Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life: finally, a daily reflection book for nonbelievers, freethinkers and everyone

Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life: finally, a daily reflection book for nonbelievers, freethinkers and everyone

by Joe C.


Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


Finally, a daily reflection book for everyone from Rebellion Dogs Publishing. Beyond Belief is the first secular daily reflection book written in a contemporary language for today's addicts and alcoholics in recovery.

From the Foreword by Dr. Ernie Kurtz (author of Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous & The Spirituality of Imperfection):

"The book is aimed at a general 12-Step readership, but it is mindful that there heretofore exist no such aids for unbelievers, freethinkers, and the unconventionally spiritual. Given that the latest Pew Research survey found that twenty percent of the American people list their religious affiliation as 'None,' it is certainly time that the Recovery world took into consideration this population's needs. Beyond Belief addresses that need in a confident, non-aggressive way.

I doubt that any believer will find anything objectionable in its pages. This believer, for one, finds much that is spiritually helpful."

Nothing is sacred and nothing is forbidden; we draw from classic and contemporary 12-Step wisdom and we explore philosophy, psychology, entertainment, art, spiritual musings, skeptical inquiry and the uncanny wisdom in the rooms.

Professional and 12&12 Member reviews:

Melissa D., Clinical Psychologist, California says, "I have never seen a daily devotional book written for agnostics. I found the readings to be extremely thought provoking. I wonder sometimes since there is such talk about God at meetings, what kind of turn-off that must be for agnostics. I think this book will be very helpful to both the newcomer and the mature 12 Step member."

Bob K, contributor to says, "I expected his book to be good. It's WAY, WAY better than good. The book is outstanding. Two decades of not being a 'daily reflections' kind of guy, are over. Now I have reflections worth reflecting over! Buy this book or you will suffer a horrible and painful death! Well, maybe not, but you'll be missing out on something very good."

Denis K. says, "Many thanks for this great book; my Monday night group and I are having some great discussions related to the daily musings both at the group and often during the week over coffee. All of us were quickly losing interest in the local meetings; Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life gave all of us a much needed spark that has renewed our interest in the fellowship."

Christopher Burn, writer, psychotherapist, blogger, remarks, "Almost everything about the book looks ground breaking and thought provoking, from its interactive format (on the Kindle version you can browse through a hundred or so linked topics such as 'Brain Chemistry', 'Gratitude' or 'Zen'), to its edgy literary style."

The book includes an index of over 120 topics, extensive notes and a bibliography.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780988115705
Publisher: Rebellion Dogs Publishing
Publication date: 01/21/2013
Pages: 412
Sales rank: 230,642
Product dimensions: 8.90(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Clean and sober since 1976, Joe C is a songwriter, radio host, podcaster and a feature writer for music, financial and recovery-lifestyle periodicals. A member of NAADAC (Association for Addiction Professionals), Joe is a speaker and workshop facilitator for behavioral health professionals and the general recovery community. Topics include addiction/recovery culture, history, trends and demographics.

Writing credits include:, Renew Magazine, In Recovery Magazine, Pacific Standard & AA-agnostica.

Music/radio activity includes hosting the SiriusXM Satellite Radio weekly IndieCan Radio ( and Rebellion Dogs Radio (a 21st century look at 12-Step Life).

Read an Excerpt

February 23

"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say."

Anaïs Nin (1903-1977)

When we are sharing our stories or relating to others in recovery we share the language of the heart. We try to be as candid as possible and speak our own unique truths. Clichés are a quick way to express something we all relate to. Clichés have merit in that they allow us to say so much with few words. But overused, clichés cause others to tune out. When we truly speak from the heart, we don't need catchy phrases. Who knows what it will be about our story that will resonate with another? Not only does our candor tell our version of the truth, but sometimes another will identify with us and find hope.

We hear "I finally found where I belonged" when people talk about coming to meetings. We have all heard something in the company of addicts that transformed our hopelessness into positive expectations. More often, uncovering the truth is a process rather than a revelation. It isn't reading, writing or listening alone. There is a process that leads to transforming us from being overwhelmed to being empowered. Like a chemical reaction, words and witness can sometimes change the teller and listener.

