Jump to content
Mental Support Community

AA & religion


Recommended Posts

Being an atheist, the religious aspects of AA always seemed glaringly obvious, "spiritual not religious" is a joke when you follow it up with talk about God. At best, a case could be made that AA is nondenominational, but not religious? Only if one ignores the dictionary and reality.

I was not warned about the religious nature of AA or that all I would be getting in rehab was intense AA. I left early.

People kept telling me that I had gotten it all wrong, AA wasn't religious, I must have gotten a group or two. Atheists get help in AA, I was told, so I'd try again. I'd ask in a meeting, "How can I work this program as an atheist?" I hoped someone would pull me aside after the meeting if they were too embarrassed to admit to being an atheist inside the meeting, but the only people who I attracted were the religious zealots of the group. I had scared off the rest, now the only ones who who even talk to me were those who believed they could convert me. They became quite nasty when they discovered it was not the case. I'm not talking once or twice or even ten times. How many times am I supposed to do something, expecting different results?

Mel B.writes in New Wine: The Spiritual Roots of the Twelve Step Miracle : “AA members have always issued disclaimers when discussing God: typical is, ‘Our program is spiritual, not religious.’ If pressed for what the program’s actual definition of ‘spiritual’ is, however, it is doubtful that many AA members could explain.”

They could not explain because there is no clear cut boundary between religious and spiritual; AA exploits this.

AA is a splinter group of the religious sect the Oxford Group, also known as the "First Century Christian Fellowship". AA retained many of the core beliefs of this group and at the same time was trying to distance itself from the fellowship in order to avoid the Oxford Group/Catholic Church conflict.

Bill Wilson was not particularly astute when it came to religion. He claimed the Lord's Prayer was too widely accepted for it to be a Christian prayer. It allowed him to write things such as this:

"Therefore, Step Two is the rallying point for all of us. Whether

agnostic, atheist, or former believer, we can stand together on this

Step. True humility and an open mind can lead us to faith, and every AA

meeting is an assurance that God will restore us to sanity if we

rightly relate ourselves to Him." (Twelve and Twelve, Step Two, pg. 33)

Wilson describes himself as a former atheist at times and also claims that he never lost his faith in God. So which is it? Was Wilson ignorant of the meaning of the word and using "atheist" to describe someone who had quit going to church or was he a snake oil salesman who said whatever was needed at that moment to sell what he was selling?

Wilson calls atheists and agnostics "bewildered", "savage", "belligerent"; Dr. Bob was even less kind and wrote them off entirely.

When you start talking about God, it has gone beyond spiritual, into religious. When you start describing and defining God as AA does, you have moved from religious into religion.

Some people in the rooms seem able to ignore parts of the program, the same way that church goers ignore some of the basic tenets of their religions, birth control for example, but still operate under the idea that they members in good standing. "Take what you want and leave the rest", right? Churches, and AA frown on this. AA calls it cafeteria-style or watered down AA, many will say it is the cause of relapses. The danger here is that if a relapse does occur, people come back less willing to leave anything, they embrace the program in a more fundamentalist way and push this on anyone who will listen.

AA is designed for lapsed Christians, the ones who still carry around the guilt of letting their religion slide. The idea that God cannot cure alcoholism, only grant a daily reprieve is Christian heresy. The idea that a person is powerless over addiction, that only God can do something is a rejection of Free Will, and once you reject Free Will, the program is in conflict with most religions.

The following courts have ruled that AA is at least "religious in nature" and that court mandated AA violates the Establishment Clause:

The New York Court of Appeals.

The Second Federal District Court. (NY, VT, CT)

The Seventh Federal District Court. (WI, IN, IL)

The Ninth Federal District Court. (MT, ID, WA, OR, NV, CA, AZ, HI, AK)

The Tennessee Supreme Court

Every time the question has come before a higher court, the final outcome has been that AA is religious. The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear appeals of these cases.

