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It's time to change the things we can no longer accept - by using science and medicine to address the physical components of addiction.

Every year 3.3 million people die from alcohol-related injury and disease. They don't have to. There is a scientifically tested way to reverse the alcohol cravings felt by those with alcohol use disorder. We've already helped hundreds of people turn their lives and their health around with The Sinclair Method.

All of the resources you find on this site are offered free of charge. There are links to news articles, videos, testimonials and resources you can print and give to your doctor. Everything we do at the C Three Foundation revolves around getting help to those who need it. If the treatment industry has failed you (or someone you love), this site is for you--because you are not powerless and hope is available. #OptionsSaveLives

More information can be found here:

Visitor to secular AA Canberra and talk on the Sinclair Method


Julie-Anne Kenworthy is a psychologist who frequently works with people who have alcohol issues. She is very interested in Secular AA.

She would like to help the secular AA movement grow through her clients. They are considering setting up a secular AA group. She says that they have a lot of enthusiasm to do so.

She is visiting Canberra this Friday (21/09/2018) and would like to observe our meeting. This is allowed (actually encouraged) under our group conscience.

She will also give a short presentation about the Sinclair Method after the meeting.

If you have not attended in a while, please note our change of address: Canberra Hospital Building 2, Level 3, Conference room 2

See you on Friday!

Are Determined Atheists Anti-AA?

via Atheistic AA

John H., September 17, 2018

After my return from the recent ICSAA 2018 (International Conference of Secular AA) in Toronto I had the time to think about the conference as compared to our first two gatherings in Santa Monica in 2014 and Austin in 2016.

I came away from Toronto favorably impressed with the program (except for a few things that had been quietly inserted regarding the Grapevine and a certain non-SecularAA “official” presenter) and had a wonderful time overall meeting with likeminded atheist AA friends from around the world both old and new.

The Canadian host committee did a good job and put on a good show. The business meeting (though burdened with some arcane procedural issues in terms of voting that were dispensed with in the end) went very well with the election of a very solid group of new BOD members, adoption of new bylaws, and the selection of Washington, DC (Bethesda, MD venue) as the site of ICSAA in late October 2020.

Less positive was some of the hostility and outright aggression shown to some of the hard-core   atheist presenters both before and after our presentations and even (in one egregious case) during one session itself.

After these events in Toronto I convened a brief, on line, zoom meeting of a group of “determined atheists” (just my own new locution after being given some feedback by people I respect over my personally preferred depiction as being “militant”) who had been present for these events and we “took our own inventory” to see if we had gotten “personal” with other members, outside of the context of the statement of our views, while we were there.

The honest feedback we got amongst ourselves was that, mostly, we had behaved with some restraint and had not gone “sideways” in our responses to what was being directed at us.

What is perplexing to me (as always speaking just for myself in this article and not, in any way, speaking for anyone else) is why this is so? Is saying what you mean and meaning what you say really that threatening? I guess, given what I heard both first and second hand in Toronto, that to some, at least, it is.

While I won’t, of course, specifically characterize the remarks that were directed at others I will take up something that was directed at me.

Before I left Toronto, I was confronted and accused of being “Anti-AA” in quite vehement terms. It was as if I had desecrated the “temple”, invaded the “holy of holies” and committed a “mortal sin” while defiling the Ark of the Covenant.

My “sin” had, apparently, been committed in the course of giving my primary talk in Toronto in a break out session that centered on the irrelevance, for me, of either the original or reformatted (for supposedly “secular” consumption) versions of the 12 Steps. The audio file of that talk and the Q&A session can be referenced here… .

The distinction to be made, and clearly stated, is that self-identified atheist members of SecularAA are not, by definition or identification, “Anti-AA” simply because they are atheist or in opposition or at variance with any part, or all, of the 12 Steps both as originally written or as re-written by any self-appointed re-definers of the “program” for secular people.

Perhaps this determined atheist  needs to explain himself more clearly and in positive terms.

Specifically, for me only, I want to say what I’m for:

  • I am 100% pro-abstinence.

  • I deeply believe in making a personal decision about drinking as a vital “first step” in the process of achieving a lasting sobriety.

  • I am very committed to the idea of an AA Meeting and the “fellowship of men and women” the meeting represents.

  • I strongly believe that the process known as “sharing” is vital to both newly sober and long-term AA members in assisting with the development of a life that has both meaning and substance for the individual.

  • I believe strongly that “helping another alcoholic”, in any practical way, when and where possible, has great meaning for me, and my own long-term sobriety, provided I stay within the parameters of both my experience and personal limitations.

  • I am pro-love (as people in AA tend to love other alcoholics in terms of wishing them the best in their sobriety) despite some rather profound struggles in terms of personal differences, and in the sense of doing no demonstrable harm to our fellow members.

  • I am pro-service, personally defining the term as any activity that may, in the future, bring SecularAA into the mainstream of the general discussion of recovery, and delivery of services to the secular newcomer, both in North America and Internationally, without confusing it with conventional AA and its New York, GSO Headquarters with which, I strongly believe, we should have the loosest possible association with without giving up the “brand name”.

In general, it’s better to be “pro” than “anti” but I would be less than transparent if I didn’t state that I am anti-religion in all its forms. I strongly oppose religious dogma, the standardization of thought, and the suspension of the critical examination of facts brought about by what is conventionally called “faith” or “spirituality”. Also, I am in opposition to the parts of the AA program (as codified in the ‘Big Book’ and ‘Steps’) that tend to link a member’s personal habits (other than drinking and using), characteristics and behaviors to the so-called “quality” of their sobriety. I suspect that the word “unity”, as applied to AA, is often deployed as a ruse that actually means “uniformity”. I believe that passive aggression is a finely-honed tool of parts of the conventional AA program (possibly also within SecularAA in some form) and can even be used by people promoting benign and positive terms such as “inclusion and diversity” in order to bend a member to another’s vision of the “way it should be.”

I strongly believe that self-deception and self-abasement were deeply ingrained in the underpinnings, practices and traditions of the Oxford Group and that this thesis still is centrally involved in the practices of conventional AA. SecularAA, as I have experienced it over the past 30 years, is in no way this way and therein lies the rub.

