Chatting with Believers and Traditionalists in AA

By Galen T.

My conversations with people about “the God thing” in AA are usually kicked off by my non-recitation of the Lord’s Prayer after meetings. I try to be obvious about it. I don’t discretely bow my head to examine the flooring tiles, but instead look around the room to see who else is joining my silent protest over including a Christian prayer at the end of a non-religious meeting taking place under the umbrella of an explicitly non-religious organization. There are usually a few. And occasionally somebody who is praying will notice that I am not and walk over to me as the circle is breaking up.

Some people assume that I dislike the prayer per se. The prayer is fine, I tell them, but it belongs in Sunday worship services and in private prayers, but not in AA meetings, where most people aren’t Christians or even conventionally religious. I remind them that despite all the talk about God in our literature, AA is intentionally non-religious. Even our two pieces of primary literature are not religious, but theistic. Theism is a theological belief in a God who created the universe and continues to intervene in human lives. Religion goes further to stipulate mandated doctrines, such as the divinity of Christ, and promote rituals of worship such as the reciting of creeds and communion.

The use of the Lord’s Prayer not only implies theism, but is a religious act that violates AA’s primary purpose. The most disturbing consequence of this violation is that alcoholics in need of help try AA and don’t return because they are alienated by the Prayer and perhaps by members who insist that believing in God is a prerequisite to sobriety.     

It is surprising how many people are not aware that the Lord’s Prayer is specifically Christian; they think of it as harmless generic expression of togetherness and solidarity. We can point out that Jesus taught the prayer to his disciples. The evidence for this is in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Ever since the writing of the New Testament, the Prayer has been inextricably tied to the Christian Church. The Church has not always been a wellspring of tolerance and love for all humanity, and some people associate it with repressive teachings and rigid judgmentalism. Or, they simply don’t believe in God.  

The post-closing circle exchange often ends here. Occasionally, though, somebody will sidestep the main issue of AA’s primary purpose by veering off into making a case for God’s existence. The most popular of the classical proofs for God is the argument from design. The short version goes like this: the universe shows itself to be perfectly designed to produce human life on earth. Such perfect design could not be mere luck, so the universe had a designer, who is God.

Although this is traditionally called the teleological proof, it is less a proof than a deduction. But is the first premise – which is an empirical assertion about the universe – true?

The universe is indeed orderly in certain ways, but it also contains disorder, black holes, for example. This is just one problem with the argument from design. Through the middle ages it was assumed that the earth was the culminating purpose of creation. But we now know that we inhabit an infinitesimal speck in the backwater of a cosmos that contains billions of constellations, galaxies, solar systems, and spheres like earth. Furthermore, both the enormity of the universe and its constant expansion prevent us from knowing the entirety of creation and thus being able to gain assurance of its orderly design.   

There is also a logical problem or two. First, we will never know the entirety of the universe. The question will always arise as to what lies on the other side of what we know. The only possible answer to this question is that we don’t know, a response that invalidates any argument that the universe is entirely orderly.

Second, even if the universe is well-ordered, that is to say, perfectly designed, this does not prove the existence of an ordering creator any more than it does the workings of random chance. To cite what we often say to one another: “It is what it is.” It is logically impossible, or perhaps we should say invalid, to induce from empirical observation, tests, and measurements, the existence of an entity outside of our empirical reach.

This is why religious belief has long been held to be a matter of faith in what can be neither proved nor disproved. So why should it be necessary to sobriety?

In this by now hypothetical conversation, this is the juncture at which the mandating role of tradition is often brought into play. Most people who defend the use of the Lord’s Prayer and the necessity of God to sobriety are less religionists than traditionalists. Sobriety was done in a certain way in the beginning, so the argument goes, and it is therefore the way it should be done now. Well, we need to ask, why is this? How does “what was done in the past translate into “what must be done today”?  

History tells us, say traditionalists, that back in the 1930s when everybody in AA believed in God, AA’s success rate was close to 80%, while today it hovers pathetically around 7%. This proves that AA must recommit itself to faith in God as the only reliable basis of recovery from addiction.

