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Beyond Belief

Secular AA in Newcastle upon Tyne (UK)

The meeting originated at George Street Social in Newcastle, part of the Road to Recovery Trust. The format of the meeting will be familiar to those who attend regular AA meetings starting with the preamble, followed by a reading from Beyond Belief and a short share from the chairperson, followed by opening the floor to anyone who wishes to comment on the reading, to share their experience strength and hope, or just to check-in and get whatever they want off their chests. The only difference is the freedom to express ourselves without the 'Godology' of regular AA meetings, or a requirement to believe in a higher power. The meetings are very laid back and friendly and everyone is welcome, non-believers, freethinkers, and those with faith.

Since the start of the pandemic, our meeting has gone on-line and can be found HERE

Meeting duration: 90 minutes with a ten-minute coffee break.

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Atheism & AA

David Sack M.D.

Where Science Meets the Steps

AA Without the God?

Is believing in a higher power an essential component of the recovery process?

It’s a comment I’ve heard often in my years helping those with addictions:

“I tried AA, but I just couldn’t get past the God part.”

The "God part," of course, refers to the references to God and spirituality that appear in Alcoholics Anonymous literature - the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, in particular - as well as to the more overt signs of religion that can be part of some AA meetings, such as the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer.

For the agnostic, atheist and humanist, it can feel like a distraction from the work at hand as well as a disturbing admonishment to check their beliefs at the door.

For others, however, tapping into God’s power is the very thing that makes recovery possible. How, then, to ignore it?

The conflicting mindsets have created tension over the years, a tension that AA has sought to address by encouraging a personal definition of God as any higher power the person may choose. It could be, for example, nature, love, or the AA group as a whole (in the latter case, as the explanation goes, G.O.D. becomes Group Of Drunks). Even so, when the nonreligious find themselves encouraged to follow steps such as “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out” (italics in the original), the process rings hollow.

Broadening the concept of higher power brings more people under the tent poles, but it doesn’t answer the question of whether this belief is essential to the recovery process.


In response, a number of non-12-Step groups have sprung up that offer a secular approach to recovery help - groups such as Secular Organisations for Sobriety. Among the most popular is Smart Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training), which emphasizses the science behind addiction and encourages self-reliance and empowerment.

It has also led to the creation of agnostic groups under the umbrella of AA that adapt the meeting style and the 12-Steps wording as they feel best suits their philosophy.

A handful of secular AA groups have been around for decades, but the majority were created since the turn of the century, growing in step with a national trend away from religious affiliation. Self-described atheists and agnostics now represent approximately 6 percent of the population, according to PEW Research.

An agnostic AA group can be the best of all worlds for those who want to tap into the fellowship and support that AA has offered for almost 80 years but who aren’t comfortable with “the God part.”

AA was created with and prides itself on its bottom-up power structure. It “ought never be organised,” its Traditions state. AA members make their own decisions about their groups and are encouraged to be autonomous. “The only requirement for AA membership,” No. 3 of the 12 Traditions states, “is a desire to stop drinking.”

It’s often noted that the early language of AA represents the era in which it was created. But it also reflects the beliefs of AA co-founder Bill Wilson, who underwent a dramatic spiritual experience in the depths of his addiction that led him to believe a reliance on a higher power was essential to recovery. He hoped others would come to the same conclusion but wanted to leave the door wide open to all, “regardless of belief or lack of belief.”

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In a 1946 essay in the Grapevine, the journal of AA, he wrote: “So long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral, the most anti-social, the most critical alcoholic may gather about him a few kindred spirits and announce to us that a new Alcoholics Anonymous Group has been formed. Anti-God, anti-medicine, anti-our Recovery Program, even anti-each other - these rampant individuals are still an A.A. Group if they think so!”


AA will doubtless continue to evolve and as it does, my hope is that all sides will remember the needs of the person in recovery and do everything possible to ensure that the AA tradition of welcome continues. Despite any personal differences, those in AA are kindred spirits at heart, all struggling to subdue alcohol’s hold on their lives. And for that, support is essential. Rather than dispute which path is best, we’re wise to remember the words of AA co-founder Wilson: “The roads to recovery are many.”

Thanks to David Sack for his insightful words and to Psychology Today who originally printed this article in 2014.

Home: About Us


ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS is a fellowship of men and women

who share their experience, strength and hope with each other

that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership;

we are self-supporting through our own contributions.

 A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organisation or institution;

does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes.

Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

0800 9177 650

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