshing.

    • Andrew Kerwin says:

      I agree totally.. for those who are new, the concept of “unsuspected inner resource” is found in appendix II which is referenced from that condescending chapter 4.

  76. Scott says:

    I don’t hold with a lot of supernatural poppycock.

    I was so relieved when I heard a 25+ year oldtimer say that at a 3rd Step meeting. At the end of meetings in Houston, he would step back from the circle and put on his jacket while everyone else was saying the Lord’s Prayer. What a great mentor!

    In my now 25+ years in AA, I have danced with being struck religious off-and-on, but am now quite happily sober and atheist. I really enjoyed the discussions above about reality, as I always say when telling my story that my goal was to control reality, and it would always control me.

    I was in a tug-of-war with the Universe, and the embarrassing part was that the Universe didn’t notice.
    So finally, one day, I let go of my end of the rope.

    Since then, that image has been my 3rd Step, and it works for me.

  77. Don Severs says:

    Last week, I asked my sponsor of 19 years, who is a believer, how he resolved the fact of undeserved suffering with an omnipotent, loving God. He became irritated and refused to talk. I was disappointed, but not really surprised. Still, his beliefs mean a lot to him and I hoped he’d grapple with this issue with me.

    I was hoping to do a Belief Inventory. If beliefs are important, we should know what they entail. What are the consequences of believing in a loving, omnipotent God? Here’s the short version of what I said to him:

    >Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.

    If you reject this statement, it means endorsing its opposite or admitting you don’t know. God is either:

    1. In control

    2. Not in control or

    3. We don’t know

    This exhausts the possibilities.

    Every believer I’ve ever talked to thinks it’s number 1. The problem is that if God’s in control, then we have an unjust, sadistic God who stands by, allowing undeserved suffering. At minimum, He would be thrown in jail for negligence if we could catch him.

    Option 2 means he’s not a real God.

    Option 3 is the same as admitting number 1 or 2 could be true. In AA, we often say “Take what you can use and leave the rest”. But on the AA Buffet, we are forced into Option 3 if we do that. Choosing not to choose is still a choice with consequences. Many people I know say suffering is a mystery. That’s Option 3 and means they’re admitting God is either in control and evil, or he’s not in control and he’s not a god.

    Once we notice such things, they don’t go back in the bottle very easily. They’re consciousness-raisers. What we believe often boils down to how much logical tension we can tolerate.

    My next post will be about his reply. It ended our sponsorship. He’d been my best man. His Big Book studies went through the book word by word. But he wouldn’t discuss this with me.

  78. Don Severs says:

    One of the main reasons I don’t believe in a god is that I can’t find one. Seriously. On investigation, none of them hold together. Take the Loving, Omnipotent God. Doesn’t fit the facts. Weak or evil gods make more sense, but you can hardly call them gods, and they’re certainly not gods we should follow.

    I ran this by my sponsor recently. He’s a believer and a deeply loving person, someone people love and emulate. I got this reply:

    “I have been sitting on your last couple of emails……..angry that you would debate my God/belief with me……which is very personal to me; frustrated about how to respond to someone who seems to be in what I would consider spiritual darkness, and, scared for where your belief search might be leading you.

    The power and strength I receive from my God is and has been infinite in my life….I will not have any further discussion on the no God ideas. “

    Ok, then. Pretty clear, huh? I have spirited discussions with believers all the time and I’d hoped to have one with this person. This is the flattest refusal I’ve gotten to date. My previous post was what I asked him.

    We’ve all heard that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’, but few of us believe it. Most of us have rich inner lives where we believe all sorts of things and we ignore many others. It’s like interior decorating; why not make our minds as pleasant as possible?

    But an unexamined belief can not even be called a belief. If we don’t realize the consequences of our beliefs, it is meaningless to say we believe them. Say I believe I’m 6’ 2”, but I only come up to the 5’ 11” mark on a tape measure. Can I say that’s a mystery? Can I say that I can’t be judged by normal tape measures? No. It is meaningless to say I’m 6’ 2” without congruence with known facts. So it is with belief in God. If we say he’s loving and omnipotent but that undeserved suffering is a mystery, we are admitting that he doesn’t meet the definition of Love and Omnipotence. “Mystery” seems like a way out but it undermines the whole belief.

    Maybe God is Sovereign and above Earthly notions of fairness and justice. Ok, but such a god can hardly be called loving, unless “love” is the feeling we have for the animals in our labs.

    Dang, we’re kind of stuck. Here are our options:

    * Face facts and entertain the idea that if there is a God, he’s not loving and omnipotent.
    * Deflect and ignore thoughts that take us away from our existing belief.

    Which one we choose is a matter of our personal values and what our psychology can tolerate. But it’s meaningless to say we believe something that is unexamined or half shrouded in mystery.

  79. Don Severs says:

    When I asked my sponsor about God, he became irritated and refused to talk. This sounded familiar.

    More about Belief in a loving God

    Recovering from belief in a loving God has much in common with recovering from addiction. What follows is a paraphrase of a beloved passage from the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, Ch. 2, More about Alcoholism.

    The main problem of the religious believer centers in his mind. If you ask him why his God stands by while kids suffer, the chances are he will offer you any one of a hundred alibis. Sometimes these excuses have a certain plausibility, but none of them really makes sense in the light of the havoc suffering in our world creates. They sound like the philosophy of the man who, witnessing a murder, makes excuses for the murderer. If you draw this fallacious reasoning to the attention of a believer, he will laugh it off, or become irritated and refuse to talk.

    Once in a while he may tell the truth. And the truth, strange to say, is usually that he has no more idea why God allows suffering than you have. Some believers have excuses with which they are satisfied part of the time. But in their hearts they really do not know why God does it. Once this awareness has a real hold, they are a baffled lot. There is the obsession that somehow, someday, they will understand. But they often suspect that their faith is down for the count.

    How true this is, few realize. In a vague way they sense that their beliefs are unworthy, but hopefully await the day when it all makes sense.

    The tragic truth is that if the man be a real believer, the happy day may not arrive. He has lost control. At a certain point in the faith of every believer, he passes into a state where the most dreadful consequences of his beliefs are of no avail. This tragic situation has already arrived in practically every case long before it is suspected.

    The fact is that most believers, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in faith. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the suffering of our fellows. We are without defense against our comforting belief in a loving God.

    The almost certain consequences that follow do not crowd into the mind to deter us. If these thoughts occur, they are hazy and readily supplanted with the old threadbare idea that suffering is a mystery. There is a complete failure of the kind of response that makes us defend a child from abuse.

    The believer may say to himself in the most casual way, “God can’t be judged like humans! So there!” Or perhaps he doesn’t think at all. How often have some of us thought in this nonchalant way, and said to ourselves, “For God’s sake, how can I believe in such a God?” Only to have that thought supplanted by “Well, there must be a God!” Or “What’s the use anyhow?”

    When this sort of thinking is fully established in an individual with religious tendencies, he is so committed he can’t contemplate changing. These stark and ugly facts have been confirmed by legions of believers throughout history.

    There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the inconsistency and even callousness of maintaining our belief in a loving God. When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of loving tools laid at our feet. We have found much of our humanity and we have regained a compassionate attitude that includes everyone, not just the lucky ones.

    The great fact is just this, and nothing less: That we have had deep and effective awakenings which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows and toward our universe. The central fact of our lives today is the happy acceptance that there is no Creator who plays favorites. We have commenced to help each other out of the unworthiness of our old beliefs.

    If you are as seriously religious as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where belief was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of others’ suffering as best we could; and the other, to accept help. This we did because we honestly wanted to, and were willing to make the effort.

  80. Raindog says:

    That is funny Don

    Of course you are right – there is no supernatural god.

    I just learned something that I thought might be of interest. When they wrote the Big Book, the first draft of the We Agnostics Chapter was written by the Rev. Sam Shoemaker. He was the leader of the Oxford Group where Bill W first got sober. Apparently Bill asked him to write it and then edited it pretty severely. But there are a few places where it really does sound religious. Bill apparently didn’t feel qualified to write it. I also learned that Bill struggled with the God concept for his whole life and spent some of his sober years as an atheist! I got this from my sponsor who is a real nut for AA History. Apparently it is discussed in this book:


    You can tell reading Appendix II that Bill was pulling way way back from what was written in We Agnostics, easily the most offensive part of the Big Book.

    Again, I think the important thing is to find something that works for you. Yes, believers in a supernatural God are silly and I think a bit infantile. But why does that belief help them and can I believe in something that will give me the same relief without sacrificing my intellectual integrity? I think the answer is yes. I call it my positive inner resource and I know it is there inside me. I can pray to it and ask it to guide me through the day and it really does work. I think it is the same voice that guides the believers only they think it is coming from outside of them.

  81. Workin' it says:

    As always, a VERY debatable subject-“God”-I think it’s just a word used by us to describe something incomprehensable as power greater than ourselves. I also believe god lies within us as this power, we just cannot stay tapped into it continually. Certainly we know SOMETHING is keeping the planets from colliding, the seasons in cycle, our immune system keeping us healthy-all these things are powers greater than ourselves-are they gods-yes and no…the definition is continually changing for me the older I get and as I mature my opinion changes. Pretty deep stuff!!! But I keep comin’ back and hope you all do to- regardless of WHAT god is (or isn’t).<3

  82. Don Severs says:

    I’m helping to start a new AA meeting for agnostics. I requested that it be posted in the meeting schedule and got denied. By whom? How could a group of outcasts keep anyone out? Out of what? There’s an exclusive club for outcasts? Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?

    Even AA needs some organization, so wonderful people who love AA volunteer their time to do things like put out the schedule of meetings. But they’re human volunteers. And they have declined to let our meeting in their club. Here’s my reply. I haven’t sent it yet:

    Dear friends at Central Office:

    We should thank you. Being denied is probably the best publicity we could get. It shows the need for a meeting like this. Cliques in AA are really human, but really laughable. All the pariahs gather to decide who to let in. But you know you can’t keep us out. You know the literature as well as I do:

    “Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group provided that as a group they have no other affiliation.” Tradition Four

    “To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men.” Big Book, p. 46

    The fellowship has been through all this before. Remember Ed? He was an atheist in AA’s second group. All the members wanted to keep him out, but the ‘only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking’. Can’t keep any drunk out of AA. He’s a member when he says he is. More than that, we really don’t want to. AA thrives on diversity. I know you love AA. But you have nothing to fear from nonbelievers who love AA, too.

    Many in AA want to say that belief in God is required for recovery. This is at odds with the facts. Sure, many AA members believe in God, but they don’t all believe in the same God. And many long-sober members have no belief at all. So, we want to make a more conservative claim about what is required for recovery: That belief in God, whether God exists or not, is not necessary for recovery. We know this from personal experience and we want still-suffering alcoholics to know it. They can get and stay sober without belief in a god, now or later.

