Back in the 1500s, during the reign of King Henry VIII, the Church of England officially separated from the Catholic Church. This was justified for a number of reasons, from the corruption within the Catholic Church, to the newly formed protestant movement of Martin Luther. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the Pope’s refusal to grant King Henry a divorce, to which he declared “bollocks”, and officially established the Anglican Church. Since that time, a number of denominations have formed as an offshoot of the Anglican Church. The Episcopal Church is one example this, and from the Episcopal Church, other denominations formed. The reasons for these breakaway sects are numerous. In the case of the Episcopal Church, it broke away from The Church of England as a result of the American Revolution, and since that time other sects have broken away from it – for reasons ranging from a rogue, excommunicated priest who took his following along with him, to a fundamental difference in the interpretation of scripture, such as allowing women or homosexual priests.
This splintering of the church is not exclusive to Catholicism, and can be seen in just about any Christian denomination. Even the Mormon Church has had its share of rogue groups that have broken ties with the main church (apparently, they feel that having only one homely wife, dressed like a modern day pilgrim, isn’t enough). My hometown has a couple of hundred Baptist churches, each one with its own interpretation of what a good Southern Baptist should be, none of whom would recognize the Baptist church that sits down the street from me, which is about the furthest thing from Southern Baptist one can find. There are literally thousands of Christian denominations, whose contradictory views of Christianity bounce off of each other like a pinball, but who come from the same nexus. Nothing is more fun than getting four or five true believers from different denominations, putting them around the same table, and letting them debate. Add alcohol to the mix, and someone will walk away offended, guaranteed.
Alcoholics Anonymous is no different than any other religion, and within AA there are both fundies and liberals who interpret the ‘Big Book’ in a way that they see fit. It is interesting to watch, and it is interesting to see the parallels to the more mainstream religions. Like the more fundamentalist Christian denominations, such as the good Baptists at Liberty University who recently declared one cannot be both a Christian and a Democrat, there is an argument amongst the AA faithful as to what makes up a “true alcoholic”, and like any religion, they point to their holy scriptures as affirmation of their beliefs. Some use a more literal interpretation of the ‘Big Book’, and often use phrases in referencing it such as “it clearly states….”; while others are more of the “take what you want and leave the rest” mindset, and they too will point out the words of Bill W as a justification of their beliefs.
AA itself is nothing more than an on offshoot of a religious organization and cult of personality. Bill Wilson was asked to leave that group, so he simply started his own denomination, where he added six steps and focused on one primary character flaw – alcoholism. Like the newly formed Anglican Church, whose only discernable difference between the Catholic Church was that its leader had changed from a Pope to a king, but whose rituals and teachings were the same, AA was not much different from the Oxford Group. Their leader had changed from Frank Buchman, whom Time magazine referred to as a “cult leader” in the cover featured here, to Bill Wilson.
I find these arguments within AA fascinating, in that they are nothing more than opinions that are presented as facts; and, as with Christianity, these arguments will never be resolved, because their sole points of reference are the writings from a book seen as scripture, which is riddled with contradictions. I learned in my very first sales position that people buy things based on emotion, and they justify that decision with logic, as in – “sure I upgraded to leather seats, but they last longer and improve a car’s resale value”. That is what happens in religious debates. People form their opinions based on emotion, and try to rationalize that opinion with logic (or by citing an infallible source like the ‘Big Book’ or The Book of Mormon). I can be of the belief that homosexuality is wrong, and those who commit such acts are doomed to eternal damnation; and I can cite Biblical scripture to support that argument. I can also point to contradicting scripture, and make the opposing argument. Either way, I’m simply forming an opinion first, and finding supporting evidence as an afterthought, which is a fallacious way of reasoning. Both sides are whackadoodle crazy.
I thought it would be fun to take another look at our friends over the Sober Recovery forum to illustrate this. Recently a thread that was started a couple of years ago, called “The Program” was revived. In it, Rob, who is an AA zealot and old school fundamentalist, states his opinion (and the opinion of 90% of every old-timer I have run across). From this a great theological debate ensued:
Our literature makes clear what the program of recovery is:
“TO SHOW OTHER ALCOHOLICS PRECISELY HOW WE RECOVERED IS THE MAIN PURPOSE OF THIS BOOK” BB 4th ed. Forward To First Edition.
” CLEAR CUT DIRECTIONS SHOWING HOW WE RECOVERED” BB 4th ed. pg 29
The 12 steps are the program, which if worked with a sponsor, with the pre-requisite willingness and honesty, WILL lead to a psychic change-spiritual awakening sufficient enough to recover from alcoholism. This is the great fact, not an opinion. If I am not actively working the steps, I DO NOT HAVE A PROGRAM, I have a WONDERFUL FELLOWSHIP.”
