Monday, June 6, 2011

AA Is a Religion: Atheists Kicked Out

The core mission of Alcoholics Anonymous is to help addicts stay sober, right?

Wrong. Atheist alcoholics aren't welcome. Even agnostics are personae non gratae.

Everyone knows that the core twelve-step program of AA rests on a belief in a higher power. Its core tenets came from the evangelical religious beliefs of founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith and were based on Biblical principles.

But in spite of this Christian foundation, I always thought that AA was supposed to be nondenominational. I thought AA put the welfare of its members above proselytizing. Even though its founders were Christian, AA's "higher power" is very generic, something that could appeal to Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Jains and even Native American spiritual beliefs. AA tries to help everyone ... except atheists.

On Tuesday of last week, Toronto's two atheists AA groups were kicked out of the organization. Beyond Belief and We Agnostics were taken off AA's roster of local meetings, removed from the Toronto AA website, and removed from the printed Toronto AA directory.

On the one hand I have to admit that AA has the right to do this. It's a private organization founded by very religious people. If they want to refuse to help atheists, the law is on their side.

On the other hand, AA has a virtual stranglehold on addiction recovery in America and Canada. Can you name even one other program for addicts? Probably not. The name is Alcoholics Anonymous, not "Christian Alcoholics Anonymous." When someone needs help, they naturally look up AA and find the nearest meeting.

AA needs to take a higher view. Their primary mission should be to help addicts, not to proselytize for Christianity. Although the founders believed that Christian principles were a good way to achieve sobriety, their primary mission was sobriety.

Apparently AA has lost sight of that mission. It's now an evangelical church, and sobriety comes second.

(For more about AA, see Christian Shocker: God-Based AA Program Harms Alcoholics.)


  1. Yup,had that same kind of problem when i went to NA,I told them i didn't believe in a "Higher power"and i was laughed at.funny thing i went and managed to get/stay sober on my own,and most of them relapsed and are no longer clean. =)

  2. This is exactly why I love non-12step recovery methods. I really like the SMART Recovery method. I plan to attend graduate school and further research addiction treatment w/o a higher power.

  3. I found that at around eight years of sobriety, I became concerned that the Christianity on which AA was founded was getting in the way of my connections with other members. Bear in mind that at that time I belonged to (and was a past overall chairman of) one of the most liberal AA groups anywhere, on West 46th Street in NYC. Even there, the god talk, when I was subject to it, felt patronizing, in that those who talked that talk clearly were claiming a superior relationship with their higher power(s), while I was not in that divine loop. The crisis came when I was diagnosed with severe depression and was prescribed medication that didn't meet the group's approval. Then, the god vs. meds talk began in earnest by those I considered the "faith healers." I had felt disapproved of my entire life, so when that disapproval started to be expressed by those I thought of as my peers, it was very discouraging. First, I stopped discussing how the doctors were treating my depression, which means I stopped sharing. Then, I just stopped going to meetings. I can say that it's been over 28 years since my last drink, and I do credit AA with the early support as well as many principles that have helped me stay abstinent. However, it is a sect that was built on Protestant values and there is no governing council who could ever overturn the teachings of the Big Book, which is a shame because AA continues to affect many people in a positive Humanist way.

  4. Never saw this or experienced it. From VA, MD or DC. This is completely inaccurate.

  5. There is a recovery group called SOS that does not involve any sort of higher power and does not use the 12 step system. They are also recognized by the courts if you get court ordered, just don't expect a judge to suggest it.

  6. It does little genuine good overall to overcome or manage one addiction while feeding one's addiction to irrational superstition and the obsolete cultures that promote them. Sure, you're free to live as limited and nonsensical life as you choose - but you're not free to interfere in the free choices of others ... as people with such traditions are famous for doing. Be crazy, but keep your place.

  7. I am clean and sober 5 years and I have absolutely NO faith in any GOD as described in Christianity or any other organized modern religion. I have many sober friends who are atheist, agnostic, or have other beliefs.

