James Christopher, Founder of SOS, Dies at Seventy-Seven

Julia Lavarnway

James Christopher, founder of Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), died July 9, 2020. He had been hospitalized after a stroke in late June. He was seventy-seven.

Christopher’s article “Sobriety without Superstition” appeared in the Summer 1985 issue of Free Inquiry. In that article, Christopher told his story of addiction and sobriety. He also lamented that groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous insist on their members believing in a “higher power.” According to Christopher, even the “heretical minority meetings” of fledgling secular groups at that time “suggested” that their members have a “reliance upon a higher power.” His problem with this approach? It “at worst involves the alcoholic in an oppressive cultist atmosphere; at best, it encourages dependence upon something or someone other than oneself and therefore renders one’s sobriety conditional.” Christopher ended his article on the following hopeful note: “Perhaps the day will come when alcoholism and drug-abuse support groups unconditionally welcome any suffering addict and help the individual by strengthening his or her rational consciousness, free from superstition.”

After receiving hundreds of letters in response to the article, Christopher and the Council for Secular Humanism realized that dream with the formation of Secular Organizations for Sobriety, also sometimes referred to as Save Our Selves. The group operated from the Council’s headquarters in Buffalo and later Amherst, New York, before moving to Los Angeles. SOS, now an independent nonprofit, helped launch an alternative recovery movement that provides greater options for nonreligious persons battling addiction.

James Underdown, executive director of CFI Los Angeles, had this to say about his late colleague: “Jim was an indefatigable crusader in the war to fight addictions of all kinds and spent decades helping others do so. … I’ll remember Jim Christopher for his humor, his passion, and his unwavering dedication to his cause.” The entire Center for Inquiry family will sorely miss James Christopher and would like to extend its condolences to his family and friends during this difficult time.

Julia Lavarnway

Julia Lavarnway is assistant editor at FREE INQUIRY, a columnist for the Secular Humanist Bulletin, and the managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine.


James Christopher, founder of Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), died July 9, 2020. He had been hospitalized after a stroke in late June. He was seventy-seven. Christopher’s article “Sobriety without Superstition” appeared in the Summer 1985 issue of Free Inquiry. In that article, Christopher told his story of addiction and sobriety. He also lamented that …

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