As I have pointed out at some length elsewhere many of our current SecularAA members came of age totally imbued with a conventional AA culture (going back many years in some cases) which is something I only had to tolerate briefly in my early AA days. They may therefore find it difficult to separate from the conventional AA structures and verities I personally have very little connection to having had my primary roots in what is now SecularAA for a very long and happy time.

Additionally, many in SecularAA are forced into accommodations I am not (I’m in a major liberal urban center where it is easy to avoid the fundamentalists) by having few meeting choices and being confronted in day to day AA life with conservative AA views I seldom, if ever, encounter these days. With the rapid growth in the number of SecularAAmeetings this factor will, hopefully, greatly lessen over time.

Being an unbeliever and finding it difficult to fully separate from a long association with a “culture of belief” can be, I could imagine, quite painful. We are all products of our formative experiences and many folks just can’t let go. I can’t expect people who have deep emotional attachments to certain structures to give up what makes them secure. As far as they are concerned I have no desire to do so, in terms of change that directly affects them, and, therefore, present no threat, internal or external, what so ever.

However, I do suspect that younger people, our successors in SecularAA, may have far fewer attachment issues with the outmoded, religious structures of a conventional program, given that they may have been exposed to rational alternatives at an earlier age.

It seems, to this writer, that, as always, the determined atheist is expected, at some level, to stand in the shadows and develop inherently moderate views to achieve more cultural acceptance. I have hope that the younger generations to come will be less subject to this sort of direct or indirect influence as we move along and grow in numbers.

In understanding a few simple facts about these positions and the motivations behind them, I (or anyone who might agree with some of my core assumptions) can’t be categorized as “Anti-AA”. Quite the contrary, by bringing to light what works for us in an honest way we may be able to clear out enough detritus to more easily, at least for some, move toward a truly secular, SecularAA future.

Everyone has alternatives.

By Stephen S and Justin M

Stephen is an AfroAmerican living in Australia.

Stephen is an atheist.  So am I.

Akin to sexuality and political orientation, atheism and agnosticism are hidden traits of character. Atheists/agnostics can choose to share that trait or not.

Stephen is a military veteran. His training included studying foreign language and linguistics. He demonstrates a keen and academic appreciation of language and  commits to respecting its rules of usage.

Because of that, he is direct when he speaks. He attends both traditional and secular AA meetings. As do I. We both attend traditional meetings  in our city.

In that meeting, he has shared only three times.

He  has said that I present casually in social interactions. But that is a deliberate cover for my political position regarding AA. Research also has found that it is significantly more difficult for people who are discriminatory towards any group to maintain that discriminatory attitude to someone that they know and are emotionally attached to. For that reason, I did not declare that I am an atheist for the first six months of AA attendance. I currently mention that I am an atheist in every share, where it is relevant, to help normalise my atheism. Also, it may help others who have not “come out” as atheist, agnostic, secular, or non-Christian to realise that they can be a member of AA to pursue sobriety. In other words, it may help them to look past the  religion-oriented  wording  in the  Steps and  Traditions.

I enjoy speaking to Stephen and  exchanging ideas regarding belief, knowledge, race politics, alcoholism, ethics, et cetera.

Stephen and I recently had a chat about dogma. He abhors the prevalence of dogma within AA. This post is a result of that chat.

I feel an affinity with Stephen. Of course, we both identify as alcoholics. So that helps a lot. But also for his identity as an  Afro-American. Some in the atheism normalisation movement compare it to the normalisation of LGBT+ identities. I feel that there are also  parallels to modern civil rights movements.

There are, at least, two approaches to seeking to protect secularism within AA. The first is to simply start secular meetings, gather secular alcoholics about myself and create a secular AA community. That is akin to Malcom X’s idea of separatism. Stephen and I also  practice civil disobedience by refusing to say the  Serenity Prayer at the end of traditional meetings—emphasising our  nature of being separate  from traditional members, whilst remaining part of AA.

The second approach is to create that secular AA community, but also to attend and identify as an atheist/agnostic/secularist within traditional AA. I feel a moral obligation to do so, as it may help others who are atheist/agnostic/secular to attend and stay within AA. That is more akin to Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach to civil rights – the “they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character” approach. Where we replace “the colour of their skin” with “a lack of belief” to become: “they will not be judged by a lack of belief, but by the content of their character”.

Whilst I am unconvinced of AA’s claim that it is a “solution” to problem drinking – others have been convinced. The medical community in Australia interacts with AA, encourages attendance at AA meetings and encourages problem drinkers to become AA members. They, by default, accept that it is useful and has positive outcomes for problem drinkers. My pragmatic approach to traditional, exclusionary AA is to use it as a recruitment ground for inclusive secular AA.

Here is where Stephen and I digress. As an example, he sees words like “probably” in “probably no human power could restore us to sanity” as the authors hedging their bets. It is avoidance. Not wanting to be held to the standard that they set for themselves. Not living up to the claims that “the program” is a solution to alcoholism.

I have, what I consider to be, a more generous interpretation. That “probably” gives me, as an atheist, a testable claim. I have the ability to test whether that is the correct word. To see if it should be “maybe” or “it is untrue that”.

In my two years as I member of AA, all I have seen is human power. It was human power that saved Bill W’s sobriety when he was tempted to drink at the Mayflower Hotel. He sought out another human, an alcoholic, on which to rely rather than drink. He literally turned his back on drinking and sought out Dr Bob. Even now, it is humans that set up groups. Humans organise meetings. Humans hang the banners. Humans prepare the coffee and refreshments. Humans chair meetings. Humans attend meetings. Humans share in meetings. Humans get  telephone numbers of others and ring them when in trouble or when they are ill at ease. For me, the whole AA enterprise is based on human power. For me, the whole AA enterprise is successful because of human power.

No supernatural pleas are needed or required. Humans are the ultimate higher power. I would argue that they have always been the higher power in AA.

It is untrue that no human power could restore us to sanity.

It is true that human power could restore us to sanity.

