By Thomas B.
Today closes one of the most exciting chapters in the recent history of the secular AA Fellowship, also known as We Agnostics, since the Santa Monica Convention in 2014, We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers. Today, June 15, 2015, is the last day that a new post will be put up on AA Agnostica, which is the fifth anniversary from when Roger C. posted his first article and launched what has become one of the premier websites for non-traditional AA, consisting of members of AA who have differing beliefs from the predominantly Christian orientation of the Big Book or no beliefs at all.
Thank goodness, the wide and far-ranging content of AA Agnostica shall remain live on the web, so that both us long-timers, as well as newly sober secular members of AA, may make use of its broad and deep treasure trove of perspectives on how AA works without orthodox religious beliefs.
This article will consist of commentary from those of us on the editorial board of AA Beyond Belief, as well as other prominent members of the secular AA Fellowship, who have been instrumental in writing articles and helping Roger operate the various services that AA Agnostica has provided over the past five years in support of the secular AA Fellowship.
Of course, as moderator and curator, Roger is the “ghost in the machine” of AA Agnostica. However, this article is not so much intended as a personal tribute to Roger — his ego would be stretched beyond the bursting point were that to be the case, definitely a detriment to his day-at-a-time recovery in AA. Rather, it is intended to honor what together we have manifested during the past five years throughout the expanding and evolving secular AA Fellowship via the website AA Agnostica.
Roger, would be the first to assert that whatever AA Agnostica has manifested, it is due not to himself alone, but is rather due to the collaboration with him of so many of us who have diligently worked to be of service to and for the secular AA Fellowship.
So let the tributes begin, in alphabetical order, from those of us on the Editorial Board of AA Beyond Belief joined with other prominent secular AA members who have significantly contributed to AA Agnostica:
Doris A., Urbana, IL
Being a sensitive person I am sure tears will well up when I read AA Agnostica’s final post. Finding AA Agnostica has been a catalyst for change in my own life.
For decades I struggled to feel at home in AA due to its religiosity, often feeling discouraged and frustrated. And definitely alone. Then in February of 2014 I stumbled upon AA Agnostica, and one thing led to another. Within the next 12 months I attended the Santa Monica convention, helped to start an agnostic meeting in my home town and began to develop a meaningful on-line fellowship that I consider a vital part of my recovery. Yes, it’s been a game changer to me personally, but also for hundreds of others and the AA Fellowship at large.
What struck me about the website from my first read was how utterly “smart” it was. The caliber of the writing, editing and graphic art has been consistent and impressive. It’s one of the few places on-line where I actually looked forward to reading the comment section.
I am very grateful that Roger had the foresight to help get AA Beyond Belief started up last fall, before completing retiring AA Agnostica. While I am very honored and excited to be a part of this new web-site, I also am glad I can still go back to AA Agnostica to read all those articles I have not yet opened, and am so looking forward to the publication of The Practical Book.
Thomas B., Seaside, OR
AA Agnostica became a vitally important entity in our lives, when my wife Jill, also in long-term recovery, and I relocated from Woodstock, New York to the southern Oregon coast in late 2011.
Our initial experience in Oregon was as if we had been teleported into an evangelical Christian cult, whose sole purpose was to shame us into adopting their rigidly dogmatic way of working THE only legitimate AA program of their Lord and Savior, or else be doomed to drink again. When we shared differently, we were scoffed as obviously not being “real alcoholics.”
We were, therefore, exceedingly grateful to come across AA Agnostica with its numerous articles from like-minded secular AA members, many like us with long-term recovery in AA. Reading these articles, and commenting upon them, were instrumental to keeping us both, not only sober, but more or less sane, for the two years we lived on the Southern Oregon coast !~!~!
Roger emailed me, suggesting that I submit an article for consideration. Thus, began a five-year most rewarding experience of close collaboration, writing a number of articles for AA Agnostica. My writing has benefited enormously form Roger’s fine-tuned editorial acumen.
We have both evolved and changed. This to me is the hallmark of the ongoing day-at-time recovery process in AA. An example of this was that in my first 2011 article I described a “white light” meditation experience I had in early recovery. Roger informed me that this would definitely not be appropriate for his then understanding of the secular AA readership of AA Agnostica. Well, five years later, Roger recently published an article on the “Practical Tool of Meditation” on AA Agnostica — it includes a description of this “white light” meditation experience.
Not only has Roger changed, but I’ve also changed — for the past year I have been consistently meditating twice a day for the first time in my life with, Insight Timer, a meditation App, which Roger informed me about.
