Bill sitting at desk at Wits End

“We must remember that AA’s Steps are suggestions only. A belief in them as they stand is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made AA available to thousands who never would have tried at all, had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written. (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 81)

Bill W.
Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous

The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have helped millions of alcoholics recover since 1939. But how many more could have been helped if not for the religious overtones written throughout the steps? We will never know, but judging by the demand for agnostic AA meetings, there could be many thousands who would benefit from secular AA meetings. As an atheist, I can tell you that the Twelve Steps work just fine without divine help and there is no reason for an atheist or agnostic to avoid AA.

The beauty of AA is every AA group is autonomous, there is no top-down hierarchy that dictates what an AA group can and cannot do, and the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Although the religious language is definitely thick throughout the literature in AA, not to mention the steps, and the fellowship did originate from an evangelical Christian movement known as the Oxford Group; the steps are only suggestions, one does not have to do or believe anything. It’s a broad highway we travel, not a narrow path.

It is in that spirit that a growing number of A.A. members are forming AA groups designed for the atheist, agnostic, freethinker, or quite frankly anyone who would like to get sober in AA without the praying to a supernatural god who bestows sobriety on those who “thoroughly follow our path”. Many of these groups even write their own version of the twelve steps. In fact, there is a nice collection of alternative steps at the website, taken from a book written by Roger C.  “The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps”.

Inspired by those who are pioneering agnostic A.A. meetings, I wrote my own secular steps. This is my interpretation of the steps, what they mean to me and how I practice them. This is really what recovery in AA is all about, you should ask yourself what these steps mean to you. Here’s what they mean to me.

A Secular Interpretation of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to understand that with help we could recover.
  3. Made a decision to change our lives by committing to this simple program of recovery.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to be rid of all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly and persistently worked for the removal of our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought serenity to accept what we could not change, courage to change what we could, and wisdom to know the difference.
  12. Having recovered as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.


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