AA Beyond Belief

By Doris A. and John S.  

Our Beginning

It was the summer of 2015 when Roger C. told John S. that he planned to retire from posting the Sunday stories at AA Agnostica, something which he had been doing consistently since June of 2011. John was surprised if not shocked to hear this news, but what he heard next was jaw-dropping. Roger went on to ask if John would be willing to create a website to carry on this work. Understanding the magnitude of the responsibility, John set aside his fears and doubts, and he took up the challenge. He told Roger that he would do it.  

During their subsequent discussions, John and Roger agreed that the new website, like AA Agnostica, should provide a home to the agnostic, atheist, and freethinker in AA, and it should clearly identify itself as a site created by AA members, for AA members.

Keeping this in mind, John went to work coming up with a name for the new website, and while mulling over some options, he thought about the groups in Toronto from which AA Agnostica was born. He knew that the first agnostic AA group in Canada was named Beyond Belief, and that many secular AA groups have since adopted that name.

“AA Beyond Belief,” he thought. It seemed like a good companion to AA Agnostica and a name befitting a site dedicated to agnostics, atheists, and freethinkers in AA. He ran the idea by Roger, who seemed to like it, so that was it, the new site would be called “AA Beyond Belief.”

Early Days and Growth

John worked with Roger over a period of weeks designing the site. After creating various pages and coming up with a format for presenting the articles, AA Beyond Belief was ready to launch, and on Wednesday, September 30, 2015, AA Agnostica emailed its subscribers to announce the new website in a post titled “The Spirt of Rotation.”

In that announcement, readers of AA Agnostica were encouraged to view our first post, “Our Vision for “AA Beyond Belief,” and to subscribe to our mailing list. This gave AA Beyond Belief a starting subscriber list numbering 223 when we posted our first article on Sunday, October 4, 2015— “Platitudes in AA,” by Roger C. Today, we have over 965 subscribers to our mailing list.

Among the early contributors to AA Beyond Belief was Bob K., author of Key Players in AA History. Bob’s help was critical in those early days and weeks. Every Wednesday we posted a chapter from Key Players in AA History, which generated interest in the site. Bob continues to write for us, and with 15 posts he holds the record as our most prolific author. 

The site has certainly had its ups and downs, and we struggled a bit as we got out of the gate, but we have been doing well for some time now with readership steadily increasing. During our first full month in October 2015, we had a total of 3,156 visitors and over 10,000 pageviews. In January 2017, we had 12,715 visitors and 22,276 pageviews. Since coming online in September of 2015, we have received close to 200,000 pageviews.

Articles

Doris A. once remarked that she sees AA Beyond Belief as “the thinking person’s Grapevine.” This is an apt description. Our stories reflect the experience of agnostic, atheist, and freethinking AA members—an incredibly diverse group. There is no standard, one-size-fits-all formula to our stories.

As a result of this diversity, our goal is to post articles that reflect varying viewpoints and writing styles. Many of us reject the notion of spirituality, while others find it useful. Some of us see value in the 12 Steps and the Big Book, others not so much. Our articles and the posted comments that follow reflect our commonalities as well as our differences.  Articles posted on Sunday include personal stories, secular AA news, AA history, and topical essays and book reviews.

After a contributor has submitted their work either through the site or by email, there is a lot of activity that takes place behind the scenes to ready the article for publication. We are lucky to have Mary K. and Galen T. who bring their skills as copy-editors to the site. The degree of editing required before release varies from story to story. Some just need a review of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and others benefit from the editor working with the author to refine the style and content of the piece.

There is also the task of finding images to help illustrate the article. A source of pride has been the original illustrations and photos created by three regular contributors: Cope C., Kathryn F., and Jan A.

We are happy to be posting an increasing number of articles written by women, and we hope to continue this trend. Another goal is to have more articles authored by younger members of AA; currently, a good chunk of our contributors are over 50.

Our comment section continues to be a vibrant part of the posting. It’s a space where readers often share their own very personal experiences or share their agreements and disagreements with the article. Occasionally there are lively discussions between commenters, and between commenters and the author. It’s like the meeting after the meeting.

The latest improvement to our articles is that each one is now in audio form, thanks to the dedicated work of Len R. Along with our podcasts, these recordings are also posted on our YouTube Channel.