Canadian Atheist Still Says Mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous Is Unethical

Canadian Atheist Still Says Mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous Is Unethical


Byron Wood, a nurse from Vancouver, was going through a rough time in his life a few years ago. After suffering the aftermath of a mix of alcohol and drugs, he went to a local clinic, where a doctor committed him to a hospital. Wood became a “non-practicing” nurse in that time, with the understanding that once he completed a recovery program, he’d be able to practice again.

The problem with that plan occurred after he was told to join Alcoholics Anonymous as part of his rehabilitation:

… Wood attended a residential treatment program in Ontario in the spring 2014, staying for five weeks, though he took issue with their methods.

“If I questioned the 12-step philosophy or tried to discuss scientific explanations and treatments for addiction, I was labelled as ‘in denial’,” Wood said. “I was told to admit that I am powerless, and to submit to a higher power. It was unhelpful and humiliating.

“There was a mentality among staff that addiction is a moral failing in need of salvation. We were encouraged to pray.”

The idea of submitting to a Higher Power made no sense to Wood, who’s an atheist. He knew he could recover, but pretending like he wasn’t in control of his life wasn’t the way he wanted to do it. So Wood attended AA for a while… but decided to stop. And because he stopped, he was fired. (Officially, it was changed to a “resignation” the following month.)

Eventually, he filed a Human Rights complaint against the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and the B.C. Nurses’ Union saying they discriminated against him because of his atheism. By forcing him to go through a religious treatment program — when secular, scientific alternatives were readily available — they were essentially punishing him for not believing in a God.

All of this happened a couple of years ago, and there’s still no resolution. However, the CBC just ran a rather sympathetic profile on Wood describing the various issues he raised, including the idea that addiction should be treated in a one-size-fits-all sort of way;

Several experts and critics of 12-step programs have written letters to the tribunal, saying that Wood’s complaint is in the public interest. His supporters include scientists, doctors, psychotherapists, lawyers, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the B.C. Humanist Association, and the Centre for Inquiry Canada.

According to Dan Reist, an assistant director at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, most peer-reviewed studies have shown that AA is not particularly effective.

“Does it have behind it some good scientific studies of cause and effect that is often claimed by the proponent? The answer to that is: No, it doesn’t,” he said.

There is strong evidence that AA works for certain people, Reist added, but only those who want to be there.

“The idea that we can simply grab people, force them into a situation where we can fix them, misunderstands the very nature of addiction. That’s what’s wrong in the Byron Wood case,” Reist said.

This shouldn’t be complicated. Wood had no problem going through a recovery program as part of his rehabilitation, but AA wasn’t useful or scientific enough for his tastes. More importantly, even though there were other secular options — like SMART Recovery or Secular Organizations for Sobriety — they didn’t “count.”

While Wood has a different job these days, he misses nursing. The saddest thing about this is that he did nothing wrong in terms of his recovery but was still punished because he wasn’t willing to lie about the efficacy of a religious treatment program. It’s a travesty. The government shouldn’t allow it to happen to anyone else.


By Robert B.  

My Background

I was born in eastern Tennessee in a fundamentally religious family as the oldest of three. My dad was often angry and sometimes violent. He was an occasional binge-drinker (a few times per year).

I stopped drinking once about 20 years ago when I had had enough work and family consequences. I did individual and group therapy for about a year and took anxiety and antidepressant medications for about six years. I didn’t consider myself alcoholic. I might have entertained an alcohol use disorder diagnosis if I were placed at the mild end of the spectrum, but this did not occur to me.

I thought my depression and anxiety were situational and, other than a year of therapy followed by medications, I only abstained and focused on harm reduction. I always assumed that I would drink alcohol again when I was okay.

Seven years later, I was in a good spot, remarried, relationships repaired, and peaking in my career. When we met, my wife thought that I didn’t drink alcohol because of medications and that sounded like a good story to me, especially since it was partly true She did not know the extent of my bottom. For that matter, no one did. Individuals knew pieces, but never the whole story.

One night, I had a glass of wine over dinner at a restaurant with my wife’s blessing and even enjoyment. I didn’t drink alcohol again for 2-3 weeks and then again only one glass of wine. Within a couple of months, I was having a couple of glasses of wine or bottles of beer daily. Within six months, I was a blackout drunk for the first time. Within a year, my wife suggested I stop drinking alcohol. I stopped and started monthly, never abstaining for more than a week or two. I began to blackout frequently and family and work consequences mounted.

At my bottom, I couldn’t stop drinking and I planned to kill myself by hanging. I went to my first AA meeting at Fitchburg Serenity Club in Wisconsin on April 21, 2007 and much to my surprise, I’m usually at six to seven meetings per week.

My home group, then and now, is a traditional AA meeting. At first, I felt like an outsider as an agnostic, but I also found a few like-minded nonbelievers. My sponsor is a former priest and helped me create my own non-religious, but spiritual path. My higher power, or sense of a higher power is embodied in the AA Fellowship, nature, and in a sense of love and loving. About two and a half years ago, I noticed that many came to AA desperate for help but left still desperate, because traditional AA and the traditional 12 steps weren’t roomy enough for them. A few of us decided to start a We Agnostics and Freethinkers AA meeting. We drew heavily from AA Agnostica and especially from the Denver Freethinkers group’s web resources. Denver Freethinkers is a home away from home when I’m visiting my son’s family in Denver. We now draw heavily from AA Beyond Belief as a resource for newcomers.

Now we have two secular meetings at Fitchburg, and two others in Madison and Monona, WI. I’m encouraged that new meetings like ours are starting and growing, helping smooth the way for others. I’m grateful for that handful of like-minded individuals  I first met in AA. Were it not for their voices that sang a different song, I don’t think that I could have persisted in AA, and I don’t think that I could have stayed sober without AA.

I continue to go to traditional AA meetings both for me and also so I can be that other voice singing a different melody about how I got sober and stay sober. I’m equally grateful for those in meetings I attend who, even with different beliefs than mine, join me in trying to make room in AA for everybody.

Poetry and Recovery

My writing seeks to share my awareness as unfiltered as possible, and to leave insight and clarity to the reader.