The real meaning of selfish program is that we often say what we need to hear—we are the architects of our own recovery. Our own words can sometimes be like postcards from our psyches. Have we ever heard ourselves say, "I don't know where that came from"?

Do I speak from the heart? Do I sometimes talk because my own voice relieves my anxiety? If I listen instead, maybe someone else will say what I am unable to say but need to hear.

February 24

"Every second that you experience suffering for others, you collect merit as vast as the sky, and purify eons of negative karma. Each time, you become closer to enlightenment and closer to enlightening other sentient beings."

Lama Zopa Rinpoche (born 1946)

Bodhicitta is a Buddhist practice—wishing to bring happiness and relieve the suffering of others as much as possible. No matter what level of nirvana or enlightenment you have achieved, you just ain't top-dog, Buddhist guru material until you reach the state of the altruistic principle of Bodhicitta.

No matter how wounded we are when we come into the program, the Steps and fellowship transform us into people that help others out of reflex. We can't tap people on the head and make them recovered. We cannot take their pain away. But we know with certainty that freedom is possible because, for us, despair was transformed into a glimmer of hope, and then we found recovery. We have stories to tell and we have time to listen. Addiction is such a dark place because it is such a self-absorbed state: our needs are endless and we feel alone. Weeks and months in, we can still be self-absorbed while the enormity of the Steps is still in front of us. Just being at a meeting is being an example to others. Showing levity about our own shortcomings can make others smile. Making peace with our flawed incompleteness can be a symbol of hope for those still undecided about our program. In taking on another suffering member's concerns and helping them find their own brand of salvation we are inadvertently freed from the bondage of our own preoccupations.

Six ideals of Buddhist living are patience, morality, generosity, enthusiasm, concentration and wisdom. We don't learn it then do it—we do it then share what we learned. These ways of treating ourselves are prerequisites to the path of enlightenment in Buddhism. As Dr. "Dharma" Bob and "Bodhicitta" Bill W. would have put it, "having had a spiritual awakening...we tried to carry this message...and to practice these principles in all our affairs."

Am I happy today? Does the happiness I feel come from the things and places I expected it would or am I surprised about what makes me happy today?

February 25

"Empty your mind; be formless, shapeless—like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."

Bruce Lee (1940-1973)

Bruce Lee, a master of the martial arts, understood that two of the keys to meditation and deeper awareness are relaxation and fluidity. Stress, or more accurately, distress, seems normal to the addictive mind. Serenity isn't granted; it is practiced. It comes from within and is a byproduct of meditation, opening the door to strength and greater understanding.

Water is fluid and docile, but don't mess with it—water has power that can overwhelm human strength. Before dismissing meditation as something that will make us dull or wimpy, we are encouraged to try it first. Bruce Lee wasn't reputed to be a wimp. Like many things in life, anxiety and impulsivity can be fully refunded if we don't like what our balanced, meditative self looks like in the mirror. Reacting to chaos is easy, not heroic. Living peacefully is the challenge.

Do I see how meditation makes me more adaptable to my environment, able to fit in, and can complement my surroundings? As the water analogy suggests, do I also see the power and force that come from conscious meditation?

February 26

"Attraction is beyond our will or ideas sometimes."

Juliette Binoche (born 1964)

"Our public relations policy should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion."[i] Our example to newcomers is important. It's not saying the right thing that attracts people to us; they come back if they feel like they were heard. Ultimately, a newcomer's fate has more to do with what he or she does and says than with what we say or do. Our enthusiasm for the newcomer to "come to believe" should be muted. It's their choice to stay or to go. We are not cheering for our fellowships as if they were our favorite sports teams. We're not the "best" and we're not competing with any other system for overcoming addiction or codependency. Absolute statements make us and our fellowships appear cult-like. Statements like "See it our way or help yourself to jail, death or the loony bin" may be sincerely felt but are hardly scientifically irrefutable. Unsubstantiated claims are neither credible nor attractive.