Podcasts

By the time this article is published, we will have produced 50 episodes of “AA Beyond Belief the Podcast.” Our podcast emphasizes the sharing of personal stories from agnostics, atheists, and freethinkers in AA, and has been growing in popularity. We hope that as we gain experience with this medium, the production quality will continue to improve. As of the date of this writing, our podcasts have been downloaded over 69,000 times by people from all over the globe.

In addition to personal stories, the podcast covers such topics as the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions, AA service work, alternatives to AA, and news and announcements. Going forward, we hope to include interviews with authors in the recovery community, as well as professionals in the field of alcohol and drug addiction treatment.

If you have an idea for a podcast episode or if you would like to participate as a guest, or host a podcast on our site, please send an email to editor@aabeyondbelief.com, and we will be in touch with you.

All podcasts are also posted on Sound Cloud and YouTube, and delivered through all the major distribution channels including iTunes. It’s gratifying to hear from our listeners, particularly those who have never before heard an AA story from the perspective of an agnostic, atheist, or freethinker.

Should you be so inclined, and if you enjoy the podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes as a way to get the word out.

 Beyond Words

An important part of our mission at AA Beyond Belief is to serve as a platform for you to showcase your talent and to share your recovery through artistic expression. Please submit short stories, essays, poetry, photography, video, music, or whatever art form you prefer as a means of reaching others.

To help fulfill this mission, we will soon be introducing a new feature to the site that we call “Beyond Words.” It will be a section devoted to original artwork and photography, with or without commentary from the artist. We hope this will become a favorite feature, and that it will provide more people with an opportunity to participate.

Finances and Organizational Structure

AA Beyond Belief belongs to you, and to assure that its survival will never be dependent upon a single individual or a small group of people, AA Beyond Belief became a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. As a nonprofit, we have a rotating Board of Directors responsible for assuring that the bills are paid, and the site is up and running.

To be completely open and transparent, we publish our bank statements and PayPal statements online for your review. You can see for yourself, how your financial contributions are used. At one time, we were paying close to $300 per month for expenses, but recently we reduced spending by cutting down on the number of podcast transcripts. We have been purchasing podcast transcripts from a company called Scribie at the cost of over $40 per episode. By reducing this expense, our monthly expenditure will be within a more reasonable $100 to $150 per month.

AA Beyond Belief is organized by two distinct and separate Boards. There is a Board of Directors who serve on the nonprofit, and there is the Editorial Board.

The Board of Directors

The Board of Directors exists solely for the purpose of assuring that the site is operating and the bills are paid. They manage the finances and report on the financial status of the organization. The Board of Directors does not have any input into, nor can they interfere with, editorial decisions or the creative process. Those who serve on the Board, serve two-year terms, and we will elect a new Board of Directors sometime in 2018, with voting to be conducted online. Presently, the Board of Directors consists of the founding members: Doris A., President; Thomas B., Secretary; John S., Treasurer. 

We are currently in the process of drafting a set of bylaws to ensure that the site will be passed on from generation to generation and that the creative process remains free and unhindered by any single person or any agenda. 

The Editorial Board

Managing the website requires more time than any one person is capable of spending, so we created an Editorial Board to get the work done. Today, the Board consists of the following individuals: Doris A., Chief Editor; Bob K., Editor; Galen T., Editor; John L., Editor; Mary K., Editor; Thomas B., Editor; Cope C., Art and Photography; Jan A., Art and Photography; Kathryn F., Art and Photography; Len R., Audio Stories; Benn B., Podcasting; John S., Podcasting and Website Maintenance; and Roger C., Advisor.

The Editorial Board is made up of a group of volunteers with the talent and skills necessary to showcase your stories and your art. The Chief Editor, chosen by the Editorial Board, is responsible for managing the production of articles and makes all final editorial decisions.

Everyone who works at AA Beyond Belief is an unpaid volunteer.

Looking Ahead

Our immediate plans include improving the speed and security of the site. In the coming months, we will be moving from a shared server to a virtual private server. We may also begin using the .org domain as our primary address once we transfer to the new server. Currently, the site can be accessed at the .org, .net and .com domains. This will always be the case, the only difference is that the primary domain will be .org, which is more fitting for a nonprofit organization.

We hope that AA Beyond Belief will serve our community far into the future and that we will continue to grow and adapt to new technology and mediums of communication. This is all about sharing our experience that recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous is open to anyone regardless of belief or lack of belief.


About the Authors:

John S. lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his wife Susan and two cats, Phoebe and Luna. His home group is We Agnostics. 