I began writing poetry when I was newly sober. I think that it grew from three primary motivations:

  • to be with raw and painful feelings that until getting sober, I was able to numb or avoid by drinking alcohol

  • to create a bridge between science and spirituality

  • to explore how I am in the universe.

Concerning the first motivation, I drank only occasionally, never daily, until I was 40. Bouts of acute anxiety became more frequent and more intense to the point of paralyzing me. Alcohol reduced my anxiety and helped me cope and function for a time. Like so many others, I found myself needing to drink alcohol more and more just to relax, even a little. So, I first stopped drinking about 11 years ago because even though I had begun taking anxiety and antidepressant medications, I was still constantly on the edge of panic. Drinking alcohol was no longer an option I was willing to choose.

Writing about these feelings in the form of verse was a way for me to be with them. I originally tried to write about feelings in journals, but it often made my anxiety worse. Writing in verse, for some reason, did not have the same effect. At my sponsor’s suggestion, I began posting my poetry on Facebook as a way to let go.

Regarding the second motivation, when I hit bottom and was newly sober, I no longer felt confident in who I was. My identity was shaken. From early childhood, I’ve been curious and scientifically oriented even before I had any idea of what science was. Science for me was B monster movies with mad scientists on the early show after school, or Science Fiction Theatre on Saturdays. I excelled in science and became a limnologist (maybe the only one on the planet who cannot swim).

I loved being a scientist. Still do. But I was shaken and sober, and I wondered who I was going to become. I’m also agnostic and have been since I was about eight. Yet I grew up Southern Baptist in eastern Tennessee, going to church three times a week. Though I continued to go to church to appease family, I knew that I did not “believe.” I wanted to believe in something then and now. There was a part of me who understood that my lack of belief didn’t afford me the strength I needed.

Many of my poems explore what it is to be a scientist who seeks spirit and practices spirituality, primarily Buddhism’s 8-fold path. I used a structure in early poems that I called “outer ecology or nature” completed by “inner ecology or my inner nature.”

My third motivation to write poetry is that I struggle with sadness and anger about the pain and suffering I see in the world – with what people do to other people and to the earth. I’m an idealist, even a romantic idealist, and I don’t wish to be any other way. This creates pain and is a source of suffering for me. Like many of us, I’m sensitive and take on the pain and suffering of others. Poetry has been a way for me to see pain, to explore it and to be with it rather than in it.

I write in the morning, just after I meditate at or near dawn. I give myself 15 minutes to write and post. I think that posting my poems on Facebook has helped me remain honest about what I write — to simply write and to write simply, rather than to write to impress. My poems often end up in a very different place than I anticipated. They start with a few words or sometimes a first verse and then take on a life of their own. A very recent poem is a good example:

Spare Verse DLIV

Heart songs

Sung without words

Too often sad

I was doing a loving-kindness meditation about someone in my life and the phrase “heart songs” kept coming up in my awareness. It felt incomplete and unfinished, but at the same time it was what I had. I posted it and even though it felt kind of like a “toss away” rather than one I felt good about, several people “liked” it.

What follows is a sampling of my poetry. I intentionally number these rather than title them because I want to leave that open to the reader. I have written a poem a day since I got sober in 2007. I began writing the poems as spare verse in December of 2016. I call them spare verses on a playful whim that they are spare in several ways:

  • They are short in length

  • They capture a microcosm of my day (a moment)

  • They are spare in the sense that I share them, give them away

The first poem is an overview of how I see writing and sharing poetry.

Spare Verse CLXXXIX

These little verses I write

Crepuscular musings

Reflections I see

In mirror and dream

Mere drafts of thoughts

I oft think about this and that

Moments of pleasure

Moments of pain

And all that I am between

Search for truth in fiction

Meaning in mundane

These poems focus on hitting bottom and looking back—a way of letting go of shame.

Spare Verse CDXXVII

Once my spirit soared

Buoyed by possibility unbound

Life a gift in my hands

And I drank

I drank beyond my need

Beyond my desire

Feeding unquenchable thirst for more

My soul cried but I could not hear

Hungry ghosts of promise unfulfilled

Demanded more and more

And I gave them all I could

Just so they would sleep

Sleep if only for a little while

These ghosts they gnawed my very soul

Till there was no more and still they cried

Spare Verse CXXIX

I remember the times when darkness came

Descended upon me – around me as far as I could see

Usually it just came and it went like night and day

But in a few once-upon-a-times of my nights and days

It stayed – sucked me in and swallowed me whole

The land of lost hope became my habitat

And despair became my niche

Yes I remember those times and am acquainted with dark

As I sip my tea watching the sun rise yet again

Spare Verse LXXXXII

Life consumed me once upon a time

Drank me down and demanded more

Spare Verse CCXXXII

The shadows call me

Invite me to hide

But the shadows

Neither the refuge

Nor the respite

I need

Spare Verse CCCIII

I’ve known the desperate dance

Desperate to die

Desperate to live

Desperate for anything in between

These poems were written in early sobriety.

Spare Verse IV

Mourning Doves

Outside my window

Joined in conversation

The day was too short

Just when it felt too long

Spare Verse XXIII

I watched a friend fall

Slipping sliding into the abyss

Watching I remember

Remover my own chaotic descent

Into blackness

I reached for him as others

Had reached for me

He cried in desperation

Just out of reach

I watched him fall

I hope he heard me calling

Calling from the edge

Where love and light live

About the Author

Robert B is sober alcoholic in Madison, WI participating in AA and AlAnon at Fitchburg Serenity Club. He has been sober since April 21, 2007. He also began writing and sharing poetry on Facebook during his first year sober as part of his recovery from alcohol dependency, acute anxiety and chronic depression. He has found that creativity expressed primarily through writing poetry and playing various stringed instruments helped him heal and thrive.

Most Americans believe in a higher power, but not always in the God of the Bible

Most Americans believe in a higher power, but not always in the God of the Bible

by Yonat Shimron
Originally published in the Washington Post, April 25, 2018

(RNS) — A new Pew Research survey finds that one-third of Americans — both those who say they believe in God and those who say they don’t — trust in a higher power or spiritual force.

This group has a looser interpretation of the transcendent. Some call it God; others don’t.