(There is at this time, an appeals court in PA that has ruled AA to not be religious, this case is in the process of appeal.)

So why is it so important that AA be seen as nonreligious? Sure, it sounds better, maybe doesn't scare off as many people, but why is it such a touchy subject? Funding. AA's major source of income is the sale of literature. Who's the biggest buyer of AA literature? Rehabs. Rehabs spout AA philosophy, push 12step and yet they have always wanted to maintain the illusion that they are totally separate. If the states are paying for what comes down to as religious instruction, that would be a major violation of the Establishment Clause.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One of the things that has always bothered me is how members believe AA is entitled to the "hands off" status that religions enjoy, that it should be granted legitimacy based solely on faith, that questioning it is heresy, all while denying it's religious nature.

AA claims to be "spiritual, not religious", but what does that really mean? You cannot describe one without including the other,

"The difference between religion and spirituality is in form only, for the true essence of all spiritual and religious practices is God." -Ragupathy S.P

The Twelve Steps are not instructions on how to stop drinking, but instructions on what you need to do to improve your relationship with God, which, by definition, is religious instruction.

How can a program that claims to be based on rigorous honesty play so loosely with the truth?

"Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us." (BB, pg 77)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ASchwartz

Hi Ray and Everyone,

"Religion is service to God."

"AA believes in religion."

"AA believes in service to God."

This is called a syllogism. It is an example of Deductive reasoning and it gets us in trouble whenever it is used. For example, Religion or Religions are "service to God." I believe that is correct. AA does believe in religion. I think we can all agree on that. However, the conclusion is not correct. AA does not believe in service to God but it does believe in service to other alcoholics who are not as far along in recovery. I see the service to others as an attempt to help alcoholics fill the emptiness they feel inside.

However, is AA the only way towards recovery? I think we all agree that it is NOT the only way to recovery.

Allan

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

I always saw AA as trying to help people replace one crutch with another. You start out being addicted to alcohol, and they try to help you replace it with addiction to religion, which is probably seen as a more socially acceptable crutch. I guess it works for many?

But it would be nice to see addiction recovery programs that address a person's sense of responsibility to themselves and to those around them. No flopping about helplessly in the glass or the pew.

After all, as a fellow atheist I believe we only have each other.

Jane

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tis the Ego is the problem.

Many people drink to mask anxiety or depression. They are the last people that need ego reduction.

This is one of the problems with AA, not all alcoholics are alike, nor should they all be treated the way that Bill Wilson thought alcoholics should be treated.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But it would be nice to see addiction recovery programs that address a person's sense of responsibility to themselves and to those around them.

Jane

SOS:

http://www.sossobriety.org/

http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/sossaveourselves/

SMART:

http://www.smartrecovery.org/

http://smartrecovery.org/SMARTBoard/

LifeRing:

http://www.unhooked.com/index.htm

http://forums.delphiforums.com/lifering/start

WFS:

http://www.womenforsobriety.org/

Moderation Management

http://www.moderation.org/

HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol and Other Substances

http://www.hamshrn.org/index.html

http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/hamshrn/

RR:

http://www.rational.org/

And with all those options, the majority of people, 80%, quit on their

own.

Personally, I feel that all those groups are great for those who have

been through AA and have had it pounded into their heads that they NEED

a group in order to quit. That's BS, but AA has been very successful in

getting people to believe that piece of mis-information.

Being around others for support can be a good thing, but ultimately, it

is up to the individual to use or not.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
Hi Ray and Everyone,

"Religion is service to God."

"AA believes in religion."

"AA believes in service to God."

This is called a syllogism. It is an example of Deductive reasoning and it gets us in trouble whenever it is used.

Allan

It is a valuable logic tool: a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. It is only faulty if you use faulty input or semantic skulduggery.

When Bill Wilson, talking about AA, states, "Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us", I take that at face value. If this quote means other than what is states, then perhaps Wilson is too subtle or cryptic for my reading skills, something I doubt; Wilson was never known for his subtlety or his writing prowess.