What statistics do we have about people who leave Twelve & Twelve fellowships? We don't do exit surveys or follow-up studies. All we offer that carries weight is our experience. Opinions are like...well, we all know what they are like, and the smell that comes with the territory.

Ads can let people know that a fellowship is here to help. One such AA ad reads as follows: "If you want to drink and can—that's your business. If you want to stop and can't—that's our business: Call Alcoholics Anonymous [phone number]."

What shall I do when I catch myself being evangelical about recovery, my fellowship, my group or my own point of view? A statement like, "This I believe..." is sharing. "This is how it is" has crossed the line to drunk-on-dogma preaching; I see what is true for me as being universally true. How many personal beliefs or personal experiences do I spout off as though they're universal truths?

February 27

"Avoid authorities who offer a universal blueprint for salvation or a map of your spiritual pilgrimage. Be suspicious of anyone who claims to have esoteric knowledge of the hidden truth, God's will, the outcome of history or why we should bomb Iraq back into the Stone Age. The great spiritual secrets...are hidden in plain sight."

Sam Keen

The small print in Sam Keen's Hymns to an Unknown God is that to see these secrets hidden in plain view, we might have to turn ourselves inside-out first. This is true in Step One—once clean and sober the problem (addiction) and the solution (recovery) are crystal clear. However, before we turned ourselves inside-out, the abstinence plan and the suggestion that our favorite process or substance was responsible for an allegedly "unmanageable life" sounded too melodramatic for our reasoning minds.

Once we want to stop, we have to stay stopped. Where do we turn? Well, what's in plain view? There's the Twelve Steps. Why don't we try to just read the black—ignoring the urge to seek out cryptic messages hidden in the white part of the pages? After the Steps, then we have some choices to make. We might want to get on with our lives. There is a myth that all who stray from meetings eventually die in addiction. Sure, some relapses start with skipping meetings but leaving the fold springboards some of us into worthy callings and purposeful lives. Not many of us will face this all or nothing ultimatum, but if the time comes, let's not say "no" to life and become so dependent on meetings, in constant fear that the big bad wolf of addiction is around the corner, waiting to pounce.

Let's say, on the other hand, we want to stay—good then; meetings can add value to a rich, full life. Our program can be a lifestyle instead of a single purpose solution. If we do hang around we avoid becoming zealots. It's easy to tell if we fall prey to bleeding deaconism. Zealots talk in absolutes and they just aren't funny. People or organizations that can't tolerate a lampooning fear that laughter will crack their clay feet.[ii]

I am looking for answers, today—what do I see right in front of me? Am I in recovery because it's what I want, or am I doing it because I am afraid?

February 28

"You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"

Steven Wright (born 1955)

Come to think of it—having our dreams come true would result in a serious storage problem. Still, we find ourselves wanting more wealth, more love, more fulfillment and more meaning from our recovery. In the course of healthy, everyday life sometimes we will feel malcontented. The material world, with its commercial trappings, preys on insecurity, selling illusions about products that can satisfy the inadequacy it implants in us. The more we expose ourselves to media, the more likely we will engage in copious consumption and feel less contentment. Western world contentment has been on the decline since the late 1950s. What has been increasing is our exposure to advertising. Google "the story of stuff" for an enlightening connection between consumption, ecology and human well-being.[iii]

Those of us from the Dysfunction-R-Us club have some core beliefs that may contribute to unrealistic behavior. We may believe that there will never be enough—not enough time, money or love—at least, not for us. We may think we are unworthy: "If people get to know me, they will reject me." Any of these core beliefs can lead to insatiable needs we try to compensate for.

Left unchecked, here are three maladaptive patterns that we may fall prey to: (i) Hyper-consumption: for most of us this includes, but isn't limited to, addiction; (ii) Resignation: accepting as facts beliefs like, "I am undeserving" or "life is futile"; and (iii) Overcompensation: masking our pain in false bravado and insisting that we don't need anything or anybody. These patterns lead to lives of isolation, possibly compounding the cycle of impulsive binging and purging.