The survey of 4,729 respondents conducted online in December offers some insight into the diversity of U.S. beliefs. And like other surveys over the past decade, it suggests the number of Americans who believe in God is slowly declining.

“One of the key questions that motivated the study was to get more detail among those who say they don’t believe in God,” said Gregory Smith, associate director of research at Pew. “Among those people who say ‘no’ in a straightforward way when asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’ what are they rejecting? Are they rejecting belief in God or a higher power altogether?”

In the survey, those who answered that they do not believe in God were asked a follow-up question, whether they believed in “some other higher power or spiritual force in the universe.”

To be sure, a majority, if a slim one — 56 percent — say they believe in the conventional all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God of the Bible.

Then there are the hardcore disbelievers: about 10 percent who say they don’t believe in the God of the Bible or a higher power.

But among the so-called “nones” — a broad category of atheists, agnostics and those who answer “none of the above” on questions about religion — fully 72 percent believe in a higher power of some kind.

Two previous Pew surveys found that belief in God generally is falling. A 2007 Pew survey tabulated belief in God at 92 percent; by 2014 it was 89 percent. This most recent poll, though methodologically different — it was an online poll as opposed to a telephone poll — put the number at 80 percent.

Belief in God as described in the Bible is highest among Christians — 80 percent, the survey found. Evangelicals and black Protestants had the highest rates of belief in a God of the Bible — 91 and 92 percent respectively. That number falls to 72 percent among mainline Protestants and 69 percent among Catholics. Only one-third of Jews, by contrast, believe in the God of the Bible. (The survey did not include enough respondents who were Muslim or members of other faiths to be included.)

The survey also showed that:

  • Belief in the God of the Bible declines with age.

  • Those under age 50 viewed God as less powerful and less involved in earthly affairs than do older Americans.

  • Among college graduates, only 45 percent believe in the God of the Bible.

Views of God also tend to differ by political party and race. Seventy percent of Republicans believe in the God of the Bible, while only 45 percent of Democrats do. But among Democrats, there are big differences in views of God when it comes to race; 70 percent of non-white Democrats believe in the God of the Bible — comparable to the rate among Republicans.

Belief in a higher power was found in every segment of the religiously unaffiliated population. Overall, 70 percent of the nones said they believe in a spiritual force. Among agnostics, it was 62 percent. Even among atheists, nearly 1 in 5 (or 18 percent) said they believe in a higher power.

Just why so many agnostics, and even atheists, believe in a higher power is a matter of debate.

Ryan Cragun, a sociologist at the University of Tampa who studies the nonreligious, said some people may say they believe in a higher power to avoid the social stigma and even discrimination atheists face.

“To what extent are they saying that to avoid prejudice is an interesting question,” Cragun said. He pointed to studies suggesting that white heterosexual men are the most likely to say they’re atheist because they have a certain social privilege that others don’t, and therefore may feel less at risk in making such a statement.

Others say the category of belief with its binary options — yes or no — can’t fully account for the diversity of human experience. Transcendence, for example, can be a supernatural experience but also a natural one, said Elizabeth Drescher, a professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University and the author of “Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones.”

Some people may have faith in life’s animating force or in the human spirit, she said.

“There are lots of people who experience things in their lives that feel mysterious or unexplainable or awe-inspiring and who might logically identify as nonreligious or nonbelieving, but who nonetheless have a sense that we don’t know everything,” Drescher said. “The reality of people’s experience is much more complex and nuanced.”

The margin of sampling error for the full sample of 4,729 respondents was plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

The 2018 International Conference of Secular AA

The 2018 International Conference of Secular AA

By Carolyn B.

I am a relative newcomer to Secular AA (just over one year) and on attending the International Conference of Secular AA in downtown Toronto at the Marriott Hotel this past weekend I experienced the same feelings of joy, relief and of having finally found my people that I experienced in my first meeting of secular AA.

With 268 delegates from around the world – including countries such as Great Britain, France, Australia and Poland – the conference was filled with a sense of fellowship and lively debate. Secular AA is alive, vibrant, willing to consider change, tackle difficult questions and to consider how we will move into the future. The theme and focus of the conference was on inclusion and diversity.

There were many topics discussed in the conference plus there were concurrent sessions. There were seven panels held in the main ballroom. And a total of 30 workshops! I could not attend as many as I would have liked. Topics ranged from online meetings, anonymity, LGBTQ meetings, atheist beliefs and secular AA. Other sessions included starting Secular groups and organizing regional conferences, women’s issues in AA, and Secular Al-Anon to name a few. Here are some titles of the panels and workshops (you can see all of them here, ICSAA Agenda):

  • History of Secular AA

  • She Devils AA Meeting

  • Emotional Sobriety: The New Frontier

  • Are Atheist Thumpers Dividing Secular AA?

  • The Biology, Psychology and Philosophy of Spirituality

  • How to Start a Secular AA Meeting

  • My Pet is Step 2

  • Relationship Repair in Recovery

There were several sessions that stood out for me and may be of interest to others. They were on the themes of recovery and spirituality.

First, recovery. There was considerable discussion on what recovery means and as you and I know many feel it is a process rather than an actual state. There were interesting discussions on what has been found to be helpful in recovery; that quitting drinking is not enough as we all know. “Recovery Capital” was the name of a wonderful workshop conducted by Dr. Ray Baker, from British Columbia. Recovery Capital is defined as “the volume of internal and external resources that can be drawn upon to initiate and sustain recovery from addiction” (Granfield & Cloud 1999). This involves focusing on one’s physical, social, cognitive, behavioural and spiritual life. Of course this makes sense for those of us who are addicted.

Second, spirituality. There was a spectrum of opinion expressed by atheists on the place of spirituality in Secular AA. Some of the more militant atheist members feel that using the word spirituality in the secular groups makes us more like traditional AA and they oppose this. Others have a more broad concept of spirituality. Both atheists and agnostics share ideas of spirituality as not being religious; but, rather they used such terms as “ethical spirituality”, “self – transcendence” and “transcendence”. I offer these ideas for your consideration.

One of the people at the conference was Jon W, the senior editor of the AA Grapevine. Jon was part of a panel organized by Roger C on The History of Secular AA. The Grapevine has put together a book in which “Atheist and agnostic AA members share their experience, strength and hope”. The book contains 43 stories by nonbelievers in AA previously published by the Grapevine, the first in May 1968 and the most recent in October 2016.

Although it was not yet officially published, 250 copies were made available at the conference. The title of the book, One Big Tent, perfectly reflects the theme of the conference, diversity and inclusiveness, and is an important part of the contemporary history of the secular movement within Alcoholics Anonymous!

I need as well to report that there were three excellent keynote speakers at the conference. The first one to speak was Dr. Vera Tarman. Her topic was “More was my Higher Power”. In the panel on spirituality she also talked about the biology of spirituality, which was fascinating, to say the very least.

The second speaker was Deirdre S from New York who gave a talk entitled “The Cross-Addicted Mind: How Obsessive Use of Substances and Behaviors Fuels Alcoholism”. She also spoke at the Austin convention and you can read her talk here, A History of Special Interest Groups in AA.

And finally, the talk “AA: do we need God to make it work? A medical-scientific analysis” was presented by Dr. Ray Baker, who also did the workshop on Recovery Capital. He is writing a book about addiction, the working title is Recovery Medicine, and I really look forward to it being published!

As mentioned previously there were many ideas and questions raised throughout the conference. Questions that I need to think about and you may also want to consider are:

  1. Do we need to use the Secular 12 Steps in our meetings?

  2. Do we ever need the 12 steps at all in Secular AA?

  3. How do we make our meetings open to youth?

  4. Are there specific readings that we can use in Secular AA that are not part of traditional AA? If so what would they be?

  5. How closely affiliated do we want Secular AA to be with Traditional AA?

These are some of the highlights, ideas and questions that were discussed at the conference. I present them here for your consideration.

And while there was a stimulating and exciting diversity of opinion at the conference, there was also agreement on key issues. At the membership business meeting on Sunday morning two statements were adopted unanimously by those at the conference.

The first is our mission statement, the mission of secular AA:

Our mission is to assure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs or deny their own. Secular AA does not endorse or oppose any form of religion or belief system and operates in accordance with the Third Tradition of the Alcoholics Anonymous Program: “The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking”.

The second is our vision statement:

Secular AA recognizes and honors the immeasurable contributions that Alcoholics Anonymous has made to assist individuals to recover from alcoholism. We seek to ensure that AA remains an effective, relevant and inclusive program of recovery in an increasingly secular society. The foundation of Secular AA is grounded in the belief that anyone – regardless of their spiritual beliefs or lack thereof – can recover in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Secular AA exists to serve the community of secularly-minded alcoholics by supporting worldwide access to secularly formatted AA meetings and fostering mutual support within a growing population of secularly-minded alcoholics.

The conference was an opportunity to think about the larger issues facing Secular AA and my place in it. It was a very exciting conference for me. While the conference was intellectually stimulating, in no way does takes away the importance from what we do in our groups each week. For me, our group provides safety, fellowship, an opportunity to learn from others and to share my issues on my path to recovery. While the conference was stimulating I am so grateful I have my group!

Carolyn B is 68 years old and a retired educator. She was initially involved in traditional AA but always found the “god” part not true to her beliefs. On moving to Hamilton Ontario over a year ago she discovered the We Agnostics Group. She has been an active and grateful member ever since. Carolyn attended the Secular Ontario AA Roundup (SOAAR) in Toronto in 2017 and is co-chair of the committee for SOAAR 2019, which will take place in Hamilton.

We Are A Special Interest Group Within AA

We Are A Special Interest Group Within AA
From AA Beyond Belief

Deirdre S. who for many years maintained the first international meeting list for agnostic AA groups, spoke at the We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers International AA Convention held in Austin, Texas in November 2016. Her talk about the history of special purpose groups in AA is extraordinary.  

00:01: Wow. Hello. Hi!

00:06: Hey, I’m Deirdre S, and I’m a cross-addicted alcoholic.

00:12: I’m so glad to be here, because after this week, I need a lot of meetings, and that’s what we’re providing. Okay.


00:26: I think I have everything I’m going to say written down, but no timers, please. I really want to thank the organizers. I organized many, many conferences, not in AA, but in other venues, and I know how difficult and challenging it is. I also want to thank the Board for surviving the process. It’s been two years in the making and it is so impressive. I’m happy that it came off, and it’s great to see old friends and to meet new people.

01:04: I’m not going to give a qualification tonight. If you want my qualification, that guy who’s recording this, he’s probably got copies out there because I gave it two years ago. I was trying to figure out what to talk about, and I prepared by speaking to some older members in New York, who knew the three people who founded the agnostic meetings in New York. I heard them, several of them, talk about special interest groups, and they had a lot to say about it. I thought about it, and that was different than what I was asking about, but I let the information sink in, and I ended up taking a dialectical materialist view of it. So, here it is.

01:58: When it comes to what the struggle is that we are in, it’s crystal clear. We are all, all of us here in this room and outside in AA as a whole, are in a struggle stay sober. We struggle to make certain that the hand of AA will always be there, and we are responsible for having it there for people who are hurting themselves with alcohol.

02:25: There’s no doubt that we represent a movement with a goal to further recognition and acceptance within AA for people who are agnostics, atheists, freethinkers and others. In a way we are just like women, just like African-Americans, just like the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members, the younger people, the seniors, the professionals, the special needs people, the Native Americans and others. We are a special interest group within AA.

02:59: Special interest groups themselves have a really interesting history and I knew nothing about it. They’ve been called special purpose groups or special composition groups, and there were arguments about whether there should be these groups at all within AA, or if they should be just called meetings, or if these meetings should even exist. There was discussion about whether there could be clubs or whether they should have a clubhouse. The language has been parsed to the nth degree, and I’m not sure I understand all of the minutiae of it.

