The Twelve Steps, Interpreted

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

Right here, right at the start, is a giant problem. I am not powerless over alcohol, not even close. I have almost perfect control over alcohol. I can drink it or not, I can let it sit on the table and look at it, and I might even be able to juggle it. I can also drink enough to kill myself. My choice.

The second half of that sentence says that my life is "unmanageable". Ummm, no, that isn't quite right. If I drink alcohol, my life becomes a disorganized mess — I drink too much alcohol, and I get more or less addicted to it, and I get very sick and can't work, and I get behind on the rent, and the utility companies turn everything off, and I starve, but I still wouldn't say that my life was "unmanageable" because I was "powerless" over alcohol.

Step One might be halfways true if it said that us alcoholics couldn't manage our lives very well while drinking alcohol. And Step One might be true if it said that it was ultimately impossible for us to continue drinking alcohol and still have a happy life. But that isn't what Step One says.

Bill Wilson's statement that alcoholics are powerless over alcohol was just his translation of Dr. Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman's strange Oxford Group religious doctrine that we have all been "defeated by sin" and are powerless over it (so the only remedy is to "surrender ourselves to God-control" and have God "guide" us like so many little puppets).

Bill Wilson wrote that alcoholics are so powerless over alcohol that they simply can't help but take a drink and go on a binge now and then, so only A.A. and its "Higher Power" can save the alcoholic from Demon Rum. In the Big Book, Bill had one alcoholic saying this after a binge:

"I now remembered what my alcoholic friends [Bill Wilson and Doctor Robert Smith] had told me, how they had prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come — I would drink again. They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots. I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow."
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 3, More About Alcoholism, pages 41-42.

And Bill Wilson drove the point home:

Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 3, More About Alcoholism, page 43.

So you are just helpless — powerless — when it comes to quitting drinking by yourself. You just can't resist the temptation of that first drink.

What a setup: "You are powerless over alcohol, and you are doomed to die unless A.A. saves you. So join my cult."

Bill instructed the A.A. recruiters to say this to the new prospects:

If he sticks to the idea that he can still control his drinking, tell him that possibly he can — if he is not too alcoholic. But insist that if he is severely afflicted, there may be little chance he can recover by himself.
      Continue to speak of alcoholism as an illness, a fatal malady. Talk about the conditions of body and mind which accompany it. Keep his attention focussed mainly on your personal experience. Explain that many are doomed who never realize their predicament.
The Big Book, 3rd & 4th Editions, William G. Wilson, page 92.

Bill Wilson's dogma is contradictory. He declared that alcoholics cause their own problems — "After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol" — and then Bill declared that alcoholics were powerless to save themselves — that they couldn't change their own behavior and recover by their own efforts, not even to save their own lives.

  • So you are very powerful and in control of your life and responsible for your actions when it comes to drinking and creating your own problems (so you should feel guilty and do a Fifth Step and confess all of your sins),
  • But you are "powerless" and unable to control your behavior when it comes to not drinking and not creating problems for yourself.

That is nonsense.

It is also heretical. If we humans have free will and can choose good or evil for ourselves, then we cannot also be powerless and unable to control our actions.

The eminent American philosopher and writer Henry David Thoreau said,

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.
      == Henry David Thoreau

When you think about it, you realize that the implications are huge. Instead of being helpless powerless victims of circumstances, moved around the world like a leaf in a windstorm, we are powerful people who can make our own decisions and improve our own lives by our own efforts.

We are not powerless.
We are not powerless over alcohol.
We are not powerless over people, places, and things.
We are not powerless over sin.
We are not powerless.

My doctor said it this way, "Alcoholics have great control over their sobriety. They can stay sober for years at a time. They just don't have any control over their drinking. Their drinking will spin out of control very rapidly."

That answered a lot of questions for me, because I had always had a problem with the A.A. "powerless over alcohol" confession. I'm not powerless — I can stay sober for years at a time, and have done so before, and am doing it again. I only have a problem with alcohol when it is inside of me. Then I go non-linear and try to drink myself into the astral plane.