Doris A. currently lives in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.  She is an enthusiastic home group member of Many Paths, which recently celebrated its second anniversary.

Audio Version

The audio version of this article was recorded by Len R. from Jasper, Georgia. Len is interested in starting a secular AA meeting in his community. If you would like to join him, please send an email to lenr.secularsobriety@gmail.com 

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Comment

  1. geoff e April 5, 2017 at 5:48 pm - Reply

    Did you sue AA?

    • John S April 5, 2017 at 6:35 pm Reply

      No, we did not.

  2. Gerald March 7, 2017 at 12:44 am - Reply

    I was not aware of how new this site is. Yes, with this kind of caring, competent commitment, AABB really could be leaving a long, broad legacy right now. We really could be witnessing the start of something special.

    Traditions: that is where the Believers lose it. That’s the mistake we can’t afford to make at this site. Well, the Cults lose it there, too. And the traditions are lost in the Non-Drinking Bar Scene, too.

    Well … a lot of people miss the traditions, don’t they?, but we can’t afford to.

    And the Concepts, too? I don’t know. The last time I read the Concepts was twenty years ago, the one time I was a GSR …

    The traditions is where we would have to be really careful. You know there will be a loooot of people who would prefer that we were still keeping our thoughts to ourselves … 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Thanks,

    Gerald, alcoholic, Japan

    • John S March 8, 2017 at 7:42 am Reply

      Gerald, you should write an article about the Traditions and Concepts and how we should approach them. I am learning the Concepts and I’m no expert on the Traditions. I think that I like the Concepts and see them as more valuable than the Traditions. I sometimes feel beaten up and constrained by the Traditions, especially when it comes to how we deal with our recovery and AA membership online.

  3. Kathleen Cobb March 6, 2017 at 9:41 am - Reply

    I enjoy having things explained to me in this kind, insightful way. Thank you from the bottom of ? for the tremendous amount of work that clearly produces an amazing resource which I have at my finger tips and has helped me stay sober !

  4. Len R March 6, 2017 at 8:11 am - Reply

    Thank you, Doris and John for this wonderful piece, which I believe will someday be added to the AA archives as a significant turning point in AA history.  I say AA with with complete conviction that we are in complete compliance with the AA traditions and principles despite what the dogmatists may think. We are not a sub-set of AA.

    Presently, we may clearly be in the minority, but we are increasingly “widening the gateway” to offer help to all who suffer from addiction to alcohol (personally I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the “restrictive designation” of alcoholism, as so many of us are cross-addicted) no matter what your beliefs are.

    Thank you for your leadership.

    Len R.

     

  5. Carlos D March 5, 2017 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    Greetings to all from Sunny Portugal, congratulations to those who maintain and contribute to AA Beyond Belief, they keep me sober and in AA one day at the time. Without this secular movement my personal growth in recovery would have been much more painful. I have been spreading the message that you carry of recovery without Belief in supernatural forces on these shores. Passing it on. Thank you for being a beacon of hope.

  6. Dale K. March 5, 2017 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    I’ve been attending a secular AA meeting since the ’80s, but it was aaagnostica that allowed me to realize the larger secular community that existed and to grow in this community. The fact that aaagnostica has grown beyond itself is not “beyond belief” and very heartwarming. The team at AA Beyond Belief is doing an excellent job of carrying the secular message to alcoholics. Thank you for all the wonderful work you do.

  7. David B March 5, 2017 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    The title of this post is thoroughly insulating and completely arrogant. You’re basically saying that anyone who isn’t an atheist or agnostic is a non-thinking person. Sorry, but I think that’s a bridge too far when it comes to recovery. We’re not here to judge other people, or to make assumptions about how and why they reach their spiritual conclusions.

    It seems to me that AA Beyond Belief is doing to believers essentially what you’re complaining that believers are doing to you. Either take the “AA” out of your name or start being a little more sensitive to and aware of the reality that not everyone thinks like you do, not everyone recovers like you do, and people who have deep-seated religious beliefs do not get there by not thinking.

    PS: I’m an agnostic buddhist in AA and I have absolutely ZERO problems 1) saying that in meetings or 2) hearing other people’s POV on things spiritual.

    • David B March 9, 2017 at 4:11 pm Reply

      Appending my original comment, I’m glad to see that the original headline was changed. Many thanks for honoring Concept V and hearing the (perhaps?) minority viewpoint.