    “Let’s not louse this thing up. Let’s keep it simple.”

    We know belief in God is not an essential ingredient in staying sober. It doesn’t hurt, and it helps many, but it’s not required. Working with other alcoholics is the key ingredient.

    Yours In Service


    • sobeiam says:

      Thanks for your post. I am so angry that you were denied the opportunity to form a meeting to address the needs of atheists and agnostics. I am sure the meeting would have also attracted people who were questioning their beliefs, not sure if they did or didn’t believe in God.

      I want to scream in frustration at the injustice and narrow-mindedness but I can’t. Anger is a luxury I can afford. Reacting, for me, is another luxury. Resentments etc. None of them are luxuries I can afford.

      I think I speak for many of us on this list when I say, I agree with you. The problem is that your arguments are not going to win over any of the people who denied you an opportunity to create a community for drunks who do not believe in God or question the existence of God. They are going to close their ears and hearts. I’ve experienced it, you have probably and most everyone on this list has experienced it or we wouldn’t be here looking for a community of like thinkers.

      My suggestion, and it is only a suggestion from one drunk’s experience, is to try to appeal to the common decency that exists among all of us believers in AA which is to help another alcoholic achieve sobriety. Going into a debate about God doesn’t address that need.

      Your idea to cite the Big Book and the Third Tradition are exactly right, to me. I would suggest you say along those lines and pull other quotes to support your POV. Look elsewhere in Conference Approved literature for pointers on how we help each other, how we love each other and how the program DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE JUST AS ALCOHOL DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE.

      I would stay away from the intellectual debate. Stick to the literature, stick with principles before personalities, stick withe Ed’s history and experience and stick with your hurt/anger over being denied to bring this program to ALL ALCOHOLICS SO THAT THEY MAY NOT DIE SUFFERING ALONE.

      In addition I would address the letter to your local group, the local chapter, the state chapter and the World Service Committee to ask them to HELP YOU UNDERSTAND AND TO ASK THEM TO HELP YOU HELP OTHER ALCOHOLICS.

      Remind them that this program is bigger than any individual and it is not about one’s personal belief systems but about the greater good.

      I wish you the greatest success! Please keep me posted on this. It is important to me as I have been mulling starting a meeting in my area to address the non-believers.

  83. Don Severs says:

    Thanks, sobeiam!

    In my initial reply, I said:

    “Thanks for your reply. We’re happy to make the changes you suggested.”

    Central Office objected to this:

    “A meeting for all recovering persons who may not believe in supernatural intervention in human affairs.”

    So I just dropped it. If I meet all their requirements, they have to let us in. I called their bluff.



    • Christine says:

      So, Don, what was the outcome of your trying to start this meeting? From your last post you said you dropped it. Did you drop the meeting description part or the whole starting an atheist meeting part? I’ve been seriously thinking of starting a new meeting in my area so wanted to see what happened with your idea. I was thinking of an actual 12 Step meeting but w/o the Gawd part so wondered if there are atheist 12 Steps. I realize that by doing this, I will be changing the steps so I will think about the meeting topic are the steps but leave changing the actual wording of the steps to a soul much braver than I!! lol

  84. Don Severs says:

    Hi, all, there’s a new facebook page about this subject:


    Please drop by, post something and Like us!

  85. Gil Rogers says:

    rum,rum31: I am going to try and avoid alot of philosophical wanderings here. Fact is many in AA are athiests as I am. How do I handle the fact that the orginal premise upon which AA was built was obviously the judeo-christian ethic with the frequent references to God? Essentially I ignore them and politely state my position when sharing (if it comes up) and let others do the same. I don’t think it makes any difference if one accepts the existance of “God” or not as long as one realizes that there are forces at work that combine to exceed what we as individuals can accomplish. For me the group represents a “Higher Power”, as I know I could never accomplish alone, what I have been able to do with the help of AA. It’s like the expression, ” The sum is greater than the whole of its parts”. Individually we proved that we were helpless when it came to alchol, but collectively we can succeed. Thats a powerful force at work.

    Hope this helps!


  86. CharlieAnAgnosticAA says:

    I have gotten a tremendous goodness from this entire discussion, and I thank everyone who has participated. I am an agnostic, not an atheist, but I definitely understand the painful situation that comes about when some try to bring religion into the program of AA. Believe it or not, one can have conscious contact with the spiritual and be blessed with deep spiritual values, without believing in God as defined by fellow men. It works in AA because they removed religion, not in spite of that. Although, yes, early on, there were Christian roots to the program, they (Bill W., Dr. Bob, etc) saw quickly that religion was a divisive force in the world and must be removed or AA would not survived. The fate of the Oxford Group proves the point. I believe that man created the bible and that evil forces of human minds use it to destroy peace and goodness on Earth – look at all the wars going on in the names of all the major religions. And, I believe that the program of AA was divinely inspired, but that those same evil forces are trying to weasel their man-made God into my beloved program. I live in Tennessee and find the lord’s prayer at the end of the meeting upsetting but tolerable, I even wrote my own version, without all the silly, childish dogma (heaven, kingdom come, etc), so that I can hold hands and have the fellowship without chanting nonsense.

    How do I compensate for those – most are still under court order or chronic relapsers anyway – who start preaching their Jesus is Lord nonsense at meetings? Well, I will say it gets me really hot, BUT these reactions are mine, and I must own them. Next, I really emphasize – in the readings and sharing – that it is a HIGHER POWER OF MY UNDERSTANDING! I don’t yell it, but I will, while avoiding direct crosstalk, look those who do it square in the eye while I share. I will share that religion was removed from AA for a reason – because of God, not in spite of God. I know for a FACT that I would not have gotten or stayed sober had it not been for AA as it is – not as religious zealots would try to make it.

    I recently applied the 12 steps to smoking (nicotine addiction). I worked and worked the steps on it for weeks – exhausting, if you have even a slight concept of what actual, diligent step work is. AND, guess what!!!!! I have been 8 days without a cigarette and feel GREAT about it, do not miss it, can handle the cravings and than my higher power.

    Lastly, I do use the word “God” with a capital G out of convenience to communicate. My frail concept of a higher power puts it in a realm beyond words and human description. I do not know what it is or what its name is or where it lives or when it died or arose, or who its mom was, etc, etc….. I just have seen enough to know that it, in fact, is.

    Thank you to everyone here and to the program of AA and my higher power.

    Charlie (clean and sober 349 days and clean from nicotine 8 days)

  87. sobeiam says:

    Some links of interest?



    List of agnostic meetings worldwide – http://www.agnosticaanyc.org/worldwide.html

    Stories of agnostic AAers http://www.seattleaa.org/stories/atheists.html

    http://www.agnosticaanyc.org/ links to agnostic preamble, FAQs, scripts, etc.

  88. SmallTownAtheist says:

    Andrew Kerwin-
    I’m from a small town in Virginia with few meetings and members who mostly interpret the literature and program the way fundamentalist Christians interpret the Bible and their own religion- I’ve been looking for a FreeThinkers meeting, but the closest I’ve found is about 4 hours away. If there’s still one in Richmond (I assumed VA), that might be 2 hours for me and I could do that every now and then. Any info on meetings in Richmond?
    Either way, I’m sober, and the way I’ve come to think of it is it’s kind of like the medication that may leave a terrible taste in my mouth from time to time, but dammit, it’s working. Thanks!

    • Kevin G says:

      I used to live in Richmond and am from there. I wasn’t aware of any specifically agnostic or atheist AA meetings. But I know there is a contingent of atheists and agnostics around there, especially the downtown meetings. I now live in Baltimore and there is a Friday night agnostics meeting.

      • Andrew Kerwin (in Richmond, VA) says:

        It was an NA meeting in Ashland on Tuesday nights from 2002-2005. I’ve gone back to AA since then.

        Do you have a recommendation for a downtown meeting with like minded folks?
        We should take this offline, find me on Facebook.. Andrew Kerwin in Richmond is enough to find me.
        (If anyone is reading this year in the future, I’m probably in Boston or Minneapolis by now.. and still an atiest)

  89. Ingrid says:

    I don’t think I could have made it to the 6+ years I’m at if it weren’t for agnostic AA meetings. Where are you?


  90. Don Severs says:

    New post at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Agnostics-and-Atheists-in-AA/168374259840358

    The argument for belief in God in the We Agnostics is primarily utilitarian. But it is important to realize that it isn’t an argument for the existence of God. It is an argument that belief in God is helpful.

    Nonbelievers can agree with Bill Wilson about all that. Here’s what I sometimes say at our agnostic AA meeting:

    Whether gods exist or not, it is a plain fact that many people find believing in them useful. It is an equally clear fact that many people don’t.

    AA came to be in a religious culture, so most of its members are religious. We can expect AA’s religiosity to track with the local demographic, so of course there will be a mix of religious and atheist members. This has been true from the beginning, when Ed the atheist, in AA’s second group, ‘distressingly stayed sober’.

    So, perhaps belief in a god, like physical exercise, getting a job or being nice to your wife, is simply something that many people find helpful for sobriety. It is on the AA buffet of suggestions, but no one eats everything on the buffet. It is a fact of our experience that nonbelievers live happy, sober lives. It must be the case that belief in god is not a required ingredient in AA recovery.

  91. thalio says:

    I posted an essay on atheism and the 12-steps here

    To get the most of this writing form (noding, they call it) check out some of the links.

    Best to all.

    • Andrew Kerwin says:

      I like this article! Reality as a higher power is something I had not thought of…cool.

      Question: What the heck does “quit playing god” mean? I have been wondering for years. I mean to say, I have never tried to create a universe, or work miracles or heal the lepers. I get your definition of, “don’t dictate the laws of reality”, but I’m not sure that’s why I got drunk or why I didn’t want to get sober. You could probably stretch your definition to fit my affliction in the same way you can call Michael Vick an animal lover, or Hitler a humanitarian, (which, incidentally is the same way I have had to stretch some of the concepts in the Big Book), but for me, it’s not practically helpful to play some semantical trick with that too.
      Lately, I have come to believe that it’s one of those slogans that does not apply directly to me, but you use it in your article so I’m curious if I can start using it too.

      • thalio says:

        For me, “quit playing God” means admitting that I can’t change the law of cause and effect. I’m an alcoholic and when I drink (cause) the effect is my out of control behavior.

        When I behave destructively, destruction follows. But I have done a lot of magical thinking in my day–wishing, hoping, pretending that I could suspend the law of cause and effect here. I couldn’t. That was just me “playing God.”

        On the other hand, when I behave creatively, creation follows. And I don’t need to interfere with the laws of nature to benefit from that formula.

      • thalio says:

        I amended the essay online with an answer to your question. Thank you. I think it makes for an important improvement.

