Episode 79: Daily Reprieve AA for Atheists & Agnostics, by Alex M.

In this podcast, Alex M. discusses his new book, Daily Reprieve: AA for Atheists & Agnosticsa secular daily meditations book based on quotes taken from the first 164 pages of the Big Book. Each quote is followed by Alex’s thoughts on the topic and a question for the reader to contemplate. A life-long atheist who found sobriety in AA, Alex values the Big Book as a guide to the suggested 12 Steps and as a historical document describing the experiences of AA’s founders and early members.

The book is great for generating discussion at AA meetings, but it’s also a good way to introduce newcomers to the text from which our Fellowship draws its name. It’s a book that many of us avoid because of its overbearing religiosity, but Alex turns this obstacle into a catalyst for discussion. A good example is the reading for May 7, taken from the chapter entitled “We Agnostics.” 

May 7
We Agnostics

Yes, we of agnostic temperament have had these thoughts and experiences. Let us make hast to reassure you. We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God. (We Agnostics, p. 46)


In this paragraph Bill W. makes the point-blank declaration that A.A.’s Higher Power is God. We might, or might not, excuse the author by remembering that the Big Book is a historical document as well as an instruction manual, and that most, but not all, early A.A. members did adopt God as their Higher Power. In a general sense, alcoholics who are comfortable with their religious upbringing rarely have any difficulty returning to their previous Christian faith once sober, and using those beliefs to support their new way of living. For those who don’t believe in God, or are unsure about the existence of any god, they are not precluded from discovering a spiritual Higher Power of their own understanding. Most atheists and agnostics have extremely strong beliefs about the significance of all living things in the universe, and how they relate to the spiritual and material world. We can appreciate that although God is always a Higher Power, a Higher Power is not always God. The experience of A.A. shows that however we define it, what matters is that we create and retain some type of non-material, spiritual power of our own understanding that we can connect with in order to help us stay sober. 

Am I willing to do the work to identify, or create my own spiritual  power that I can use in recovery? 

Though my answer to the question would be “no,” I would add that it’s only a matter of semantics. Other people in AA and my connection with them is what keeps me sober. Some may call that a Higher Power, I just don’t happen to use that terminology.  

In Daily Reprieve: AA for Agnostics & Atheists, Alex provokes the reader to think about the ideas in the Big Book. I often found my understanding corresponded exactly with Alex’s, but in other instances, it didn’t. In all cases, however, I found myself pausing to think and to ask myself what these concepts mean to me. That, I believe is a useful exercise. 

Please visit AA Agnostica today to read Joe C.’s review of the book.

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I find the religious dogma in AA very difficult to deal with especially in meetings where they read out the passage from Chapter 5 How it Works ? As a non-believer how can I be expected to feel comfortable when it clearly states That One is God may you find Him now which is clearly Christian ? It also appears to be filled with shame and guilt..eg if you can’t get the AA programme there must be something wrong with YOU rather than maybe AA just doesn’t work for some people ?
Any thoughts please ?


It was a pleasant surprise to hear the old home accent.

The BB is the common culture I share with all the very, very different kinds of people I meet in AA. A lot of these people I don’t have a lot in  common with except an abnormal reaction to alcohol (and some dysfunctional approaches to life), but I can still meet them in the middle with the BB.

And that includes sharing how different my personal experience has been from certain spots, here & there, in the BB, including being an atheist this whole time (‘93).


Gerald, in Japan

Scott A.
Scott A.

WHO SPEAKS FOR ME? Thanks, as ever, for these good works.  I really like the concept of this daily reader, including it’s rooting in the big book, but find myself “balking” at the theme of one author conducting the tour for a full year.  I believe the 24 hour (“excessively religious” black book) daily reader put together by one enthusiast and rejected by aa only to be published by non-aa (yet used in many many many aa meetings) and after its great success (filling a need) the Daily Reflections was later produced by “aa as a whole”? I get that… Read more »

Alex M.
Alex M.

Thanks Scott, and I agree with your comments. I would love to see a daily reader created by our secular folks in A.A. “as a group” similar to the way A.A. members contributed to A.A.’s Daily Reflections book. It’s like going to a speaker meeting vs. open discussion. I get only one experience shared at a speaker meeting, but many experiences shared from an OD meeting.


Thank you both so much for this discussion! I am speaking tonight at a non agnostic meeting and much of what you said here aligns with my own thoughts and is helping me work out what I’m going to talk through. It’s been a long time since I’ve been an actual speaker at a meeting, so I’m a tiny bit nervous but this should help me get through it.

I’m also really looking forward to picking up the book!


Also, please thank your sister-in-law for helping with the name. When atheists and agnostics are searching for information about AA, they are looking for any clue that tells them they are going to be welcomed. Your book is going to help with that thanks and big part to the beautiful title, because those are the words they are using to search. Most of the other literature out there that’s available regarding AA is very comfortable for full and partial believers to pick up without ever doubting if it’s going to apply to them due to their beliefs. The same is… Read more »

Alex M.
Alex M.

Willow – I appreciate your kind comments and I’m sure you gave a good talk last night. I’m still a terrible speaker myself at A.A. meetings, and used to be terrified to talk, but my sponsor said to remember only two things: tell the truth and speak from the heart. P.S. – I did pass on your thanks to my sister-in-law and her wife, and I learned, once again, just how much “our non-AA friends” can help us.

bob k
bob k

This should bring out the haters who get outraged at those of us who lobby for doing the navigation necessary to get at what’s beneficial in the AA book, and the AA program. I’m a big fellowship guy, but I’ve gotten a lot of benefit from secularizing the AA process into something that had not only kept me from drinking for 26 years, but has contributed to my serenity, a thing I appreciate more and more with the passing years. An intriguing format! This promises to be a valuable translation for those of us not fixed by a mere cessation… Read more »

bob k
bob k

If I suffer from alcoholism, and I do, why wouldn’t I read and study a book on the subject that has sold 35 MILLION copies? We have entered a fabulous era in which there are more and more translations available for nonreligious newcomers.