AA literature is full of references that refer to 'getting right with God' as being the core of AA; stopping drinking is seen as a byproduct of this new relationship with one's "Higher Power".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Someone on the VH1 boards told me that Alcoholics Anonymous was compatible with Catholicism, I beg to differ:

"Wow ray I really can't believe your take on the god thing. You have it all wrong. We in AAA don't believe in a different god. I was brought catholic so it was not abig thing for me. I don't believe the god they speak about is different from the one that was beat into me 45 years ago"

The Catholic God healed the sick, made the lame walk, raised the dead, right? The god of AA can't cure alcoholism, only grant a daily reprieve. Pretty wimpy by comparison.

When Bill Wilson said that you can choose whatever concept of a Higher Power you like, that's saying they are all equal and that is, as any good Catholic should know, is the sin of indifferentism.

"Indifferentism is a mortal sin; a condemned heresy. That's the Catholic view of the matter."

from "It's Catholicism, or Indifferentism":

http://www.thinking-catholic-strategic-center.com/indifferentism.html

Wilson allows the blending of different beliefs, the sin of syncretism.

Syncretism is the fusion of different forms of practice or belief.

from Devotions for Growing Christians:

http://www.growingchristians.org/dfgc/edevo/syncretism.html

The Seventh Step: "Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings", humbly or not is a demand for a miracle, something the God of the Catholic Church frowns on.

There is no evidence that Wilson embraced Jesus Christ, the only way to the Father in any Christian church, but he did embrace supernaturalism, holding séances, using Ouija boards, channeling spirits, all heresies. Do you think his "spook sessions" are compatible with Christianity?

As one letter writer to Christianity Today wrote, "AA teaches belief in a generic god while prohibiting discussion of Jesus Christ. This is not a bridge to Christ but a bridge to Babylon. . . . Thank God I was shown a way out from AA’s teachings. Many remain lost."

Chris Deile. "In His 12 Steps." Christianity Today, February 5, 2001, pp. 9-10.

http://www.psychoheresy-aware.org/bobs11_1.html

Wilson claims that all atheist and agnostics need to do is come up with their own version of God, however if they do this they are no longer atheists or agnostics. I'm relatively certain Wilson didn't have a firm grasp on what those terms meant; he called himself an atheist in his younger days, but also claimed he never lost faith in the Creator.

"Stress the spiritual feature freely. If the man be agnostic or atheist, make it emphatic that he does not have to agree with your conception of God. He can choose any conception he likes, provided it makes sense to him. The main thing is that he be willing to believe in a Power greater than himself and that he live by spiritual principles."

The Big Book, William G. Wilson, Chapter 7, Working With Others, page 93.

He also claimed one could use the AA group as their Higher Power:

"You can, if you wish, make A.A. itself your 'higher power.' Here's a very large group who have solved their alcohol problem. In this respect they are certainly a power greater than you, who have not even come close to a solution. Surely you can have faith in them. Even this minimum of faith will be enough. You will find many members who have crossed the threshold just this way. All of them will tell you that, once across, their faith broadened and deepened. Relieved of the alcohol obsession, their lives unaccountably transformed, they came to believe in a Higher Power, and most of them began to talk of God."

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, pages 27-28.

Then here comes the bait & switch:

"To certain newcomers and to those one-time agnostics who still cling

to the AA group as their higher power, claims for the power of prayer

may, despite all the logic and experience in proof of it, still be

unconvincing or quite objectionable. Those of us who once felt this way

can certainly understand and sympathize. We well remember how something

deep inside us kept rebelling against the idea of bowing before any

God. Many of us had strong logic, too, which 'proved' there was no God

whatever. " (Twelve and Twelve, Step Eleven,

pg. 96)

(Note the use of past tense.)