      • Christine says:

        I am not gawd means that nothing is ever really about me. It means that I don’t control anything but myself. It means that I have to stop thinking about myself, which to me is alcoholic behavior, and start thinking about others. I can chose to think about them negatively or altruistically or realistically or . . . It is my choice. I choose to be more optimistic which is my definition of spirituality. I believe AA reminds me I am not alone and that I don’t have to be alone. I know, for myself, that isolation will kill me because left to my own devices, I will drink. So, thinking of the phrase I am not gawd literally will have me miss something that was very useful to me. I centered my life selfishly around myself. Alcoholism feeds that. As for the phrase, “Let go and let gawd?” I just say, “Let Go.” Whoa is my life better when I do that. So I can get hung up on the words, which I did and still do, or I can re-interpret and try to understand the underlying meaning as it relates to my life. It works for me.

        • thalio says:

          Very nice. It’s not about me. That was my mantra for awhile, and maybe should be again.

          And “let go” became an option for me when I finally understood that the things I couldn’t control hold no value anyway. I’m indebted to Epictetus and the Stoics for that.

          • Kevin G says:

            I’ve totally found that the philosophies of the Stoics, many Buddhists, and followers of Democritus like Lucretius work really well for letting go and finding peace, without needing to convince myself I “know” that God is going to take it all over.

            Still loving this thread.

            • Don Severs says:

              Since AA originated in America, it took on several cultural hitchhikers that are not essential for recovery. From Atheists and Agnostics in AA:

              As the first Agnostic AA meeting in Des Moines, Iowa enters its second month, people are interested in what makes it necessary or desirable. I wish there was a way to have this conversation without the emphasis on god or no god. What’s really at issue is step 12. We want as many people as possible to get in the lifeboat.

              After 75 years, much of AA has settled into an orthodoxy. Should we trace our roots back to the founders and do things the way they did them? That can’t be right because the Bible was used at the first meetings, and no one wants to return to that. So the question is, what are the core essentials of AA recovery? I think it’s one drunk working with another; everything else is optional. Dr. Bob’s view was close to this, although he was very religious himself and felt sorry for those who lacked belief.

              Some think that reading How it Works, a supernatural higher power, prayer, sponsorship, etc are all necessary parts of recovery, too. They have the best of intentions. Since these things helped them, they share their experience of what worked. The only thing we have to be careful of is identifying what is essential and what’s not. If I find retreats are helpful, I can share that, but should stop short of insinuating you can’t stay sober if you don’t go to retreats.

              We’re at the point Martin Luther was with the Catholic Church. The Church wanted to say that their apostolic succession, male priests, transubstantiation, etc were all necessary to relate to Christ Jesus. Luther said, no, all those things have been added by tradition. The real core of Christianity is the individual person relating directly to Jesus, without the need for a Church to mediate the relationship.

              I think something similar has happened in AA. I don’t want to tell newcomers that they need to do and believe things that are not absolutely essential to recovery. They may do them, but we shouldn’t give them the impression they must. This isn’t to water down AA; it’s to make the tent as big as possible.

              Prayer’s a good example. Prayer is very helpful to many people, but to tell people who don’t pray that they have to pray in order to recover isn’t at all what we want to do. If we ourselves pray, we want to share our experience that it has been helpful, but we have members who never pray and do fine. So, the most we can say is “It helps some people. Pray if you like.”

              The essential thing is working with others. Beyond that, saying one’s own experience is the right way will end up excluding some people.


          • thalio says:

            This is a reply to Don Severs’s post below. The way this site formats successive replies by narrowing the field is problematic, as you can see.

            Don, I just wanted to write about those elements of the AA approach to recovery I personally have found essential to my program.

            1. Surrender to the fact that I can’t drink normally, but that I suffer from the delusion that I can.

            2. Admission that this combined state is a disastrous one, and that continuing on this course is hopeless.

            3. Belief that something more powerful that my alcoholic delusion can restore me to sanity regarding my inability to drink in moderation.

            4. A new, subordinate relationship to the thing that provides me healthy guidance–and a way to maintain conscious contact with this.

            5. Some kind of ethical practice to help clean up and prevent from reoccurring the kind of wreckage that drives my urge to drink.

            6. Work with another alcoholic.

            The language is clunky, but these ideas and actions are working for me.

  92. Raindog says:

    Something you all might enjoy – there have been atheists in AA right from the beginning

    I guess Jim wrote this in 1969 – the date below must be wrong or they waited 30 years to publish it – read the story the Vicious Cycle if you never have:

    Sober For Thirty Years
    by Jim Burwell
    A.A. Grapevine, November 1999

    As noted in my story, “The Vicious Cycle,” in the Big Book, I came into the Fellowship in New York in January 1938.

    At that time A.A. was just leaving the Oxford Group. There was one closed discussion meeting a week, at Bill’s home in Brooklyn, – attendance six or eight men, with only three members who had been sober more than one year: Bill, Hank, and Fitz.

    This is about all that had been accomplished in the four years with the New York Oxford Group. During those early meetings at Bill’s, they were flying blind, with no creed or procedure to guide them, though they did use quite a few of the Oxford sayings and the Oxford Absolutes.

    Since both Bill and Dr. Bob had had almost-overnight experiences, it was taken for granted that all who followed would have the same sort of experience. So the early meetings were quite religious, in both New York and Akron. There was always a Bible on hand, and the concept of God was all biblical.

    Into this fairly peaceful picture came I, their first self-proclaimed atheist, completely against all religions and conventions. I was the captain of my own ship. (The only trouble was, my ship was completely disabled and rudderless.) So naturally I started fighting nearly all the things Bill and the others stood for, especially religion, the “God bit.” But I did want to stay sober, and I did love the understanding Fellowship. So I became quite a problem to that early group, with my constant haranguing against all spiritual angles.

    All of a sudden, the group became really worried. Here I had stayed sober five whole months while fighting everything the others stood for. I was now number four in “seniority.” I found out later they had a prayer meeting on “what to do with Jim.” The consensus seemed to have been that they hoped I would either leave town or get drunk.

    That prayer must have been right on target, for I was suddenly taken drunk on a sales trip. This became the shock and the bottom I needed. At this time I was selling auto polish to jobbers for a company that Bill and Hank were sponsoring, and I was doing pretty well, too. But despite this, I was tired and completely isolated there in Boston.

    My fellow alcoholics really put the pressure on as I sobered up after four days of no relief, and for the first time I admitted I couldn’t stay sober alone. My closed mind opened a bit. Those folks back in New York, the folks who believed, had stayed sober. And I hadn’t. Since this episode I don’t think I have ever argued with anyone else’s beliefs. Who am I to say?

    I finally crawled back to New York and was soon back into the fold. About this time, Bill and Hank were just beginning to write the A.A. Big Book. I do feel sure my experience was not in vain, for “God” was broadened to cover all types and creeds: “God as we understood Him.”

    I feel my spiritual growth over these past thirty years has been very gradual and steady. I have no desire to “graduate” from A.A.. I try to keep my memories green by staying active in A.A. – a couple of meetings weekly.

    For the new agnostic or atheist just coming in, I will try to give very briefly my milestones in recovery.

    1. The first power I found greater than myself was John Barleycorn.
    2. The A.A. Fellowship became my Higher Power for the first two years.
    3. Gradually, I came to believe that God and Good were synonymous and were found in all of us.
    4. And I found that by meditating and trying to tune in on my better self for guidance and answers, I became more comfortable and steady.

    J.B., San Diego, California

  93. Don Severs says:

    Christine wrote:

    So, Don, what was the outcome of your trying to start this meeting? From your last post you said you dropped it. Did you drop the meeting description part or the whole starting an atheist meeting part? I’ve been seriously thinking of starting a new meeting in my area so wanted to see what happened with your idea. I was thinking of an actual 12 Step meeting but w/o the Gawd part so wondered if there are atheist 12 Steps. I realize that by doing this, I will be changing the steps so I will think about the meeting topic are the steps but leave changing the actual wording of the steps to a soul much braver than I!! lol

    My reply:

    We didn’t drop it. We’ve been going with 3 or 4 each week since Oct 12. Struggling but not giving up. I keep announcing it at other meetings.

    You can find meeting scripts here:


    Here’s the one we use:


    [Chairperson, introduce yourself, then read the following:]

    Welcome to WE AGNOSTICS. This is a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous for those who may not believe in supernatural intervention in human affairs. We are open to any ideas which have helped individuals to free themselves from addiction. Our intention is not to promote agnosticism or atheism but to provide a meeting for addicts who want to explore and develop additional paths to recovery that don’t require supernatural aid.

    We know from our own experience that any human can recover from addiction if he or she truly wants to recover. We believe that recovery requires two basic elements: an individual’s strong desire to end addictive behavior and, since the human being is also a social animal, a support group of empathetic individuals to share her or his recovery experience with. In this meeting, our common goal is to communicate among ourselves and with newcomers the ways we have found that work for us to stay free of our addictions and to share how recovery works and feels on a day to day basis.

    Also we acknowledge the help that Alcoholics Anonymous is to many of us in our quest for continuous sobriety and recommend the book of Alcoholics Anonymous for further understanding of addiction and recovery.

    We suggest there are several stages in the recovery process:

    First, we must develop a strong desire to get free and stay free of addiction (1st step.)
    Second, we ask for help. We are stubborn individualists, but we strive to quit fighting everything and everybody and to learn to listen respectfully to the thoughts and feelings of others in recovery. (2nd and 3rd steps.)

    Third, we want to develop and maintain a process of honest self-evaluation by which we come to face ourselves and to understand our relationships with others. (4th and 10th steps.)

    Fourth, through self-evaluation, we discover that many addicts feel a strong sense of fear, guilt and/or shame which isolates us from other human beings, and therefore we try to share with others, or with a chosen individual, the sources of our alienation, hoping to alleviate our isolation. (5th step.)

    Fifth, once we understand our behavior, which has often been self-destructive and harmful to others, we try to develop the humility to amend our destructive habits, to be willing to change our attitudes about life and to repair our damaged relationships with others. We strive for a “completely new set of conceptions and motives” in our lives. (Alcoholics Anonymous, p.27 and 6th through 9th steps.)

    Sixth, after we are free of our addictions for a period of time, we strive to find ways to continually stretch our humanity and to become participating members of the larger community, always remembering the lessons we learn in recovery and looking for ways to be of use to others and to alcoholics and addicts like ourselves. (11th and 12th steps.)

    It is the consensus that these shares be about addiction and recovery, not a forum about one’s beliefs or non-beliefs or other peoples’ beliefs. If you have a phone, please silence it now. We are now ready for individual sharing. Share when you are moved to share. Speak once and try to remember how many are left to speak and how much time remains for sharing. Please don’t interrupt others when they are speaking. If time remains after everyone has shared, you many speak again, but the chairperson will end this meeting at [1 pm].

    Let’s open with a few minutes of meditation to focus our thoughts on why we are here and on what we want to accomplish this morning. [After a time of silence, indicate that it’s time to start sharing and ask for topics.]

