Thursday, November 12, 2009

The "Religion" of AA/NA*

I must preface what I’m about to say by acknowledging that I was extremely blessed to #1 have such an immediate and powerful conversion to Christianity and #2 to have it coincide with the week I stopped drinking. I do realize that my situation is not the norm so I will try to be objective in my criticism.

Having miraculously survived that last suicide attempt, I was at a place of complete desperation and thus began the AA program with a completely open mind and full confidence in its philosophy and methods.

As I grew in my Christian faith I began to see the similarities of the AA Steps and the stages in development as a Christian (but this was NEVER talked about at any meeting). It was quite clear to me that the program had roots in Christianity. The first edition of the AA handbook, usually referred to as the “Big Book,” was written way back in 1939 and was acclaimed by clergyman and officially endorsed by the Catholic Church. The Episcopal magazine, The Living Church, wrote “The basis of the technique of AA is the truly Christian principle that a man cannot help himself except by helping others.”

But AA has become fundamentally warped over time. God is no longer a necessary element of recovery but, like so many modern religions (take Unitarian Universalism for example), has been replaced by a more generic, spiritual reference, presumably to cast a wider appeal in today’s individualistic society. God is out, “Higher Power” is in.

It became down-right frightening to hear how people relied on such a subjective “Higher Power” to comfort and guide them in recovery. Not only was it not God, but it was oftentimes an inanimate object or something in nature. Others skipped it entirely and sought merely to find ways of coping with the urges to drink, sometimes using quite peculiar methods like counting to ten repeatedly until it passed.

There was another, perhaps more frightening, group of AAers that took a different approach. Often referred to as the “old-timers,” these were the people that had been going to meetings for life. I attended one meeting held by an 80 year-old, former alcoholic who had been coming every week for 60 years (that’s 3,120 meetings!). AA itself was his religion. The Steps were the doctrine and the meetings were weekly Mass. He listened to the confessions of the congregation and closed each meeting with the Serenity Prayer. (Yes, the Serenity Prayer does begin “God grant me…” but I think that’s the only aspect in AA where God is still mentioned – and I’m pretty sure He’s considered open to interpretation.)

It all comes down to this. With God taken out of AA and replaced by the “Higher Power” can we really expect it to work? I mean long-term, really work? God is not just some random thing that gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling. Nor is he a method to help us stay focused on the Big Picture. He is real. Through Jesus He speaks to us. And through the Holy Spirit He gives us strength and comfort. And through accepting salvation, going through the White Funeral and becoming part of the body of Christ, He gives our lives real hope and joy.

A prayer for those who are struggling:
“Lord, please work on changing the hearts of struggling addicts. Help them to seek You and give them comfort in times of despair and tribulation. Please help them to see that only through giving their lives to You and accepting your graceful gift of salvation will they truly become renewed and recovered. Amen”

*A great organization exists that follows the principles and methods of AA/NA without denying God and the Christian foundation. It’s called Celebrate Recovery and I highly recommend it. Not only does it bring scripture back in, but it also broadens the spectrum of recovery to include all matters of sin and personal and spiritual weakness. Check them out here:

1 comment:

  1. This is quite an interesting piece of writing about AA and Celebrate Recovery. Appropriately, it has a focus on the Christian roots of the recovery movement. And that is something we are covering extensively in our new Christian Recovery Radio presentations. See Unfortunately it misses the mark when it comes to the potential in A.A. Quite clearly, AA is no longer a Christian fellowship--as it was in Akron during the 1930's. Quite clearly there are increasing signs of secularization--perhaps even more in the areas outside of A.A.--where academics speculate about not-god-ness and "spirituality." See However, there is a failure to recognize the tens of thousands of Christians in present-day 12 Step fellowships and the strong and growing Christian Recovery Movement that is gathering together those Christians IN A.A. and other recovery fellowships. And the fact that the history of A.A.'s Christian roots goes back to the Bible, the great Evangelists like Moody and Meyer, the YMCA, the Gospel Rescue Missions, the Salvation Army , and the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor. Present-day Christian recovery leaders are not flocking to organizations like CR. They are taking the very broad base of A.A. today and reporting to those who want God's help that it is as present and recognized among A.A. Christians as it was in the early Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship and the highly successful Cleveland A.A. Akron. Take the rich Christian roots and successes of early A.A. Take the present-day foundational Big Book of A.A. Recognize the 24/7 widely available A.A. of today. Apply the Christian roots. Learn the support for their promulgation that exists in present-day literature. Recognize the weakness of organizations that believe that one-day-a-week Christian Fellowship is no match for the First Century Christianity of th e Book of Acts that was quickly recognized and publicized about early Akron AA. And you have the volunteer, no cost, informal fellowship of International Christian Recovery Coalition. See There is where you will find the real solution planting its roots through garden variety drunks, recovery pastors, Christian recovery fellowships, Christian counselors and interventionists, and Christian treatment programs. There is hope and promise and victory awaiting those who turn back to the Bible roots of A.A., learn them, apply them, and use them to minister 24/7 personal love and service to the millions who still suffer from alcoholism and addictions and life controlling problems. See
    God Bless, Dick B., Executive Director, www.ChristianRecoveryCoalition.