Episode 54: The Five Keys: 12 Step Recovery Without A God, by Archer Voxx

Our podcast this week is an interesting interview I conducted with Archer Voxx, author of the book The Five Keys – Twelve Step Recovery Without A God. This short book is getting attention in the agnostic, atheist, and freethinker communities because of its fresh approach to introducing the newcomer to AA. The content of the book would also be eye-opening to many veterans of the fellowship.

As the population in the United States is becoming more and more secular, the religious content of  AA material is becoming more and more irrelevant. Since AA World Services has no plans to modernize the program’s content, Archer wrote The Five Keys to bridge the gap for the secular newcomer to AA. The book gives parents, loved ones, sponsors, and others something more concrete to provide the skeptical newcomer than: “This is a spiritual program – not religious – It works if you work it!”

In this podcast, we explore Archer’s background, the experiences that led him to write the book, and an introduction to each of The Five Keys. My special thanks to Archer for joining us and to you for visiting AA Beyond Belief for another podcast. Enjoy!

Archers’ books are available at Amazon in both paperback and e-reader versions. 

Read Bob K.’s review of Archer’s book, Alcoholics Anonymous Universal Edition.  



Download the Transcript 


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  1. Steve S. May 10, 2017 at 7:50 am - Reply

    This was a great podcast. I recently had the opportunity to hear Archer speak in the Detroit, Michigan area. His talk was engaging as well. We are going to use his book Alcoholics Anonymous – Universal Edition as the basis for a “Big Book” study group; rather than the standard issue “Big Book”.  I have read both of his books and they were both very helpful in finding my own spiritual path to recovery.

  2. Karen B. April 13, 2017 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    The podcast was very engaging. After listening to it I purchased and read the e-book (Kindle) versions of both books – The Five Keys and AA Universal Edition. Both are short books – quick reads.

    The Five Keys is very informative. I have been in secular recovery for 10 years and never looked at the program from the perspective advanced in The Five Keys. The AA Universal Edition is like time-travel; both backward and forward. What do I mean by that? It is what might have been; had the religious faction not prevailed in the 1930’s. On the other hand, it is where AA should probably move to in the future.

    Thanks for bringing these books to my attention.

  3. life-j April 11, 2017 at 2:00 am - Reply

    So, I got my copy, and for one, it was nice with a short book with typeface large enough to read comfortably.

    There are a number of overall issues I don’t agree with. Generally, I think you’re being too nice to the program, and giving it much more credit for being backed up by medical, and psychological  science than it can handle. All the more since we’re talking  1930s science.

    That much said, I otherwise like the book. In particular I think it is really laudable how you are able to walk a path of kindness and consideration toward all, christians and atheists alike. I’m having a hard time with that myself. While many of those with a rather fundamentalist leaning may be disinclined to  read your book, I see nothing in there which  a religious person wouldn’t be able to subscribe to, if they did, and the non-believer as well, for the most part.

    I also like your universal spiritual principles. This is about the best attempt at  bridging the divide that I have seen. I have been thinking somewhat along the same lines myself, but you have really pulled it together well. You have (gently, even) taken the christian god out of spiritual principles, and left us simply with some principles to live by which we just happen to call spiritual. Would be interesting to hear from our hardcore atheist members what they think about that part of the book.

  4. Robert C. April 9, 2017 at 7:04 am - Reply

         The Five Keys, combined with Voxx’s other book, the AA Universal Edition, are great program tools. I have used both books with skeptical, secular AA newcomers. I made a few “lumpy” starts getting into AA and was always struggling with “the God stuff”.  It would have
    been a lot easier if I had been armed with the information in The Five Keys.
         I also found the insight provided by the podcast (it is also in The Five Keys as I recall) into why AA World Services is not likely making any effort to modernize the AA Big Book and other publications. It would seem that the AA fellowship and program will gradually atrophy over
    time unless AA World Services recognizes the social trends and “takes the leap” to
    provide modern materials that are more universally applicable.

  5. bob k April 5, 2017 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    I’ll be ordering The 5 Keys. I read and reviewed “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Universal Edition,” which I think is a great thing to present a newcomer, in that it shows what AA has to offer, once the religiosity is stripped away. As I suggested in the review – “If there is need to alter terms and wordings, alter away. The usefulness is in the principles.” I heard the same thinking expressed in today’s podcast.

    The reality is that there is more to recovery from alcoholism than just making a decision not to drink. To my mind, it makes more sense to modify the AA program than to jettison it.

    Nice work, gents.

    • John S April 5, 2017 at 6:33 pm Reply

      I’ve had both books on Kindle for some time, and I read from “The Five Keys” at our noon meeting last Saturday. I plan on going through the entire book every Saturday for the next few months. I’m chairing the meeting for the next three months, so I get to choose the topic and I’m using this book, which I love.

      “The Five Keys” is perfect for a newcomer, especially if they are having a hard time with all the “God Stuff.”

      After the podcast, I ordered the paperback version of both books which arrived today. I would recommend the paperback as I think Alcoholics Anonymous Universal Edition actually works best in that format. It’s a very compact book and it’s nice to e able to take to a meeting and pass around if the group is reading it. I read through it today, and it’s pretty damn good. If you want to understand the program of AA as secularist, this must be one of the better books to use. I can see using it in a secular Big Book study as a companion to the original Big Book.

      This podcasting gig is a pretty sweet deal, and I consider it an honor and a privilege to do this. I thank Archer for taking the time to speak with me and to all those who listen.

  6. life-j April 5, 2017 at 11:18 am - Reply

    In many ways “Living Sober” is hard to beat. Down to earth advice on how to not drink. First thing I did when opening up this e-mail was to order the 5 keys book, of course. I have to read it now. But it does sound from the podcast a lot like you focus a lot on all the spiritual concepts of the program which the newcomer can’t relate to at all? They just want to not drink.

    I thought it a real interesting point that the reason World service doesn’t make changes is that the whole higher power house of cards could come crumbling, sales of traditional literature would plummet, and the organization would fall apart from absence of funding through literature sales, while trying to reorganize itself into more modern terms. Sounds like a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation to me. There’s this of course, and the fact that our governing body (of which we don’t have any) is the general service conference where a lot of people come from christian dumb****istan, and they rule the roost with the tyranny of the majority which bill wilson warned about.

    Bill wilson was in a similar tight spot, I think – at some point he realized that the religious program he had peddled for 20 years was not the real core of AA, but he couldn’t come out and say it, because by then nobody would have listened,and so he just kept going along. I heard a talk of his from 1953, and one from 1968, they’re almost identical, he’s just droning on about a message he has long since realized is not really right. No wonder he suffered from depression. I would too, if I was leading a million people astray, and knew it. So he cautiously puts in a few comments here and there about avoiding to make the program too rigid.

    Makes one wonder if AA a hundred years from now will have gone down in history as a similar thing to scientology, praying on people’s vulrerability for its own aggrandizement, or whether we will be able to turn things around before we become genuinely deserving of such an epitaph.


  7. Joe C. April 5, 2017 at 8:44 am - Reply

    I enjoyed 5 Keys. The more we tell our story ( in the book medium and others), the more legitimate and the more normal secular recovery becomes. Archer draws on his personal and vocational experience in an eyeball to eyeball way.

    Archer, I got clean and sober in my teens and I’m delighted to hear more work is being done for youth with addiction. Especially with youth, a faith-healing approach is problematic on several levels. Keep up the good work.

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