    AA helped me learn to live sober, how to accept life on life's terms and how to become the success I was meant to be.

    AA and it's PRINCIPLES when applied as they were written, allowed me to select a "higher power" of my own understanding and comprehension. (Taoist beliefs and principles made the most sense to me, so I went with it).

    God is just a word, has no face in my mind, it's a word that stands for something slightly different to every person who uses it.

    The bottom line is very simple. AA works, but you get what you put in, and if someone wants to spend all of his or her time arguing the semantics of the literature, they obviously aren't serious about getting sober yet anyway.

    There is no mention of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Adam, Eve, Noah, Moses, or any other biblical characters that I can recall hearing or reading about in the last 5 years... Someone is on a witch hunt, EDUCATE YOURSELVES and look into HMO's, MD's, big pharma, and the US Government for the Country's drug epidemic.

  8. Many Atheists get sober in AA and have remained so for many years, AA does recommend acknowledging the existence of a power greater than ourselves, which is open to each individual's interpretation... I know a guy who's higher power is "nature" for instance, another guy chose the sun, another the ocean, and so forth... the word "God" is used, however it's a word open to individual interpretation and understanding.

  9. try, self recovery, doesn't condemn you to a life sentence of "once an addict, always an addict", nor to submit to a supreme being who controls your life but allowed you to run it in to the ground. addiction is about choices we make, pure and simple. we choose to use or to stop, if we stop, we are no longer addicted, end of story.

  10. This is such bullshit. Especially to say that A.A. has the lock on recovery. N.A. is more accepting and loving to the newcomer and relapser. A.A. is in denial that alcohol is a drug. A.A. says it is ok to take prescription pills, just as long as your not drinking. A.A. has a better then attitude. A.A. is a religious program and N.A. is a spiritual program. I owe my life to N.A.

  11. Pretty ironic that religion is itself very much like a mind-altering drug. Many people are drunk on religion.

  12. This is a wonderful topic and discussion. The bottom line is that the entire 12 Step ecosystem is based on faith-healing, deceptive, manipulative non sense. There is no spiritual essence that reaches into a person's brain and rearranges their neurons and synapses to get them to think and act differently. The truth is, one learns how to change their behavior and not drink and drug. They may get support and perspective on how to do that, but in the final analysis, only the person can change their own behavior. Very few people that practice the program of the AA Corporation even know they are actually and actively practicing Buchmanism. Complete with being a missionary for that sect of the Christian faith. A deep analysis takes a significant amount of time, but the results are very revealing. To net it out, AA is a corporation that makes money by spreading Buchmanism. Any people getting "sober" is a by product of the actual underlying religious movement. The first layer of deception is to be a gawd-based religion while claiming not to be one. Why else would you try to convert atheists, and if they insist on being atheists excommunicate them from the organization? It only gets worse from there. People really do need to wake up over this huge fraud before it gets more embedded in our society. The dialog has to be raised to an intelligent and rational level and out of the emotional, spiritual and anonymous "no-discuss zone" that this outdated farce has existed in for 75 years.

  13. I love these anonymous comments! LOL at "AA is a religious program and NA is a spiritual program!" And apparently the writer sees spiritual as a good thing and religious as a bad thing. I've never been to NA but I always heard about the friction between NA and AA, how members of one always thought it was better than the other.

    12-step programs are indeed religious, but the common claim/slogan within them is they are "spiritual, not religious." As i said in my Friendly Atheist blog comment on this story, 12-step members do not believe 12-step programs are religious!

    To the original post, AA doesn't just claim to be nondenominational, but also flat-out non-religious, and that those of "any religion or of none" are welcome. But this is similar to how anyone is welcome in any church with strong and specific beliefs, with the idea that such people will be converted to the beliefs of that church.

