December 2, 2012
By C. A. Sheckels
IS A.A. A CULT?
A few years ago, when I first heard "Alcoholics Anonymous (and its related 12-step programs) is a cult," I had never even considered that point of view. Since then, I've encountered a wide range of people-- individuals and groups-- who consistently stated it is, often with a wide range of facts to back up their viewpoint. I believe the issue can be addressed in simple terms:
"Offer people what they think they want- and then it's 'Gotcha'!"
It is quite similar to something I experienced many years ago. When visiting relatives in a different state, I encountered "Moonies"-- followers of Sun Myung Moon's "Unification Church." Fortunately, as I was a well-informed individual, I knew what the Moonies were all about before I saw the television special or encountered them in person. The t.v. special was stunning: young people all asserting the importance of "God! Country! Family!"-- subjects most people in America considered to be of the utmost importance. The point: the t.v. special presented the Moonies as being in tune with American values-- making it sound very appealing to anyone who did not know the facts.
Logically, what the Moonies did not even hint at was what happens when people "take the bait-- and get sucked into it."
Similarly, 12-step programs also use "bait." Whether a person has an addiction, or a life problem that is not even connected to any addictions, A.A. and its counterparts have "a vision for you." While many people are literally forced into 12-step programs, and others are coerced into the programs, a large percentage of individuals who end up in A.A. and its counterparts simply "took the bait."
The "bait" used by A.A. is the same as that of any other cult: "Offer people what they think they want- and then it's 'Gotcha'!" And, similar to the Moonies and other cults, an individual does not know what will happen afterward.
From my point of view, the biggest "piece of bait" used by Alcoholics Anonymous is what the program calls "Step Three." Whether a person has an addiction or an unrelated life problem, Step Three can sound very appealing. The way it reads is: "We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him." If a person is struggling with any serious issue, there are actually two parts of that statement that can sound very appealing.
One appealing part is to hear and believe your God will help you and take care of you. The other appealing part is that it is your decision.
However, if you "take the bait," that is when you will find "the rules change."
First, for all of the initial talk about "The God of your understanding," and "Your Higher Power," many find this entire concept disappears very quickly. You no longer have "your" God, but "their" God. If your belief is a Biblically-based religion that is not in tune with fundamentalist christianity, or if you belong to a religion that is not Biblically-based, or if you do not believe in any "Higher Power" at all, you are expected to change. "Your" God-- or lack thereof-- is not o.k., is not acceptable.
Second, the part about 'making a decision' also sounds appealing. Whatever an individual's personal situation may be, 'making a decision' emphasizes self-determination and free will. The catch: if you make that decision via a 12-step program's Step Three, it could very well be the last 'decision' you ever make.
Why? because the 'rules' change.
Even if you are an average adult, you will begin to hear you can no longer make the decisions for your own life. If you are involved with 12-step programs, and look at this statement very clearly, you will see you are not making your decisions, 'the God of your understanding' isn't-- instead, others in "the Program" are attempting to do it for you.
This can easily be covered by what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said about being Victimized: "I cannot adequately assume responsibility as a person- because I have been made the victim of a decision in which I played no part."
Now, how can something like this happen in, or to, the lives of adults? surely there are individuals who, for whatever their reasons, actually prefer a way of life that consists of 'others' telling them what to do, and/or 'holding their hands' every step of the way. Perhaps such people are very ill, very immature, or some other factor.
However-- most adults are not in this category; most adults, with or without addictions or other life problems, not only want to make the decisions for their own lives, and are perfectly capable of doing so, but have the legal and moral right to do so.
The catch: that's not the way the 'program' works. Individuals who do not buy into the changing of the rules, and do not hand over their lives or the decisions for their lives to 'groups,' 'sponsors,' or other 'members,' can find themselves on the receiving-end of various attacks. If you do not willingly surrender yourself, your life, and your decisions to individuals in the Program, you will be attacked. Some are content to look at such people in a pitying way; some haul out the psychobabble you hear often in these programs; and others take their methods of destruction much further.
When discussing the negativity of 12-step programs, there is a point that bears noting: even the literature states the only difference between an "oldtimer" and a "newcomer" is the length of time each has abstained from drug or alcohol use. The literature states that no one in a program has any professional capacity-- and knows no more about anything than the average person (and often less). So what it comes down to is "the blind leading the blind"-- while at the same time attempting to "take power in your life that they do not deserve."
Either way you look at this, it is destructive and potentially dangerous. If you do not willingly surrender yourself, you will be attacked or ostracized. The normal adult factors of making the decisions for one's own life and living one's own life are not recognized as the right to free will and self-determination, or maturity and stability, but "sick," "in denial," or "not getting the Program." On the other hand, if you do simply grant them that power, your life is no longer your own.
In conclusion, as the Unification Church takes advantage of individuals who took the bait without realizing what they were in for, and proceeded to manipulate and control every single aspect of those individuals' lives, changing the rules and demanding individuals comply, you will have exactly the same experiences if you become involved with a 12-step program.
So if you have any objections about individuals who have completely screwed up their own lives demanding to take control over yours, a 12-step program is not for you. If you are not inclined to look at A.A. and its counterparts as cults, look at the evidence. And if a life that is actually your own is what you want, the "decision" you make should reflect that it is.