What Rob is doing here is stating the long version of the slogan “you are either in AA, or around AA”, with a few pieces of dogma tossed in for effect. This might come as a surprise to those who were told to “take what they want and leave the rest” or “these are just suggestions”. Once a person slips (as most AAs do) they will be told by folks like Rob that if they really want to get sober, they must follow the program. Of course, everyone is there to get sober. It is the reason they joined AA in the first place, so it really isn’t much of a choice. This is part two of the old bait and switch routine that AA perpetrates. Rob states it be a fact that if they simply follow directions, work those steps, they will recover from alcoholism. It is a fact. This is great, right? It cannot fail, will not fail. Fundies like Rob are AA’s equivalent to Jimmy Swaggart or Jerry Falwell.
So what happens when someone works the steps and it doesn’t work for them? It is their own fault, of course. They did something wrong, because the steps cannot fail. They weren’t honest enough or serious enough, for example. Now we wind up with a person who was manipulated into working the program, and then beaten down because they failed the program.
Next we have some more zealots chime in with their opinions. I’ll highlight a couple. First Sheryl:
Perhaps it’s because the negative things have a way of grabbing my attention and make me feel like responding and defending the program. I’ve had to stop myself from doing that because, first, the program needs no defense, and second, I feel that in my doing so it brings some type of legitimacy or affirmation to the person’s statement in that there is a problem with the AA program….”
See? The program needs no defense. It just works, and with those for whom it does not work, we should not acknowledge the idea that there might be some improvement possible with AA. To those brainwashed by AA, it can do no wrong, and should not be questioned. Sheryl says that any negative opinion of AA is not legitimate. The questioning of AA or any other religion is heresy, and is not tolerated.
I try not to read negative opinions about AA, I don’t like what it does to me. The self righteous state of mind I tend to get in is a little like drinking; fun at first, and then I feel lousy. I’m glad the courts do coerce people in, I don’t care to contemplate the depths I might have sunk to before coming in (if I ever made it in at all) if they did not do so.”
I included this quote because I got a chuckle that our good friend and loyal blog reader, McGowdog, posted a “thank you” for this post. He is the same guy who tried to bullshit us into believing that AA is not forced upon people, but gives a big thumbs up to someone who writes that he is happy the courts “coerce” people into attending. Good ‘ol McGowdog.
Now, here is where we get to a point of contention with Mark (Cubile). He writes:
I am mandated to attend AA. A much lower bottom awaits if I don’t find sobriety. I am WILLING to work the program.
I am not directing my comments at anyone in particular, but there are some common themes that I hear in this 12 step section….
Hard drinkers are not “real” alcoholics. OK, I get that, I really do… but, the BB itself discusses these hard drinkers as possibly being either early in the course of alcoholism or potential alcoholics. If we are to embrace the spirit of the AA message… wouldn’t it be a positive thing if the devastating effects of end stage alcoholism to the individual alcoholic (maybe at the hard drinker stage) and his family were averted through some type of intervention?
Would you have those that were potential alcoholics present some type of proof that they were not able to abstain from alcohol for a year before being allowed membership in AA?… think about it.
It seems to me that some feel that “high bottom” alcoholics (or maybe… just “hard drinkers”) are ruining AA. That they should be excluded! Should they be shunned until they lose everything? Told to come back when they are a “real” alcoholic, living on the street, drinking out of a paper bag? Just forget Bill W’s sentiment in the 12 and 12 about raising the bottom for some….
Who determines if an individual is an alcoholic?… the individual. What is the only requirement for membership in AA?… a desire to quit drinking.”
There is a subtext to this comment. Mark has been forced to attend AA, and he has almost certainly been told “these steps are just suggestions”. He has an issue with people being labeled “not really alcoholic”, and it is a legitimate concern. We see the term “real alcoholic” used all of the time, and even from our AA comments on this blog. He knows he is a real alkie, but he also knows the AA zealots have told him that some fail the steps because they aren’t “real alcoholics”. He is already feeling some of the stress from the mind tactics, and he wants to be accepted. He states, “I am WILLING to work the program”. Then he cites the ‘Big Book’ as to what is a requirement for membership to AA, and that is a desire to quit drinking. He also quotes the ‘Big Book’ in suggesting that even “hard drinkers” should be helped like “real alcoholics”.
My question is this: Why would God only help those whose addictions are most acute? Why is He waiting for a person to hit bottom before he steps in? It seems like He would step in before a person trashed their life, and before they hit rock bottom. This really makes no sense to me, but then again, I am not God.