"So, practicing these Steps, we had a spiritual awakening about which

finally there was no question. Looking at those who were only beginning

and still doubted themselves, the rest of us were able to see the

change setting in. From great numbers of such experiences, we could

predict that the doubter who still claimed that he hadn't got

the 'spiritual angle,' and who still considered his well-loved AA group

the higher power, would presently love God and call Him by name."

(Twelve and Twelve, Step Twelve, pg. 109)

This is not taking Wilson's words out of context, it is bringing them and his deeds out in the open. Do you not read the literature or not notice the inconsistencies? People who believe AA is compatible with Christianity must not have examined either carefully.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ray,

In every A.A. meeting I've ever been to, it is stressed that you can have your own concept of "god", be it a light bulb, a tree, or G.O.D. = Group Of Drunks. So how is this religious?

For me, the fellowship of our Group Of Drunks is my Higher Power, who I choose to call G.O.D.

They also stress working the steps. I like Step 3 for its clarity --

Step 3. Made a decision to turn our will and lives over the care of God as we understand Him.

Becomes for me: 3. Made a decision to turn our will and lives over the care of Group of Drunks as we understand Him.

So if Group Of Drunks tells me to quit taking medication, quit seeing my therapist, and cut myself off from my family ("we're your family now"), then hey, no problem. Think of the money I'd save!!

Step 11 is my favorite step. It may seem "religious" at first (but of course its not of course) --

Step 11 - "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out."

Praying and meditating to improve one's conscious contact with some entity, and praying for that entity's will for us and the power to carry it out -- that's not religious at all, not when the entity is, something secular like "Group Of Drunks" --

Step 11 - "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with Group Of Drunks (G.O.D.) as we understand G.O.D., praying only for knowledge of G.O.D.'s will for us and the power to carry that out."

Ray, I think your problem is that you never had a decent sponsor to explain to you how you can choose your own "god", or "G.O.D." and how you could go to any meeting and pray to the "Group Of Drunks" for knowledge of their will for you and the power to carry it out. Its a very spiritual experience that will transform your life, believe me.

I will close with this sage warning from Our Cofounder Bill W. --

"Unless each A.A. member follows to the best of his ability our suggested Twelve Steps to recovery, he almost certainly signs his own death warrant" - Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, page 174.

So get thee to a meeting and pray to the Group Of Drunks! :rolleyes:

I hope this helps! :rolleyes:

-Progree

Day 22 off my anti-psychotic medication (on advise from G.O.D.) and my mind has never been clearer!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ASchwartz

Hello Progree,

I do not care what you are being told in AA. You should not stop your psychotherapy and you should not stop your medication. Whoever is telling you these things is WRONG and you should NOT listen to them. Also, AA is NOT you God or religion or your Higher Power. That is nonsense.

Allan

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The idea that prescription meds (or indeed, any meds at all) compromise one's Sobriety has a very long history in AA. It goes back to the earliest days, when some members seem to have had difficulties with the idea of taking an aspirin for a headache on the basis that this might annihilate their Sobriety. To be fair, I think that this is a minority view...

A minority opinion, but a vocal one:

"Only 17% believed an individual should not take it and only 12% would tell another member to stop taking it. Members attending relatively more meetings in the past 3 months had less favorable attitudes toward the medication. Almost a third (29%) reported personally experiencing some pressure to stop a medication (of any type)."

Alcoholics Anonymous and the Use of Medications to Prevent Relapse: An Anonymous Survey of Member Attitudes; Rychtarik, Connors, Dermen, Stasiewicz; (J. Stud. Alcohol 61: 134-138, 2000)

Interesting that the more meetings, the more likely to have this attitude.

I believe progree was sarcastically repeating what he has heard in the rooms. I heard something similar last night at a NAMI meeting from a former AA member who believes if he found the right prayer, he wouldn't need his psych meds.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The following courts have ruled that AA is at least "religious in nature" and that court mandated AA violates the Establishment Clause:

The New York Court of Appeals.

