By Pat N. 

A Rose is a Rose

My brother Dick, who led both me and our older brother into AA, died recently, and family members made sure he had various Catholic, Jewish, and New Age rituals to send him off. I’m sure he appreciated the sincerity and love behind all their efforts, but I’m also sure he was amused, since he was an early member of the We Agnostics AA group in L.A.

This reminds me that selecting a new name for WAAFT is one of the most important things which will happen at our international convention next month. WAAFT has served us well so far, but it is unwieldy, and tries to cover an array of beliefs much wider than just “atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers”.

rose We have each reached a sober set of beliefs by which we perceive the Universe and direct our actions. We may find our beliefs evolving, and the label we prefer for them changes as well. At various times, I call myself atheist or agnostic or freethinker interchangeably, and I don’t really care what I’m called. The philosophical reasons to choose one or the other just aren’t that important to me, although I respect those who really care.

What I believe is that we all do the best we can, including with issues like this. I cannot judge your reasons for believing what you do, and what you call that set of beliefs, any more than I want you to judge me. Our one common, bedrock belief, and what brought us together in the first place, is that we couldn’t drink safely and wanted to stop. Our brothers and sisters in AA, believers and nonbelievers alike, taught us how. Our second common belief is that we don’t need to share religious or philosophical beliefs in order to get sober together and help others achieve sobriety. In fact, as we know too well, trying to force a set of beliefs on the struggling alcoholic is a surefire way to screw up the process.

Some of the other terms folks like us use are secularist, humanist, deist, and many others. It would be ludicrous to just expand our movement’s name to “WAAFTSHDetc”, and if we tried, we might wind up arguing about the order our favorite term is listed. We need a single, acccepted term.

I cast my vote for SECULAR to be the core of our new label — something like “Secular AA Sobriety”, although I’m not certain of the best set of words.

Here are my reasons:

• “Secular” has always been used to distinguish church and state. While AA isn’t a state, the same principle of official neutrality ought to be emphasized;

• ”Secular” is a positive word, unlike atheist or agnostic, both of which are based on what a belief doesn’t include.

• It’s simple. I’ve heard or taken part in conversations in which people debate the meaning of either “atheist” or “agnostic”, and while entertaining, they rarely resulted in agreement. Secular just means “no official religious belief”. It doesn’t mean nonbelief in a god or uncertainty about a god. It just means irrelevant to a belief in a god. And belief in a god, generic or specific, IS irrelevant to sobriety.

I’m secular, and my remaining brother is active in both AA and the Catholic church, but neither of us is “more sober”. Religion may help many, but it’s not necessary. Nor should the beliefs of others keep us drunk.

Let’s just be secular. And sober.

About the Author, Pat N.

Pat N. is from Olympia Washington and is one of the organizers of the Widening Our Gateway Secular AA Convention that was held in Olympia on January 16, 25016. Pat will be a keynote speaker at the We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers International AA Convention that will be held in Austin, Texas from November 11th through the 13th of this year. You can learn more about Pat in the podcast we posted on August 31st, On the Road to Austin with Pat N. 

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  1. Dave J November 20, 2016 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    If defining the organization as a conference is desirable, if maintaining an AA focus is important, if secular allows it to be more inclusive, then keep it simple- Secular AA Conference. Why organizations feel the need to put “international” into their titles is beyond me. Take a look at truly international organizations and you’ll find no general rule to do so. Keep it simple. And if people want to make an acronym out of it, let them. Why you feel the need to do it ahead of time? Almost certainly unnecessary and definitely forces people to think of the acronym first and the name second.

  2. joe C October 30, 2016 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    I like “secular.” For bible-phobes we can change the order of the letters. Doctors and Lawyers use IDAA and ILAA respectively. If we were ISAA our gathering could be CISAA ICSAA ISCAA or ISAAC. I agree that our gathering is a conference rather than a convention, in keeping with AA language.

    Secular includes everyone. I prefer the definition of “neither religious nor irreligious” over “not spiritual.” Our AAAA meeting in Toronto includes at least one church-going Christian. While the group discussion is of a non-religious nature, the attendees don’t have to be; all are welcome. Words and language are more art than science. For instance, “Spiritual” is woo-woo to some of us and not a word that we will abandon to the theists for others amongst us. While I prefer words that have agreed-upon meanings – spiritual has so many meaning to so many people  – I accept that it has value to many of us.