But this comparison does not hold up under examination. First, we don’t know how many people got sober through AA 80 years ago, and we have no reliable way of measuring how many do today. Even if the percentage rate of success was higher in the 1930s than today, it stands to reason since during AA’s early years newcomers were virtually kidnapped by freshly sober alcoholics and indoctrinated in sobriety-by-conversion teaching. Interestingly, Bill himself was not brought to abstinence by faith, but on the other side of a sudden, possibly belladonna-induced, white light epiphany. Dr Bob, on the other hand, was a Christian for many years, during which his drinking problem worsened.   

Eighty years later, how do we estimate the number of AA members who achieve success?  First, what is success? Is it 90 days sober? A year? Longer? Even more tricky, how do we determine who qualifies as an AA member? Is it the person who attends one meeting a week but never practices the program? Or should we consider the twice-a-week attendee who has a sponsor but never calls her? How about somebody who goes to a meeting every day, uses her sponsor, but wants nothing to do with step work? And on and on. You see the problem. How can one decide the sample of the diverse AA population to track? Even if this were figured out, good luck coming up with a system of keeping track of them.

So, enough with these percentages of success. It’s guess work. But what we can be sure of is that many people achieve lengthy and permanent sobriety in AA apart from any relationship with the almighty. The crucial element in AA’s success is not faith but the fellowship. It is one alcoholic talking to another.   

AA is commonly said to have begun on the occasion of Dr. Bob’s last drink, ironically administered to him by Bill W. in order to steady the good doctor’s hands prior to a scheduled surgery. A person’s last drink marks the beginning of their sobriety. But as an organization grounded in the principle of one person speaking and listening to another, AA itself began with the six-hour conversation between Bill and Bob that took place several months earlier at the home of Henrietta Seiberling in Akron, Ohio. Henrietta was a friend of Bob’s through the Oxford Group in which Bob was trying to stop drinking. The Oxford group was a potent religious and moral rejuvenation movement begun by a Lutheran minister in 1921 and it held regular meetings in Akron. But the meetings did not afford Dr. Bob contact with other alcoholics, at least none identifying themselves as such.

Unsurprisingly, the Oxford’s group’s religious and moral doctrines worked no better for Bob than did Bill’s immediate post-conversion exhortations for the addicts he encountered on the street. Bob continued to go downhill and his friend, Ms. Seiberling, was growing desperate. So when an equally desperate Bill Wilson turned up looking for another alcoholic, Seiberling leapt at the opportunity to broker a meeting between the two men. Bill was already at her house when Bob appeared at the door looking hung over and disgruntled. Bob’s wife had him in tow, the physician having reluctantly agreed to the meeting on the condition that it would last no more than 15 minutes. 

The two men repaired to a private room and emerged around five hours and forty-five minutes later than Bob had planned. These two alcoholics exchanging stories about their alcohol problem was the origin of AA, irrespective of whether Bob slipped at a medical convention a few months later. The mutual story-telling and identification kept Bill sober and, aside from that one slip, sobered up Bob, and it is what makes AA still work today.

The plain evidence tells us that the foundation of AA’s success is not faith but the fellowship. Some will be helped by a belief in God while others will not. At the heart of AA is not faith but one alcoholic talking to another alcoholic. AA is a fellowship of people who are all devoted to the same goal – getting sober and recovering from the damage we did to ourselves through our addiction. This essence of AA is enshrined in its founding event.

Another look at early AA history helps to confirm that theistic belief has never been the only basis for sobriety. Jim B. and Hank P., both present at creation, were agnostic-atheists and made no secret of it. Together they watered down the God-talk in the Big Book and Jim succeeded in inserting the “as we understood him” into the steps. Sadly, Hank returned to drinking, but Jim remained both sober and an influential presence in AA until his death in 1974.

Jim’s spiritual descendants, so to speak, are alive and well in AA. How do we know that agnostic and atheist members can get sober in AA? Because they have been doing so throughout AA’s 80 years of existence and are doing so today in greater numbers than ever before. In this case, what “is” proves the point that neither God nor belief in him is a precondition for sobriety.  

