Why I believe the 12 Step Movement is another religion
I have pondered upon writing something about my unease and disapproval with AA and it's 12 steps for quite some time. However, it is a sensitive subject and one that is apt to stir quite a bit of emotions on all sides of the fence. However, I feel that if I am to continue to be an open Atheist and continue to address the problems that I see with theism in the world, then I should not shy away from any subject, irregardless of it's controversy.
I will start out by saying, for most of my life, I knew very little of AA and what it proclaims to teach. I only knew what I had seen in the movies. A group of people trying to help one another overcome their problems and gathering together to get through those problems without a drink or a drug. Sounds good on the outside. In principle, there is strength in numbers and alcoholics and addicts tend to have a social stigma attached to them. What better for them, than to gather together and support one another ?
But is that what AA really does ?
Or is it possible, that AA is another quasi-religious movement that is not so much concerned with drinking, as it is converting people to it's rather strange ideas of what it calls "spirituality" ? AA tends to dodge the religious label by calling itself "spiritual but not religious". But, let's take a look at some of AA's literature and what it says.
I have a family member that became heavily involved in AA. As most people on here know, I grew up in a very strict, theist background and this guy was not one of those. He was quite a heavy drinker. However, after a few years in AA, his behavior changed so radically and a few of the meetings I attended with him for support disturbed me so greatly that I decided to read some AA "approved" literature. (No other literature can be read at a meeting unless it meets AA approval I might add). Here are some excerpts from AA's 12 steps and 12 traditions (a book commonly known as the 12 and 12 in AA):
Some of us won't believe in God, others can't, and still others who believe in God do not have faith that HE will perform his miracles.Yes, you have got us over the barrel alright, but where do we go from here ?
Sound rather anti-Atheist to anyone ? Well, there is more. Listen to this naked assertion on the part of AA :
Let's look at the first case of the one that says that he will not believe in God. The most belligerent one. He is of a state of mind which can only be described as savage. His whole philosophy in life, in which he is so glorified, is threatened. It's bad enough, he thinks, that alcohol has him down for keeps. But now, still smarting from that admission, he is faced with something really impossible. How can he possibly cherish the thought that man, risen so majestically from a single cell in the primordial ooze, is the spearhead of evolution and the only God that he knows ?Must he renounce all of this to save himself ?
I am going to skip ahead a couple of sentences here and type an excerpt from the next paragraph :
His sponsor will probably say " Take it easy, the hoop that you have to jump through is alot wider than you think. At least I have found it so. So did a friend of mine who was a one time vice-president of the American Atheist Society, but he got through with room to spare".
And this excerpt :
No man, we saw, could believe in God and continue to defy HIM. We saw that belief meant reliance and not defiance
The fact was , we really hadn't cleaned house so that the grace of god could enter into us and expel our obsession
Where, in all of these readings, I wondered, was there talk of drinking ? Where were they addressing the issues of what it could do to your liver ? Your health ? The best way to detox ? Possible dietary prescriptions for those in malnourishment ?
Defenders of the 12 step movement often say that the material was written in the 1930's.Long before they understood psychiatric issues or the actual health issues of alcohol abuse. So why hasn't AA evolved and changed ? Why hasn't some of the material been jettisoned in favor of more modern adaptations ? Why are they still treating people with outdated literature and spirituality when it has not been conclusively proven to work ? And why all of the insistence that a man MUST have some sort of "Higher Power " or "GOD" in order to recover ? Walk into a roomful of AA members and say that you have done it on your own and I almost guarantee the response will be less than favorable. Listening to my family member, who is a part of it, is like listening to a broken record of all the other members. ( i.e. I was just dry, until I began working the steps, got a sponsor, read the Big Book, started to pray, etc.)
AA's founding members did not see the psychological and physical aspects of addiction, they attributed drinking to " a spiritual disease caused by moral shortcomings, defects of character, the seven deadly sins, selfishness, fear, and keeping secrets". Granted, this may have been long before the medical community understood what it does today. But why hasn't AA evolved and adapted new teachings ? Doesn't it seem to smack of religion when there is a sacred text that can not be altered, changed or questioned ?
How about this entry, that is in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book on page 77 :
At the moment we are trying to put our lives in order. But that is not an end in itself. Our real purpose is to be of maximum service to God
Or this one :
Remember that we deal with alcohol. Cunning, baffling, powerful, without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has All Power. That one is God, may you find him now !
Notice how often the word "god" ends up in this literature. Not "Higher Power" not "good orderly direction" not "group of drunks" not "sponsor" but GOD .
Often times, I have heard people in open meetings claim that no one can get there by mistake. That "GOD" bottoms them out, lets them become drunks and leads them there for the sole purpose of finding him.
Exactly what does all of this have to do with the psychological and physical aspects of quitting drinking ? Again, the defenders can state that this was the 1930's at the time of these writings, so why hasn't AA deemed them outdated and re-written them ? Would you seek the professional help of a doctor who would only follow medical texts from the 1930's ?
AA's refusal to evolve, AA's refusal to allow any questioning of it's literature, smacks to me of borderline, fanatic theism.
While it is technically possible to hold differences of opinions with the mainstream crowd of AA and while it is possible to hold Atheist beliefs and be a member, that person is probably going to face scorn and be ignored. If my family member's groups are any indication of AA as a whole. Which he tells me that the AA meetings that he attends all over the country are about the same.
Why do most meetings begin with the Serenity Prayer and end with the Lord's Prayer ? I am unaware of any meetings that begin with a Buddhist Prayer, A Hebrew Prayer, A Wiccan Prayer, An Islamic Prayer, A Hindu Prayer or a Native American Meditation. Nope, they almost all begin with the Christian Serenity Prayer and end with the Lord's Prayer. The Protestant version of the Lord's Prayer, I might add (growing up in a Catholic household, I can attest to the slight differences in the two).
I have noticed that a large majority of the public seems to be unaware of SMART Recovery, Rational Recovery, Secular Arm For Sobriety, and HAMS. If you think that you may have a problem with alcohol, you need not think that the kooky spirituality of AA is your only solution. There are plenty of secular organizations and support groups that are just as dedicated to helping you get out from under your addictions. Perhaps more so, because there aim is to treat the addiction and not lead you to some odd version of spirituality.
I believe that addicts and alcoholics need each other to overcome their problems. But I also believe that they should give THEMSELVES the credit for kicking the habit and overcoming it. I find it rather disgusting that an alcoholic, when he gets sober, gives all of the credit to "GOD" and AA, and when he relapses, he places the blame solely on himself. I have actually heard members say their relapse was due to the fact they had "turned their back on god". Does this remind anyone of the type of medieval thinking that lead to flagellants when the Black Death was raging across Europe ?
“It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.”
― Giordano Bruno