The doctrine that you are "powerless over alcohol" is really bad, and has killed a lot of people. It is a formula for disaster that often becomes a self-fulfilling prediction. When people really believe that they cannot control their own drinking because they are powerless over alcohol, then they don't. They tend to go on prolonged binges, imagining that they have no choice in the matter. (Well, stupid as it is, it sounds good when you are drunk.) The idea that you are powerless over alcohol and can't help yourself is an alcoholic's ready-made rationalization for taking a drink whenever the urge comes along. In one controlled study of A.A.'s effectiveness, court-mandated offenders who had been sent to A.A. for several months were doing five times as much binge drinking as the other alcoholics who got no such Alcoholics Anonymous "help".

For a while, I did believe that I was powerless over alcohol, and powerless over tobacco, too. I had quit and backslid so many times that I thought, "What's the point in trying to quit again? You'll just start again. Might as well just stay stoned until the bitter end comes." I didn't get my health back and my life together until I came to believe that I was not powerless over alcohol or tobacco — that I really could quit, and stay quit, and then I did just that.

The doctrine that you are "powerless over alcohol" is also a ready-made excuse for drunken binges, the morning after — "Honey, it isn't my fault that I got drunk last night and went on a huge binge and threw a screaming drunken temper tantrum and tore up the house. Dr. Silkworth says that I have a disease, and I'm powerless over alcohol, so I can't help it."

Bill Wilson actually did exactly that — threw a big drunken screaming temper tantrum and kicked out the door panels of his wife Lois' house, and threw a sewing machine at her.2 Lois Wilson screamed at him and called him "a drunken sot", an act of disrespect for which the vain, narcissistic Bill Wilson never forgave Lois.

When Dr. Silkworth talked about alcoholism as an allergy, and alcoholics being powerless over alcohol, Bill immediately seized on the idea as a convenient excuse to explain away all of his previous bad behavior. And Dr. Silkworth's idea also fit neatly with Frank Buchman's religious doctrine that everybody was "defeated by sin" and "insane", and that only God could "restore one to sanity".

Step One is a setup for surrender to the cult. Since you are powerless over alcohol, you will need somebody or something else (like a sponsor) to be your keeper, and take care of you, and tell you what to do, to keep you from drinking. This step encourages dependence on the cult instead of self-reliance; incompetence and failure instead of competence and success.

Prof. Margaret Thaler Singer considered inducing a sense of powerlessness and guilt to be one of the five essential conditions for an effective mind-control, or "brainwashing", program. This step, and the next two, where you confess that you are insane, and then surrender to "Something greater than yourself", do a fine job of inducing a sense of powerlessness. And then the following steps, Steps Four through Ten, induce plenty of guilt.

"Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they're yours."
    == Richard Bach

If you think you can, you can.
And if you think you can't, you're right.
    == Business executive Mary Kay Ash

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

I'm not insane, so I don't need to be restored to sanity. Besides, I know enough about Buchmanism to know what this line is really saying. Frank Buchman and his cult believed that everyone in the world was "defeated by sin", and was "insane", except for Frank and his boys, of course. The only way to regain sanity, Frank said, was to "surrender yourself to God-control", which really meant "surrender yourself to Frank-control." No thanks.

A.A. claims that the current meaning of this line is just that you can believe in anything, including a doorknob or a potato, a mountain or a motorcycle, a bedpan or a "Group Of Drunks" (G.O.D.) as your Higher Power, and it will somehow "restore you to sanity". Interesting. Then how do we do the next step? How can I turn over my will and my life to the care of a bedpan or a potato or a doorknob? And, for that matter, in this Step, how is a bedpan going to restore me to sanity?

Again, this step encourages dependence and powerlessness. The implication of this step is that you cannot heal yourself — you are so insane that only some Higher Power can fix your mind and restore you to sanity. Logically then, there is little reason for you to even try to fix yourself. Just wait for old H.P. to do it for you.

And there is another funny angle to this step: If you really are insane, then it doesn't matter what you believe will restore you to sanity. You are insane. Your beliefs are crazy and irrelevant.

  • You might come to believe that licking truck transmissions filled with orange juice will restore you to sanity. Will it?
  • You might come to believe that slavish participation in a fascist cult religion will restore you to sanity. Will it?

And finally, in this step, Bill Wilson also cleverly used the propaganda trick of "Sly Suggestions". This step actually says that they came to believe that a "Higher Power" could restore them to sanity. This step does not say that any 'Higher Power' actually will heal the A.A. members, just that they believe that He could do it, if he felt like it. What if 'Higher Power' says,
      "Well yeh, sure, I CAN restore you to sanity, but I get so many laughs, watching you all act like a bunch of crazy hairless monkeys, that I think I'll leave you just the way that you are now.