Next, Jim writes:
‘To Wives’ describes four types of drinkers. The first one is most likely a hard drinker. I don’t mess with them.The second one is definitely showing signs of alcoholism, but is a long way from admitting it. I don’t mess with those types either nor am I interested in raising their bottom or spending much time trying to persuade them. Our good friend Mr. Whiskey will do a far better job than I ever could. I’ve had a few of those ask me to work with them and I always ask them why they are asking me. Invariably it is because their P.O. or counselor mandates that they get a sponsor. I won’t work with anyone on that basis.
Type three is getting there. I’ll work with them. Interestingly enough Type four, whom everyone has given up on has the best chance of recovery. Type One or Type Type Two work won’t get it for a Type Four guy.”
I actually understand this to a degree. Why would Jim want to work with someone who is coerced into AA? If they don’t want to be there, they won’t do well. Of course, the obvious question to Jim is – Why force them there in the first place? Why is he or someone in his group signing these attendance cards? They are not mandated to accept these people, but they do so anyway.
Mark responded with this question:
So… do you have someone in your home group that will work with a type two guy, assuming the type two guy is willing, and truly interested in working the program… or do you just tell him to come back after he has lost everything? Then will he be worth your time??????”
Jim did not answer this question. He did go on to write:
“As for the membership requirement, that ‘s not the issue. There is a deeper requirement, and it is called surrender. Not to me, to the process, and ultimately to God. But since we don’t know how to surrender to God, we surrender to the process.
I think it says something to the effect that if he is to find God, that desire has to come from within. Not from being pushed or prodded by his wife, his boss, the judge, or me. An alcoholic can’t be pushed to God. I’ve wasted time and energy trying and won’t do that anymore.”
Mark quoted the membership requirements from the ‘Big Book’, and Jim responded with his interpretation of the doctrine – that there is a “deeper requirement” of surrender. It reminds me of the fundamentalist revivals I went to as a kid, where at the end of the production, the preacher would ask those who have sinned to wander up to the alter to confess those sins and be saved. Mark cited AA scripture to support his argument, and although Jim did not, I have no doubt that he could. It doesn’t really matter, because all that each are doing is stating opinions, and justifying them with logic (AA logic, not real logic. In AA, the logical thing to do is cite AA dogma).
In this exchange, Jim wins a convert:
Thanx for taking the time to talk this through with me Jim.
When you put it like that, I finally realize what you have been trying to say. I was frustrated today… I am still working and reworking steps one through three. I am doin’ ok most days… Step one sometimes gets hard when there is so much talk about “real alcoholics” vs. “hard drinkers” and how that translates into recovery in AA.
No one can push anyone to God… maybe only help point the way. Hope I didn’t make a fool of myself… thanx again.”
This what happens in AA. Mark wants sobriety, and he would be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve sobriety. He is also new, where Jim is an old-timer, and in the unwritten hierarchy of AA, Jim’s opinion trumps Mark’s opinion. Mark will stick around, as he is being sucked in by the “take what you want/it works if you work it” bait and switch routine.
The chances are good Mark will get sober, because he obviously wants to be sober. Those who want to will, and those who don’t want it enough – or are not yet ready – will not. It has nothing to do with whether Mark works the steps or not, but if he does work the steps, and he gets sober at the same time, he will attribute his sobriety to the steps – not his own fortitude. This is how believers are born. Jim could have just as well told him he needed to eat twenty apples a day, and bury the cores in his backyard – and if Mark quit drinking, he would correlate the apple eating with sobriety. That is how we humans think.
This is a great exchange in how we justify our beliefs. Jim honestly believes that working those steps leads to sobriety, because he has seen it. He also knows they have to be honestly worked, because he has seen half-assed efforts fail too many times. This is why he will refuse to sponsor those who are only there to get a card punched, or who are not alcoholic enough to seriously work the program.
The problem in his thinking is that he is confusing a correlation with a cause. Sure, most of those he has seen quit drinking worked the steps “honestly”, but they honestly worked the steps because they were ready to quit drinking, and they would do whatever they felt it took to quit. The steps aren’t the cause for those quits, they are simply a correlation that Jim has seen. Wade Boggs is a Hall of Fame baseball player who ate chicken before every game, and he had a batting average well into the 300s. He did so because he confused correlation with cause, but he was wrong. Practice and skill, not chicken, makes people good ballplayers.
Next Dave gives his opinion, and he naturally justifies it with AA scripture:
They key words for me are willing to go to any length, it does not matter how a person has arrived in AA, if they are willing to go to any length for victory over alcohol I will work with them having first followed the clear cut directions in chapter 7,
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking – if you are an alcoholic
an AA group is for alcoholics because our only common problem is alcoholism (Tradition 5),
Tradition 3 and 5 long form.
3.) Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. Group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.