Improved writing and being published is not the only benefit I’ve received from AA Agnostica. When Jill and I were motivated to start a secular AA meeting in Portland, we were connected with three persons who attended that first meeting on December 1, 2013, through the clearing house service AA Agnostica has provided. That first meeting of five people has grown to three secular AA groups with seven meetings weekly and a thriving community of some 120 persons active within the secular AA Fellowship in Portland, OR.
To me, the essence of what AA Agnostica has manifested during the past five years is that it has proven beyond reasonable doubt again and again the absolute efficacy of the human power of recovering alcoholics to help each other recover. It epitomizes the foundational principle of AA’s Third Tradition, best enunciated in AA’s Responsibility Declaration that “whenever anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, WE want the hand of AA to always be there, and for that WE are responsible.”
Throughout our collaboration, Roger and I have evolved a deep and lasting friendship that is the hallmark of the AA Fellowship, one which is described happens to us by being members of the Fellowship of AA on pages 152-153 in the Big Book chapter, “A Vision for You.”
I am forever grateful for the bounteous opportunities Roger and AA Agnostica have provided me. I have become not only a better writer, but a better recovering person — THANK YOU, Roger, Thank you, thank you . . .
Joe C., Toronto, ON
For those sober five years or less, it might be hard to imagine a life before AA Agnostica. AA Agnostica morphed out of Toronto’s Beyond Belief Agnostics & Freethinkers AA group web page. Beyond Belief started in September of 2009 and Stan R was our first web-master. As the group grew, David R. rotated in and Stan rotated out of group webmaster duties. In 2011 Roger C. became Beyond Belief’s third webmaster.
We were in the Intergroup directory back then. The website/blog connected us with the outside world. We linked to San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City agnostic websites and any others we could find.
From AA Toronto Agnostics you could find the regular fare—preamble, agnostic Steps, links to Toronto Intergroup and other agnostic AA sites. While having or not having any altered, interpreted, agnostic or other versions of Twelve Steps is controversial—even in our own community—back in 2009, Toronto Intergroup’s website had home-pages for groups and our Beyond Belief page was approved, agnostic Steps and all. There was nothing controversial about artistic liberty or how we held ourselves out to the public—at that time.
I remember Roger’s first Beyond Belief meeting. He looked happy but concerned; maybe he felt like he was on the set for Candid Camera, and it would be revealed that we were a hoax, and it would end with laughing and praying. But, he kept coming back and got involved.
Personally, I was still writing Beyond Belief, the book, three years in to what I budgeted as a six-month project. You don’t have to be damn unrealistic to be a writer, but it helps. And Roger helped. He was interested in my project, and he just happened to have stacks of 12-Step literature amassed since his stay in treatment. He was very generous with contributing to my research library. For instance, it was Roger’s The Skeptics Guide to the 12-Steps by Philip Z that I quote from in my daily reflection book.
When the fit hit the shan with Toronto Intergroup in 2011 we were hurt, shocked and on high alert. What to do about the delisting? We were divided as a group, and with two groups now (soon to be three) the community was divided. Some felt the site/blog ought to be a way to fight back, and some thought that keeping a low profile and avoiding braiding the beard of the lion would aid in the speediest reinstatement. With Roger at the helm of the blog, we were already starting to get international attention. Some favored doubling our web-based efforts with other Beyond Belief members favoring less fuel to the fire; we were deadlocked.
“The rest is history,” just sounds understated or like lazy insufficiency. AA Agnostica grew to satisfy an unmet need. The separation of website and groups allowed a more fluid mandate and the opportunity for broader contributions drawn from the growing followers that we now know as a Sunday morning ritual.
“Five years—what a surprise,” as the late David Bowie would say (sing). AA Agnostica feels like it has always been there. Many have felt heard, many more comforted, some of us challenged by the content and commentary. It has been a privilege to contribute but it’s been a habit to log-on weekly and enjoy not only the essay, but the conversation that followed each week from all of you.
Roger, thank you for your service.
Chris G., Fort Erie, ON
AA Agnostica changed my very perception of AA, and kept me active in the fellowship at a point when I was about to abandon it. I had the good fortune to assist Roger with the site in mostly two ways: administering the New Group database, and helping to publish several books.