    AA DOE NOT proselytize for Christianity. AA proselytizes for AA, and only for AA. AA has become its own religion (it happened with the separation from the Oxford Group and the publication of the Big Book), derived from Christianity (the OG was a strong fundamentalist Christian movement), replacing the words Jesus and Christ with Higher Power and/or God, and replacing "sin" with "character defect" which one prays for God to remove. There are many ideas taken as-is from Christianity, such as the "grace of God" being an "umerited gift." I often heard on meetings "If I got what I deserved I'd be dead." So instead of God giving the person what they deserved, He apparently took pity on the person and gave them the gift of being sober in AA.

    It's true some AA members are active and believing Christians, and they have no hesitation saying in meetings their Higher Power is Jesus Christ, but (again, as discussed on Friendly Atheist) it seems the majority dislike religion (Christianity in particular), and do not believe they're part of a religious organization.

    AA has ALAWYS been basically the way it is. The very few "agnostic" or "atheist" AA meetings I've heard of have existed to tell attendees how they need to find GOD or else they'll never stop drinking.

    Here's what the AA "Big Book," published 1949, says: "The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Ex­cept in a few cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come form a Higher Power." The purpose is and has always been proselytization, because they believe a "true alcoholic" cannot stop drinking without finding God, whom many members call "my higher power."

    That's one way AA has had such a consistent message between different meetings - if members hear of some other meeting being "off course" or getting to "new agey" or "liberal," the fundamentalists may start attending and give what they see as the strong AA line of taking the steps just as written, having a sponsor, attending meetings, asking God for sobriety every day, etc.

    Forget telling AA what it should do, any more than you think you can tell Scientology or The Pope what THEY can do. It's what it is, and not enough people have any clue what it is. If more people did, the illegal coercion into AA by judges and parole/probation officers would be made to stop, and psychologists, psychiatrists, medical doctors and even clergy would stop recommending AA to problem drinkers (who do better on their own), and AA and other 12-step programs would whither away.

  14. Note to benbradley: Sorry for the delay. Your first comment was marked as spam by Google for no apparent reason. After your second post, I found the first one and marked it "not spam," then removed your second post. Thanks for contributing to this great discussion.

  15. It disgusts me that this is happening in toronto. As an NA member i am obviously biased towards my own fellowship, but AA NA CA MA OA whatever your part of you deserve to accepted and respected. Everyone knows its right in the traditions the primary purpose is to help the newcomer which is obviously not happening.

    As a self described agnostic i have had no problem useing the twelve steps in my recovery. the idea that 12 step programs constitute faith healing is absolutelly bogus, they don't. 12 step programs rely on the very academic ideas of self sustainability, group therapy, narrative therapy, and many other well documented academic tools used within the addiction recovery process.

    What is really sad in all of this is that a small group of radical people have managed to forever tarnish and label AA as a religious non accepting fellowship, which will do serious future harm to those looking for a solution. I know for a fact that the Chair of AA is one of these people and has been slanting meetings and votes against the Agnostics. Before there was even a vote, she was calling for the website to disown the agnostics. She has manipulated votes, ensuring that some groups show up and others dont, allowing some to speak on the issue and others to not. She and her supporters should be ashamed of themselves and understand that they have done an huge amount of unrepairable damage. AA truely has self destructed from within. and its too bad.

    SOOOOOOOO glad this would never happen in NA, we know and accept that we are spiritual and NOT religious. for the first 6 months of my recovery my higher power was my dog, and everyone was just fine with that.

  16. Well...I can see how you would take this point of view. And, given your comments, I'm wondering if you have any long-time experience in the program of AA?

    It was inappropriate for the Intergroup to remove the two meetings in question. Each group has some degree of anonymity. But, since each group, and each district, and each area (etc.) are run by people - with egos - mistakes will be made.

    The ONLY requirement for membership (in AA) is a desire to stop drinking. So all faiths or no-faiths are allowed and welcomed. Unfortunately, AA functions much like the United States. We have the First Amendment, AND, we have faith based initiatives, tax breaks for pastors and religious organizations, prayers at all kinds of government functions, etc. Most people in meetings are Christian, and they have a great influence on how meetings are run.