    I think that “secular” is a way of saying humanists and atheists and freethinker and on and on. If we can’t agree on anew name, why not go back to AAAA. My issue is our current WAAFTIAAC is the “T” but it’s not a reason I would stop coming to our gatherings.

  3. Dan L October 27, 2016 at 11:00 am - Reply

    “”Secular” is a positive word, unlike atheist or agnostic, both of which are based on what a belief doesn’t include.”

    I find atheist a very positive word. It smacks much more of honesty.

    “It’s simple. I’ve heard or taken part in conversations in which people debate the meaning of either “atheist” or “agnostic”, and while entertaining, they rarely resulted in agreement. ”

    It’s quite easy to settle the argument on what atheist means. It’s in the dictionary. Perhaps much confusion in the rooms stems from language in the Big Boko and 12&12, which betray a complete misunderstanding of what atheism is.

  4. steve b October 26, 2016 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    Yes, Secular AA  is a nice name, but do you know what? Somebody else beat you to it: There is already an organization called Secular Organization for Sobriety, or SOS.

  5. Eric C October 26, 2016 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    Pat N. has the right idea.  I have posted a position paper on the WAAFT Coffee Shop website and in an email to the WAAFT IAAC board explaining why I think we should be called the International Secular A.A. Conference (ISAAC).

    • John S October 26, 2016 at 7:27 pm Reply

      Below is Eric’s position paper for a suggested name change to ISAAC.

      You can also download the pdf file:  In favor of ISAAC

      In favor of ISAAC

      Eric C., GSR, We Agnostics Group, Traverse City, Michigan (District 11, Area 34)


       Let’s change WAAFT IAAC to the International Secular Alcoholics Anonymous Conference, ISAAC.

      The word “secular” best describes who we are and what we hope to accomplish.  We are not seeking to turn anyone in A.A. into an atheist, agnostic, freethinker, or any other type of unbeliever who might be added to an even more cumbersome title and acronym.  Anyone with a desire to stop drinking is welcome to attend a secular A.A. meeting, believer or not.   We are not trying to separate ourselves from A.A. or foster more “specialty” or “boutique-style” A.A. groups or meetings – even though anyone who wants to is free to do so.

      What most of us hope to do is influence the fellowship of A.A. to be less religious and, therefore, more welcoming for people of any religious faith or, like most of us, no religious faith.  Those who claim no religious affiliation, the so-called “nones,” are among the fastest growing demographic groups in North America but are increasingly underrepresented in an aging A.A.  Our fellowship will go the way of the Oxford Group if we do not widen our gateway for those of no religious faith.  Our efforts will likely be carried on by the next generation.  We want the hand of A.A. always to be there.

      One of the most common dictionary definitions of the word “secular” is simply “not religious.”  That is the definition we should use.

      While many in A.A. insist that A.A. is spiritual rather than religious, the U.S. Department of Justice as well as federal and state court judges across the nation have found that A.A. is, in fact, religious.   The fact that A.A.’s suggested program of recovery is considered “inherently religious” under the law is beyond dispute.

      While it’s true that not everyone immediately knows what “secular” means, our experience has shown that even greater ignorance, misunderstanding and confusion exists about the terms “atheist” and “agnostic” – especially in A.A. literature.  In addition, these are often negative and emotionally charged words for many people, not just those in A.A.   As much as we would like to educate people about these terms or at least accustom them to their proper use, that is not our primary purpose.

      The word “secular” describes what we are — not what we are not.    It’s more positive than “no prayer,” “no god” or “non-religious.”

      “Secular” is also a legal term of art.  The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, for example, prohibits Recovery Courts that receive federal funding from coercing anyone to take part in “religious” activities such as A.A.  and requires courts to offer “secular” alternatives.  A movement within A.A. that identifies itself as “secular” could help fill this gap.  No one may be more eager to find and attend secular A.A. meetings than younger newcomers, many of whom are court-ordered.

      The acronym ISAAC is proposed because we want to remain an international secular movement that is undeniably a part of A.A.  The A.A. in WAAFT does not stand for Alcoholics Anonymous, but it does in ISAAC.  The “C” in ISAAC stands for “Conference” and is in keeping with other well-recognized and respected A.A. conferences such as ICYPAA, the International Conference of Young People in A.A.  The term “convention” is not used as widely in A.A.