The tenacious hold of tradition over traditionalists can be baffling. For many, it may be less the principle of the matter than uneasiness in the face of change. When talking to rigid conservatives in AA it helps to remember that people can be wedded to tradition without any legitimate rationale.  Resistance to change is often fueled by fear, even if it is unconscious. Change reminds us that everything in life in impermanent, including life itself.

But the way things were done yesterday can’t dictate to us what should be done today. Slavery, for example, was once a tradition in this country, one grounded in private economic self-interest while justified by racial hatred. 

Tradition can be a positive unifier – a glue that binds people together around common goals and understandings of what makes living worthwhile. But it is not, in and of itself, a justification for policies and practices that hold sway over an organization that needs to change in order to fulfill its mission. 

There is no reason why issues of belief and lack of belief about God should divide us, much less cause anger and contentious debate. There is room for all us who are united in the goal of sobriety and recovery. As the lingo current in treatment circles has it, there are many pathways we can trod to the same destination. The empirical evidence, to return to this term, is incontestable. Some people find that faith in God is a key to their sobriety while for others it is both unnecessary and unhelpful. It is not an either/or proposition. But we can all come together in the fellowship and in using our experience, strength, and hope to help each other and the next newcomer who walks through our doors.

About the Author

Galen lives in Hunterdon County, New Jersey with his wife and step-daughter, and his cat, and his step-daughter’s dog. He has a couple of graduate degrees in theology and is lead editor for AABB. If you want to submit an article, or discuss submitting one, contact him at

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  1. Diana December 3, 2018 at 8:42 am - Reply

    Thank-you for this essay, it was a pleasure to read. For me, the benefit of AA is simply the connection, identification and support that I find in connecting with others who have struggled with similar concerns. Telling our stories is a powerful way to connect with others. I benefit from hearing how others have found and maintained sobriety.

  2. Michael W December 2, 2018 at 9:18 am - Reply


  3. Janet December 2, 2018 at 7:18 am - Reply

    Thank you, Galen,  for expressing my beliefs ( and experience also).  Started this journey 30 yrs ago in your neighboring co. – Somerset.

  4. Gerald November 28, 2018 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    As always, a great read. Plus, I know from previous stories that you were a minister, right? Funny! Also, I enjoyed the rock through-the-window story a while back, slipping backwards into dog poop 🙂 Funny.

    In friendship, non-confrontationally, I must propose a third component: fellowship, belief, and then the third component, “moral psychology,” as Dr. Silworth put it. I’ll tell you why first, and then I’ll define those three components.

    Sober in AA since ‘93, I’ve never had a close,  personal, Real friend in the 12-world, never. I was 20, young & free; all my Real friends & best friends and my wife all came from the outside world. And the best “sponsor” I ever had was not in the 12-step world either. Instead, he was questioning his Catholic faith during the fifteen-odd years or so that we were friends, during which I was also questioning my faith (confidence, trust) in AA, all three components: fellowship, belief, & moral psychology.

    1) Fellowship: New to AA in ‘93, the people inspired me to believe in myself. Their “loser stories” alleviated some of the shame I carried; I wasn’t alone nor such a bad guy after all.

    2) Belief: “Don’t kill yourself now because you’ll be killing the wrong person; you’re not the person you were meant to be.” I needed to believe that I could become a new person and have a new life. And I found a friend in myself (rather than a friend in Jesus). But, a big BUT, believing that the AA method will lead me to ALL the answers I need, you know, forever & ever (Amen). Hmmm … not so sure.

    3) Moral Psychology: Step work: taking realistic self-analyses, discussing them with an understanding friend, and logically joining that practice to a prayerful & mediatative lifestyle. (I pray – atheistically – all the time.)

    Sooo, I’ll have to be brief here: Most of these 25 years I’ve been rather isolated from 12-step fellowships. Just in the past three years I discovered the joy in e-connecting to the message of recovery, but still, these aren’t Real relationships yet, at least not yet with understanding companionship, as in a close personal friend. Not yet.

