Attempting a Touchy Topic

20 04 2011

First

I want to make sure this is very clear. I am in NO WAY AGAINST what Alcoholics Anonymous does for the most part, and I support their efforts towards helping those in need of help 100%. Alcoholism is a horrible problem in society, and people suffer from it all over the world. I’m for the most part supportive of what they do, have done, and likely will continue to do into the future. So if there is only one thing you take from this post, it should be that above all else. I support their main objective of helping people who suffer from this huge problem.

Now that I have gotten that part clear, I want to try to put things into perspective of what my purpose of writing this post is all about. I’m the first to say I was completely oblivious of this until a few days ago when I saw a video on YouTube from a person who battled with alcoholism for a large part of their life, and in trying to seek help they went to AA and the rest of the story is where I jump in. I’ll post the video below for you to see for yourself, then I will continue my piece.

My discovery of an issue.

The video covers more than the topic at hand, but I felt it was a needed piece of testimony from a person who experienced what I’m referring to.

OK, so you have hopefully watched the video clip. And hopefully have figured out where I come in. The woman brings up the topic of AA and how they say to her that without accepting “God” she cannot recover and become sober. Now at first, being the skeptic I am about just about everything, I decided to learn a bit about it to see if maybe she was just unlucky and attended a local AA that might have different sets of guidelines, and views from most. So I went straight to the source. The website of AA itself. On there, I found that they try to address this issue by saying the following;

“AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution;”

With that they are almost addressing it. This would imply that they do not designate a specific religion, I continued to dig and found this sentiment repeated a few times throughout the literature available. So I tried to dig up the 12 steps and what they call the 12 traditions. They do provide somewhat of a disclaimer saying that no member NEEDS to accept them but that experience shows that recovery depends on them understanding and accepting them.

The 12 steps.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5.  Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The 12 traditions

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  6. An AA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. AA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

So by now you can see that the above first quote is almost pointless for them to make. They say they aren’t allied with any sect or religion, yet here in the very core of what they teach they make reference to God and religion repeatedly. Here lies the foundation of my issue. As mentioned above they don’t designate or necessarily suggest a specific religion, but it makes sense to accept people of different faiths, since choosing one would push others away, but they are still choosing specific religions by bringing the use of an acceptance of “God” into the equation at all. This would imply that you have to be a part of at least one to receive help, therefore pushing away anybody who doesn’t subscribe to the whole idea of a “God”. The listed set of “steps” and “traditions” almost suggest that the very fact that “a God” regardless of what one you choose must be involved in your recovery. I know I’m being repetitive, but I really feel the need to emphasize my point.

As an atheist, I almost feel like I’m being slapped in the face with this. Here is an organization that potentially could have a huge impact on my life should at some point whether it’s myself or a friend or relative who is an atheist, and I’m sure there are many atheists who do battle with this issue, and obviously the woman in the video was one of them. So saying things like “turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.” is a bit too far in my honest opinion. This shouldn’t be a step that is used as a general guideline for a person looking for help if you are going to state that “God” is in fact not a requirement. To a person who does believe in god already that’s fine, but for an atheist it would seem that they are forcing a false reality that they “have to” accept this step. Otherwise it’s only 11 steps now. But that’s not the only step to bring about the God issue.

Rule or Not?

The issue of “God” is mentioned in steps 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12. So we are only left with steps 1, 4, 8, 9, 10. So the  12 steps to recovery end up only  being 5 steps, which is a huge difference and could potentially turn this person away leaving them with the problem, and possibly making things worse for them. To a person who has come to this point through a struggle with depression, it could push them further, leaving them feeling rejected by the only extended hand they may have had.

Now we turn to the 12 traditions, where you would think the issue might not pop it’s head out as much, however, of the 12 traditions, we have #2 still stating “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.” which would again imply the only person who can help you is God, and the people who are actually there are just working for him.

My Purpose

Tradition #9 also caught my attention in stating that AA should never be organized, yet the web address is www.aa.org leading me to believe it has been organized. But that is not part of the issue, just a little irrelevant observation. So what is my point for this post, what do I hope to achieve through it. I guess my only hope is that there is a person out there who sees this, and who has some kind of connection to the AA higher ups. I would beg of them to please at least think about the idea of removing the “God” role from the steps and traditions. Or even at least offer a second set of steps for someone who is not a follower of any religion.

It’s one thing to suggest it as an idea in your literature, or even in person on a person by person basis, but to include it in the very core of what your members will be required to do in order to recover is almost a form of abuse and discrimination. Even though it is expressed through small brief statements on your website and likely other literature that it IS NOT a requirement, and that the only requirement is to want to stop drinking, having “God” as a major part of the core of your method counteracts it by making it a requirement regardless of intent. Take the video testimony as proof that it is being practiced in such a way, maybe not in all locations, but in some, and likely a large majority. I think an organization such as this has a great importance in today’s society of addictions, and to remove a percentage of the population from becoming potential members at a time of need is a horrible way to go about it.

Last Disclaimer

Again, I do support helping people who have a problem with alcohol, drugs, abuse etc. There are people who really need these types of places to help them if they don’t have the support available in other forms. I do not want to bash AA in any way at all. I simply feel that they are allowing a piece of discrimination to remain in their method and I think it needs to be addressed if they are to continue helping people the way they have been for so long. As well, I want to state for the record that even though I am an atheist, I do see the benefit that religion can have in helping someone who DOES believe in a “God” of whatever religion they follow. But to enforce it as a step to recovery is leaving out so many people and forcing them to deny who they are inside for the sake of a problem that is not related to that personal belief whatsoever.

Now here is where blogging becomes great as a tool to discuss ideas of the many people. Begin the blog comments. Please at least read this before commenting, I don’t want to have to delete comments from people who obviously haven’t read more than a few words and just want to yell.

Thanks for reading. And hope I got my point across.

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2 responses

25 04 2011
OneWithTheUniverse

Very good post man,

From personal experience it is very true that you don’t need to confess to a God and all that stuff in AA. I was a drug user most of my life including ,drinking booze, popping pills, smoking pot you name it I have done it in one point of my life or another. I have been striaght for 12 years and never had the AA experience just saying.

25 04 2011
A Dumb Ape

Thanks again for the comment, you seem to be my only reader. LOL. I’m glad to hear you made it so long without the ‘god’ requirement. I feel as though psychology of humans is a vastly overlooked study for some reason. Maybe because it removes some peoples feeling of free will when they realize they do a large part of the things they do because their brain made them do it. But I think the power of the mind is all you need to get over these kinds of hurtles.

thanks again for the comment.

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