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

And here it is. This is where you surrender your will and your mind to Frank-control. But since Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman and his convert, William Griffith Wilson, are both dead, you will have to surrender your will and your life to Alcoholics Anonymous and your sponsor. Bill Wilson even wrote, many times, in the Big Book and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions that you could use A.A. itself as your Higher Power if you had troubles with using a supernatural "God" as your Higher Power. ("G.O.D." = "Group Of Drunks") That is surrender to the cult, pure and simple.

Some A.A. true believers may complain that I am completely distorting and misinterpreting this. I don't think so. The author of the 12 Steps, Bill Wilson, pulled a bait-and-switch stunt here. In Step 2, I only had to believe in a nice, vague, "Power greater than myself." But it somehow just became "God as we understood Him" with all of the emotional associations of the word "God." What happened to the nice, vague, warm and fuzzy "Power" of doorknobs and potatoes?

And this new "God" not only has to be someone who can take care of my will and my life for me, but He has to be Someone stupid enough to waste His time doing so... Potatoes and doorknobs don't qualify.

Then, my sponsor and the other old-timers at the meetings will gradually redefine "God as I understand Him", until I believe the same things as everybody else in the group. "God as I understand It" will gradually become "God as we understood Him". Bait and switch.

And what they actually believe is that God is a vicious Old-Testament-style tyrant who will torture you to death with alcohol if you don't believe in Him and Seek and Do His Will every day in Step Eleven.

The "as we understood Him" phrase is contradictory and deceptive — our new A.A. "Higher Power" cannot be just any free-form "God as we understand Him" — our new A.A. God must be a micro-managing meddler who will use His supernatural powers to change the world to suit us and make everything turn out okay, or else the A.A. God won't be taking care of our wills and our lives for us in Step Three, and He won't be removing all of our defects in Step 7, and the 12 Steps won't work.

In fact, the 12 Steps say that God must do a lot of things for us:

  • Step 1: God must manage our unmanageable lives for us.
  • Step 2: God must restore us to sanity.
  • Step 3: God must take care of our wills and our lives for us.
  • Step 5: God must listen to our confessions.
  • Step 7: God must remove all of our defects of character, and moral shortcomings, and wrongs.
  • Step 11: God must talk to us in a séance and give us work orders and the power to carry them out.
  • Step 12: God must give us a "spiritual experience", or a "spiritual awakening".

An A.A. God who does not dictate orders and who does not interfere with events in this world and pull puppet strings in order to make A.A. members happy is out of the question, because the Twelve Steps simply cannot work without God making them work.

In A.A., God has to work a strong program, or else.

The very idea that you can give up on your life and become a mindless puppet who is controlled by God and taken care of by God is grossly heretical. There is nothing in standard Christianity or in the Bible that says that you can do that. Nor is there any such doctrine in Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, or any of the world's other great religions.

— And neither is there anything in any of those religions that indicates that what God wants, the desired end goal of human development, is to produce mindless sycophants who will obediently grovel before God. God already has enough cocker spaniels and worms and chickens. It seems that God desires something more than that from humans.

Jesus Christ never said that the answer to life is to "surrender to God", and turn your will and your life over to "the care of God", and then God will take care of you and solve all of your problems and remove all of your defects and tell you what to do in a séance. That is simply grossly heretical and unChristian. Such a doctrine is fascistic, not Christian.

The demand for complete surrender to the cult is repeated often in the Big Book, like this:

  • "Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program..."
    (The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Page 58.)

    Completely give themselves?

  • "We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely."
    (The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Page 58.)

    Let go absolutely?

  • "Will he take every necessary step, submit to anything to get well, to stop drinking forever?"
    (The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Page 142.)

    Submit to anything?

  • And:
    "He succumbed to that gay crowd inside, who laughed at their own misfortunes and understood his. Impressed by those who visited him in the hospital, he capitulated entirely when, later, in an upper room of this house, he heard the story of some man who experience closely tallied with his own."
    (The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 11, A Vision For You, Page 160.)

    He succumbed? He capitulated entirely?

  • And:
    "And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone — even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned."
    (The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Page 84.)

    We have ceased fighting alcohol? What does that mean?

  • And:
    "After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol. Besides, we have stopped fighting anybody or anything. We have to!"
    (The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Page 103.)