    Twenty-five years, summarizing for the sake of brevity, I travelled too much. I really never got into the center of any AA fellowship, anywhere I lived, especially overseas, and I even went years here and there without much – or even any – f2f. Instead, my closest personal friends have always been outside the 12-step world, including my best “spiritual guides,” if you will.

    So, wrapping up here, Question: How do you stay sober (and not insane 🙂 ) without staying in the center of the fellowship?

    Answer: You do it the Big Book way 🙂 You know, like it says, your sobriety depends upon your relationship with the HP of your understanding.

    Basically, Steps 10 & 11 is how I’ve been doing it for 25 years. First & foremost. Certainly not with belief in God, and I jokingly call those kinds of AA fellowships “Church Lite,” where the spiritual awakening occurs at step three (with belief) rather than at step twelve (with a personality change) 🙂

    And I’ve very often been without fellowship, especially without meaningful fellowship, including without speaker tapes, without online recovery, etc.; I mean without 12-step fellowship. I should further add that a lot of my fellowshipping has been counterproductive, unfortunately – even damaging to me 🙂 🙂 🙂

    So, the third component, steps 10 & 11: making an effort to change myself to fit conditions as they are, doing this by living an introspective and prayerful & meditative lifestyle.



  5. Stephanie R November 26, 2018 at 9:53 am - Reply

    I do the exact same thing with the lord’s prayer at the end of a meeting. Some people have voiced their displeasure of it to me. Couldn’t care less. Never mind theist, it’s a Christian prayer. Period. Quite frankly, religious Jews or Muslims or Hindus or anyone of another faith shouldn’t feel compelled to say it either. I’ve taken it further and silently protest all prayers, including the serenity prayer. The serenity prayer, being in his full form, is also a Christian prayer. I’ve even stopped joining in the chants during the meetings “god could and would if he were sought,” etc. I think it gives the wrong impression, a cult-like impression, blindly repeating phrases even when they mean nothing to you. I wish I didn’t do this is order to piss off “believers” but I admit it gives me a little pleasure–albeit a guilty one. But I also do it so that a terrified newcomer sees someone who is sober and doesn’t participate in the prayers. Anyway, thanks for this post. I’ve stopped going to one group because it became so god-centered. One member even brought of the idea of not allowing atheists to speak, or use the word atheism, in the meeting. It didn’t pass the vote but the fact that it was even a consideration was appalling to me. At first, I showed up regularly to make my point when I shared but to no avail. I’m so thoroughly disgusted by it now that I rarely attend meetings. Instead, I talk to my sober fellow-travelers regularly.

  6. John S November 25, 2018 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Galen. I have always felt that the problem in AA is less about the god thing than it is in the insistence on clinging to the past or at least trying to replicate what people think happened some 80 years ago.

    • bob k November 25, 2018 at 10:05 pm Reply

      The AA fundamentalists enjoy presenting a clear black and white history of the events of decades ago. The fundie accounts are revisionist at best, and outright false on some accounts. AA history is the friend of the secularist. Even the storied world of ancient AA is one of many shades of gray, probably about 50.

  7. Mary November 25, 2018 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    Thank you Galen for an insightful and informative article. I am copying it and sending to my sponsees. I look forward to AA coming into the 21 st century. I am also weary of talking to theists, and also agree it is attraction not promotion that will tell the tale of a more secular AA  reinvention. Thank you for a great article!

  8. Marty N November 25, 2018 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    I find it absolutely stunning how many of these proponents of the Lords’ Prayer don’t even understand their own scripture.  Matthew 6: 5-7 clearly states how the prayer should be said, in part, “As you pray do not be like the hypocrites for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”  “close the door and pray …….”

    I feel if we want to be effective we MUST stand out of the circle at non-secular meetings.  I think it’s the only way to draw attention to the issue. AA should be unbiased, freely accessible and secular.  Recently, a friend of mine ,who if anything, is an agnostic at best, shared with me one of his most recent thoughts that he had while he and his group were in the circle.  He said he doesn’t say the prayer.  As he was standing there he thought “How many people are coming to this meeting to say this prayer?”  His thought was, “probable none. but if it keeps away one person it’s too many.”  Maybe we’re making some headway!