03:38: Special interest groups themselves were controversial in AA for many years. There was a huge discussion about them in the mid-1970s, that led Dr. Jack Norris, Chairman of the General Service Board, in 1977 to say this, and I quote,

We have never discouraged AAs from forming special purpose meetings of any and all kinds to meet the needs of interested individuals, but we have been hesitant to consider as groups, those that might seem to exclude any alcoholic for whatever reason. Many members feel that no AA Group is special and therefore, no group should be labeled as such, even to give the impression that it is special. However, the fact that such groups do exist, these groups feel that labels serve the purpose of attraction, providing a double identification, and are not intended to imply exclusion of other alcoholics.

On the same issue, in October 1977, in the Grapevine, somebody named KS wrote,

Members of special groups are certain that many of their kind would never be able to get themselves to an AA meeting if they had to enter through a regular group. Whether or not we agree with this thinking, the point is that many alcoholics do believe it and they believe it seriously enough to form these special groups and make them work.

05:01: Now, I was talking to Bob F., in New York City, about his memories and experiences as a African-American atheist in AA. He told me that they recently found a letter at Intergroup at the office. They just uncovered this letter. It was from 1957, and it was written by a member of the Rivington group in Harlem, asking if black members could participate in the Intergroup delegates meeting. Isn’t that something? Now, the first meeting in Harlem was started in 1945, so this is 12 years later. Twelve years is a long time, and I don’t know what the answer was in the immediate… In that… From 1957, or how long it took. But what Bob told me was that, right up into the 1970s, there was de facto segregation existing in New York City. A black member of AA, could go to any meeting they wanted to, but they had to sit in the back, and they couldn’t share unless that was a meeting that catered to black members.

06:10: A lot of people know the book, Living Sober. That book saved my life, I tell you, Barry Leach, an old-timer and gay member in early AA, was the one who wrote that, and he also wrote, Do You Think You’re Different? He talked about the struggle for the lesbian, gay, bi, transgendered and queer, although it was just at that time called gay meetings to be recognized, listed and eventually embraced by AA. In 1937, just a few years after the creation of AA meetings, a man came in who was, and you’ll excuse the language here, a “sexual deviant.” A rancorous discussion exploded, and it only ended when Dr. Bob spoke in favor of letting the man in. Bill W, called Dr. Bob’s intervention the beginning of the Twelve Traditions. Bill said in 1968, it was the last time he got to speak at the General Service Conference, that the only pertinent question about an individual is whether the person is a drunk. If the answer is yes, then the person can be a member. Bill went on to say, “Now I think that the import of this on the common welfare has already been seen, because it takes even more territory into the confines of our fellowship. It takes the whole world of alcoholics. They’re charter to freedom, to join AA is assured. Indeed, it was an act in general welfare.”

07:46: So by 1945, there were enough alcoholics who are gay or lesbian to warrant the question of whether they should have their own meetings. The discussion went to Bill W, and the decision was put off. But you know, any good idea has legs, and it gets going anyway. The first exclusively gay meetings were held in a private home in 1971, but I suspect that there was a lot more going on underneath, that was happening anyway. The first one that was held in a public space was in a church in 1972.

08:30: Pressure was building on the General Service Office about listing gay meetings in the world directory. The question went before the Conference of Delegates in 1973, and there was a very hot and heavy discussion, so hot and heavy, that they tabled the matter for a year. That sounds like typical AA, right?


08:57: So, it came around again in 1974. There was another big nasty discussion. The most hateful terms about gay men and lesbians were thrown about. All of the other matters on the agenda were tabled because this discussion was going on so long. It finally ended when one of the non-alcoholic doctors on the Board of Trustees went to the microphone, and he asked the group, “I understand that when your people’s groups wanted to be listed, you didn’t go through all these shenanigans, did you?” And people said, “No, they hadn’t.” And he said, “Well, when the Women’s groups wanted to be listed, you didn’t go through this?” And again they said, “No.” And then he goes, “Well, why the hell are you guys picking on this guy?” And that ended the discussion.


09:56: So, they took a vote and with only two people opposing it, there were a lot… Two people from Toronto.


10:08: Oh joke.


10:11: Okay. So that’s 1945. The question comes up. 1945. It is settled in 1974, okay? 29 years, alright? You see a pattern here?


10:29: As for the assertation that it was easy for women to form a meeting of their own, that is not quite so. In Cleveland in 1941, women formed the very first special group to ask for and get recognition in AA. There had been a lot of resistance to women attending the meetings. A woman’s presence was considered a disturbing factor. There was worry about hanky panky.


11:00: Once it was accepted that women needed and could get sober in AA, the growth was explosive. The myth that AA wouldn’t work for women prevalent at the time was over. In the 1980s, there was an increase in the religious fundamentalism nationwide and that was reflected in AA. As a result, there was a controversy over special interest groups, and David L, told me about one in San Antonio, Texas. It came to a head at a local steering committee meeting, where a group of transgendered people had asked for their meeting to be listed. When the discussion was scheduled to come up, the steering committee swelled from the normal 30 people to 300 people. Some men there raised hell about women’s meetings again, and about gay meetings, saying that there should be no special interest groups. And this is in 1980. Three hours of acrimonious discussion followed, and apparently the transgender meeting withdrew its request, which is a shame.

12:04: In 2011, I had a conversation with David L, one of the three founders of the New York meeting called, We Atheists. The meeting came about after an advertisement was placed in the 1986 issue of Free Inquiry. The ad focused on people who were in AA but were having trouble with all the God stuff in the meetings. Harry from California, the man who placed the ad, got three letters back from New York. David L, Ada Halbreich and John Yablon, all wrote and he helped put them together. They began meeting in Ada’s apartment, and the first meeting was held September 10th, 1986. A space was found in Jan Hus Church, and because Jan Hus was having a problem with the name of We Atheists, they ended up being… Oh, what is it? It’s, We Humanists. And that meeting still exists, it still meets. David told me that in the 1980s, some Intergroups were still refusing to list agnostic meetings. As for agnosticism, he felt that more people needed to come out and speak up about their lack of belief. One of the things that the three New York City founders believed in passionately, was that the agnostic, no prayer meetings needed to stay in AA, and not to attempt to form a group outside of the organization.