    Is there anyone attending their first or second AA meeting ever? Anyone in their first 30 days?

    This meeting is self-supporting and we have rent to pay for the privilege of meeting in this beautiful place. Please share from your abundance so that we can continue to meet here.

    [At 1 pm:] “It’s time to close the meeting. Please remember that everything you have heard here must remain strictly confidential. We’ll close the meeting with a few moments of silence to consider what we’ve accomplished this morning.”

    [After a time announce] “The meeting is now closed.” [If someone turned off a cell phone, remind them to turn it on again.]

  94. Kevin G says:

    If you guys haven’t heard, the General Service Office is putting together a pamphlet on atheists and agnostics in AA. They’ve put out a call for submissions:

    “In response to the 2010 General Service Conference recom-
    mendation that “the trustees’ Committee on Literature
    develop literature which focuses on spirituality that
    includes stories from atheists and agnostics who are suc-
    cessfully sober in Alcoholics Anonymous…,” the trustee’s
    Literature Committee is seeking stories from A.A. members.
    The trustees are looking for stories that reflect a wide-
    range of spiritual experiences from A.A. members who,
    with any belief or non-belief, have found a solution to the
    concept of spirituality and sobriety in Alcoholics
    Manuscripts should be 500-800 words, double spaced.
    Please attach your name and address on a separate piece
    of paper. The anonymity of all authors will be observed,
    whether or not their story is selected for publication.
    Please send sharing, by February 15, 2011, to: Literature
    Coordinator, General Service Office, Box 459, Grand
    Central Station, New York, NY 10163, or e-mail:
    literature@aa.org. ”

    from http://www.aa.org/lang/en/en_pdfs/en_box459_winter10.pdf

  95. Don Severs says:

    Alcoholics anonymous has no opinion on outside issues. Except that there exists a supernatural almighty loving creator god.

    We are not allied with any sect or denomination. The Lord’s prayer? That’s a wholly neutral thing we say for unity!

    Tradition 10 is about keeping AA out of trouble:

    “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A.name ought never be drawn into public controversy.”

    What could be more controversial than getting entangled with religion? AA’s first atheist, Jim Burwell, made sure they said Higher Power, Power greater than ourselves, and ‘as we understood Him’. Bill W was grateful to him for widening the door so atheists could join AA. But AA is sodden with God talk. Page 161 clinches it: “God” means the Almighty Creator of the Universe.

    I think Bill and other religious AAs exchanged their alcoholic grandiosity for religious grandiosity. “God is real and He’s helping me! I don’t know why he lets millions of little kids die alone every year, but I’m so grateful He picked me. He picked me!”

    All that is very human and we live in a religious culture. But to affiliate AA with God is to enter into all the controversy therein:

    1. Which God? AA pretends to say this doesn’t matter, but try saying your Higher Power is Satan.

    2. A Loving God? Whither human suffering?

    3. What about nonbelievers? Are we second-class AAs? As if once-hopeless drunks have any business forming cliques.

    So, avoiding religion is good for AA and good for the newcomer. Every member should share their experience. If belief in the supernatural has helped them, then they must share that. The last thing we want is reverse discrimination that would silence them. But at the level of AA itself, it is time for a reformation removing all the religious burden that has accumulated.

    It was there from the beginning, of course. Here’s the problem. Bill Wilson is still at every meeting, he gets to talk first, and his booming voice sets the tone. His belladonna-induced religious experience was important to him and he was right to share it. But it has become dogma.

    Ever been to an AA conference? Every one I’ve been to has huge photos of Bill and Bob. This is perverse. They were just drunks. Sure, they did a lot of work, but thousands of AAs have done as much. Sure, Bill wrote the book, which has been vital to reaching many drunks. But it is contrary to AAs own principles that we exalt the experience of one man.

    When we work with others, we share what we have done to stay sober. That’s it. It’s time to listen to Dr. Bob: “Let’s not louse this thing up. Let’s keep it simple.” When unity is essential, religion at the group level is not our friend.

    More at:


    Yours in service,

    Don S

  96. John C says:

    After 15 years of sobriety the unthinkable happened. I drank again and within five years the torture was so great though I may not have believed in God I sure believed in the devil. How could I not believe that there was a power greater than me? Hell, One was killing me. I was very fortunate to meet a man who helped me through the process as outligned in the AA Big Book. He told me just a willingness to believe there is a power greater than me would get me started. We then asked that power into my life. He explained how we were building an arch and I would pass through a free man. We did an inventory and talked about where I was wrong and how resentments had almost killed me. He helped me in setting these matters straight and how to continue this way of life and help others as he did with me. My friend passed away recently. I Thank God for him

  97. thalio says:

    There is warm fellowship and an online meeting for freethinkers in AA here:


    For anyone unfamiliar with the term freethinker or freethought, here’s a nice Wikipedia article:


    All are welcome regardless of religious belief or lack thereof, as our third tradition in AA should make clear.

  98. chief says:

    AA without God is much like a hot fudge sundae without the ice-cream.

    However if you think that somehow your unbelief is what is keeping you sober then good for you.I do not know what is you are following but it is not the AA Program.I would venture to say that a lot of you that claim there is no God stick pretty darn close to the 12 and 12 instead of the B/B.I would also bet that a bunch of you watch Dr.Phil and Oprah on a pretty regular basis.

    AA was a God based program from the get go.Just read page 191 in the forth edition of the B/B and see what one of our founders had to say about how he was “cured”from this disease.The other founder actually called his group in Akron a Christian fellowship.So whether you like it or not AA was and is about a relation with God.Yes the B/B says you may choose your own conception of God as long as it makes SENSE to you.So IMHO if a door knob is your Higher power and that actually makes sense to you then I think you need help outside of AA.

    BTW I have been sober for 24 years and have taken quite a few folks through this program and because of the relation they have developed with God most of them are doing well and remain sober.

    May God bless you all.

    • Kevin G says:


      Congrats on your 24 years.

      Now, are you aware how completely you just displayed the condescending, superior, passive-aggressive attitude that is so upsetting about certain members of AA?

      By the way, I wonder what you think of the new pamphlet the GSO is working on detailing the spiritual experiences of atheists and agnostics who have successfully stayed sober in AA.

      I think no one here is likely to make a door knob their higher power – that’s why we ended up in this corner of the internet – such an asinine “belief” was not enough for us. But come on, what the heck purpose does it serve to throw out the line about Dr. Phil and Oprah? It’s comments like that the betray the hostility and superiority people like you feel to those of us who don’t conform to your ideas. Personally, I’m too busy doing a Ph. D. in theoretical physics to watch Oprah – i.e., don’t attempt to reduce our serious and genuine struggles to be both honest and sober to some cheap put-down.

      I love how you can say something so blatantly offensive and then sign off with “God bless you” and feel holier-than-thou and we’re supposed to think you’re not being hostile but are actually being loving. Bullshit.

      Kevin G.

    • Kevin G says:

      Also, I am aware of the history of AA, perhaps more than you. I know that the leader of the Oxford Group was a big fan of Adolf Hitler before, oh, the invasion of Poland. I know Sam Shoemaker cut ties with him because he felt like he was building a cult of personality. I know that Bill Wilson continued to use various drugs, including LSD, well into his sobriety. I know that Bill Wilson shamelessly womanized and cheated on his wife. So, yeah, I know the genesis of AA and its roots in Christianity. I also know the founders were imperfect.

      Thomas Jefferson mocked ‘men [who] look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched’; ‘who ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment.’ … ‘Let us follow no such examples, nor weakly believe that one generation is not as capable as another of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs… Each generation is as independent of the preceding, as that was of all which had gone before.’

      • Good points, Kevin. Best wishes on completing your Ph. D!

        I’ve always wondered how Lois felt at the reading of Bill’s will. He left a substantial amount to his mistress. Ouch.

        This doesn’t say anything about the program’s efficacy. But it does remind us not to lionize anyone.

        Bill Wilson still speaks first at almost every AA meeting. His religious brand of recovery casts a long shadow. We have one meeting in Des Moines where there is no prayer and we don’t read How it Works. Bill was just another drunk, although he made many contributions. His experience has been helpful to many, but to say it is the only legitimate way to recover is exclusionary and untrue.

    • >AA without God is much like a hot fudge sundae without the ice-cream.

      Are statements like this one compatible with Step 12 and Tradition 3? My worry is that they make the door into recovery narrower. If a person finds belief in God useful, they should share their experience. But we have to be careful. For example, if I find going to retreats to be an essential part of my recovery, I shouldn’t say others must do so. This gives the wrong impression: that there is one way to recover.

      It is laughable that drunks would form cliques and declare their way out of perdition to be superior to another’s. We’re all just lucky to be alive and able to pass for normal. Let’s not get too full of ourselves. And let’s not exchange our alcoholic grandiosity for a religious, or irreligious, one.

      We are all just drunks comparing notes, and that goes for Bill W as well. “We know only a little.”

    • Don Severs says:

      >AA without God is much like a hot fudge sundae without the ice-cream.

      Which god?


  99. Kevin G says:

    I guarantee that the ratio of believers to atheist/agnostics who watch Oprah/Dr. Phil is about 10 to 1. So that’s just a ridiculous comment.

  100. Christine F. says:

    Why would someone comment on this Board who believes in the is program, including the 3rd Tradition, to put down a group of people who are trying to find solace in sobriety with the use of AA? Isn’t a compliment to AA that a group of people who don’t believe in gawd still believe in the basic tenets of the program that they founded a community on the Internet to develop fellowship and share their experiences, strength and hope?

    Why would someone feel the need to take swipes at our sobriety? This Web site never condemns AA. The Big Book is not the Bible. That means it is safely open to criticism, reflection, interpretation and belief. Why all the dogma around it?

    In addition, the note on the Christian beginnings of this program seems to suggest that is the writer’s real agenda not that this is a program about one’s own God.

    • Kevin G says:

      I second all this. Thank you, Christine, for emphasizing that we hoped to help each other find solace and strength in deepening our sobriety. Perhaps what I was most upset about was the idea of a someone who was struggling with whether AA could work for them coming across this article and being discouraged by that comment. Thank you for articulating all this.

  101. Hi, Chief:

    I’m a former believer, but belief in God has some consequences that are not obvious from reading the Big Book.

    Why would a loving God stand by for thousands of years, then give one guy, Bill Wilson, a spiritual conversion? Then, why would he let this Solution spread slowly to 100 people in 4 years, then to only 2.1 million after 75 years? Millions are still dying without ever learning of AA. A loving, omnipotent God could do better.

    People love to give credit to God for good things, but this creates a huge problem for God. What took Him so long?