       

      Cheers,

      -d-

    • Gerald March 7, 2017 at 12:26 am Reply

      I’ll back you up, David. I feel it is dangerous to the long-term future of AABB to crack these kinds of jokes. It really & truly is just how the believers treat us. You know, when I announced myself as an atheist at my first online AA home group, where I was a member for about nineteen months, which was about eighteen months too long, the chairperson shared that “There are no atheists in fox holes,” a military reference to fox holes. Ha, ha, ha, really funny.

      We have to better than them. As the cultural minorities that we are, we have to be better than they are in order to be effective. We have to be careful not to lose the moral high ground, you know, and sink to their level.

      Thanks,

      Gerald, alcoholic, Japan

    • Roger C. March 5, 2017 at 1:56 pm Reply

      Relax David. Instead of a condescending rant, try to act more like, you know, a Buddhist.

      • David B March 9, 2017 at 3:27 pm Reply

        Who says I’m not relaxed? And who says that it’s not in a buddhist’s purview to feel some deep discomfort and unease someone, or someones, speaks about others in a less-than-loving way? I think it’d a bit condescending of you to tell me how to be a buddhist.

        I think I’m entirely within my rights as a member of AA to find the headline of this blog post thoroughly off-putting and very hypocritical. If you have a defense to mount, please do, but I’ll thank you not to abjure my point of view in so glib a fashion.

        Cheers,

        -d-

    • John S March 5, 2017 at 1:28 pm Reply

      It wasn’t intended to be arrogant, but I suppose that is the nature of arrogance.

      I came up with the title based on a conversation that I was having with Doris about AA Beyond Belief.  I told her that I saw the site as a sort of “secular Grapevine,” which I suppose is an arrogant statement. Doris responded that she thought of it as “the thinking person’s Grapevine.”  As we were working on the article together, I remembered the conversation and suggested it as a title. We never had a serious discussion as to how readers would perceive it and neither of us had anything negative to say about the Grapevine or the people who like to read it. I don’t put down other people, that’s not who I am. I was just proud of this site and being part of it. That’s all.

      I have promoted and defended the Grapevine here to some serious criticism. I think the Grapevine provides a valuable service to the Fellowship and I would like to see more of us participate in it. I believe what may have come across as arrogant and insulting was when concocted simply an expression of pride in the people who write and read the articles that make this site possible.

      • David B March 9, 2017 at 3:31 pm Reply

        Thanks for your reply, John. I really appreciate hearing your point of view, and doubly so that you’re open to my own. The problem with “cold” media like the Internet is that very often tone gets lost. I know you from the podcast, and I know you to be a warm and caring person. Perhaps that’s why I found the headline a bit shocking–it seems out of character.

        I do think that it’s critically important for us as AAFTs in AA to be careful with our speech and mindful of the fact that, when we do speak, we’re either giving those who would shut us down pause or ammunition.

        Thanks again for your reply.

        Cheers,

        -d-

        • John S March 9, 2017 at 4:43 pm Reply

          We changed the title so as not to detract from the story. Our intent was not to draw comparisons between us and the Grapevine. Any similarity is only that we reflect the experience of secularists in AA.

          Other people also expressed the same sentiment.

  8. life-j March 5, 2017 at 10:49 am - Reply

    Thank you doris and john. both for all your work, and for giving us insight into it all. So it looks like there are roughly just a bit under a thousand regular participants?

    While it should be more about attraction than promotion, it can’t help but make me itch to reach the rest of us. Of the 15-20 million people in the US who have an alcohol problem 1.5 found enough help in AA to stay. There’s got to be another million and a half of those who are of a non-believer sentiment, maybe many more, that we haven’t reached yet.

    But of course this is just the beginning. Thanks for all your good work.

    • John S March 5, 2017 at 11:02 am Reply

      No, we actually get between 6,000 to 8,000 unique visitors per month. There are close to 1,000 who subscribe to our mail list. Most visitors find the site through Google searches. Here’s a report for the past thirty days that show how visitors found the site:

      Acquisition Report from Google Analytics Past 30 Days

      • John S March 5, 2017 at 11:04 am Reply

        The Grapevine website gets 40,000 unique visitors per month. Not that we are competing or anything. 🙂

  9. Pat N. March 5, 2017 at 10:29 am - Reply

    I don’t think I’ll be here to see it, but I enjoy imagining a scene in 70-80 years, when historians of recovery will talk about AABeyondBelief and AAAgnostica the way we now talk about the Akron and Manhattan AA groups.

