I recently read an article on someone’s website – please forgive me for not citing, but I can’t remember on whose site I found the piece; if it’s yours (or if you know whose it is), please let me know so that I can credit and link properly – about the Seven Deadly Sins and A.A. I wish I could remember where I found it, so that I could refer back to it, because I’ve been turning it over in my mind since I read it.
The gist of this article is that the Seven Deadly Sins – as an outdated, religious, aphoristic construct – has no place in an addictions recovery program. It is the foundation for the the fearless moral inventory in A.A.’s Step 4 work, rooting out character defects and evoking shame for emotions that are not only natural, but essential to our survival as a species. Like lust? (Holyhell, I listened to a religious A.A. radio show last week where the pastor told a story about how some porn popped up in a window, while he was innocently doing motorcycle business on ebay, and he couldn’t get the lewd image out of his mind, so he asked his wife to pray for him – to make God help him stop thinking about it. Hallelujah!) Anyway, the article is the inspiration for this rant.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been baffled by the A.A.’s righteous accusation toward anyone that takes issue with the program that they are “angry.” The reason I used to be baffled is that I was not as well versed in the A.A. dogma, but I could tell that this accusation was meant to be a righteous conversation-stopper. It always seemed to come out of the blue, and I really couldn’t figure out why, exactly, it was supposed to be so powerful.
OK, so… someone’s angry. Anger is healthy and human. It’s the energy that motivates positive changes in the world. You don’t go out and fight for your civil rights if you’re complacent, right? And the moment a battered woman gets angry, is the moment she starts advocating for herself. What’s this with the “you’re obviously angry” as an insult?
A.A.s aren’t only ones who use this line. I often hear the words “angry liberal,” and lately, “angry black woman” (in re Michelle Obama). It’s a nasty taunt. And it’s clearly supposed to shame and invalidate the target. It’s used by the authoritarian types. But I can’t understand why it seems to work, why we always defend ourselves against it.
Jesus got angry, a lot. God got really fucking angry. Moses got angry. John Lennon got angry. Rosa Parks got angry. Gandhi was pissed.
[There are a few sentences missing here, lost in posting I guess. The gist of it was that calling someone “angry” or, its euphemism, “resentful” – is like calling them a feral cat in heat — out of control, illogical, and most of all, “not truly sober.”]
What I find really interesting, though, is that calling someone “angry” in the middle of a debate is fundamentally passive aggressive, especially when it’s an A.A. who’s doing the calling, considering what this loaded word means to them. And the subtext, of course, is that they are not. So, they’re using the most insidious, dysfunctional, gas-lighting, cowardly, repressed, out of control, vicious expression of anger there is, to wound their target, stymie the conversation, and simultaneously present themselves as some kind of corporeal avatar of the Buddha.
The great thing is that since we are not A.A.s, or not anymore, this accusation doesn’t mean anything. I am angry about being called angry, not because I have anything at all against anger (I’m against being an enormous asshole because you’re angry, definitely, yes, I have something against that – that’s a whole ’nother website), but because this kind of ad hominem attack has no place in a debate of ideas. Also, people are justifiably angry about the abuses they have endured in A.A. – it’s a good thing that they’re angry, because it is this anger that is inspiring change in the treatment of addictions. The anger of A.A. members has inspired alternative treatments. Good.
Since, for some reason and as a rule, religious authoritarian types seem not to understand what ad hominem means (jeezusghod, why can’t they get that? You can explain that to them a million times, and they will still think that statistics are a personal attack on their soul, but their personal insults are unbiased truth, every time) nor why it’s utterly inappropriate in a debate, we’re communicating on two different planes of reality. When they ad hominem, they think they’re just telling the truth – the distinction is absolutely beyond them. It’s maddening. Inevitably the “anger” or “resentment” thing is going to come up with them. You have science they can’t refute? You’re angry. And then the conversation ends abruptly because it becomes about whether you’re angry or not.
The next time an A.A tells me I’m angry, I’m going to say, “So?” instead of insisting them I am serene and joyful. I will report back with the results.