    This thread is about the plain fact that belief in a supernatural God isn’t necessary to recover in AA. Bill Wilson agreed, at least some of the time:


    All the best,

    Don S
    Des Moines, IA

  102. Andrew Kerwin says:

    When I first read cheif’s ridiculous post, I thought, ‘there goes the neighborhood,’ but I have to say I am enlightened and educated by the responses. What started off as either a troll, or a person exhibiting “an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial,” ended up in a great discourse. Thanks chief, come back anytime.

    I guess in the end, it doesn’t matter what someone else calls my program if I am happy, joyous, free and non-supernatural-force willing, celebrating 10 years in a couple months.

    P.S. we should plan a national get-together.. I have really enjoyed hanging with Joe A. at our Freethinkers meeting in Richmond. I want more.

    P.P.S. who’s Oprah?

  103. Frank Miles says:

    “We’re all just drunks comparing notes, and that goes for Bill W. as well.”

    Don, that’s just wonderful.

    That’s the healthiest attitude I can take toward the Big Book. Our book records the experience of a handful of, mainly religious, drunks in a particular place and time. It details their responses to finding the willingness to take direction from something bigger than themselves, and then passing along what they found. And it quite intentionally downplayed the experiences of its non-religious, recovered members, whose higher power wasn’t (and in some cases never became) God.

    If God alone were the answer, then drunks would have been getting better by the hundreds in the Oxford Groups, and they weren’t. Dr. Bob sure didn’t. For quite a while the dozens of drunks Bill W. approached with his story didn’t either.

    It took a new and subordinate relationship to a higher power, which the experience of men like Jim Burwell (AA #3 in the New York group) showed could be entirely secular. And then, as much as anything else, it took passing it along oneself. That part seemed to be the biggest breakthrough.

    All the rest is, as Don so beautifully put it, just drunks comparing notes.

    Frank in LA

  104. Gary says:

    I’ve been attending AA meetings for a few months and struggling with drinking the whole time. I get a lot from the meetings but sometimes all the god talk distracts me from my primary goal. I haven’t yet started the god-infested steps nor gotten a sponsor. A few days ago I had to walk out of a meeting to keep from blowing up. So I got on the internet and found this site.

    I just wanted to thank everyone for their contributions. Besides some very helpful advice, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my situation.

    • Don Severs says:

      >So I got on the internet and found this site.

      If you keep doing stuff like that, you just might stay sober permanently, Gary. I started to get better when I started to change how I reacted to life. Reaching out is a big part of that. Glad to have you with us.


  105. thalio says:


    An online, atheist AA meeting meets here:


    And here are the agnostic Steps:


    You don’t need God to do the 12 steps, but you need to understand what the concept of God did for those folks and replicate it. This essay might help:


    All the best to you.
    Frank M.

  106. Duncan says:

    I’ve been an atheist A.A. member for over 30 years without alcohol. To think that it is god and not myselfwho stops me drinking is childish nonsense that works for some people and puts even more people off A.A.
    The intolerance that goes with god is alive and well in A.A. as it is elsewhere, and it comes in the cloak of sincerity righteousness. It is quite nauseating but If you want to get sober in A.A. without god it is quite possible.Be prepared for some flack, stand by your principles and it can weork for you too as it continuers to work for me.

  107. Carl J. says:

    WELL SAID, DUNCAN !! All that pseudo religious claptrap junk is stiffling A.A. Imagine you went to a hospital, sick, and the doctor told you to pray. I’m with you on this. We can stay sober just fine without god nonsense. L.O.L., Carl.

  108. You Know Who says:

    The last meeting I went to I was told by *an old timer* that if it wasnt for God there would be no atheists. My experiences of A.A and being an atheist within it, at worst have been depressing and best laughable. However I remind myself that there is alot of damage and mental illness (aka *sickness*) within the rooms. That goes unfortunately with the territory, and Chiefs (no ego there then) platitude of hot fudge without God is like A.A without ice cream or some such bloody nonsence is typical of The Righteous High Church of A.A. No wonder people dont hang around.The God Squad are selfish to the core-its more important that they are right, than people get better. Kevin G ia absolutely right about the strange birth of A.A and if anyone is interested Ken Ragges book *The Real A.A. Behind The Myth Of 12-Step Recovery* may help those who struggle with this philosophy of recovery. Its a pity Chief had to post at all, as up to that point I feel that this thread was really carrying a message rather than the mess. BTW -who is this Dr Phil?

  109. Andy says:

    I’m sick of AA meetings today! I’m sick of having to listen to all that Christian crap week after week, year after year. Not a religion? Bull! I walked out of a meeting tonight when some idiot started talking about Genesis. Take your Genesis, and shove it! I go to meetings to stay sober, not listen to their magic sky daddy crap all the time, and how I’ll get drunk if I don’t believe in the same stupid stuff.
    I think people talking about their “God” all the time is the WORST thing they can do, and does great HARM AA’s primary purpose, which is to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

    • Carl says:

      Right on, Andy !! Be sure there are newcommers who will be mighty relieved to know we can stay sober without surrendering our ability to think. There are more and more of us staying sober without god. In fact in my town the longest sober AA’s happen to be atheists.

  110. Tammy says:

    Whenever I felt I didn’t like the direction any particular meeting was going, regardless of why I felt this way, I opted to attend different meetings. I also discovered that when something is bothering me, it’s not usually because of the external(my perception) activities, but because of some ‘fear’ inside me. I’ve come to face the fact that there are going to be god believing people at AA. When I examine the Serenity Prayer, is there any wonder. AND it IS a prayer. I learned; ya can’t please all the people all the time; Take what ya need and leave the rest behind; Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. My opinion happens to be that my ‘higher power’ has changed MANY times throughout my recovery. Today, I believe Love has been an incredible force in my ability to remain abstinent and re-examine my values. There are so many other messeges I receive from meeting attendance, so I don’t focus on others’ beliefs of a god directing their thoughts/actions. Whatever works!!! Keep comin’ back….

  111. Michael H says:

    Keep Commin’ Back … good advice Tammy. Throughout nearly 40 years of sobriety, I have had various interpretations of the force that binds this universe. Those “beliefs” have ranged from making believe in the gods of my childhood (I was raised a trinitarian)… to ignoring gods completely. My period of “resentment” toward the bible belt mentality has lead to a tolerance level that aids my day to day life in ways I never thought possible. BUT … it only happened because I kept comming back.

    • Carl says:

      Michael. Staying sober has nothing to do with what you call ‘the force that binds the universe’. That’s just as much crackpot theology as the bible-thumpers and it offends necomers who are not religiously inclined.
      We can stay sober without any reference to god or univeral stuff that is god by another name.

  112. Tammy says:

    Thanx Michael! I had to giggle at your reference ‘the bible belt mentality’ I agree how this ‘confusion’ has led me, too, to be a more tolerant person. I can now take things/people/places as they are and try to be in a more acceptable place personally. Nothing stays the same. Thank god.lol.

    • Carl says:

      Personally I too have develloped tolerance; but what effect does the god stuff have on newcomers? Charlie Sheen is right about AA being a cult. Untill AA arrives in the 21st century it will only serve to alienate Charlie Sheen and many thousands of alcoholics who really really need help. It will evolve despite the religious minded reactionaries who make the most noise in AA. Remember, it’s the empty barrels that make the most noise.

  113. Tammy says:

    simantics….I try to just keep an open mind.

    • Carl says:

      Semantics is important. If you say something and mean something else, it is semantics that clarifies the issue. Most A.A.s seem happy to live in mud, but some of us want clear water, meaning clear communication. So keep god out of it.

  114. thalio says:

    A power greater than my irrational thoughts and feelings about drinking (we all get them from time to time) doesn’t have to be mystical, or even spiritual–whatever the latter means. The wisdom of those who are like me and who have gone before me down this very road is a higher power. It represents reliable guidance to which I can turn over my choice to drink or not. That power says that for someone like me drinking is unwise, and potentially very dangerous. Since I value my life and sanity today, I choose to subordinate my unguided thoughts and feelings about drinking to that power. I follow its direction, which is very clear. Don’t pick up the first drink or drug. It works for me.

    • Carl says:

      Yes; and we do not have to use words like ‘power’ which are so loaded with religious implications. When we go to the doctor we do not talk of the doctor or antibiotics having power over our illness. It is nit necessary to talk in such terms.

      • thalio says:

        I agree, Carl. The term “Higher Power,” always in caps, was probably chosen in the first place so that men like the atheist Jim Burwell (AA #4 in the first NY group, author of “The Vicious Cycle” in the BB)could fit in without upsetting the mystical applecart too much.

        Remember that Bill, Bob, and most of the rest of them back then were reading Emmet Fox and other “New Thought” authors. That was the 1930’s version of “The Secret,” and they were eating in up. They believed in a “Force” or “Power” that filled the universe, and with which an alcoholic had to connect in order to get well.

        So again, the term “Power” (particularly when capitalized as if it were a proper noun) is intentionally muddy. A bit of a bait and switch, really, at least as it was used in the BB. AA literature says you can have any HP you like–as long as it’s mystical, and preferably a personal God. Oh, you can use the group for a little while… but you’ll see. You’ll eventually “get it.” Got to love all that condescension. Especially old Dr. Bob telling us how sorry he felt for us poor arrogant atheists and agnostics. Imagine that. Someone who insists on the certainly of a God calling an agnostic (who’s willing to call it an open question) spiritually proud! Used to piss me off, and now it makes me laugh.

        But you and I, Carl, can use the word “power” in a more pedestrian sense. Power is what is required to move something, to generate change. The power of my unguided mind will not generally change and correct my irrational thoughts. The wisdom of those who have gone before, or if you like, simply the truth of the impossibility of my getting loaded in moderation–THAT has the power to effect change in me. That is if I am willing to take a particular relation to that truth. Which is to place it before other thoughts, as a kind of precept. I treat my inability to drink in moderation as a natural law, like the above-mentioned law of gravity. So that’s an analogy that speaks to me too.

        I also can accept the fact that many alcoholics relate to the thing that gives them good direction, and to which they surrender their will–at least regarding drinking–as a mystical or quasi-mystical force or Being. And accepting that obvious fact brings me the peace of mind that I must maintain in some measure in order not to feel like I need a goddamn, or powerdamn, or forcedamn drink today. ;-)

    • Carl says:

      Yes; and we do not have to use words like ‘power’ which are so loaded with religious implications. When we go to the doctor we do not talk of the doctor or antibiotics having power over our illness. It is not necessary to talk in such terms.

      • Michael H says:

        It’s tough when words have power over our peace of mind … and frequently, depending on how we view them, they do cause negative reactions.

        The groups in this geographic area (like most others I’ve run into)say the lords prayer after meeting. I have been able to “come to terms” with that over the years … however, there is an added element at most of the meeting here … the person starting the prayer says: “Who kept us sober today” … and then everyone chimes in with their prayer. I believe that starting the prayer that way is tantamount to “endorsing” a specific religion. I am not comfortable with it. I am in the minority.