    Many thanks to all the volunteers!

  10. Bill D March 5, 2017 at 10:25 am - Reply

    A Sunday must ! Before the NYT, WaPo, Detroit Free Press, The Onion and the yakking heads on the morning talk shows it’s AABeyondBelief. Even before the daily bridge puzzle. Never thought that would happen.  Puts all the rest in perspective.

    Thanks Doris for this “where we started, where we are and where we look to be”. Thanks John, Roger, Thomas and the editorial staff. Thinking person’s Grapevine indeed.

    This one earns the coveted Green Tag in my saved file.

  11. Roger C. March 5, 2017 at 9:52 am - Reply

    I really like how Doris describes AA Beyond Belief as “the thinking person’s Grapevine”. That’s my understanding of this website too.

    This website has been around for almost a year and a half now and I love both the podcasts and the articles. I love its creativity. And AA Beyond Belief does a superb job of sharing the “experience, strength and hope” of we secularists in AA and that is so very, very important.

    A genuine and sincere bravo to John and Doris and to all those involved – editing, illustrations, writing, podcasts, audio versions, etc. – with AA Beyond Belief!

  12. Dave B March 5, 2017 at 9:38 am - Reply

    I’very written a couple of articles for AABEYOND Belief.  It the writing & editing process, I frequently tho’t “I hope this isn’t too ‘anti-AA dogma’ or some such”.  The article sailed thru and subsequently I read articles more challenging to the Big Book than mine. Congrats to AABEYOND Belief for their open-minded policy.

     

  13. CathyM March 5, 2017 at 9:24 am - Reply

    Thank you for this timely piece – nice to know how it works (behind the scenes)

    without asking.  It’s a big job.  Well done.

  14. boyd p. March 5, 2017 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Thank you for such a high quality experience of sobriety, shares presented electronically with the utmost care.  I can’t resist sharing a recent experience.

    The weekly speaker meeting presenter began his story with a disclaimer, saying he will do his best to avoid the f bomb, but he might slip.  Then at the end he asked if he slipped.  Everybody smiled and said yes.  How many times he asked.  Mumble, mumble.  I suggested over thirty.  The next day I was reflecting on this experience, realizing a curious similarity between the use of the f word and the god word.  Many people use one or both involuntarily.

    • life-j March 5, 2017 at 10:36 am Reply

      Reminds of the old joke that the worst thing about being an atheist is that you have noone to talk to during intercourse

    • Doris A March 5, 2017 at 9:24 am Reply

      Boyd, That’s an interesting hypothesis, your story made me smile.

  15. joe C March 5, 2017 at 8:32 am - Reply

    Two things I respect and love are transparency and the dedication of keeping a historical record. This post is both of those things.

    AA has the spirit of rotation so that neither the individual gets an overdeveloped sense of importance nor does the group develops an unhealthy and complacent dependency on one person. This principle, while it has advantages and disadvantages, has served AA well. Like may AAisms and Twelve Traditions, we find ideas that serves us very well in our non-AA life, be completely outside AA parts of life or closely associated parts of life.

    I have a radio show devoted to indie music that has given me great pleasure. Eleven years from the launch, I’m feeling burned out, and while I feel a duty to it, I want to move on. I haven’t done a good enough job at getting other people and their ways of doing things involved over the last 10 years, and I created this trap I feel like I’m in.

    This is just to say that I think AA Beyond Belief is very well run even though I know a few do so much. Thanks for sharing and thanks for everything.

  16. Thomas B. March 5, 2017 at 7:37 am - Reply

    Excellent, Doris and John — the two of you with Roger’s guidance have been the turbo-boosters of AA Beyond Belief’s exemplary success and evolution during the past year and a half.

    I am most gratefully privileged, and deeply thank you for the opportunity, to serve in the continued evolution of AA Beyond Belief.

  17. Wisewebwoman March 5, 2017 at 7:06 am - Reply

    So much gratitude for all this valuable work that you all do.

    You are instrumental in my continued sobriety and those of the freethinking young newcomers that cross my path.

    I doubt they would have made it if I hadn’t found AA Agnostica which gave me the courage and freedom to express my non-belief openly at meetings.

    Thanks for all you do in saving the young lives of “those yet to come” and those hanging in already at the Xtian meetings.

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