Do I have ambition or resentment that comes from a core belief that there isn't enough to go around and/or that my needs just can't be satisfied? Today, can I remind myself that I am fine just the way I am and that I have so much to be grateful for? Is it better to want what I to have than have what I want? Can I be at peace with not having everything I want?

March 1

"This is a basic personality characteristic of creative people...the attitude of naiveté, of acceptance and curiosity about the odd and strange . . . the ability to notice and to remark differences in detail."

Jane Piirto, PhD

In Western culture, naiveté and wisdom are widely treated as opposites. In Eastern traditional philosophy and religion, the two are symbiotic. The gentle quality of naiveté is a state of openness, a right-minded, limitless way of seeing. A beginner's mind may seem counterintuitive to addicts. We often come from impulsive places where we cope by saving time and jumping to conclusions.

Many an addict's life is lived with a think-fast, act-fast, live-by-instinct mentality. Twelve Step founders touted humility as a cornerstone of change. In being humble, in knowing we know only a little, we are open to seeing more than we have seen before. In the practice of mindfulness, a beginner's mind observes things that an efficient and goal-oriented, conscious, logical mind doesn't. As we practice a new way of seeing, let's not get hard on our assumptions; they are just trying to help. But new ways of seeing come, ironically, from regressing or revisiting our childlike awe, from a time when we experienced life without applying labels, quantifying or anticipating.

In our Twelve & Twelve business meetings everyone gets just one vote. Thirty years doesn't glean thirty votes. Three months in, a member is entitled to contribute. We don't take the "If we want your opinion, we'll give it to you" approach. The newcomer perspective is a cleaner, less biased look at how we come across, which is just as valuable as long-timer experience. Again, naiveté has merit.

Is doubt a higher state of consciousness than certainty? Is it another arrow in my quiver?

March 2

"We do not sing because we are happy, we are happy because we sing."

William James (1842-1910)

James lived around some very colorful people. His siblings Henry and Alice were authors, as was his Godfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson. These influences inspired this original thinker in the disciplines of physiology, psychology and philosophy. He left his mark on Bill Wilson and our entire culture.

There is a relationship between our feelings and behavior. In a healthy, balanced state, our feelings influence our actions, but our actions can also impact our sense of well-being. We can counter restlessness by going to a meeting. We can forget ourselves by reaching out to others. When we are in the throes of obsessive-compulsiveness, we don't seem to read and respond to feelings with the same connectedness. When we are experiencing the extremes of feeling either unworthy or entitled, everything is chaotic and our feelings are exaggerated and unmanageable. What to do? Well, we know what seemed to work back in the day. We would check out into oblivion as a way to navigate the rocky road of life.

As we work the Twelve Steps, we become more integrated and connected to our environment and our feelings. Awe and wonderment will be experiences as will grief and fear. In recovery we find that there are times to resign ourselves to sadness or grief—it won't kill us. But we don't wallow. When the time is right we can think of today's quote. The Steps teach us that we can sing regardless of the weather. Singing can ease our suffering and/or demonstrate our gratitude. It is a sober self-medication.

What will I "sing" about today? Do I have theme songs for when I want to express happiness? How about to comfort me or draw out feelings when I am blue? Right thinking can come from right "doing" as we learn over and over again in the Steps. How can I steer my thinking by doing something positive?

March 3

"Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes."

Confucius (551 BC-479 BC)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps modify behavior by identifying our triggers and reprogramming problematic assumptions (automatic thoughts). Understanding our patterns and cycles gives us a leg up at modeling healthy new behavior, learning social skills and living more consciously. The addiction cycle is circular. When we act out we feel guilt (shame). We relieve the shame by purging, often promising that we will quit. For predictable results, repeat cycle, increasing the dose as required.

The Twelve Steps break this cycle and pave the way for new patterns—a recovery cycle. "Easy does it" is a mantra that helps still our panic when we feel triggered. Reaching out for help, taking inventory, being mindful and changing our habits are all part of transformation. Recovering members who have had experience with formal CBT under professional care tend to catch on quickly, because they have exposed themselves to methods that complement our peer-to-peer fellowship. CBT patients seek alternative interpretations to experiences that used to trigger feelings of worthlessness, resulting from mistakes made in the past. Shame escalates addiction, which has become both a cure and a self-punishment and has started showing diminishing returns. We can curb the self-abuse that results from the idea, "My mistakes are proof of my unworthiness." The new attitude may look like this: "I do what I think is best. I will make mistakes along the way. Who doesn't? To err is human." OMG—Confucius was a cognitive-behavioral therapist!