13:30: So based on this quick history of special interest groups, I’d say that the problems that some meetings are having being listed are right in line with AA history. As an organization, we know that it moves very, very, very slowly. But the way that one fights an enemy is different than how one struggles with an opponent. And again, it’s different than how sisters and brothers resolve their differences, if they can. And I don’t mean to imply that the clashes over listings and the use of a different version of the Steps have not been painful. Relationships are broken, business meetings get hot. Rash decisions are made. And I know that when we had some negative interactions with New York GSO about our website, they were very painful to me personally.

14:22: So, let’s do a reality check about where we are and what, in my opinion, is driving this question. Since their foundation in Los Angeles in 1980, there’s been a lot of growth in the no prayer meetings. I am known as the woman who updates the website, so let me start there. September 11th, 2001 fell on a Tuesday, the night of my home meeting. After the attacks we called each other to see if everyone was okay. Luckily we had not lost anybody in the agnostic meetings in New York. However, everything below 14th Street, all the way Downtown was in lockdown, and our meeting was at the LGBTQ Center on 13th Street, and they were closed because of the crisis. We had to decide what to do. We made calls to our members. It was not easy to reach people because there were problems with the phone service. I mean, this big antenna was on top of the World Trade Center and it was gone, and so a lot of phones didn’t work, a lot of cell phones didn’t work.

15:32: The point is, we had a hard time reaching people in our group. Once it was clear that our meeting place was closed we decided that we would go to the diner we usually went to, which was on between 14th and 15th Street, on Seventh Avenue and have an informal meeting and socialize. That may seem strange, but it was a big comfort to see those beloved faces of our members on that day, and it meant a lot to us. It was just after that, that my husband Charles P, floated the idea of having a website where New York City members could check in and see if there was a meeting happening or not. The website came to exist in 2002. He carefully wrote a questionnaire about what people wanted on the website and what it needed, and he created it. The website started with a list of New York City meetings, frequently asked questions, and a list of national meetings put together by Leonard V, and some meeting scripts and some other things.

16:33: Once the national list was assembled, the question of how many meetings there are kept coming up. Now, I took over the website from Charles in 2006. It’s 10 years, I can’t believe that. So, as of 1997, that’s the year I came in, there were probably 26 meetings nationally, and somebody might have a better list, but that’s what I understand. As of September 2001, there was 36 meetings nationally. 2003; 38, 2004; 57, 2009; 71, 2010; 89, 2012; 99, 2013; 151. Two years ago when I was standing at the podium at the other WAFT Conference, the first WAFT Conference, I announced that there was 181 meetings, as of that day, on the website. One year later, there was 288 meetings. So, 181 to 288. So, that was one year 100 meetings were formed, 100 flowers bloomed basically from that experience. The growth has slowed a little bit. So right now, as of two days ago, when I last counted our website had 320 meetings listed.


18:10: Now, according to the WAFT website, there are 311. According to, there are 320. Well, that brings up the question of, why two lists? And this is a sort of a side discussion, right? But, Why two lists? Before 2014, our little facts only website was the one and only national list. We put it together and maintained it as a service. Recently, a member who travels the country, and who’s been extremely, extremely helpful in correcting list errors and refining the listings, rightfully asked me, “Well, who will maintain the website when you are gone?” And that’s the problem with the New York City website. The WAFT website, I believe, has a group behind it, and I could be wrong, and has a board of directors, and it has an overall structure of some sort. In New York, we have several people who concern themselves with the website, and we need to have a back-up plan, and trust me, I know that we’re going to have one better than the one we have now, which was, I left the information with Charles in case the plane goes down. I’m like, “Here take this. It’s nuts, you know.”


19:31: Anyway, if New York is responsible for maintaining the list, that would be a lot of work for the next person who takes it over whenever that will be. So, John and I are going to have a few discussions before I go to talk about the WAFT website and the New York website, and try to shift responsibility or figure out what to do exactly. And absolutely, we do not want to leave anything to chance so that people won’t be able to find us. So we’re going to figure out what’s the best solution for those who are out there still suffering. The friend who also keeps the list clean, asked me if I or the website or the next person keeping it going would have a financial incentive to do the work, and my answer is a resolute, no. At this time the website is paid for on my credit card. I collect from the agnostic meetings in New York City, the cost for the web hosting and the domain name registration and that is all. I update the website as my service commitment. I hope this practice of no financial incentive continues after I’m no longer doing the service.

20:49: But let’s get back to that 320 number. That number of meetings and people have a real weight in AA. As we have seen by the gathering in Los Angeles, and here tonight, those 320 meetings represent thousands of people, and decades and decades of sobriety. This is a material force that must be dealt with by our larger organization, AA. We can see the steps and missteps in that direction. There have been agnostic meetings at international and some regional conferences for years and they are crowded. There was a call for a book to be put out about the spirituality of agnostics, and then that was canceled sort of, and then some other thing came out that was called, “Many Paths to Spirituality”, as if there’s just one destination, many paths, but we’re getting there.


21:53: October, the Grapevine had a couple of stories in it about people, sober stories, that didn’t end with somebody turning in a hotel room to the Bible.


22:09: The differences we’ve been experiencing in AA are not about listing. They’re not about getting ourselves added to the list. That is simply a manifestation of something bigger. The big issue is still our primary purpose. This brings us to the message of AA and having it there for people who are still suffering. How do we conduct ourselves in this disagreement? My experience depends on how you view the opposite side. Are we enemies? No. Are we opponents? Not even. Are we sisters and brothers in the struggle who are having differences? Yes. Sibling rivalries can be horrible. I refer you to Cain v Abel as an example.


23:05: But if we keep this tumultuous history of special interest groups in AA in mind, and continue to press our sisters and brothers in AA to recognize our equality, just like the black members did, just like the women did, just like the lesbian, gay, bi and transgender folks do, just like the Native Americans did, all of these discussions are going to yield gradual progress toward greater AA inclusion. If we keep creating new meetings, if we keep attracting people to sobriety, if we keep on that sober path, one day at a time. If we continue to build AA, and including making regular donations from our meeting as prescribed in the pamphlet, the AA Group, if we continue to reach out and speak up for ourselves and join service at every level, this difference, sisters and brothers, will be resolved, no doubt painfully, no doubt imperfectly, but it will.

24:55: Thank you.