The Second Federal District Court. (NY, VT, CT)

The Seventh Federal District Court. (WI, IN, IL)

The Ninth Federal District Court. (MT, ID, WA, OR, NV, CA, AZ, HI, AK)

The Tennessee Supreme Court

Every time the question has come before a higher court, the final outcome has been that AA is religious. The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear appeals of these cases.

(There is at this time, an appeals court in PA that has ruled AA to not be religious, this case is in the process of appeal.)

It is worth mentioning that the New York Court of Appeals is the highest court in the state of New York. "Except in cases involving a Federal question, where the Supreme Court of the United States has the last word, the Court of Appeals makes the final statement of decisional law in New York State." (So the New York Court of Appeals is the functional equivalent of what is called a state supreme court in most states).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Court_of_Appeals

http://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/

http://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/outline.htm

I point this out in order to make the following statement -- all of the state supreme courts (notice lower case supreme) that have ruled on the issue of religion in A.A. or N.A., namely New York and Tennessee, have found them to be religious.

The appeals court in Pennsylvania that recently (March 2009) ruled AA to be not religious is the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania -- it is one of two Pennsylvania intermediate appellate courts. ... Appeals from Commonwealth Court decisions go the the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The below links show the hierarchy of the Pennsylvania state courts:

http://www.courts.state.pa.us/Links/Public/AboutTheCourts.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_Court_of_Pennsylvania

As for The Second, The Seventh, and Ninth "Federal District Courts", these are actually The United States Courts Of Appeals For The Second Circuit, The Seventh Circuit, and the Ninth Circuit respectively. These federal courts of appeals are the highest courts in the U.S. federal court system with the one and only exception of the U.S. Supreme Court. (Federal district courts are below the federal courts of appeals).

Court rulings other than the 9th Circuit's and Pennsylvania's re: religion in A.A. / N.A.

http://www.angelfire.com/journal/forcedaa/courtopinions.html

9th Circuit Court Of Appeals Ruling (Inouye v. Kemna)

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/09/08/BA99S1AKQ.DTL

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania's ruling on A.A. being not religious:

http://www.aopc.org/OpPosting/Cwealth/out/886CD08_3-17-09.pdf

Thus the statement remains true that "all of the highest courts in the U.S. that have heard cases involving A.A./N.A. and religion have ruled that these organizations are at least religious in nature" (since all such courts that have so ruled are subordinate only to the U.S. Supreme Court. And has been pointed out, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear appeals of these cases, thus letting these rulings stand).

I haven't heard that the Pennsylvania decision is being appealed.

Hopefully that clarifies the court situation (comments and corrections welcome!)

My sponsor says that except for the Pennsylvania court, they are all wrong, given that A.A. allows us to choose any concept of God that we wish, even allowing us to seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with a Group Of Drunks (or doorknob or whatever), praying only for knowledge of the Group of Drunk's (or doorknob's or whatever's) will for us and the power to carry it out. And so this is not religious, given that we can choose secular concepts of G.O.D., right? Right.

As for what I think, I've learned to get out of the driver's seat, and turn it over to G.O.D. (in my case the Group Of Drunks and my sponsor). As the Second Step says, I've found that I can't manage my own life. As the first three steps teach us, "I Can't, He Can, I think I'll let Him". I have found that thinking for myself is letting my self-will run riot.

Alan Schwartz writes:

}} Also, AA is NOT your God or religion or your Higher Power. That is nonsense. {{

This is nonsense? No, but this is standard A.A. -- it is virtually universal that the agnostic / atheist or otherwise "god-challenged" newcomer to A.A. is told (initially) that they may choose the group or A.A. (or doorknob, lightbulb, tree, etc.) as their higher power. If you think this is nonsense, then I am surprised to hear that you recommend A.A. Likewise I'm surprised that nobody has seen fit to revise this site's "Alcohol & Substance Abuse, Addiction" home page at

http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/center_index.php?id=14&cn=14

which list only 12-step groups. (See the "Self-Help Groups" section at the very bottom of the page).

