An AA response
A certain friendofbillw dropped by with a comment that consisted of a link to another post. Most of that post had nothing to do with atheism, but a tiny bit did. Thus, my response:
>However, the common, popular first meaning of the word cult does not apply to AA. It is not a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader. Examples of these cults include The Manson Family, Heaven’s Gate, Branch Davidian, and Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple. These are extreme in their negativity.
You forgot Scientology (which has no sexual component and does not remove itself or its members from society) and The Family
International (which does). Your opinion is a bit intellectually dishonest. No, AA has no specifically religious culture or rite, but it is actively theistic. Sure it hides that with phrasing such as “…as you understood Him”, but the implication is clear. To call it a religion is perhaps a misnomer, but to call it religious is accurate. And what’s this about charismatic leaders? How about the founders? Sure, they’re not around to deliver sermons, but neither is Jesus nor Buddha.
>Here’s the gist of my understanding of important ways in which AA differs from cults. I believe that Bill W and those who now follow him closely are very careful to say that AA is NOT the only way people find sobriety. The dire warning to follow or die comes when all else has failed.
This may be true to some degree, but in my experience, the assumption is that AA is the only way. And this is constantly preached. Not only does the internal culture reflect this, but our culture at large, which is my issue. AA automatically receives wholly undeserved merit and respect. Any criticism is at least frowned upon if not outright blasted.
>Second, AA does NOT encourage members to leave society, but rather encourages them to become contributing members of it.
True (to some extent), but Scientology doesn’t encourage people to leave society completely either. This is a question of degrees. Is it possible to be in AA, be an active member, and have “normal” friends outside who engage in behavior that AA looks down on? Sure. But the fact of the matter is that the level of encouragement or discouragement that AA and its members levy upon certain behaviors is very much in a cult mindset.
>There are some lesser points that show to me that AA is not a cult in the negative sense. AA does not take financial control of a person, and is actually free to members, and discourages large donations made by individuals. There is not a charismatic leader.
I’ve already addressed this point, but yes, there are two. Any figure who is lifted onto a pedestal over the “regular” people can be considered a charismatic leader. In my experience, Dr. Bob and Bill W were treated as saints. Every word they had written was held aloft as divine wisdom. And so what of criticism? Plenty of cults, such as the Chabad movement, employ self-criticism.
>AA does not control the information that members receive from books or TV or the internet or from other people. It does not shun people who fall away. The fact that it actually welcomes such people back probably saved my life.
Not “shun”, no. But harsh judgement is lobbed at those who do not follow the culture that is preached.
>AA does tell alcoholics that they have no personal power.
Which is absurd. And having such an absurd notion as a central tenet is at elast irresponsible.
>Rather it has a systematic way of making sure, in as much as it is possible, that people apologize and make restitution for the past bad things they have done. It has a systematic way of encouraging us to review our conduct daily and several times a day, and to use our power to perform right actions.
As fine as that may be, the fact is that AA is not required for such principles to exist or be practiced.
And let’s be honest. One step instructs the member to hand all flaws over to God. That is not a system. That is religious tripe.
>Still, when I consider a newcomer, brand new to the rooms of AA, my best advice and my greatest hope for that person is that he or she jump in, stay close, and recover. I’ve seen it go the other way too many times. I couldn’t recover on my own, even after I had studied to some degree the principles of AA. So many others also cannot.
By your own admission, the principles of AA are not new to it. By what reasoning then is it a good idea to join and maintain fellowship in AA? The fact is that people can and do stop excessive drinking all the time without AA. There is, then, no reason for AA to exist if all it’s really going to do is rehash some tried and some absurd principles.
>In speaking completely for myself, I can say with certainty that all the good I have done over the past 24 years is a direct result of AA. Had I lived without it, I would have been a pathetic taker, institutionalized and disabled in one way or another.
This begs the questions, were you unaware of the essentials of ethics before AA? Had it never crossed your mind to take responsibility for your actions? To apologize for the wrong you had done to others? If it had, then you had no need for AA. If it hadn’t, then you need much more than AA to become a productive member of society.