During the five years, over 1,000 people clicked on the “New Group” widget. Each “click” sent me a form with location information and optional comments; the idea being that people in close proximity would be introduced, in the hope that they could get an agnostic group started. This became a large task; at its peak we would get ten or more forms per day. Along the way I met some wonderful people, and saw a lot of groups start up – in effect, this was my 12-step work for several years.
Since we got feedback only randomly, we don’t know how many groups actually formed this way, but a good guess would be 80 or 90, one way or another. At the beginning, it was a big deal to start an agnostic group, and you could sense the uncertainty, maybe even some fear, as people ventured out in this. Now it seems nearly routine to start a new agnostic group–with the example of the early ones and the amount of new material available on the site, and from existing groups, it is so much easier. Roger was inspired to set this up. This is a dramatic change, and I am proud and humble to have been a small part of it.
A less visible but very important contribution the site has made to the world of secular AA is the publications it produced. This actually started by accident. In the very early days, when I first found AA Agnostica, I was very impressed by Roger’s Little Book. I made it into an eBook, just for myself, so I could have it on my reader. I sent a copy to Roger, just in case he might be interested in having it. One thing quickly led to another, and suddenly we were in the book business.
Starting with the eBook version of the Little Book, the site put out The Alternative 12 Steps, A Secular Guide to Recovery by Martha Cleveland and Arlys G., A History of Agnostic Groups in AA, by Roger C., Key Players in AA History by Bob K., Common Sense Recovery by Adam N., Don’t Tell, Stories by Agnostics and Atheists in AA, edited by Roger, and Do Tell, Stories by Agnostics and Atheists in AA, edited by Roger.
All are available in both paper and as eBooks. Roger did the heavy lifting of writing, editing and arranging distribution (and I know it was thousands of hours!); I did the technical background stuff. These books all help fill the void in recovery literature for secular AA material. From the feedback we have gotten, they are really helping some people find their way in secular recovery.
Roger, I salute you for the huge contribution AA Agnostica has made to secular AA, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to work with you in my small way on this effort, and I am genuinely delighted to be your friend.
Life J., Laytonville, CA
All’s well that ends, Roger, I guess. And I can understand that you want to kick back a bit. What a tremendous job you have done. I can’t even imagine how you pulled it off. We were lucky that you are someone who is not only a superb organizer, but you have walked a balance of inclusiveness, with a gentle but firm editorship, and with an exemplary manner of keeping ego out of it.
Like a friend of mine in AA who has now been dead for a while always said: I’m overpaid. My life is good, it’s always been way better to be an agnostic in AA than to be dead. But that much said, the hard part of it was the relative isolation. Once I found AA Agnostica that was the end of the isolation, and suddenly I dared to stand up and speak up. Many of the regular AAs would have been quite content without it, but for me it has made a big difference that I finally felt the power to speak my truth in AA.
As for posting of articles, I’m glad you have even seen to it that John S. is now doing it. Continuity is important.
Whether it would have been years or decades before someone else would have done what you did if you hadn’t, we will of course never know, but here we are.
It’s been a strange ride for me. I have to concede that in some ways this has made me estranged from regular AA in a new way. But, it has also given me a new program at a time when AA was getting really boring. How could it be otherwise with several thousand meetings of the same stuff over and over? Now we have a breath of fresh air. I’m glad to know you, and I know you won’t just be walking away.
I’m left feeling that you’re just trying to make room for the next good idea.
Bob K., Whitby, ON
Alcoholics have a fondness for being unique, and I retain some of that well into recovery. Thus I will offer a word of praise, on this heathen website, to Rick Warren and his book “A Purpose Driven Life.” The reverend and I agree on the importance of purpose, and pretty much nothing else.
In AAAgnostica.org, our friend Roger found himself a purpose that I’m sure played a large role in keeping him sober. It’s hard to believe, but he had only about two years at the time the Toronto Intergroup shit hit the agnostic fan.
There are thousands of blogs floating out into the world of cyber-space, the vast majority of which give us endless paragraphs, week after week, expressing the worldview of a single person. Roger’s genius in building AA Agnostica was to forego self-indulgence while recruiting quite an impressive array of writers from around the world. The Agnostica message stayed fresh because it was not a single voice but a choir.
I am proud of my association with the site. It’s been an honor and a privilege to play a role. The whole thing was remarkably well done.
Thank you, Mr. C., forever in my heart, “Head Heathen.”