    • life-j November 25, 2018 at 4:47 pm Reply

      It’s been a while since it has come up, but I have on a number of LP occasions elected to step INSIDE the circle instead of OUTSIDE of it. There is good signal value in that: I can’t partake in this, but I do not want to be left out. Puts a little pressure on the situation too, the people who remain in the circle will have to reflect on the issue as they’re praying, though of course many good Christians will just think I’m an idiot who doesn’t realize how much salvation I’m missing out on. Anyway, consider trying it.

      • marty nieski November 25, 2018 at 10:06 pm Reply

        I’ve been out of the circle since the whole thing started in our area, 1988,  Occasionally, I stay in the circle.  I don’t know who’s more uncomfortable, them or me.  What does bother me is, some members of our secular group do stand in the circle.  At the largest meeting in our area, in a hospital, some of us refer to ourselves as the “heathens in the hallway”, because we gather in the hall of course.  John L. will be glad to hear this.  A visitor from Boston came to the meeting and on her way out said to me, “I didn’t know what I was getting into in there”.  According to her, there is no LP used in Boston.  I assume it’s true. If so, that’s progress.

  9. W November 25, 2018 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    “Through the middle ages it was assumed that the earth was the culminating purpose of creation.”

    Actually, the earth was scene as the most imperfect and problematic part of creation. The higher you went up the Ptolemaic system (first the moon, etc.) the closer to perfection you got. We were literally the bottom of the barrel in the heavenly cosmology.

    Which we now know is nonsense. It’s sludge ad infinitum! 😉

  10. life-j November 25, 2018 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    Galen, thank you.

    AA is definitely a religious program where I live, even though we did get rid of the lords prayer about 15 years ago. Didn’t keep someone, about 5 years ago from suggesting that we start using it again, like they had seen it done in some heartland meeting, because it is such a beautiful prayer. So I exploded. Some lack of recovery can be handy at times. So it was narrowly averted.

    And hopefully we can head off AA becoming a religion. All the religious people in AA are all too keen on establishing ritual and dogma, so it can feel more like a religion, but thanks to our traditions  they have at least not been able to put it in writing. But it is quite entrenched anyway. “At the beginning of every meeting, How It Works must be read to please our god”. Or whoever it pleases.

    Our biggest issue is going to be how to get the Big Book dislodged as our bible. And as long as recovery outfits buy a half million of them every year, it will be difficult. But that would probably be the decisive factor, when we no longer have our main literature go on endlessly about god, and we are encouraged to start thinking for ourselves, and once WS is no longer supported by the sales of that book, but will have to scramble to sell some literature which actually works the way it says it does, then we’ll see some real changes.

    Not right around the corner, but I can feel it coming.


    • Marty N November 25, 2018 at 3:38 pm Reply

      If they wrote an updated version of the BB, wouldn’t many of us who already have the original buy the new one as well?  I think so.  Just a thought.

      • bob k November 27, 2018 at 6:08 pm Reply

        There will be NO major changes in AA until at least 10 years after it’s too late. Then the scrambling will be really interesting.

      • life-j November 25, 2018 at 4:58 pm Reply

        Takes them 3 years to change one sentence, so I doubt it can be done in this century. And so many people have tried rewriting it by now, and while all the efforts have been laudable to a degree, I think it is hopeless. It is so full of logical fallacies and outright nonsense. On the other hand – it’s much better to just keep the original 1st edition, put it on the top shelf, ignore it, read something current, and then every once in a while take it down and read in it for history’s sake, and marvel at how far that book was ahead of it’s time 80 years ago.

        • Stephanie R November 27, 2018 at 10:14 am Reply

          Perfectly said.

  11. Bill D November 25, 2018 at 11:08 am - Reply

    Nice to read you once again, Galen.

    Carl Rogers wrote, “Neither the Bible nor the prophets – neither Freud nor research – neither the revelations of God nor man – can take precedence over my own direct experience.”. – Mindful Recovery.

