We Agnostics & Freethinkers International A.A. Conference November 6th to 8th, 2014 was the first all-secular International gathering of atheist in Alcoholics Anonymous. The General Service Office of AA sent a delegation to share in this historical event.
At many AA gatherings, there are prayers and talk about how personalized concepts of higher powers are answering prayers and granting sobriety to those who tried but failed at getting sober on their own. Lots of people get sober on their own just like people quit smoking on will power. Also, some people who get into trouble with booze - legal, health or relationship trouble - aren't alcoholics and can return to moderate or social drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous has a Pubic Information slogan, "If you want to drink and can, that's your business; if you want to quit but can't that's our business - call A.A."
AA grew from a 1930s middle-America culture and it had its struggles with its own sexism, homophobia and religiosity. I don't know if the original language - coming to believe in a "God as we understand Him" - was meant to be inclusive in a way that Catholics, Protestants and Jews wouldn't quarrel of if the imagined widening their gateway to atheists, Buddhists, Humanists and others that don't subscribe to an interfering/intervening deity. The fact is that there have always been nonbelievers/skeptics/doubters in AA's midst either adapting the AA Twelve Steps in a secular language or dismissing them completely.
An often difficult tenet of AA to understand is there is no central or hierarchical authority or modality. While secular AA meetings are still few (200 of 115,000 registered groups), this is one of the fastest growing populations inside AA. There is no governance that insists that AA's Twelve Steps are sacred or the center-piece of any AA get-together. About 300 were in attendance for the first international gathering which included sober alcoholics from the Philippines, France, Great Brittan, Turkey, Spain, Canada and the USA. Delegates agreed that we should do it every two years and Austin Texas will host the 2016 gathering.
There was an author's corner where writers of secular 12-Step based literature met with readers and shared ideas. There were workshops and keynote speakers. Some of the attendees were in Santa Monica as a show of support. Some of them have strong theistic views but celebrate AA's diversity and the many paths to recovery from alcoholism.
I have written before about clashes between the more fundamental AA's who preach an AA literalism and God-less AA. If you want to be criticized in AA just do something. There will always be someone there to "lovingly and humbly" tell you that "this is a bad idea." In that way AA is no better than any other microcosm of society.
For anyone who has tried AA before and found too much praying and preaching going on, they might want to check the world directory of agnostic/atheist AA groups, find a Facebook or Google group for addicts/alcoholics who identify as humanists/realists/atheist or visit my site http://rebelliondogspublishing.com where I link to several sober and secular communities.