        • Carl says:

          You are not alone, Michael. I’m one of the very few AA’s around here who never says the prayer at the end of the meetings.
          By the way this evening we celebrated the 25th sober anniversary of a member who is a staunch atheist. He can be forgiven for being a little grumpy considering the flack he has had over the years.

        • Don Severs says:

          I remain seated during the prayers now. I would stand and hold hands to say the Responsibility Statement or something uniting, but not to ask a superbeing for strength or guidance. This is the best way I’ve found to let nonbelieving newcomers know it’s ok not to pray.


  115. Tammy says:

    Sometimes I wonder if too much emphasis is placed both in ‘believing’ or ‘not believing’ How’s about – I believe I can become a better person. Being honest, fogiving,caring,optimistic,helpful and just plain ol’ kind is an inside job. I think this can be accomplished by simply looking at my motives. I’ll sleep well tonight and you all as well! :)

  116. Patrick says:

    How can you be part of, when you separate yourself from the group, by leaving, or sitting down during the prayer? I have found that most of the fellowship fun is after the meeting, at dinner, or coffee or ice cream. Isolation was part of the problem for me. Now inclusion is part of the answer. With a close knit group of like minded people, life is good, very good.

    • Michael H says:

      Patrick, I guess choosing not to recite a prayer could be viewed by some as “isolating” … but in my experience (40 years yesterday)it is the exception rather than the rule.

      Most chairpersons says something to the affect of: “For those who care to join …” prior to starting the prayer. I love the “Live & Let Live” attitude.

    • >How can you be part of, when you separate yourself from the group, by leaving, or sitting down during the prayer?

      When the prayer occurs, I have already spent over an hour listening and sharing with the people in the room. Remaining seated during the prayer doesn’t undo the time I’ve spent in unity with them.

      I sit out because prayer seeks strength and guidance from a God who doesn’t treat everyone equally. If he exists, he is not someone I would ally myself with in working for social justice. I don’t share my reasons unless I am asked why I don’t pray.

      I can not support a practice that is a dishonor to every kid who has been beaten to death and had to spend her last hours on Earth alone with her killer. Any god who could help such kids and does not is not worthy of our devotion.

      Most of my friends are believers and are loving people. It seems to me they don’t see the consequences of believing in a loving God. When I ask them why their God abandons some and helps others, they make excuses for their god. It appears that they torture logic to comfort themselves. I have great compassion for their need for comfort, but it saddens me.

      Even if God existed, we would have to reject him out of concern for each other. I am religious by nature, but I have had to give up the comfort of a loving God in order to stand with those whom he abandons.

  117. Michael B says:

    Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this long thread. It has helped me clarify the relationship between my rational (I think) belief that no supernatural deity exists, and my equally rational (I think) belief that service and participation in the AA fellowship are keeping me sober.

    At a meeting once, an oldtimer I love and respect once commented on his ‘tolerance meeting’: he needed tolerance because there were many people there with 20+ years of sobriety, “…and they’ve been doing it wrong!”

    Which says to me: who are we, really, to judge how another is working the program?

    Just drunks comparing notes. I like that, think I’ll hold on to it. :-)


  118. Michael H says:

    Hi All,

    Been reading through a bunch of these posts and the theme seems to be that if you believe in god or a tree stump, as long as you do the do things in AA you will stay sober. I submit that nothing in the AA program is intended to help you stay sober other than all the stupid stuff they “suggest” you do like going to tons of meetings, book studies, conferences, calling your sponsor every day, and doing group jobs makes it hard to find time to drink.

    The program is really all about getting the GOD of the preachers back into your life to save your butt. And this GOD is picky. He won’t drop by your place unless it’s clean (a biblical concept). The Lord does not enter the house of the wretched, the sinner, posessed by demons (demon Rum).

    So you have to be a good boy, be cleansed from your wayward ways, redeemed by the Holly Spirit, confess and atone for your sins, make ammends, constantly question your behaviour and intentions, be ruthlessly honest, humble, openminded (for their brainwashing) pray,listen for GOD’s direction, work tirelessly for others, submit, submit, submit, and then you will be happy joyous and free and by side effect, stay sober one day at a time. What a deal.

    Truth is that every single person who ever had any success in AA did so because they themselves decided that they had had enough and turned for help. They all soon found that there was no help or cure or pill or therapy that worked well but heard a lot about how wonderful AA was. So they joined. Most fought the nonsense and the dogma but were willing to go to any lengths to stay sober, so they did the stuff and to their amazement stayed sober. So they attributed it to AA and Mr. Wizard in the sky just like they were brainwashed to do. And now they swear by it and impart the same nonsense on others who have also already quit drinking for good when they walked in the door. This is the very nature of a twisted cult.

    Here is what really works in AA. And this is why I attend a couple of times a week, and also to be there for other non-believers who tend to get creamed by the religious types that say you will never get sober without a higher power.

    1) Talking one on one with other alcoholics on a semi-regular basis who understand our particular madness around booze like no doctor, psychiatrist, friend, parent or spouse can. It provides a feeling of not being alone, being understood, not judged, relives the bad times occasionally to remind us of what happens when we drink and can create friendships for life.

    2) AA teaches us to focus on our actions, our part in things, to be responsible. Just good living advice and must lead to a change in our situation over time. We stop blaming others and admit when we are wrong. Good things happen from this approach to life.

    3) You get the experience of a collective of hundreds of years of sobriety in most groups. People who have lived in hell, and now live on the other side of the tracks. You get a dose of hope and examples of what life could be like for you at the very point in time when you feel hopeless and too weak to carry on. You are welcomed in AA when you are scorned and ridiculed and judged everywhere else in your life.

    4) The absolute best way to become self-reliant and competent in a subject is to be told that you will have to teach it to others one day. Step 12 folks.

    5) Most alcoholics come to AA physically broken and mentally exhausted, bitter about the many negative things that have happened to them, remorseful for the things they did, and generally outcast from any semblance of a normal life. Their once fast and heady lifestyle reduced to a pathetic enslavement to a liquid. AA offers a second chance to re-learn how to relate to people, accept love, give love, make friends, etc. It is a great vehicle for re-engineering your life. Laying on the floor in your vomit is not likely to produce much positive results. Reconnecting with society, living life on lifes terms, etc.

    All good stuff and none of it has anything to do with worshiping Mr. Wizard in the sky. There is nothing so sinister as to believe that you are flawed and must become a good boy in order to be redeemed(accepted?) by Mr. Wizard or else you will end up in a jail, asylum, or coffin. People who would rather stay sober than drink again, stay sober. People who still see drinking as an option are not going to make it. It matters not whether you go to 3 AA meetings a week or go bowling 3 times a week. It is irrelevent. The only thing that matters is your desire to want to stay connected with your life and have “faith” that it’s going to be alright and that you have an unfaltering belief that you will go back to hell if you pick up a drink. (step 1)

  119. Jock Swan says:

    It still amazes me that in this day in age people in AA are frightened of any one who is an athiest and does not agree with their idea of spirtuality.
    I have just returned from a meeting in Glasgow Scotland where I shared from the top table that I was an athiest and whether you believe or not, as the case may be, you can stay sober, but there is always the witch finder general, who will state that you are not sober even though I have maintained my soberity one day at a time for thirty four years still with my wife helped raise three children and now have five grandchildren.
    He was told in no certain manner to the second word is off
    If you think Im anti religious you do not know me as their are many faiths in our family unit.
    If you want to get sober you will stay sober provided you stay away from one drink a day at a time and do not comprimise your non belief

    • Kevin G says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, strength and hope, Jock Swan. As an atheist with four years as of this past Sunday, its great to keep hearing these kinds of stories!

  120. Andrew Kerwin says:

    I have been slowly going back to AA in the last few weeks, after taking a hiatus. I have found that my life gets crazy without them. Without meetings, I spew tentacles of evil, to all in my life. I become angry and spiteful and paranoid.
    I hate that I cannot life a sane life without help, but that seems to be the way it is. As much as I try to fix myself, or learn about myself, or read posts like this one, I turn into an ass when I don’t go to meetings and do the other 12 step stuff. The thought of drinking starts to sound less and less like a bad idea, the more the pain and frustration gets.
    Recently, I went to a meeting in New Jersey and unfortunately, it was an idiot’s guide to the bible in AA. It turned me off of AA for weeks. I was very reluctant to go back, (this is with 10+ years continuous in AA).
    After reading the recent threads, and going to some good meetings, I realize that calling AA bad or good is like calling food bad or good. Each meeting is autonomous and can conduct any type of meeting it likes (with a couple stipulations, of course). Some are right up my alley, some suck, beyond belief. It’s up to me to seek out the ones that resonate with me and continue to go.
    When I get selfish and assume that every AA, in every meeting, needs to fully respect my beliefs, I am headed down a bad path. Acceptance is the key, but learning from my experiences is equally important.
    If someone pisses me off at a meeting, there are 200 other meetings within 25 miles. Many of them have someone there who needs me, to help them stay sober, (and vice-versa).
    That’s how I can live a fantastic life.. now it’s time to actually do it.

    • Michael H says:

      Andrew, over the years in AA (40 as of 4/9) I have had periods of “less meetings”. Each time I found the same things you expressed regarding my attitude.

      I, like you, know that going to meetings feels better than not going to meetings … and since I do NOT want my past to become my future, I “keep commin’ back”. Besides, you don’t have to buy into any religion to know that: When something disturbs me, I have a problem” … and I have the choice of dealing with it or not. When I don’t, the chances increase that I may choose to drink at it!


    • Kevin G says:


      I could practically say the same things right now. Actually, I hadn’t gotten angry, but I’d gotten maybe paranoid and definitely frustrated and depressed. I was going to one meeting a week and not really wanting to be there or call a sponsor. I hit a similar point a week and a half ago and admitted that I was struggling and needed help. I think I particularly wanted to not need much active help from AA because I didn’t want the God crew to point to that as evidence for all kinds of nonsense, but the fact is, I can come to AA and ask for and receive help, from the group, from a sponsor, from my program, and even with my skepticism about theism, I do think that being open to help from anywhere changes my outlook, even aside from the concrete help I get from other people. I say it’s a good thing we at least have the humility to admit we need AA before we go crazy and take a drink.

      • Andrew Kerwin says:

        I would say that I did actually go crazy. No less than two “break-downs” in the last 30 days. I quit my job, pissed off a bunch of people, etc.

        The good news is that I didn’t drink, so the recovery is much faster.

        Good point about not wanting to let the AA godlies see a failure, and equate it with atheism. It’s really just ego and pride run rampmant.. sounds like a real alcoholic to me. I think I am in the right program.

        Thanks for the replies.

        BTW Kevin, have not seen Joe A in a while. I miss his twisted, (yet accurate) logic.

  121. Raindog says:

    I haven’t posted here for a while. I recently did the steps with a sponsor who helped to make the hoop so wide it was very easy for an atheist like me to jump through it. I have 25 years of sobriety and I have to say I have not felt better than I do now. I did not have to change any of my beliefs about the supernatural.

    I highly recommend getting a sponsor and doing the steps. You need to find one that is secure in their own beliefs so they don’t feel a need to control yours. Ask them right up front if they are going to have a problem working with an atheist who is looking to have a spiritual experience as described in Appendix II of the BB through working the 12 steps who is not going to change their mind about the supernatural. I can honestly say that I have found an unsuspected “inner resource” that I don’t really have a problem calling a higher power even though I don’t think it is connected to anything outside of me. Some people call this inner resource a quiet voice inside that is always there but that is constantly drowned out by the loud voice of our ego. This sounds right to me. I think everyone has it. I think that believers confuse this voice with a God that is outside of them. We quiet our egos through doing the ego-deflating steps 4-9 and we can then hear and feel our inner resource more clearly. IMO this is the voice that said “you have to do something about your drinking.” I do think ego-deflation is essential. We have to learn to stop trying to manage the unmanageable (alcohol, other people, whether others believe in God, situations outside of our control, etc). Our egos insist that we can manage these situations and that is where a lot of pain comes in. It doesn’t seem like it but this is all self-inflicted pain. We make these things a problem by thinking we can manage them when we can’t. We choose unwinnable battles and then are upset when we don’t win.

    I do think AA and sobriety are a lot more enjoyable with some sort of spiritual program. I feel great almost all the time. I highly recommend some sort of meditation – buddhism has a lot to offer here. In fact I find many buddhist concepts extremely helpful – staying in the present, letting go of attachments, etc.

    The steps are funny because looking at them it doesn’t seem like they are going to help – at least this is how I felt. You have to do them with the attitude that they might help and if you have been honest you will have a change in attitude and outlook and you will come to know your inner resource and it won’t have a thing to do with a supernatural being. I think all people have it and that it is biological in origin.

    After doing the steps many of the things I thought were “problems” including the existence/non-existence of God question just evaporated. I don’t think about it very much anymore. Convincing others that their beliefs are wrong is an unwinnable battle and a waste of time.

    Every morning I pray (to a place in my chest where I feel feelings), meditate and read a meditation book called Touchstones which is a meditation book for men that I highly recommend (good spirituality, no religion). This helps get me right. Then I work with other alcoholics just about every day. As Bill W wrote this is the thing that never fails to lift me up and deflate my ego. Many (all?) are confused about god and like my sort of nuts and bolts approach that has no attached religious hoo-haa – even if they say they are believers. I had no sponsees before and now have 10! And several of them are now sponsoring people successfully. It works.

    Good luck to all of you

  122. Rebelion Dog says:

    there are a modest group of AA literalists that have one world view of how AA is and/or should be. They either passive-aggressively or blatantly discriminate against non-believers. google Toronto AA agnostics Toronto Star or look up We Agnostics in Indy and you will see that a “back to basics” movement has infected some Intergroup offices. AA Agnostic meetings have been going since 1975. The discrimination movement can be understood by reading http://minorityinformer.com/Page_2.html

    The basic tenets proclaim the myth that “in the old days” AA was harmonious and more people got sober. A call to order is declared that AA is going to hell in a hand-basket, two divergent world views (absolute belief in God and atheism) can’t co-exist, believer are the dominant superior creed, non-belief is a threat to AAs future and to ensure our future, the minority creed must be silenced and/or eliminated – and there is no time to waste.

    If that sounds like Adolf Hitler or the McCarthy era, wait until you read this position paper. You will be amazed before you are half-way through.

  123. roncordell says:

    This is one of my favorite versions of the 12 steps:


    I hope it helps those that, like me, gag on the poorly worded versions in use today ;)

  124. TaraZ says:

    I have sought out this forum after 24 years sober in AA and never feeling like a have a higher Power like others do. I find that my thinking/belief has changed much, and I’m now “coming to believe” that atheism may be my answer. I need to read more and think much. My area of the country is strongly religious so that I think any atheist AA meetings I go to will have to be online. Thank you for being here

  125. roncordell says:

    Donald – thanks so much for the link. I’ve made my request to join the group. Anything that helps me stay in touch with this stuff throughout the day can’t be a bad thing!

  126. The Atheist says:

    Glad you found us, TaraZ.

  127. Anonymous says:

    Last night in my home group I “came out” as an atheist. I came home and found this sight. I cannot tell you what it has meant to me!!! I have been sober for 9 and a half years. As many have written, I too live and attend meetings in a small conservative town. All meetings end with the Lord’s Prayer. How much lighter my heart is having shared my truth, without having to condemn others’. Thank you …thank you…thank you.

  128. Anonymous says:

    Very happy to hear you unburdened yourself of that terrible secret. ;-)

    Here are couple of places you may find further fellowship online–



    All the best,
    Frank in LA

  129. Anonymous says:

    Welcome! Glad you found us. I felt the same way when I found this. There is also an AA Atheists group on Google Groups.

  130. Anonymous says:

    I felt myself sittng a little taller in a noon meeting yesterday. I did not have to state my nonbelief there to feel empowered by having finally just come out and told my truth.

  131. Anonymous says:

    Oh and thank you so much for the sugggested sites. I will check them out soon! Kate

  132. funkydunky says:

    Perhaps AA will evolve and be more accepting of a non-theistic approach to recovery. After 38 yrs of sobriety in AA I still do not pray to god but imagine what flack and sicko persuasion has come my way over the years in our intolerant fellowship. Eventually atheists will be the majority, but in the meantime we have to suffer the intolerance that is usually a side-effect of theistic beliefs. Religious wars are still being fought in AA as in the rest of the world. A lot of pain has been caused by belief in a creator god. Imagine how AA would be if the Catholic church had not got its teeth into it at the beginning. Ah well. Still sober and glad to be so.

  133. I have been sober since October 1985, still as active in AA as ever, 5 meetings a week, sponsoring, doing the step work, reading the literature. Also am as agnoctic as ever. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area the prevailing attitude is take what works, leave the rest. I have rarely seen extreme religiosity pushed at meetings or between individuals, when it has been I have seen it crticized and discounted by others. Recently I was a guest speaker at a large AA convention. I was not shy about my lack of “faith.’ No one preached me to me afterwards and a number of folks spoke to me about how my frankness helped them with their questions about their own path and their place in AA.
    If a person has no spirtual questions, I really think the program itself (aside from some of it’s sorely dated literature) really has no argument with you. If a person has some spirtiual questions, the program has some suggestions about how to work on them. Ulitmately the answers the individual comes to are uniquely their own. Throughout the literature and the steps it is reinforced multiple times that the develpmental arc or path of a recovering person is their own. Our primary concern is making the program of the best possible service and use to the alcoholic who still struggles. Since it began, AA has steadily progressed with many of its early biases, against women and differing religious groups, against ethnic and racial minorities and gay, lesbian and transgendered people. etc. Being more accepting of individuality of the faith/no faith question may well be it’s next frontier, but I have confidence it’s a challenge the program will successfully meet.


    Oakland, California

    • Kevin G says:

      Great stuff, Armando, thanks.

    • TaraZ says:

      last night a newcomer stated fervently that his Higher Power was Jesus Christ, etc. Then the chairman read the passage from page 62,of the BB, just after ‘How it Works:’It lists God or He at least a dozen times, concluding “God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children.

      This chair and her husband have been kinder to me than anyone else in the group, and were both there. I know they were very conservative Christians (like most Texans)

      I still couldn’t just let this pass, so (not wanting to reveal my agnostic views at this moment),invited the group to imagine how different that passage would read if we just substituted ‘Goddess.’ “She is the Principal, we are Her agents. She is the Mother, and we are Her children.” Just ran a tiny change up the flagpole, trying to open up minds a little.

      This couple sat there speechless, and appalled and finally the man said, “Well it’s hard to follow when someone makes a challenging statement.” He did go on to say that if he really means the 3rd step, he has to be able to let people have their own HP.

      I wish that there were more support here, or even that I was more secure in coming to non-believe, but I couldn’t leave that reading without even a comment. It might seem meager, I know, since people have talked about using other terms just to begin to shake others up since at least the 1970.s I think the day I actually say I’m an agnostic might come easier to them. Or I might chose not to stick my neck out further for awhile.

      Cecilia, 25yrs sober.

      • TaraZ says:

        Okay, I guess I baited them, and stepped on their toes. Anddd…whenever I do that there are consequences.

        I have printed the On The Beam thoughts in very large type so that I can use them as a stepping stone to meditation. I will help myself more by having my own growth rather than critiquing their own.

        But dammit, (don’t give me crap about using versions of God Damn It) dammit, I just can’t keep quiet anymore. It’s too hard.

        Or should I say, *wink,* “here I stand, I can do no other.” Cecilia

        • Andrew K says:

          Baited???, you might as well have told them that Fox News was not actually fair and balanced :)

          It does help me to focus on what I do believe, rather than what I don’t. I know that is a little vague, but sometimes, (in fact many times), it helps me to do nothing, and bring my issues to my sponsor or atheist friends that are AA friendly. Ruffling feathers over god issues, just makes more god issues for me. Ignoring it and instead sharing about how the book says multiple times that god is an inner resource, maybe quoting some stuff out of appendix II, etc, makes my life SO much easier. The book has plenty of ammunition without having to rewrite it.

  134. vegas710 says:

    Hey all, I found this post during the arduous task of finding a not-AA recovery group in my area. I’m so glad to find that this thread is still active! I’ve emailed someone from SMART Recovery as well as someone at SOS but I am so frustrated that this is not easier. It’s hard enough to get up the nerve to admit you are an alcoholic, the numerous roadblocks I’ve come up against just make it that much more difficult to start this journey to sobriety.
    Just wanted to say that I am so relieved to have found this and if anyone has other suggestions I’d be very happy to have them! I’m going to head over to the yahoo and google groups linked above and then cross my fingers that one of those programs responds soon!

    • Andrew K says:

      There are many other people in your situation, maybe not too many in your area, but we are on the web.

      I think you can find quality recovery in AA, I would suggest connecting with people like the ones on this thread to help you translate and navigate AA. Either way, going to AA meetings and working the AA steps are the only way I have found to make AA work. The interpretation of “higher power” is broad enough to fit anyone’s ideas, but a little open-mindedness is required.