Just for today I will try rejoicing in my foibles. Can I try not taking my imperfection so seriously? Can I be empathetic to others' shortcomings, seeing as we are all just doing our best?

March 4

"I will listen to everything that is said so I will have some constructive ideas to take home with me and use. I will not yield to my compulsion to go on talking after I have made my point—and what I say will have a direct relevance to the subject of the meeting."

One Day at a Time in Al-Anon

When we are new to the program, just getting to meetings makes sense. We go with the flow. Some members say the program is learned not by osmosis but by "ass-mosis." Just get our asses into chairs, listen and learn. But when we have been around for a while and have worked the Steps, getting to every meeting isn't a matter of life or death. Do we get lazy about meetings and their purpose?

We owe it to ourselves to get the most out of life—in and out of the program. When we do go to meetings we can think ahead, priming ourselves for being open and present, checking our egos and considering what we might be able to add. It's worth reviewing why we are going to the meeting. Does someone depend on us? Do we have a problem we seek perspective on? Or are we showing a lack of imagination or avoiding another responsibility? Sometimes we go to meetings out of habit and some other activity may be more appropriate.

Hearing ourselves talk can be intoxicating. Once we needed the approval of others and we were willing to do anything to get it. We still enjoy approval but we don't seek it at all cost. Some of us remind ourselves before the meeting that we are here to be genuine, not impressive. If we talk a lot, we can remember that passing is sharing—sharing the time.

Am I planning to attend a meeting today or in the next couple of days? What's my purpose? Will I get there early (if that's important to me) and be ready to get and give what I can?

March 5

"I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you."

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Oh how we want to put our faith in something out there—a lover who stays infatuated, a friend who will always listen, a bank account that never says "funds not available" and a program that shows us the light and the way. We want it so badly that we put people on pedestals, we kneel at the altar of false gods and we set our course for the future as the time and the place where we will be worry-free and wanting for nothing. Putting something, someone or some place on a pedestal invites wishful thinking and it allows us to delegate blame. What do they call today's expectations? We call them premeditated resentments or disappointments; but don't worry, it won't be our fault.

With maturity we look inward for solutions from our voice of reason. Most addiction is borne of something that we think is lacking inside of us. We searched and searched for the right something to fill the hole. It was never enough, but we somehow believed that everything would be OK. Our escape from reality would protect us and the harmful consequences would never be faced. But if our addiction didn't fill the hole, how would cutting off the supply fill the void? Many of us tried the program and fellowship, putting the Twelve & Twelve bus to happy destiny on probation. Becoming dependent on fellowship is less harmful than process or substance abuse, but are we setting ourselves up to say to the fellowship, upon our first setback, "You lied to me. How can I ever trust you again?"

We can't cure addiction with a better artificial outside agent. The answers we seek come from within. The great thing about fellowships and programs is that they provide the experience, kinship and change of scenery that we need while we get our shit together. But they aren't the answer. The experience of others will help us find our own answers and chart our own course in recovery.

Am I acquainted, or reacquainted, with a voice inside that I can trust? It shouldn't be new to me. In my addiction, didn't I always have a voice inside that asked me, "Who do you think you're kidding?"

March 6

"To be willing to work for humility as something to be desired for itself, takes most of us a long, long time. A whole life-time geared to self-centeredness cannot be set in reverse all at once. Rebellion dogs our every step."

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 73

We are rebellion dawgs—sounds like a band! We don't conform or listen to reason. Did our rebellious nature condemn us to addiction or did addiction warp our brains to the point of antisocial selfishness and poor decision-making?