      Yes, there are already organizations out there that use the acronym ISAAC, for example the Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action, and the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.  This doesn’t matter; and we can work around it.  These groups have common acronyms, not common names.

      Currently, we are drawing a distinction between WAAFT and WAAFT IAAC which may have some utility but is not entirely necessary.  It would not be necessary to distinguish between our next biennial gathering and our broader movement by using a different acronym such as ISAA in addition to ISAAC.

      The name “International Secular A.A. Conference” could be used not only for a biennial gathering but also for a website, a Facebook “coffee shop,” and whatever else we want.  We should generally think of the word “secular” as a lower-case adjective, not a proper noun.  Local A.A. meeting listings, for example, might simply note certain meetings and groups of AA as “secular” instead of “ISAAC,” “We Agnostics,” “WAAFT” or whatever.

      Many of us have always appreciated the irony associated with using the term “We Agnostics” to name an A.A. group or label our movement within A.A.  After all, Chapter 4 of the Big Book, “We Agnostics” is, one of the most anti-atheist, anti-agnostic writings in our literature.

      The acronym ISAAC is also ironic because Isaac is a Biblical name.  Isaac was the son of Abraham, the founder of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  God Himself — or as Dr. Bob would say, “Our Heavenly Father” — ordered Abraham to slay his son Isaac and offer him as a burnt sacrifice to the Higher Power.  But it turned out that God was only testing Abraham and, at the last second, God instructed Abraham to spare Isaac.   What an inspiring story!

      Yours in service,



      • Geoff October 27, 2016 at 3:08 am Reply

        Not in favor of ISAAC – its  such a remembrance of a Biblical Character. I thought WAAFT was wierd as an acronym but it is way better than ISAAC  There is already  The International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) works to improve the lives of children and adults who use AAC.  I hear Isaac and I think Abraham Isaac and Jacob then Jesus Joseph and Mary.  I personally don’t need to be reminded of biblical indoctrination every time I thinks of sobriety and our wonderful WAAFT.  Its a pity SOS is already taken 


  6. life-j October 26, 2016 at 11:10 am - Reply

    Pat, I agree with your sentiment.

    We call our meeting here Freethinkers, and yet I have no investment in the F in WAAFT whatsoever. I agree that secular is a good description, though it will get us confused with SAA. Not that we don’t all have sexual issues anyway, but still, we may want to avoid that. On the other hand, long before there was WAAFT there was AAAA or Quad-A – why not use that, since everyone knows it?

  7. Jeb B October 26, 2016 at 10:26 am - Reply

    As long as I define secular as meaning nonreligious and spiritual as non-material, I am comfortable with Secular AA. However, Freethinkers in AA seems to express the kind of open-mindedness I continue to work toward. It seems that this is also what is expressed in the agnostic and freethinkers “preamble.”

  8. Thomas Brinson October 26, 2016 at 10:10 am - Reply

    Thanks so much, Pat, for your thoughtful post. I agree with much of it. In fact, until lately I have been a strong advocate of using the term secular to describe us, even recommending that we be called SAAF, the Secular AA Fellowship on the IAAC website. Earlier this year I would, not so respectfully, comment that WAAFT is DAFT.

    However, I too — like my dear friend and colleague, Roger above — have been been reassessing this issue and am comfortable for us retaining the name of WAAFT for two reasons: 1) it states who we mostly are, agnostics, atheists and freethinkers, and 2) it has AA as a prominent part of the acronym — I strongly belief and advocate that we are secular members of AA fully within the middle and an integral part of traditional and mainstream AA, rather than being separate  or apart from it.

    If any change be made I would now suggest we add AA to WAAFT, making it WAAFTAA,  We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers in Alcoholics Anonymous.


  9. Bob K. October 26, 2016 at 9:51 am - Reply

    I like “non-religious AA.” Of the possible names, it best dodges the issue of affiliation, and at the same time, fires one over the bow of the many groups that unwittingly are affiliated. If I started the German Club, vehemently denying ANY affiliation with the Nazis, then ended every meeting with a lusty “Seig Heil” and right arm salute, would we REALLY be fooling anybody?

