Much confusion arises, I find, because many or us are (or were) unaware that the word "religion" has two different senses to it, as William James made clear in "The Varieities of Religious Experience." There are 'outer' religious forms - churches, temples, mosques, doctrines and dogmas, etc. - and there are 'inner' religious experiences which have little or nothing to do with 'outer' religious forms.
The word "religion" comes from the Latin words re (again) and ligare (to tie, or unite, as in 'ligature' or 'ligament'). Thus, the 'inner' religious experience is that of reuniting with the Whole, with a Power greater than one's 'self,' or simply with God. In this sense, and this sense only, A.A. could be said to be a spiritual and religious program, although our AA. Preamble (approved by the General Service Conference) makes it clear that A.A. "is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics or organization, and neither endorse nor opposes any causes."
A.A. co-founder Bill W. addressed the issue of religious tolerance - even tolerance for the avowed atheist - in his published correspondence. Writing in 1940, Bill observed:
"We found that the principles of tolerance and love had to be emphasized in actual practice. We can never say (or insinuate) to anyone that he must agree to our formula or be excommunicated. The atheist may stand up in an A.A. meeting still denying the Deity, yet reporting how vastly he has been changed in attitude and outlook. Much experience tells he will presently change his mind about God, but nobody tells him he must do so."(b)e quick to see where religious people are right."
"In order to carry the principle of inclusiveness and tolerance still further, we make no religious requirement of anyone. All people having an alcoholic problem who wish to get rid of it and so make a happy adjustment with the circumstances of their lives, become A.A. members by simply associating with us. Nothing but sincerity is needed. But we do not demand even this."
"In such an atmosphere the orthodox, the unorthodox, and the unbeliever mix happily and usefully together. An opportunity for spiritual growth is open to all."
["As Bill Sees It," p. 158]
Reuniting with our Source - whatever that may be called - has, after all, been the crux of 'inner' religious experience since the dawn of time.