    But, there are plenty of atheists and agnostics in meetings, they DO speak out, and they are not silenced. One thing I will give AA...they do NOT shut people up.

    see my blog;

  17. Because AA foundation include statements like "To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis" means there is no place in AA for Atheists.

    Yes there are many Atheists in AA, they survive there even though AA Dogma is against them.

  18. eh......Think about the last time you had a nice clean shot. Or smokes some awesome weed. Or stayed up all night banging some hottie baked out of your made on coke. MMM go on God knows you want too.

  19. There's a chapter in the big book called "We Agnostics." Absolutely AA is not opposed to agnostic members. Christian is is absolutely NOT!!! Where I attend, mention of your particular religious beliefs, should you have them, are somewhat socially taboo.

    Some spirituality is suggested, because many people have found it critical to their sobriety. But atheists stay sober, too. And many of us (like me) are spiritual but not religious. Most of us, I would guess.

    1. Funny thing about that "We Agnostics" chapter. It basically tells you in a very wordy way to STOP BEING AGNOSTIC! It tells you if you don't discard your belief in the supernatural, you're doomed to an alcoholic death.

  20. The key to understanding the issue of God coercion in AA is neatly "hidden" in plain sight of the AA traditions. Tradition three, which should be #1, states that the "only" requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking. Carefully inserted above #3 is #2 which is for our group purpose there is but one, (jesus) ultimate authority-a loving God as he may express Himself. I personally don't care how or if a person chooses to view "God". I have found that I can't openly debate the nature of said God without being ostricized for wanting denigrate AA efforts in saving alcoholics. My only aim is for rigorous honesty in seeking the true nature of God. Unfortunately some religious fanatics shout blasphemer and secretly shove me out the door.

  21. Well first things first "the core mission of aa is not to help addicts stay sober,it's to help alcoholics stay sober so this whole discussion was started by a guy who clearly isn't in aa and who really knows if those 2 groups in canada were really kicked out just because they were atheist and agnostics,more likely that they were affilating themselves with something the outsider of course aa looks like a religion and the whole point of aa is to bring one closer to god and yes aa is based on christianity,god forbid,I don't see any other religions or any other groups offering anything differen that works on a large a scale as aa....if you don't like aa then leave or start your own movement...the truth is that atheists and agnostics have changed aa's message to the now wishy-washy diluted organization that it is now...agnostics are now the majority in aa,my god most of these folks won't even read 164 pages of a book that could help them..hahaha....they take years to take the steps which should bedone quickly for maximum effect...the poster from na who claims they are better,we gave you permision to use our steps and adapt them,the introduction to the na text clearly was written by more grateful addicts than you !!! The truth is that all great movements wre started out small and principled and as they get bigger the original message gets diluted....human nature

    1. It's so cute when Buchmanites act like the Big Book is some kind of infallible scripture, as if simply following "The Steps" as written in the scripture of Bill Wilson and his proctologist buddy Bob is some kind of guarantee of sobriety. It's alcoholism's brand of fundie Christianity.

  22. Anonymous is easier to comment as; change your ways godless liars!! The God who gave "life" to mankind is angry again. Bad news how anyone could mindlessly agree in blasphemous behavior like a "virus" being all religion is...?

  23. Dry dogs and drunk dogs

    If you spell the word god backwards you get the word dog.
    All dogs have fleas, dry dogs and drunk dogs.
    I have been a dry dog for almost for years.

    If I get religious longings for god I put it down to fleabites.
    You can get rid of fleas with flea powder because too much
    itching can drive a dog to drink.

    Don’t worry about god or the 12 steps to enlightenment,
    Just go out and by some flea powder. Then you can relax
    and enjoy your sobriety without itching and biting other dogs
    on the way.




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