This episode highlights a website that has been a welcome refuge for alcoholics seeking to decouple religious faith and sobriety. Roger C. founded AA Agnostica a decade ago to publish the kind of information he could find nowhere else: Narratives about the experiences of secular members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Through his tireless work, Roger has afforded thousands of people a safe space to share their experiences, tap resources, and feel acceptance that’s not conditioned on a belief in God. The site attracts not only atheists, agnostics, and free thinkers, but also those of religious faith who nevertheless are inspired by the open, diverse atmosphere at secular AA meetings.
As he prepares to shut down the site, which receives more than 1,000 discrete visits a day, Roger reflects on where AA is today, and why inclusivity and flexibility are so important to the organization’s future viability. You’ll hear a lively examination of the conflicts associated with constraints around AA conference-approved literature as well as the statistical reality that The Big Book’s religious orientation may no longer be a good fit for a majority of people.
It’s been a transformational adventure for Roger, who has touched so many lives – including those of this podcast’s co-hosts. And not to worry! While AA Agnostica will no longer be live, Roger reassures us that the platform and all its resources will still be available indefinitely.
- Roger shares the origin story for AA Agnostica, which he initially established in 2011 as a basic source of information for AA members in search of secular meetings in the greater Toronto area.
- A secular AA meeting (Beyond Belief) was launched in Canada in 2009, only to be booted out of the Intergroup just a couple of years later.
- Curious to know more about the history of agnostics and atheists in AA and finding little information available, Roger started research that today has evolved into a collection of more than 700 articles, histories and narratives housed on aaagnostica.org.
- In its first full year, the website logged 6,000 visitors a month, a number that has grown exponentially and today numbers tens of thousands of people from around the world.
- There has been some progression in thinking, but historically the position of most in AA has been that without a belief in God the 12 steps were not sustainable long-term.
- Roger’s popular secular adaptation, “The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps,” was published nearly a decade ago and recently updated in a new edition.
- Initially there was some push-back from some AA members who objected to the use of “AA” in the name AA Agnostica — but it subsided quickly.
- Roger is “not a fan at all” of The Big Book, which by his count has 281 references to God or “Him” in the first 164 pages – something he found alienating. This heavy emphasis also runs counter to the well-documented trends away from organized religion.
- The Future of AA Agnostica: While Roger plans to discontinue posting new material, the website will remain publicly available, along with all its resources, indefinitely.
- AA Agnostica receives about 1,000 unique visitors daily, accessing hundreds of articles.
- Roger shares recollections about the many meetings that have grown out of the community fostered by the website.
- What will Roger be up to after he hangs up his webmaster hat? It has been a big part of his sobriety, along with the groups he will continue to regularly attend. Stay tuned!
- About Roger’s faith journey as a Catholic who at 19 suddenly realized that the religion’s precepts didn’t make any sense to him. Even after years of academic reading and reflection, he never came to understand why anyone would believe in God.
- About secular perspectives , Roger thinks AA should reconsider:
- The strictures surrounding traditional AA conference-approved literature, which is the only approved literature (and presents a financial conflict of interest).
- Pushing religious viewpoints of any kind onto other people is wrong – no matter where you identify on the spectrum of belief.
- Can AA grow and evolve if at its core, it remain dogmatically committed to the original, unchanged and unchanging texts?
- John points out that the decentralized nature of AA and it’s structure fosters critical freedom for autonomous groups to do their own thing. He believes in the future that the General Service Office and the conference umbrella may fall away.
- Mary observes that many AA veterans who are in fact religious still find the secular format and tenor of secular meetings inspiring, largely because they are more flexible, diverse and inclusive.
- Roger’s parting thoughts: Starting and tending to AA Agnostica has been one of the most pleasurable experiences of his life, and without this work over the past10 years, Roger would never have met so many people who now number among dear friends.
- Mary asks about Roger’s early introduction to AA, which was through rehab. He attended meetings subsequently but grew weary of the God-heavy focus, at which point he sought and found a secular AA community that has uplifted him ever since.
(The AA Agnostica website) was a true comfort zone for people who were in recovery and were atheists or agnostics, or just freethinkers who didn’t believe in an anthropomorphic male supernatural deity. They were so relieved that they weren’t alone. (Roger)
All of a sudden there was a secular AA and it was alive and doing different things … in this really interesting time of growth. (Roger)
We’re moving forward in my view, so AA also has to move forward. And it’s moving forward, I believe, but very slowly and much more needs to be done. (Roger)
If AA wants to be inclusive then it needs to drop the conference-approved literature. Because whatever literature works for you, it’s fine – should be fine. (Roger)
Believe whatever you want to believe … but you should not push your beliefs onto another human being. That is wrong. (Roger)
There’s so much to read now – so many more books – like Roger’s books – so many more opportunities to find out how to do the program beyond just The Big Book. (Mary)
There are a lot of people out there who do support us and want AA to be more inclusive. I think the dogmatic voices just happen to be the loudest voices because they’re so certain about their way. (John)
“An Atheist’s Guide to 12 Step Recovery,” by Frank M.
AA Grapevine, an international journal with articles and other resources related to AA known by many as “a meeting in print.”
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This episode is the edited version of a livestream interview conducted April 9, 2022, on the Beyond Belief Sobriety YouTube Channel. You can join us every Saturday at 12:00 PM Eastern for live conversation.