    One sufferer talking with and listening to another can form the basis for a ‘faith’ that becomes part of an internal affirmation beyond logic, reasoning, feeling; it bubbles up.

    Happy trails all


  12. bob k November 25, 2018 at 10:37 am - Reply

    The dogged clinging to the Lord’s Prayer by AA groups, and members’ vigorous, albeit flawed defenses of its continued use in AA meetings, shows us exactly what we’re dealing with. In the multicultural metropolis that is the Greater Toronto Area, I would estimate the Christian portion of the total membership to be well under 20%. Nonetheless, the prayer described by Emmet Fox as “Christianity’s most important document” remains the closing of choice at 80 or 90% of AA groups. The fear of violating small “t” tradition blinds members to the prayer’s contradiction of our own stated principles, specifically non-alliance and non-affiliation.

    “Don’t worry Mr. Newcomer, we’re spiritual (yummy, yummy), not religious (yucky, yucky). We will now close with The Lord’s Prayer.”


    Lordy! Lordy!! LORDY!!!

    • Robin McM November 26, 2018 at 12:33 am Reply

      The “structural” core of the A.A. Society, as Wilson called it, is each of its independent, autonomous and self-determining groups, now 120,000+ of them worldwide.

      If a group decides, via its own group conscience, to say The Lord’s Prayer, it is free to do so. If groups in Toronto decide (or anywhere) decide via group conscience to reword the Twelve Steps, they are free to do so. What’s good for the goose, etc.

      Bill Wilson is on record as having no problem with a group’s recitation of The Lord’s Prayer.

      An insistence that a secular group can self-determine its meeting script but a non-secular group cannot is inconsistent, hypocritical, and busybody authoritative in a Society where top-down authoritarianism is pretty much constitutionally verboten. Please let’s not make our movement seem generally intolerant nor dismissive or electively oblivious of Traditions One and Four.

      • Stephanie R November 27, 2018 at 10:10 am Reply

        My first sponsor said “if the group is going to die it’s going to die” and I watched one of mine do just that–as the only people who showed up to the business meetings were the grumpy old men who, even sober for decades, were filled with fear and clung to “tradition.” The world changes and either you change with it, or you die.  In the end the meeting couldn’t sustain itself. So…that’s autonomy at work. Let’s just hope a majority of 120,000+ groups have members with open minds who show up to business meetings. Intolerant and dismissive are exactly the wrong words to use. The fact that people are discussing this in such depth speaks to opposite. I also don’t know anyone who is saying that World Services should sign an executive order. The point is to get people to think and not just fall back on the useless argument of “tradition.” Of course Bill didn’t have a problem with it. That’s an equally useless argument. He was a WASP. And, based on most of the literature, he wasn’t nearly as open minded as people paint him to be, or not by today’s standards. It’s difficult for anyone to see passed his own experience. The Lord’s Prayer is a Christian prayer, tradition or not. In an non-religious group it shouldn’t be used. This is no longer a world in which they lived.  Anyway, the idea of all this is to get people to think, not just about their own comfort but about their individual groups and yes AA as a whole. While each group is autonomous, each group also speaks for the institution whether or not you like it. If I walk into a meeting as newcomer or a medical professional, I come away with an impression of AA as a whole. I don’t have enough information yet to think “oh well that’s just this group.” Because my arguments fall on deaf ears at business meetings, and the old timers are afraid to even consider something different, I’ve stopped going to meetings. It’s a loss to the group because I did service and I sponsored a lot of women, but closed minds close doors.

        • Robin McM December 26, 2018 at 5:04 pm Reply

          To: Stephanie R-

          Yes indeed, AA groups and/or meetings dissolve all the time. If one observes what’s going on, one can easily determine that for oneself; a sponsor and his or her sage wisdom (that’s sarcasm) need not be involved. All one has to do is pay attention. In fact, Secular AA, this “ferocious tide” as the webmaster of the competing site called it back in 2016, is growing much more modestly in raw numbers and at a small fraction of AA’s total published meetings growth in calendar years 2016 and 2017. Tides go in and out; never mind the hyperventilating hyperbole over at aaagnostica.

