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Making OA More Accessible

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In May 2019, three of us founded an atheist/agnostic face-to-face meeting in Bethesda, Maryland. We’d already had nineteen people at our most recent virtual meeting and had launched a second meeting online. Our purpose has been to help make the OA community more accessible to people who do not believe in a deity or have unconventional beliefs. We begin our meeting with the traditional introduction to OA, and then we continue:

“This meeting was started because many of us with long and short periods of abstinence in OA do not believe in God, at least not a masculine, Christianity-based deity who will intervene in our lives and make us abstinent.

“There are many atheists and agnostics in Alcoholics Anonymous and all the other Twelve Step programs. There are over five hundred AA meetings with a special focus on us. There have been such meetings in OA since the 70s. Besides this meeting, there are at least four other such face-to-face OA meetings and two long-standing phone meetings currently listed online. We hope to inspire many more.

“You do not have to believe in God to stop eating compulsively in OA. However, the language can be hard for agnostics and atheists. It can be hard to feel the need to translate the word ‘God’ every time we hear it or read it. It can be hard not to get angry every time God is assumed to be masculine or Christian. It can be hard when other people in the rooms look down, shift in their seats, or engage in cross talk when we mention our belief—or lack of it—and try to convert us after the meeting or tell us we will return to overeating if we do not believe in God.

“There have been agnostics and atheists in Twelve Step programs since Jim B. and others got Bill W. to tone down the Christian language and practices, which he and Dr. Bob took from the Oxford Group and found useful in their own recovery. That is why OA’s Third Step says, ‘God as we understood Him,’ why our Third Tradition says, ‘The only requirement for OA membership is the desire to stop eating compulsively, and OA-approved literature describes the Steps as suggestions only.

“This meeting is part of Overeaters Anonymous. Therefore, we make use of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of OA and only read Conference-approved literature during the meeting. However, since we have a special focus on atheists and agnostics and much of the literature refers to God and uses masculine language, please feel free to make whatever adjustments in language that are useful to your recovery. We will be doing the same.

“We also welcome those who believe in God.”

— Jim D.

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