  • And "The Housewife Who Drank" actually bragged that she surrendered her will to Alcoholics Anonymous.

    It was at that point that I reached surrender. I heard one very ill woman say that she didn't believe in the surrender part of the A.A. program. My heavens! Surrender to me has meant the ability to run my home, to face my responsibilities as they should be faced, to take life as it comes to me day by day and work my problems out. That's what surrender has meant to me. I surrendered once to the bottle, and I couldn't do these things. Since I gave my will over to A.A., whatever A.A. has wanted of me I've tried to do to the best of my ability.
    The Big Book, the story "The Housewife Who Drank At Home", 3rd Edition page 340, and 4th Edition page 300.

    "Since I gave my will over to A.A..."
    As lawyers say, I rest my case.

Just as a funny side note, the true believers don't seem to notice what comes next: Logically, there is no point in printing Steps 4 through 12, because you don't have any will of your own any more, not after Step 3, so you can't work the rest of the steps. God is in control now, and He may have you doing anything He wishes: washing dishes in an orphanage, or going to Disneyland, or helping a farmer in Kansas with his harvest, or just anything. You won't do Steps 4 through 12 unless God wants you to, and there is little point in you doing them after God has taken over. Those steps mostly deal with things like listing all of your bad points, and confessing them to God. God already knows all of that garbage, so there is no point in wasting your time doing that, not when you could be doing something useful, like volunteering at a charity. So don't print Steps 4 through 12. If God really wants you to do them, He will tell you what they are when you need to hear it. So did we just reduce A.A. to a three-step program, or what?

Dr. Arthur Deikman describes surrender to a cult this way:

Surrender is a basic feature of the spiritual life. As an acceptance of selfless goals in place of self-centeredness, it is something most recognize as inherently desirable. Yet the call to surrender can become a tool for manipulation and control when critical judgement is set aside.   ... surrender is called for by fundamentalist preachers and organizations such as the Campus Crusade. Bill Bright, writing in Jesus and the Intellectual makes it quite explicit: "The secret is surrender. Commitment to Christ involves the surrender of the intellect, the emotions and the will — the total person."26
      There is no place in such groups for reasoned, independent judgement; no free will, no responsible choice, only literal adherence to sacred text as selected and interpreted by the church leader or organization. With surrender, the authority of the church is maximized, the follower feels relieved of uncertainty and choice and can then experience the "bliss" of someone who has "returned home."

26. Quoted in Holy Terror: The Fundamentalist War on America's Freedoms in Religion, Politics, and Our Private Lives, Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, page 252.

The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society, Arthur J. Deikman, M.D., page 89.

So, does Bill Wilson demand total surrender of our minds and our wills to his cult? Yes. Absolutely yes. The word "will" is in Step Three, and then Bill repeatedly demanded that we give up our human intelligence, reason, and logic, and just "have faith" in his religious proclamations:

Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists chose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word... Rather vain of us, wasn't it?
      We, who have traveled this dubious path, beg you to lay aside prejudice, even against organized religion.   ...   People of faith have a logical idea of what life is all about.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, We Agnostics, page 49.

Then Wilson wrote that we will have to abandon "Reason" in order to reach his "New Land of faith":

Some of us had already walked far over the Bridge of Reason toward the desired shore of faith. The outlines and the promise of the New Land had brought lustre to tired eyes and fresh courage to flagging spirits. Friendly hands stretched out in welcome. We were grateful that Reason had brought us so far. But somehow, we couldn't quite step ashore. Perhaps we had been leaning too heavily on Reason that last mile and did not like to lose our support.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Page 53.

Bill Wilson's "Third Step Prayer" is an outrageous piece of grovelling masochistic infantile narcissism that demands that you surrender to Bill's authoritarian version of God:

We were now at Step Three. Many of us said to our Maker, as we understood Him: "God, I offer myself to Thee — to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!" We thought well before taking this step making sure we were ready; that we could at last abandon ourselves utterly to Him.
The Big Book, 3rd edition, William G. Wilson, page 63.

"Abandon ourselves utterly"?

The part of Step Three that I find the funniest is that fact that Bill Wilson couldn't write coherent English, so it seems like all we have to do here is "make a decision" to do something:
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

It seems like we don't actually ever have to get around to doing anything else. Down below, in Steps 6 and 7, Bill belabors another point like this, taking one step to think about doing something, and the next step to actually do it, but this time, we never really do it, we just think about it. We just "make a decision" to do something, maybe later...