      Let me know if you need help connecting with me or other AA-Atheists

      • vegas710 says:

        Thank you, Andrew. I made a promise to myself and my husband that if the other programs didn’t pan out, I would go to AA –clearly it’s better than not getting help at all.
        I don’t mind admitting that I’m afraid. Walking into a church right now is like reliving a nightmare, it’s very much like a PTSD response. I can’t even attend a UU or Quaker meeting. So, I guess that part of the problem is the religious tones (likely to be even worse in SW Ohio) as well as the fact that any meeting that is not in a bad neighborhood, meets in a church.
        I know that I can work through these things (and go to AA) if that’s what it takes to get help. I just hope I don’t have to. Haven’t received any response from SMART or SOS yet so it looks like AA will be my next stop. Do you think one of the email groups would be helpful? I usually find that email lists make it hard to get to know people. Feel free to email vegas710(at)gmail(dot)com if you think you can help. Thank you so much for responding.

        • Michael H says:

          Hello Vegas710,

          Welcome to your new sober life. I have been sober a long time, and my attitudes about “powers greater than myself” have changed dramatically over the years.

          If it helps, please recognize that no system of belief is anything more that that … a system of BELIEF. A way for an individual to explain the unexplainable.

          I would find it more pleasant if the intolerant believers (of any dogma) would allow more latitude to those of us who believe differently, but that is unlikely since a differing belief challenges their hope for immortality.

          After varying levels of militant agnosticism, I have settled into a non-argumentative approach of “live & let live”. It also helps that I no longer “get in their face” about their mythology.

          After all, the theist’s belief is pure “faith” … just as the atheist’s belief is pure “faith”.

          Staying sober, cleaning up the wreckage of our past, attempting to live life to good purpose under all conditions, creating the best possible relationship with every human being we know … are tough enough without focusing on someone else’s method of dealing with life.

          Good Luck with your new adventure, and remember to look for similarities not differences.

          Michael H.

      • Happy Heretic says:

        Yes, and if you were a little more open-minded you’d accept that there are many in recovery for whom the notion of God or higher power is anathema. And there are plenty of folks long term sober who do not do your beloved sacred twelve steps. Belief in God invariably includes some level of intolerance and it is because of this that AA is shrinking. Wake up and smell the freedom of thought!

  135. David P. Jeter says:

    I consider myself a former member of AA because of my atheism, I don’t believe it is possible to reconcile the two. I used to be a Nichiren Buddhist(chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to get what you want) and chanting two hours a day kept the desire totally out of my mind(I stayed sober WITHOUT a sponsor, WITHOUT working the steps, and sometimes staying out of meetings for months at a time despite the emotional attachment for 18 months-easily). That is based on the law of cause and effect which is still atheistic because it is ME that keeps myself sober. I got so pissed off at the nonsensical things that people would say at meetings such as “god got me here and god keeps me here” which is obviously nonsense. I got myself there, I did the work, ergo I kept myself sober. People would give god the credit where if it were a “god” that did it as a result of working the steps, then people who I knew who were non religious atheists(where I considered myself a religious atheist or spiritual atheist), the program wouldn’t have worked for them because a supreme being would keep them sober only to cement their disbelief when it wants a relationship with that person. I came to the conclusion that it is me myself and I using the law of cause and effect, not a higher power. If it is only the law of cause and effect, then that effectively makes ME the higher power. I eventually made up my own mantra because I got tired of ALL theology, period. I am now totally an atheist/secular humanist. Another thing I got tired of in AA is people being down on psychology. The AA program itself(by the big books own admission) is a form of moral psychology. If I make my own decisions based on my own judgement, that totally goes against what the big book says. It said in the chapter “How it works” that that way of living is barbaric-each person playing god and running the world. But that is exactly how things actually are in the real world(as screwed up as things are, it’s not ALL bad which we don’t have ANY religion to thank for that). The other thing I got sick and tired of is people over and over and over again denouncing their own potential as human beings. This idea that we can’t shoot for the stars as it is only “stinkin’ thinkin”(there is nothing wrong with shooting for the stars at all, unless a person is ACTUALLY hurting people-this doesn’t include telling a harmless white lie such as exagerating my accomplishments when interacting with people, or unapologetically making all the money that you want contrasted with the big books idea that a boys dream of becoming president is childish and foolish-we never had a Bill Wilson as the president-imagine that). Why not shoot for the stars because that is the ONLY way a person will ever reach them. I made my mantra nam-why-logo and downloaded a cool looking mandala that perhaps a psychiatrist would use. I use it only for the purpose of manipulating the law of cause and effect. Nothing about the afterlife, nothing about worrying about my karma(aside from doing what I need to get the results that I want). Nothing about attaining enlightenment, purely secular, end of story. Nam-Sanskrit word meaning devotion, Why-a word that people including scientists/philosophers/theologians/humanists/atheists ect ect have been put to death for asking and it is the blessed mother of ALL atheism, Logo(s)-Greek for logic and the holy father of ALL atheism. I am devoted to logic and reason, so why not be honest with myself? I personally think with technology and techniques such as chanting, psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnotism, etc etc, why would any self respecting atheist ever decide to mess with a 12 step group especially when in 2011 there are REAL options? Just a thought…

    • Anonymous says:

      I stopped attending meetings around the time you posted this. I have not had a drink of over 10 years. For a long time, I thought there was something “wrong” with me because I just could not embrace the “program”. I am very gratful to be sober; I am grateful to hear there are others who are staying sober and sane with the help of their own inner resources!!

      • David says:

        I have actually started going back to meetings but I will say that no matter what people embrace(along the right hand path), people can stay sober period as long as they are “full” on the inside as opposed to “empty” and full of resentment like I used to be. I have actually embraced Deism(still chant Namahlooga, but went with the phonetic pronunciation as opposed to it being an “Atheist” mantra), and I think that I am closer to being a Taoist at this point(although I have NO religion and I don’t want any). Glad to hear you are sober and have found a way that works for you, keep up the good work, and just BE happy. If there are people who don’t want the meetings I encourage them to seek out other avenues to stay sober as AA is NOT the only game in town-if people believe that(as far as AA being the “only” way despite the fact that the literature clearly states that it is NOT the only way and beyond that members are supposed to encourage people who want to find another way as opposed to resenting them and tearing them down because AA does NOT have a monopoly on spirituality or anything else for that matter) and they get angry because people have a problem with AA, those people turn it into a religion and they don’t have what I want because they are CONTRADICTING the very book they claim to be following. I have changed a lot since I posted that. Again, keep up the good work and just be happy:)

        • 123rmichel says:

          Well said David. I am sober a long time in AA and have to agree, we need to resolve our resentments. Resentments have no respect for theism or atheism … they will cause any of us issues.
          Michael H.

  136. Angel says:

    Hello all. I got clean in AA/NA and attended meetings for three years. An avowed atheist, the theistic platitudes eventually made my brain bleed and I moved on. I have been attending meetings again now for six months while I accompany my wife who has been court ordered to attend (she has 24 years clean and sober now while I have just over twenty). Unfortunately, the area we live in now is very rural and the meetings are little more than thinly veiled church services,

    Anywho, I’m just weighing in to say that fellowship is pleasant…and how ironic that I have felt more fellowship in the reading of this blog than I have in six months of twice weekly meetings.

    • David says:

      Angel, I have actually stopped going again because I tried calling myself a Deist, but it just got silly after a while, I am an Atheist whether anyone likes it or not. I suppose this sort of thing is a judgement call on each persons part. For me this last time, my former sponsor(who is VERY Christian) told me this crazy story about how an angel threw him down the stairs when he was tripping on acid and he somehow miraculously “sobered up” from his trip right after that so he “knew” it happened. I had to leave after that, I simply can’t do that-I MUST protect my mind from viruses/melicious memes and such(just like I do with my computer). I suppose for me, if me chanting a mantra for two hours per day and using NLP/self talk keep the desire to drink away from me, if I also went to meetings(that would be roughly two hours per day ON TOP of what else I do), that would be four hours per day that I would spending on my sobriety. Why not just spend the 2 without the meeting and have a lot less drama and not feel the cognitive dissonance? This has been something I have struggled with for a long time. The Theists around here want respect for their views and they want to be heard, but if I go in and talk about my views, they want to shut me down. Why go where I’m not wanted? Again, it’s a judgement call for each person. Hope that helps.

      • donsevers says:

        Atheists are numerous but dispersed. The internet is exactly what we need. I’m sitting out the LP in regular meetings and we have 2 agnostic/secular/inclusive meetings in Des Moines now. Here’s a facebook community:


      • For any and all here who are looking for AA fellowship in a group that is completely accepting of non-belief in God:


        AA Atheists and Agnostics (AAAA)

        This is an AA group started early in 2012 and run according to AA Traditions. There are no leaders and no one’s participation is restricted.

        This is not a Facebook or Google recovery community where one or two admins have the power to censor, delete, or bounce posts, or to block participation, or to eject members. It’s a real AA group run by group conscience. If any of the above has happened to you in online recovery, then you understand how important this is.

        For privacy’s sake only group members can post or read posts. So you will be asked to apply for membership. It’s just a formality, and no one is turned away who has a desire not to drink.

        Since this site is hosted by Google Groups, participation works best with a gmail account (if you don’t have one, they’re free and easy to set up).

        Best regards,

        • David says:

          I’ll have to look into that some more. I don’t have aversion so much to doing step work or being in a fellowship-as I believe making amends for wrongs done, ridding oneself of anger and resentment, having serenity through meditation/mantra chanting, and relying on reason and logic primarily are all important. One thing that really rubbed me the wrong way over time as my Atheism developed is the disrespect that Theists in AA show logic and reason. I remember one person who despite having an eye condition where he really couldn’t see at night, he rationalized putting people’s lives on the line by driving to the meeting at night(although he didn’t come out and just admit that he was putting people’s lives on the line)-and no one seemed to see anything wrong with that as though his dedication to the meetings and the uncompromising dedication that he had at least to that one meeting-this type of nonsensical thinking is a virtue. Ideas like that make me sick. It is funny that Theists in AA think that logic and reason are a liability, when the only liability in reason and logic is the reason and logic people use when they are drinking and drugging. Sober reason and logic is a whole other ball game. So yes, I will have to look into an online Atheist fellowship of people staying sober, that is so cool:) Actually, does anyone know of any groups that throw the “disease concept” out completely in favor of the idea that alcohol is a dangerous and highly addictive drug that should never have been legalized(without preaching at people)? I suppose I no longer believe that I have a “disease” as opposed to I was very addicted to alcohol.

          • Ron says:

            SmartRecovery.org is one place that you can look for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy approach to behavior modification. Their view is that addiction is a behavior, not who you are, and you can choose to change your behavior. They have both online and face to face meetings.

            I have to respond to the statement about “… alcohol is a dangerous and highly addictive drug that should never have been legalized…” While alcohol and other drugs are not for me, I actually believe that prohibition of any substance is not the answer to a complex behavioral issue – it just creates a whole new set of problems without solving the original problem. But then that’s just my opinion…

  137. Anonymous says:

    Damn son, hope u are still sober! I am atheist and in the program too, 9 months clean! I don’t believe in god but I just don’t tell people, people assume you are going to relapse when you say you are atheist

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