          I’ve paid close attention to the meetings list at another competing website,, for the last year-and-a-half since mid-2017. Indeed, there were NET additions of 67 meetings and 58 groups. It’s important to note that these are NET numbers. Thirty-eight secular meetings disappeared; they’re assumed to have closed. Why else take them off the list? One-hundred-five meetings appeared; they’re assumed to be new. (It is possible the meetings existed, but did not yet appear on the centralized list, quite likely because they’re not swept up in the Secular AA Movement’s fervor.) That’s it for meetings. As for the 58 NET new groups, the particulars for gross new groups and gross disbanded groups calls for an analysis I don’t feel like performing right now. It’s hardly necessary.

          One doesn’t need a sponsor to make observations and do simple math. Wouldn’t you know that “Living Sober”, perhaps the only Conference-approved book that’s not entirely repulsive to a critical mass of secular AA’s, urges a relatively swift dissolution of sponsorship? Steps One through Nine entail relatively swift action by the precious newcomer. Ten, Eleven and Twelve call for (I mean, SUGGEST) lifelong adherence.

          If you feel comfortable with a sponsor to get through what Mr. Wilson called “this simple program”, then, by all means, have at it.

          As for the rest of what you wrote, it’s a lot of red-herring stuff that seemingly has little to do with my intended pointed reply to Bob K’s comment. I disagree with nearly all of your contribution, rife with factual errors, but such is the nature of written, non-conversational engagement on the web. This reply of mine is not too very timely, so it’s entirely possible that fuller engagement from me will never be read by you nor by anyone else. I think it’s better to expend my efforts and keystrokes elsewhere.


          • Stephanie Roberts December 26, 2018 at 5:39 pm Reply

            Dear Robin,

            I think so, too! Maybe start your own blog? Keystroke there?

            You’re so angry, or at least your comments come across that way. (Nice jabs in the last paragraph btw. Feel better?) Now, sadly, only YOU are coming across as an authoritative busybody.

            And, of course I utilized one of the best parts of the entire “program” when I first started coming—a sponsor. I’m from a very privileged background and have been really well-educated and YEP I still needed some guidance when I first came in. I found that whole “ask for help” part integral to lasting sobriety and overall mental health. I asked a psychiatrist for additional help after that. Wow! Zoloft is amazing. Seriously, though, someone to call when not taking the first drink proved difficult especially considering I didn’t have god between it and me? Nice! And free! Like most, I was smart enough to know that my sponsor didn’t have the answers to everything but she did know how to stay sober and remain more or less content with the decision for 25 years. So… to put someone down for that is… it’s mean and judgmental. Thankfully, I’m a confident gal!!

            I’m not a highly reactionary person, and I’m rarely really angry, but comments like yours—especially the pointed nastiness at the end—makes me bristle (haha) because it does a great disservice to anyone reading this article. It’s such a bummer. All these thoughtful people writing and commenting with the hope of helping and supporting each other and then…. this nonsense. You’re not having a healthy intellectual debate with anyone here, you’re preening. You come across as arrogant and angry—traits that no one I know in or out of AA wants for themselves… well I mean except for our dear leader. (See that? That’s me being a smug coastal-city liberal.)

            Cheers, indeed.

            From an always sober, mostly happy, sometimes joyous, rarely angry Atheist who used AA AND A SPONSOR to get and stay sober.


            PS Robin, if you’re a newcomer (by that I mean with under 3 years) then I apologize. Ignore this reply. Do whatever you need to do to clear the fog. We got you.

          • Robin McM December 26, 2018 at 5:27 pm Reply


            The GSO publishes annual numbers for total members and total GROUPS worldwide. It does NOT publish annual numbers for MEETINGS worldwide.

            In 2016, AA reports an increase of 557 groups. In 2017, there was an increase of 1,995 groups. For the two-year period, that’s an increase of 2,552 groups. Indeed there is a mismatch of time periods so a precise comparison eludes. Also, the 2018 numbers won’t be made public by GSO till mid-1992.

