The 12 steps for Agnostics and Atheists


Not everyone has the experience of a loving transcendent being at work in their lives. An estimated 488 million people, for example, practice Buddhism, a religion that does not include the idea of a God.

Many reject the 12 step fellowships because of the references to God, even though Bill W. himself emphasized that membership in AA does not require a belief in God, just a sincere desire to not drink. The 12 step fellowships are spiritual, not religious, recovery programs. Everyone can develop their spirituality without having a belief in God.

Yet some still react negatively to the use of the term God in the steps and by other members of the fellowship. Unfortunately, many of these people throw the baby of recovery out with the bathwater of religious terminology. They thus deprive themselves of a live-saving recovery program.

There is plenty of room in the 12 step fellowships for atheists and agnostics. Just substitute “God” with your own personal definition and experience of resources external to you that help you stay sober, heal, and grow. Everyone in the fellowship needs to define their experience of their higher power. The only rule is that your higher power is not you.

AA Agnostica ( is a wonderful online resource for those who intuit the value of the 12 steps but need to translate them into non-religious terms. The 12 steps of AA Agnostica are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe and accept that we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to entrust our will and our lives to the care of the collective wisdom and resources of those who have searched before us.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to ourselves, without reservation, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were ready to accept help in letting go of all our defects of character.
  7. With humility and openness sought to eliminate 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 through meditation to improve our spiritual awareness and our understanding of the AA way of life and to discover the power to carry out that way of life.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The site includes other non-theistic versions of the 12 steps. These steps also facilitate the miracle of transformation that is recovery.

If you have difficulty with the idea of a transcendent Higher Power, check out AA Agnostica before you abandon the healing power of the 12 step fellowships. Let yourself benefit from the support, guidance, and wisdom of the fellowship. Discover what a higher power means to you, create your own steps, and respect the diversity of experiences and beliefs of others. Let the power of the program heal and transform you.

Bottom line: there’s room for everyone in the 12 step fellowships.



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