On May 30, 2011 the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous removed two agnostic groups, Beyond Belief and We Agnostics from the directory of A.A. meetings. The reason cited was that the groups were using an altered version of A.A.’s Twelve Steps, a version which expelled “God”. The arguments were often fierce and the rhetoric charged, and with so many angry voices, certainly these agnostic groups must have done something wrong. What were they to do? How could they correct things and return to the good graces of the Toronto Intergroup?
Joe C., who in September of 2009 helped found Beyond Belief, the first agnostic AA group in Canada was celebrating 35 years of sobriety at his home group when he answered the group’s concerns.
Let the wood burn, ladies and gents, it will all be ashes soon. Remember, we haven’t done anything wrong, which means we don’t have (anything) to fix.
He was right, these groups did nothing wrong. They simply interpreted the Steps in a way that was meaningful to them. They exercised the great liberty that all AA’s possess, and they helped to make the rooms of A.A. more comfortable for everyone. Joe was right about another thing too, they didn’t have to do anything.
The attention that the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup brought upon themselves had a very unexpected and certainly unintended consequence. Following the removal of the agnostic groups from the meeting directory, a group of freethinkers created a website called AA Toronto Agnostics to help the suffering alcoholic, including the agnostic and atheist alcoholic become aware of their option of attending a freethinkers meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The AA Toronto Agnostics website was the genesis of AA Agnostica, a site which was capably managed by Roger C. since July of 2011. AA Agnostica probably did more to spur the growth of agnostic AA groups since 1980 when Charlie P. and Megan D. founded the We Agnostics Group in Los Angeles, California. If you enter a Google search for “AA Meetings in Toronto”, the second result, just below the GTA Intergroup is AA Toronto Agnostics. Search the Internet again for “atheist in AA”, or “AA for agnostics”, or “AA for nonbelievers” and you will find AA Agnostica everywhere.
The number of agnostic AA meetings has grown in the Toronto area from two meetings in 2011 to eight meetings in 2015. In 2011, there were less than 100 agnostic AA meetings around the world, compared to some 245 meetings in 2015, and this number is growing exponentially. Thank you GTA Intergroup!
Roger C. has provided an amazing service to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. AA Agnostica undoubtedly changed the lives of many for the better, and who knows how many lives were saved. The level of professionalism found on AA Agnostica was perhaps unparalled for a noncommercial website, and the content was not only helpful to the non-religious person in recovery, but it was interesting, educational, and thought provoking for everyone.
So, we have some big shoes to fill here. It’s humbling to even consider that we should try. We don’t intend to replace AA Agnostica, but we will do our part to carry the same message, to provide a space for AA agnostics, atheists and freethinkers worldwide.
We will provide a space for the agnostic, atheist and freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous to freely share their experience, strength and hope with each other, and the Fellowship as a whole. Through civil and thoughtful discourse, we will learn and grow together in unity, service and recovery.
This group of A.A. attempts to maintain a tradition of free expression, and conduct a meeting where alcoholics may feel free to express any doubts or disbeliefs they may have, and to share their own personal form of spiritual experience, their search for it, or their rejection of it. We do not endorse or oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to assure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in A.A. without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs or having to deny their own.
Agnostic AA Preamble
Here we present for your consideration those altered steps that caused such a fuss at the Toronto Intergroup. Can anyone read these in comparison to the original and not see that the basic principles are intact? They did with the steps what every AA member does, what anyone who wishes to work the steps must do, interpret them in a way that is real and meaningful.
THE AGNOSTIC TWELVE STEPS
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to accept and to understand that we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the A.A. program.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to ourselves without reservation, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were ready to accept help in letting go of all our defects of character.
- Humbly sought to have our shortcomings removed.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through mindful inquiry and meditation to improve our spiritual awareness, seeking only for knowledge of our rightful path in life and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs
Additional Information about AA Beyond Belief
Please see the post: Our Vision for AA Beyond Belief
Listen to the AA Beyond Belief Podcast: An Introduction
AA Agnostica, “Let the Wood Burn”, December 13, 2011
AA Agnostica, “Father of We Agnostics Dies”, March 9, 2012
AA Agnostica, “Megan D.“, February 10, 2013