            In a year-and-a-half period, 58 net new secular AA groups were added.

            Math and objective facts are untidy things. The truths they serve up can be inconvenient.


            • Stephanie December 26, 2018 at 6:23 pm Reply

              Omg!  All about facts. Love ‘em! Totally comfortable with discomfort.  None of what I wrote was stated as fact. Chill girl chill. Schooling me is a wasted effort. I hope tomorrow’s a better day.

            • Robin McM December 26, 2018 at 5:29 pm Reply

              … um … till mid-2019 !!

              10-4. Over and out.

    • joe November 25, 2018 at 3:20 pm Reply

      One mans opinion: The Lords Prayer in AA won’t last. The hold outs are diabetic smokers who will be called by god to be by his side and millennial members won’t stans for such traditionalism.

      thanks Bob and Galen and the rest a’ yuz

      • marty nieski November 27, 2018 at 9:44 am Reply

        How are supposed to get the millennials to stay long enough to do the movement any good if we still have all these prayers and chants in place?

        • Stephanie R November 27, 2018 at 9:51 am Reply

          I so agree. Some of them seem to take to it but not enough. Like zealous Catholics, they’d rather let the institution die intact than change it,.

  13. bob k November 25, 2018 at 10:19 am - Reply

    A small point of correction.

    The iconic Mother’s Day meeting at the Seiberling gatehouse took place, not surprisingly, on Mother’s Day, 1935. The date was May 12. AA counts its “founding” as the day of Dr. Bob’s last drink. For many years, that date was thought to be June 10, and that remains the celebrated day, although relatively recent research shows that calculation was erroneous, the correct date most likely was June 17. The time between the initial Bill-Bob meeting, Ernie Kurtz’s fourth “founding moment in the history of the idea and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous,” and Bob’s last drink is five weeks, not “several months.” The medical convention took place a single month after the initial meeting, not “a few months.”

  14. Thomas Brinson November 25, 2018 at 9:26 am - Reply

    Excellent Galen — thank you. You describe eloquently the same behavior I adopt whenever I’m at a meeting where the Lord’s Prayer is chanted. I seek out other free spirits that I can proselytize  the secular AA message of continuous recovery a day at a time. You also do an excellent job is recounting the seminal events of AA’s beginnings and explicating that they have little if nothing to do with religion or theistic beliefs.

  15. Tomas L November 25, 2018 at 9:08 am - Reply

    Thank you for a great article!
    I have been an atheist for as long as I can rember, but atheism and religion have been irrelevant to both my drinking and to my sobriety. When I drank, I made a zillion different excuses for having another drink, but I can’t recall that I ever drank because I didn’t believe in any god or because some other people do. Getting sober had nothing to do with atheism or religion either. What may or may not happen after death was irrelevant, and still is – I want a life before death, and that is still my reason for staying sober. Who or what created the Universe is also completely irrelevant: It’s today I need to not pick up the first drink and do what I can to get a good life, what God did 6000 years ago or Big Bang did 14 billion years ago has nothing to do with it.
    I like your view on when AA begun. It never really made sense to me to see drinking a beer as the start of sobriety, and doing surgery when Dr Bob was in such a horrible shape that he needed a drink to steady his hands doesn’t feel like something to be proud of. I consider my own sobriety date as the second day after my first drink, which was the first day I’m reasonably sure there was no alcohol in my body. It wasn’t a good day and I’m not saying anyone else should define their sobriety date the way I do, but it’s how I see it.

  16. XBarbarian November 25, 2018 at 8:17 am - Reply

    well done, thank you!

    for me, in the end, it’s simply about beliefs.. which , well, are nothing more than feelings. Im weary arguing with theists.

    today, it’s simply about about being honest if someone asks. do you believe? no. next.

    Im more clear than ever, if AA is ever to let go of it’s theistic theme, it won’t be from argument. it will just be rooted in sober members not believing, and  being attractive enough in their practice of the sobriety without gods, that eventually the shift will occur. I dont see it happening as the result of conversion or debate.

    attraction is after all, more powerful than promotion.

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