Of God, Higher Power, Atheists, & Agnostics Oh My!

Atheist slogan on bus

On a bus in London

One of my closest program friends is an atheist. That drives some 12 Steppers a bit nuts. After all, we talk about God as we understand God, Higher Powers in many forms.

The Program says it’s a spiritual program and there is plenty of talk about God in both the Big Book and the 12 and 12.

So how can an atheist be part of the program? Since I’m not an atheist I don’t know exactly, but I see that the Program can work for them. I also know that it’s not up to me to decide who belongs and who doesn’t.

The only requirement

The statement, The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop … is found in the Forward to the First Edition on page xiv and repeated with small variations in every 12 Step fellowship.

It’s pretty nifty, actually, because you’re also the only one who can tell if you’ve got that honest desire. I can’t keep you out just because I think you’re not honest or you don’t want to stop or because I don’t like the color of your hair or other reason, including your views about God.

You’re in if you say so.

We Agnostics

Chapter 4 in the Big Book is titled We Agnostics. It was a self-proclaimed atheist Jim Burwell, early AA member, scared the young society badly with his beliefs, that pushed for broadening the Program to make room for everyone regardless of their belief in a Higher Power or lack of it.  . He told his story in the AA Grapvine which was reprinted in 1999.  Wikipedia also has an entry about Burwell that I find interesting.

The whole reason we have the phrase as we understand God is because Burwell stayed sober after his second attempt, demonstrating that faith comes in many guises, including atheism.

I’m grateful that there is no religious requirement or even a specific spiritual requirement to be a member of a 12 Step Program. It’s allowed me to explore widely and to find what does work for me rather than forcing me into a particular faith-mold.

I’m also grateful I don’t have to figure out how other people should believe.

What’s been your experience with atheists and agnostics in the Program?

Love, blessings and abundance,

Anne W. Powerfully Recovered

Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by jonworth-eu



Paula G. October 26, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Thanks Anne for this entry. I struggle with the spiritual nature of 12-step programs quite a bit. I feel so much better knowing about Jim B. and his early contribution to A.A.

annew October 26, 2011 at 10:21 pm

You’re welcome. AA Comes of Age – that’s a book and I’ll review it – is a great source of info… it’s AA conference approved.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: