Shooting Sacred Cows

Shooting sacred cows is not a habit, but lately I’m finding some things objectionable and I want to voice the discomfort that it causes me.

Shooting Sacred Cows?

One of my recent posts was about the harm that well intentioned but poorly based advice does, specifically when that advice suggests prayer as a course of action and no other.

Well, not without cause, I’ve had reason to study the 12 steps of AA program. I

Before I start this I’ll say that if AA or similar worked for you, congratulations. This is not about you, nor your recovery or in any way a statement about you or others who suffer. It must be said that critiquing medical procedures does not make any comment on the ill who received them.

These are the original twelve steps as published by Alcoholics Anonymous:[10]

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

This is irritating in a way that sand in your swim suit could never be. The very first step is to tell yourself and others that you are powerless, out of control, unable to manage your own life. It is a negative statement which has many repercussions over time. If you thought you were dependent on a ‘substance’ then just wait till you have told yourself this little diddy every day, every hour, for several years. Any lie can have the strength of truth if you just believe it.

2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The next self defeating step is to convince yourself that something else has the power that you do not have. I’m told that some are suggesting that your higher power might be nothing more than a jug of milk. Clearly a jug of milk has no power over your life and you actually do, certainly more than a jug of milk does. Aside from this misconception the word sanity is not really defined well here. The dictionary says: the ability to think and behave in a normal and rational manner; sound mental health. This reinforces the thought that your previous behavior was insane, not mentally sound. Generally, those with mental health issues are urged to seek proper counselling. If you are not lacking sanity repeating this to yourself daily will help convince you that you are not sane. Restore has the ring of cure to it but that is not what is meant – it actually means get  you addicted to group therapy so that you feel comfortable pretending to be rational and normal.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Here it is, you can be ‘restored’ to rational thinking by believing in a myth. To get through the program you have to not only say you believe but dedicate yourself to believing it. Without that belief in a higher power with more power over your life than you have, you will presumably remain mentally ill. Let’s compare this to Abrahamic monotheism:

  1. You are born a sinner and will burn in hell if you do not believe in god.
  2. You believe that there is an afterlife and god might let you in.
  3. Dedicate yourself to following god’s rules for entrance to heaven.

Both are nearly identical. This is important to understand as we move on to the other steps.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

This is called being honest with yourself. The implication is that if you have been honest with yourself, you would not have succumb to reliance on substances. Think that through. Think about all those ‘personalities’ who went to rehab. Also note that one need not be honest with themselves to be completely sober, nor does being dishonest with yourself endanger you with addiction. They do seem to go hand in hand a lot.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

This meant to keep you from going into denial about what you feel is morally wrong about yourself. Again, morality is not well defined but the program does call for belief in a magic being.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but the light bulb has to want to change. This step requires that you not only believe in a god, but that this god can cure your mental instability. This kind of wishful thinking is generally called prayer. There are many reasons that can be shown as to why prayer is simply not going to work – not with the logic of your ‘understanding’ of a god or higher power. Remember that milk jug? Read this next sentence a couple of times. You have to be entirely ready for a milk jug to make you mentally stable and remove all your character defects.  Is that like being entirely ready for lunch? Is it like being entirely ready to retire?

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Whatever it means, the next step is to ask the milk jug to remove your mental instabilities and character defects. If you’re keeping score, 6 of the first 7 steps involve god or a milk jug… and the negative reinforcement of your mind/will to encourage you to believe that you are broken, worthless, incapable of doing good on your own. There is not one thing positive about all this so far other than being honest with yourself. Both monotheism and AA fail to positiviely support anything but themselves.

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.

Again, this is what most people call normal only you do it as you go along rather than save it up for a special time some years in the future. Step eight is one of those to-do lists you want to take care of before you get more than one item on the list… every time. Again, you don’t have to be a drunk or alcoholic to mess up this normal part of life. Some people are just ass-holes.

10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

Here is some more normal stuff. At least this is my understanding of what normal people do. By normal I mean your average kind of person rather than some Miers Briggs score.

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.

For the big reveal we finally get there… pray and meditate, work to be closer to god and his plan because we are incapable of running our own lives. We ‘re broken and hopeless without someone imaginary to do what we cannot.

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.

What monotheistic religion is complete without proselytizing? Here it is then, stay in the group, preach, get converts.

If you were keeping count 8 of the 12 are all about brainwashing yourself into the cult and keeping you there under the guise of helping you be a better person. Ask yourself why they can’t help you be a better person by encouraging positive change with positive thinking? Why is the only redemption to come from an invisible person that is not you?

Both AA and monotheism are cults of a kind. Membership requires you do the psychological lobotomy on yourself. Once you’re a member it’s okay if you stumble through life but if you leave it means your imminent doom, and often enough leads to isolation from the group members.

Both cults have their own language to ‘assist’ which further isolates, as do their traditions and so forth. While you might argue with me that AA isn’t really like that I’ll ask again: why is the cure just negative reinforcement of negative self image, cult behavior, and belief in a magic invisible being to ‘cure’ you or make you whole?

AA has yet to be shown to be more efficacious than simply deciding you don’t want to get drunk anymore. Monotheism has most decidedly not shown that membership in the cult makes you moral or good. Both cults will forgive members who screw up as long as they stay in the cult and continue the traditions.

Yes, I do know there are some differences but the principles are similar enough to toss them both in the same trash can.
They both crush self esteem and inhibit personal growth outside of the cult by creating the idea that we are worthless.

Sure, I can hear someone asking ‘well, how would you do it different?’ but that is for another post.

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  1. I know how *I* would do it different.

    Don’t bring religion into it at all, even my own.

    Acknowledge that it was you who became the addict. Chances are high that nobody tied you down and forced you to drink (or snort, inhale, inject, etc).

    You made the choice to use the substance as an escape.

    You made the choice to cave in to peer pressure.

    You were the one who waited to get help until it severely impacted your/someone else’s life.

    Don’t bring the Gods or “Satan” or “demons” into your meetings. Take full responsibility for your actions, and leave the supernatural (good AND bad) out of it.

    • and that is how I did it….

      • Very good.

        • I could not suffer doing it with a group of people who wantonly rambled on about how their god was helping them so much while they still suffered in the carnage of their own misconceptions and self torment. Group therapy is supposed to help you not inspire sympathy and sadness. I found nothing positive in AA/NA etc. There was nothing there for me to anchor thoughts onto that would not soon drag me down to the place I’m trying to get out of.

          • It’s not exactly my place, as I don’t personally know you and haven’t faced addictions myself, but as one person to another…I’m proud of you for handling your issues and doing so in a logical way that doesn’t rely on deities that may/may not exist.

            I may be religious, but faith should NEVER be used in place of ones own motivation and fortitude.

            • My thought is that if ‘god helps them who help themselves’ then there isn’t much point in that god.

              Thank you. Sometimes I think some accomplishments are silly because it is nothing more than doing what other people do or being normal… yet sometimes being normal is not exactly easy.

              • I see your point, but also believe that acknowledging when someone rises above their difficulties/problems is an excellent motivator to stay on course. And, I like helping people feel good about their accomplishments…no matter how mundane they may seem to “normal” people. :)

                • Indeed, I agree, I have changed my stance. I believe I said that I used to feel that way…

                  We are all important and each of us struggles with something. Accomplishment is grand regardless of context :)

  2. So AA wouldn’t be a good idea for a non believer or do they have special sessions for non believers?

    • there are unofficial secular AA and NA groups… they still hold with the first couple beliefs which I find abhorrent though.

  3. This is why I never got past step one. I struggled to find a “higher power” for myself for some time, finding the whole thing very hypocritical. They say that it isn’t about religion in one breath (but it sounds more like a feeble attempt to be politically correct), then talk about God in the next.

    I am now in a position where, despite being clean for a couple of years, NA meetings are a necessity to show “commitment” to an out-patient program, before I can get my son back. And part of the program involves having to listen to somebody say that the fellowship is the only way. I don’t believe it is.

    My latest incarnation of a higher power is science and reason, but there isn’t a being who knows all and reciprocates our stupid personal pleas and prayers, so it isn’t really a higher power at all, but more an explanation to the indoctrinated and deluded, so that I may appear to fit in with them.

    I haven’t had a spiritual awakening, because spirit is something that does not exist.

    Having said that, I do acknowledge that my life had become unmanageable, which is why I say I could do step one.

    On a tangentially related note, a man I once worked with several years ago wrote and published a book about giving up religion, and even came up with a 12-step program to quit an addiction to God – very much tongue in cheek. I can’t remember the name of the book, but his name is Morné Du Toit.

    • I think I’ve seen the book that you are referring to. I hope that your journey to get a life you want with your son is successful beyond what anyone will let you dream. It’s a hard thing but I have what might be called faith that if you do it without god, going backwards will be 5 times harder than if you relied on a god. When I am reliant only on myself, I tend to always make at least some forward progress.

  4. A beautiful dissection of the AA program and religion in one shot. Well done. I cannot find the words for the depth of my agreement. I especially like the milk jug reference.

    • Imagine me sitting there, knowing not one person, and hearing that I should let a milk jug remove my supposed character defects…

      Inside I was completely going Lewis Black on them… outside, I just quietly excused myself, never to return.

      • Wise move.

    • Thanks for commenting and for your kind words.

  5. Good post, there is something entirely sinister about the whole thing. It had never crossed my mind that the AA was religious, I only found out when I was writing a satirical post about how to get over religion, based on these 12 steps. But it never occurred to me just how awful it is in general, beyond the basic religious nature of it (although not having had an addiction or known anyone who’s gone through this, I guess I don’t know what it takes).

    • The efficacy of AA or a 12 step program cannot be shown to be more effective than individual commitment to quit. It’s difficult to get numbers to start, but where there have been attempts they have never been able to show 12 step programs as more effective than simply wanting to quit. So you get all the religion and drama and not one bit better of a chance of quitting.

      • It’s actually like some sinister underhand religious recruiting ground, because AA programs are probably the closest to hand recovery centres for a lot of people with addictions.

        • Well, at the time it was created, AA was one guy trying to quit and it’s based on how he did it, religion and all

  6. I see what you mean. The programs can help people, but then again so can lobotomies in their own way. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way.

    • Absolutely. My personal problem with them is that they are negative solutions – demeaning and do not promote positive values or reward.

      The premise that you are broken and incapable of fixing yourself but I have a cure that will help you as long as you continue to supplicate yourself at my chosen alter is heinous.

    • Gah, clicked too soon. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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