Man on bed.


Recovery without Religiosity
by John L.

    In February 2013 I celebrated my 45th AA anniversary — that is, 45 years since my last drink. I'll not tell my story here, except to say that I hit a low bottom physically. In my first year of sobriety I attended meetings all over Manhattan, but mainly in Greenwich Village. This was fortunate for me, since at least a few AA members there were openly anti-religious: they rejected the 12 Steps in whole or in part, and defiantly remained seated when others stood up to recite the “Lord's Prayer” at the end of meetings.
    One of the first “qualifications” I heard was that of “Bob”, who was in his seventies and had been sober for over two decades. At the end of his talk, Bob proudly identified himself as an atheist, and affirmed that his sobriety was based on himself and the shared experiences of other drunks, not on belief in the Supernatural.
    I regard Alcoholics Anonymous as the best option for recovery from alcoholism. It is very difficult for an individual to achieve lasting sobriety on his own, but much easier and better with the moral support of other recovering alcoholics. There is a great deal of freedom in AA, both for AA groups and for the individual. One speaker put it this way: “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of people
working their individual programs.”
    To me, the following represent the heart of AA, the reasons why it works:

    • The 24-Hour Plan. Recovery from alcoholism means complete abstinence from alcohol — staying away from the first drink, a day at a time, for the rest of one's life.

    • The 12 Traditions. These developed out of the early experiences of AA, and have kept the organization viable for eight decades.

    • The AA Preamble. This says it all, clearly and concisely:


    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 of fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization 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.

    In addition there is the Serenity Prayer, which speaks strongly to alcoholics, especially in the early stages of recovery. Confronting the wreckage of their lives, they realize that some things are lost forever, and these losses must be accepted with serenity. But there are still opportunities for a good life, and one must have the courage to work and even fight for them. The usual AA form follows:

God, grant me
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.

However, the principles are just as valid without reference to “God”. Here I have re-worded the SP in the first person plural, in a form appropriate for ending an AA meeting:

May we have
Serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.

    Undeniably, there are many AA members who believe that they owe their sobriety to belief in a Higher Power, to prayer, and to the 12 Steps.  However, these things are not necessary, for many non-believers (atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, secular humanists, rationalists, infidels) have achieved good and lasting sobriety in the fellowship of AA, as I have. The religiosity in AA is harmful in many ways: it drives away non-believing alcoholics, lowers the level of discourse, and creates a false impression of recovery. Some pious AA members are so concerned with achieving “spirituality” that they neglect to stay away from the first drink.

Dr. James R. Milam is co-author of the single best book on alcoholism, Under The Influence (1981). His landmark position paper, “The Alcoholism Revolution”, put forward the biogenic model: “Alcoholism is a primary addictive response to alcohol in a biologically susceptible drinker, regardless of character and personality.” This and two other papers have more material, presented in a clear and scholarly way:  

• The Alcoholism Revolution. To read it click here.

• More on the Alcoholism Revolution. To read it click here.

• An Open Letter To All Concerned With the Drug-Crime Epidemic. To read it click here.

Dr. Irving Maltzman's article, The Winter of Scholarly Science Journals, describes the fraudulent basis of claims that 
“moderate drinking” is a viable option for alcoholics.  To read it click here.

Friends of Lucifer, a blasphemous satire echoing the Hail Mary, Paradise Lost, and cliches of Alcoholics Anonymous. The serious point is that AA should be secular.  To read it click here.

The 24-Hour Plan. The heart of recovery in AA. This is the earliest known statement of the 24 -Hour Plan, taken from the Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous, Akron 1939 or 1940. To view it in HTML click here.  For a printable PDF file click here.

A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous. Celebrates and defends the True AA, the AA that works, but criticizes with no holds barred the things that are wrong and ought to be changed.  For information click here.

In 1976, when I was living in New York City and had been sober for eight years, I wrote and disseminated 
“A Proposal To Eliminate ‛The Lord's Prayer’ From A.A. Meetings”. To read it click here.

    There are now, around the world, bona fide AA groups for atheists, humanists and agnostics. Check out the website of the New York City groups.

    AA Agnostica (
“A space for AA agnostics, atheists and freethinkers worldwide”) is a website based in Toronto.  It is meant to be a helping hand for alcoholics who reject the religious content of many AA meetings. To visit AA Agnostica click here.

    Beyond Belief, following AA Agnostica, is a magazine-style site with articles of interest to agnostics, atheists, and freethinkers in AA. To visit Beyond Belief click here.

I have prepared a Bibliography on Alcoholism. To read it click here.

    In 1975 an excellent article by R.L. Wild, “Only with God's Help?”, appeared in The New Humanist (London). To read it click here.

    Abraham Lincoln, America's most beloved president, addressed the Springfield Washingtonian Temperance Society on 22 February 1842. It's a fine speech — eloquent and perceptive. All of the best elements of Alcoholics Anonymous were already present in the Washingtonian Temperance Society, which was founded in 1840, nearly a century before the birth of AA. The Washingtonians advocated that reformed drunkards were best qualified to help their fellows who were still drinking ... that practical help and persuasion were more effective than moral condemnation ... that the only cure for alcoholism is lifelong abstinence from all alcoholic drinks. To read Lincoln's speech click here.

    Washingtonianism. Here is a brief history of the Washingtonian Temperance Society, 
its principles, and its way of conducting meetings, taken from the Washingtonian Pocket Companion (1842). During its heyday, the Washingtonians were spectacularly successful — sobering up many tens of thousands of inebriates who had previously been regarded as doomed and incorrigible. In many ways Washingtonianism not only foreshadowed A.A., but was superior; it was relatively free from the cloying religiosity that plagued A.A., especially in its early years. To read Washingtonianism click here.

Freethinker's Steps For Recovery From Alcoholism. When I attended my first A.A. meeting in 1968 I saw the A.A. Steps for the first time. I made a pledge then to re-write them into good English — a pledge I have finally fulfilled. My steps are intended especially for non-believers (atheists, agnostics, rationalists, freethinkers, secular humanists, infidels, etc.), though I hope they could be useful for all recovering alcoholics. To read the Freethinker's Steps with Introduction and notes click here

    A Searching and Fearless Inventory of the A.A. Steps Themselves. This was published in the AA-Atheists website, which unfortunately no longer exists. To read it click here.

    Drinking: a gay way of life.  In a 1981 article Arthur Evans discusses alcoholism among gay men and harmful aspects of the gay bars.  To read it click here.


“The Man on the Bed” is an oil painting created by Robert M. for the A.A. Grapevine; it was reproduced as the center-spread in the December 1955 issue.

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