    • Bob K. October 26, 2016 at 9:55 am Reply

      It’s a GENERIC salute!! Shecky Feldstein was here once, and he had no problem with it. Hope to see you all Saturday for the goose-stepping hike!

      • Bob K. October 27, 2016 at 5:00 pm Reply

        This is a Lord’s Prayer analogy, for those keeping score at home.

  10. Roger C. October 26, 2016 at 9:19 am - Reply

    I can live with either (or even another) name.

    There is some merit in “WAAFT”. First, it has a history, going back to the Santa Monica convention. Second, it has some diversity in it, that includes pretty much all of us who have difficulty with stuff like the Lord’s Prayer at the end of “traditional” AA meetings. Third, “agnostic”, which is what I consider myself, directly ties us into Alcoholics Anonymous via Chapter 4 of the Big Book. Finally, there are those who argue that “secular” would water down our beliefs, or lack of beliefs, and thus would be counterproductive, as our movement needs to be well understood as it grows within AA.

    I was originally leaning towards “secular” but of late I am also very comfortable with “WAAFT” and look forward to the debate in Austin.

  11. Wes L October 26, 2016 at 8:16 am - Reply

    Good stuff. I am among some of  early members of the secular meetings here in Las Vegas that have been pondering the same notions. The  moniker of Agnostic was  originally used, primarily to differentiate us from traditional AA thinking, but we have begun to question any label that separates us from the primary purpose.

    The problem with language in the first place is the assumption that everyone’s  definition and understanding of any particular word is always the same. It seldom is. You make a good case for the very generic term “secular”. I’m sure there will be some discussion about it before and after this afternoon’s meeting.

    Thanks for your input


  12. Edward C October 26, 2016 at 8:01 am - Reply

    First of all I am sad that I will be unable to make the trip to Austin – next I often do my little part to piss off the religious right.  I (for my part) dont much care – whats in a name ??  – “religion is the opiate of the masses” one idea of old Karl that i so much agree with.  – I consider myself a recovered alcoholic (close now to 25 years) and for my part an Agnostic follower of the teaching of The Buddha.  I am also spiritual – the group or others may do as they choose – I know who and where I am. – – Eddie C – AKA Fast Eddie


  13. George October 26, 2016 at 7:01 am - Reply

    I get your point, and in fact, now use the word secular, when speaking to AA’s about an agnostic format meeting we started last January. Secular does have a softer feel to it, in my opinion. That being said, I checked in with Merriam-Webster, and found the following:

    : not spiritual : of or relating to the physical world and not the spiritual world

    : not religious

    : of, relating to, or controlled by the government rather than by the church
    My question is, are WAAFT not spiritual? I feel we are, though I am referring to the human spirit, rather than something of an illusionary nature. My though is that many of us are indeed agnostics and atheist, and that freethinkers rounds things out and sounds very inclusive.

    Whatever decision is made, I am grateful for people like yourself, who are working to make AA more inclusive. Thank you for your efforts.

    George S.

    • Doris A October 26, 2016 at 1:51 pm Reply

      In my town we used a flyer to generate interest in forming a secular meeting. We chose the word secular, hoping it would be the most benign descriptor.  Several very opinionated people in our community had to look the word up, and found the definitions that George cites, so were especially troubled by the idea of a “secular” meeting.  A few in fact came to one of earlier meetings to stir things up.  Who knew??
      So that was my lesson in how secular is formally defined. In every day language most people find it a less polarizing word.  In my mind I use the word secular to describe the FORMAT of the meeting (no prayers, no readings about god), rather than who attends and is irrelevant to what people believe.

    • Mark C. October 26, 2016 at 12:45 pm Reply

      ” My though is that many of us are indeed agnostics and atheist, and that freethinkers rounds things out and sounds very inclusive.”

      Indeed.  While the term “secular” sounds softer, and easier, it does rather narrow the gates away from an extremely  broad, very diverse “set” described as “agnostic, atheist, and Freethinkers.”

      I have yet to see Conference Approved Literature denounce, or belittle “secular” as a class, as a set.  I do see it filled with rather specific denouncements of agnostics, and particularly “atheists.”

      While many of the agnostic, atheist, and Freethinking set are “secular,” there a legions of those specific “tags” that are indeed “religious.”  A “religious atheist” sounds rather odd, but I know some. I know many “religious agnostics and Freethinkers” as well.




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