What AA could identify in the middle of the last century, science can explain this century. Addiction cuts down our neurotransmitters' functionality. Dopamine, GABA and glutamate work harmoniously in normal brains but not in the brain of a rebellion dawg. Addiction and maybe other obsessive-compulsive disorders create an imbalance of natural chemicals, influencing behavior, mood and decision-making. In a normal brain the consequences of harmful actions are weighed against rewards. When we mess with our brain chemistry our prefrontal cortex cannot effectively warn us of the dangers of bad habits and rash decisions. Our brains are dysfunctional.[iv] That's right, dawg—our rebellious nature may not be our nature at all. The question of which came first—chemical imbalance or addiction—is up for debate. Relapse, destructive relationships, narcissism, rash decisions about career, recovery or even what downhill ski trail we choose might not be due to the fact that we are born to be wild; our brain chemistry might be short-circuited.

Synaptic plasticity in some addicts, some of the time, restores brain functioning, keeping us apprised of right/wrong and risk/reward considerations. To re-train our thinking from grandiose to humble, from reckless to mindful, will take time and practice. Let's not be hard on ourselves if we suffer setbacks in our sober, sensible, serene living.

Steps Four through Seven are exercises in reflection, understanding and improving my cooperative, proactive and compassionate ways, where only rebellion ruled me before. Do I remember progress, not perfection, in my recovery? Teaching rebellion dogs new tricks takes time and repetition. Good doggy!


[i] Tradition Eleven (long form), states, "Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as A.A. members ought not be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us." Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 192.

[ii] Keen, "Constructing a Spiritual Bullshit Detector," Hymns To An Unknown God, 110-115: In the chapter, Keen encourages seekers to listen to the wise, but not to quote them verbatim. All that shines blinds, so Keen also suggests watching out for the overwhelming or captivating. We should avoid spiritual teachers who demand obedience, denounce skepticism, don't live by the same standards they expound and who expect us to put the program ahead of family, career or other priorities. If our would-be guru is a zealous cheerleader, that's another warning. Inasmuch as being self-absorbed is micro-idolatry, talking about one's [Twelve Step] program as being superior or a divinely inspired treatment is a form of macro-idolatry. We should do a reality check any time we hear ourselves making sweeping claims that are not substantiated. That would be an early sign of bleeding-deaconism.

[iii] The Story of Stuff is the material economy explained in a kind of Fourth Step inventory of our stewardship of planet Earth and/or our own home and family by Tides Foundation, Funders Workgroup for Sustainable Production and Consumption and Free Range Studios. The narrator is Annie Leonard. For more information go to (accessed December 20, 2012).

[iv] The brain's reward system, or "Go!" system as named in the HBO documentary Addiction, is a part of our natural instinct to seek out what we need for survival, be it food, shelter or reproduction. The risk system in the frontal lobe of the brain, the "Stop!" system, evaluates risks and warns us about leaping before we look or entering a dark cave where we hear growling and snarling. These systems work together. "That looks good. Is it worth the risk?" We weigh consequences and decide if and when to go for something that is both rewarding and potentially risky. "With addicts, however, it is as though [the risk/reward systems] have become functionally disconnected. It is as though the 'Go!' system is sort of running off on its own, is a rogue system now and is not interacting in a regular, seamless integrated way with the 'Stop!' system," says Anna Rose Childress, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. The "Go!" system can be triggered so quickly that we're unaware of it, and can and will move us to take action before the risk ("Stop!") system can mount a defense or even become engaged.

What People are Saying About This

Ph.D., author of The Spirituality of Imperfection and Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous (written February 2 - Ernest Kurtz

This is the first daily reflection book of which I know that offers a lengthy "Notes" section as well as a full Bibliography. The Notes are far more than mere citations, often presenting brief additional discussion and even new material that more frequently than not is as rich as the text itself.

In addition to the Notes and Bibliography, the end-matter of Beyond Belief contains a full Index that allows searching out individual musings on just about any topic. Having problems with "ego"? Check out May 29, August 8, September 24 or seven other dates. Polishing your gratitude? Flip to March 2, June 16, November 12 or eleven other dates.

Beyond Belief will enrich anyone interested in living a 12-Step life.

Customer Reviews