John L., Boston, MA
I’ve been proud to work with Roger in reforming AA — bringing it to where it ought to be and in some places already is. This means getting rid of Bill W.’s hokey religiosity, which is and was always wrong, but which enjoys a quasi- or crypto-official status in AA. This means a return to the true AA: the 24-Hour Plan and the Fellowship. This means new ideas and new literature — dealing with such crucial aspects of recovery as nutrition, exercise, cessation of smoking, and avoidance of drugs that disable the brain. Good health, productive work, and pleasure should be the goals of recovery.
If there are to be no new articles, AA Agnostica should become an archive of already published articles. It would be very useful to have an index by author and by subject. The latter is not easy to do, since it involves analyzing the ideas in each article. And, of course, articles can be listed under more than one subject.
Deirdre S., New York, NY
If I told you that Roger C. is opinionated, would you be surprised? If I said that he has the zeal of a new convert, would you argue the point? If I let it be known that even though he drove me crazy with questions like: “What is the history of the agnostic type meetings?” and “Exactly how many meetings are there now?” and “How many meetings formed since the 2014 conference?” would you be shocked to hear that I respect and like him?
I stood face-to-face with Roger at the conference in Santa Monica. I saw a person who cared deeply about bringing the message of sobriety to those active alcoholics who still suffer but are put off by all the God stuff. He absolutely understands how lonely and difficult it can be to the one sober non-believer who is not trying to squeeze themselves into some kind of “G.O.D. Box.” Roger is doggedly determined that the message of AA be available to everyone and his contribution is a lasting one. When we expand the history of the no-prayer meetings, he will be represented there.
On a personal note, I’m glad he is my friend. He can email me questions (or support) anytime.
John S., Kansas City, MO
I was in AA, and a regular meeting goer for 25 years, and in all that time, I only knew one atheist. So when I concluded that I was an atheist, my first reaction, the first emotion that came forth was fear. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be accepted. With trepidation, I tested the waters, and in short order I learned that my fears were well founded, and I no longer felt welcomed at my home group. After 25 years in Alcoholics Anonymous, I had an uncomfortably sad sense that I no longer belonged.
Searching the Internet for others like me, I found AA Agnostica, and on July 4, 2014, I completed a form on the site to be matched up with others from my city for the purpose of starting an agnostic AA group. I was matched with some people, and though they never made contact with me, at least I knew that there were others in my city, who like me attributed their sobriety to the people in AA, the fellowship, not a supernatural force.
So, on July 20, 2014, I asked the only atheist I knew in AA, if he would like to start a meeting. He said yes, and on that day the We Agnostics AA group in Kansas City was born. It happened because AA Agnostica taught me that it was possible. It was AA Agnostica that gave me the hope and courage to help start that group, and this changed my life in ways I never could have imagined.
This was the work of AA Agnostica. It changed lives and it saved lives. What happened to me and in my city was replicated the world over. AA Agnostica was a beacon of hope on the Internet to secular people in AA. It was a place that shouted out, “You are not alone — join us”.
In my opinion, AA Agnostica deserves the lion’s share of credit for the vibrant online community we enjoy today. It was the meeting before the meeting, the meeting, and the meeting after the meeting. It was the place where we came together to share our experience, strength and hope with one another, but it was also a place where we organized and worked with each other for change in Alcoholics Anonymous.
About a year ago, Roger approached me to ask if I would start a site that would take responsibility for the regular Sunday articles that AA Agnostica always published like clockwork. I agreed, and overnight my life was transformed — again!
Roger helped me create AA Beyond Belief, and though he tried to prepare me, it was impossible for me to know and fully comprehend the incredible commitment of time and energy necessary for such an endeavor. That Roger could do this work for five years will always be a source of inspiration for those of us who work at AA Beyond Belief.
AA Agnostica has secured its place in AA history, certainly in the history of secular AA, as a great incubator of ideas, and a source of courage to put those ideas into action.
Thank you Roger for all your hard work. Thank you for AA Agnostica, and thank you for AA Beyond Belief.
So there, you have it, fellow members of the secular AA Fellowship, testimonials from a scant few of the many of us in the secular North American AA Fellowship, who have greatly benefited from the services provided the past five years by AA Agnostica. It has truly been a catalyst for the prodigious growth of the secular AA Fellowship throughout North America, as well as the rest of the world, during the past five years.
THANK YOU, Roger, and THANK YOU, members of the AA Agnostica Community, for making AA Agnostica the vital resource for the secular AA Fellowship it has been. May its legacy live on and expand here on AA Beyond Belief.
We invite you to please add your commentary about what AA Agnostica has meant to you and your recovery throughout the past five years . . .