Still praying for knowledge of my Group Of Drunk's will for me.

Progree

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Your sponor is free to say that the courts are wrong. he has that right. But, not as a matter of law.

I abide by the law. "When you cut a great road through the law to get at the devil, what will you do when the devil turns round on you? The law being knocked flat?"

Other people suffer from the behavior of scoff laws. I will take the judge.

G.O.D = good orderly direction. That means you have abdicated your right to choose to another. That means that you bear the consequences of bad decisions made by others. You can do that if you want. But that means that you are a child. An adult in name only.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ray Smith writes in #1 (8/10/09):

} Bill Wilson was not particularly astute when it came to religion. He claimed the Lord's Prayer was too widely accepted for it to be a Christian prayer. {

Widely accepted by who besides Christians? Did he ever say?

This is an explicitly Christian prayer with explicitly Christian themes -- "thy kingdom come" (not a theme in any major religion other than Christianity), "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (I sure as hell hope not Yahweh, you genocidal monster. Stay up in heaven and leave us alone). "Give us this day our daily bread" (wow, sure beats earning a living, just order God to feed us). Its in the Bible too -- Matthew 6:9, and Luke 11:1-4.

As you say, Bill Wilson couldn't even figure out that The Lord's Prayer was Christian (despite it being in Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:1-4)!:

A Letter From Bill W. Regarding The Lord's Prayer In A.A., April 14, 1959

====================================================

( http://www.barefootsworld.net/aabwlordprayer.html )

[Excerpt From Bill W. letter] : "it is sometimes complained that the Lord's Prayer is a Christian document. Nevertheless this Prayer is of such widespread use and recognition that the arguments of its Christian origin seems to be a little farfetched. It is also true that most A.A.s believe in some kind of God and that communication and strength is obtainable through His grace. Since this is the general consensus it seems only right that at least the Serenity Prayer and the Lord's Prayer be used in connection with our meetings. It does not seem necessary to defer to the feelings of our agnostic and atheist newcomers to the extent of completely hiding our light under a bushel. However, around here, the leader of the meeting usually asks those to join him in the Lord's Prayer who feel that they would care to do so. The worst that happens to the objectors is that they have to listen to it. This is doubtless a salutary exercise in tolerance at their stage of progress." [End Excerpt]

Hmm, what about Bill W's progress --

-- Dropping acid (a supervised medical experiment repeated a few times, but come on, he was and is a defacto role model of sobriety);

-- Couldn't overcome his addiction to smoking and died from emphysema 36 years after achieving alcohol sobriety and cofounding A.A.;

-- He was unable to use his program to deal with his crippling 11-year depression after his supposed belladonna-induced "spiritual experience";

-- His womanizing (1.5% of the Big Book's revenue went to his favorite mistress, Helen Wynn, between his and her deaths. That 1.5% was carved out of what was previously slated for his long-suffering wife, Lois; not to mention his legendary 13th-stepping vulnerable young women at meetings;

-- Wrote the very demeaning "To Wives" chapter of the Big Book in a style that made it sound like a group of wives wrote it, e.g. "As wives of Alcoholics Anonymous, we would like you to feel that we understand as perhaps few can. We want to analyze mistakes we have made" (BB p. 104).

(Except for the womanizing, the above all comes from the AA Conference Approved book, "Pass It On". More on the women, the will, and the sources for all of that is at:

http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-BillRoyalty.html

http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-BillWill.html

http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-otherwomen.html

By the way, I wonder how AA-ers in these parts would consider it a salutary exercies in tolerance if most meetings were closed with Muhammed's Prayer, and were told that its the same as the Lord's Prayer except it begins, "Allah, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name".

Or if meetings were closed with an explicitly Islamic prayer that came out of the Koran, and having explicitly Islamic themes.

Edited by progree
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...