5.) Each Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose-that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”
“The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking – if you are an alcoholic”
This part of the quote is really striking. Dave conveniently tacked on that last bit to fit his dogmatic perception of AA. It reminds me of the re-wording to the commandment from Animal Farm – “All animals are equal” – which was amended to read “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. Who decides who is an alcoholic? If AA were Animal Farm, it would be the pigs. As it stands, it is the old-timers who sponsor and teach these newbies how to think. As it turns out, the only people able to effectively work the steps are real alcoholics. Determining a “real alcoholic” is arbitrary. In Dave’s case, he is willing to sponsor any person who is willing to do “whatever it takes” to get sober. That person will be deemed and Alkie by Dave. If they later decide the dogma is crazy, or Dave is crazy, and they leave AA, that is not an AA failure in the eyes of Dave. That is someone who didn’t do whatever it takes, and therefore did not work the program, and therefore failed AA.
This one from Pinkcuda is a beautiful example of circular logic. He quotes Steve, who quoted the ‘Big Book’ with “Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover”. Then he wrote:
If we’re not an “Alcoholic” what exactly are we “Recovering” from?”
OK, try and keep track here. The steps always work, but only if you are a real alcoholic. Who determines who is a real alcoholic? Pinkcuda does. Beautiful!
OK, I had to throw this in from McGowdog. Not because it is relevant, but because it is so funny (I lub McGowdog):
I remember being told by some bleeding deacon that I wasn’t real alky because I was there to get my papers signed. I got my one year chip and went back to find him to tell him I’d like to stick that chip somewhere to see if he could make it melt, but I couldn’t find him. But hey, that’s just me.”
If this is McGowdog after the steps removed his anger and resentments, I would hate to see the guy when he was an angry drunk.
Now we have Bugs, who questions why others would want to exclude people from their religion? Why not make AA inclusive of everyone, since that is what the ‘Big Book’ says (ya, gotta cite the book). Of course, Bugs is a former member of AA (and ironically, the only one in this thread applying logic to her points), which is why she recognizes it as a religion:
Having once been an aa member myself I find threads like this very interesting and would like to ask a question without causing an uproar.
aa states in the bb that it’s real purpose is to “fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.” As stewards of God and the program of aa how can one think that they are qualified to judge who will be brought before God for salvation?
I have been a Christian my whole life….never once did I have to qualify myself as such to attend a church service. It would seem to me that a program that professes that their doors are open to anyone who wants to quit drinking would not function in this manner.
Unfortunately like any organized religion there are those who will get so caught up in theism they seem to disregard the impact it has on others around them. When members get so decisive as to whom they will help and whom they will not I will respectfully ask…How is this being of maximum service to God and the people about you?”
Now Rob explains why he is qualified to play God:
Well Bugs, I’m qualified because I’m properly armed with facts about myself, give me 5 minutes with a guy that’s wants to figure out his truth regarding booze and I will give him enough information to properly diagnose himself, I never tell anyone they are alcoholic, I let them decide.
As far as playing God goes, everyone does this to an extent, write some inventory and you’ll be amazed at what comes to consciousness.”
I’ve met a lot of old-timers who liked to play god, but I must admit this the first time I have seen someone explain why they did. Nice job, Rob.
Next, McGowdog writes his funniest response yet:
Hey Bugs! Are you saying that A.A. is organized religion? It’s not. It’s for alcoholics. It’s very inclusive to alcoholics of different religious faiths, socio-economic backgrounds, creeds, races, cultures, age, sex, etc. But it’s not a religion. It accepts all… even agnostics and athiests, and does not require any commitment to any certain path. It lets you choose your own path to God and begs you to sweep aside prejudice, think honestly, and look deep within… Way too inclusive and loose to be considered a religion. The only reason why God is mentioned at all, is because without God, alcoholics perish. But, it’s not good to present that fact until the alcoholic sees the hopelessness of their condition in the 1st Step.”
OK, he explains how it isn’t a religion, and he uses the same nonsense we have all hear ad nauseum: they accept any faith, a person can use whatever higher power they want, etc. Actually, any church in anywhere in the world will accept other faiths to walk in the door. They are in the business of saving souls and converting anyone interested into their way of thinking. AA is no exception. This is the line McDowdog wrote that really makes me chuckle:
“The only reason why God is mentioned at all, is because without God, alcoholics perish. But, it’s not good to present that fact until the alcoholic sees the hopelessness of their condition in the 1st Step.”
It is better not to present that fact until the alkie is in the door? Is this the program of brutal honesty I keep hearing about? I’m really not trying to pick on the Dog, but he makes it so fucking easy sometimes.
This thread goes on and on, and is truly amazing at showing how scary the thinking of folks like Rob, Pinkcuda and McGowdog can be. As I write this, it is still active, and you should do yourself a favor and read through the thing. These are the deluded voices that make AA the cult that it is. They make the point about AA better than any post we could ever make on this blog.