Okay, I'll think about it.

(And what I thought was, it sounds like a stupid way to try to avoid all of my problems, and shove them all on Somebody Else, and it won't work. And there is no way I'm going to surrender my will and my mind to the care of Alcoholics Anonymous and a sponsor who confesses that he is powerless over alcohol, that his life is unmanageable, that he is insane, and that he can't ever be cured... Why would I want a loser like that running my life?)

There is actually a great deal of presumptuousness in this step. That is, the member presumes to be able to give his will away, ostensibly to some Higher Power. As if he really had that much control over his own mind and his will. If your will is your collected wishes and desires, then you have to have control over them to be able to give them away, or stop them, or do any such thing with them. Is it even possible to really give away all of your desires? Does that include giving away the desire to give away your desires?

How many Americans actually have any experience with really controlling their own wills or their own minds or their desires? This gets to sounding a lot like Buddhism, which practices controlling one's own mind and reducing one's desires in order to increase personal happiness by having fewer unfulfilled desires. But that is easier said than done. I can just hear the old master on Kung Fu saying,

      "Ah yes, little Grasshopper. If you have no desires, where does the desire to control your desires come from? How could you control your desires if you have no more desires left — not even the desire to control your desires? But if you do desire to control your desires, then you haven't gotten rid of all of your desires, now have you?"

Indeed. If you give your will to a Higher Power, how could you have the will to continue to control your will? And if you don't have the will to control your will, and can't control your own will any longer, then how could you continue to place your will in the care of your Higher Power? What's to stop you from accidentally "taking your will back" without meaning to do so?

What nonsense. All of that "turning your will over to a Higher Power" and "surrender" talk is really just a bunch of double-talk. The only thing "turning your will over" can really mean is,
"Okay, I give up. I surrender. I'll be your obedient slave and do what you say."

Oh, and there is one more giant gotcha that no one will talk about: What if you surrender yourself to the Will of God, and it turns out that It is God's Will that you drink yourself to death?

It can't be? Says who?

I mean, it was God's Will that you inherited the gene for alcoholism. You were a born alcoholic, weren't you?

" wasn't because my wife left me that I started to drink, or because my mother didn't love me. It was because I have always been a potential alcoholic."
Delirium Tremens, Stories of Suffering and Transcendence, Ignacio Solares, Hazelden, 2000, page 29.

Then it seems to have been God's Will that you drank for all of those years before A.A..
No? That wasn't doing God's Will?
Then why did God make you an alcoholic in the first place?
Why did God stick you with the gene for alcoholism, instead of a harmless gene, if He didn't want you to drink like a fish, and even expect you to drink, and know full well that you were going to drink too much?

Then, why did God let you drink so much for so long?
Or make you drink so much for so long?
Was God just using you as an object lesson for other alcoholics?

But then, suddenly, the instant that you walk into an A.A. meeting room, God abruptly changes his mind about everything and decides that it is now His Will that you not drink any more alcohol. Huh?

Just as a funny side note, one possible answer to that question is "Jem-Hadar and Ketracel-white".

Remember the Star Trek Deep Space Nine series where the Founders, the Changelings, addicted their warrior slaves to a drug-like substance called "White" which only the Founders could supply? It made the Jem-Hadar the most loyal slaves in the Galaxy. They were always desperate to get another dose of White from their boss.

Maybe the A.A. God makes A.A. members similarly dependent on Him for their sobriety. Either seek and follow the dictates of your Higher Power every day, or else He will let you relapse and die a horrible painful drunken death. (See the Big Book, pages 100 and 84 to 85, respectively.)

Gee, that's a nice God...

But what a great way to get cheap, dependable labor...

Another thought that never seems to occur to the A.A. true believers is the idea that maybe God doesn't want to be bothered with restoring all of the A.A. members to sanity in Step Two, and taking care of the members' wills and lives for them in Step Three. Maybe God has other things to do. Maybe God gave people their own wills and lives so that they could live their own lives themselves. There is an incredible amount of arrogance in this Third Step. A.A. members assume that they can just shove their wills and their lives at God for repair without even asking God what He wants.

What if God says,

"Hey! You can't make me do all of your work for you. I gave you perfectly good minds and wills and lives, and you broke them, and now you think you can just give up, and shove them at me, and demand that I fix them for you? Screw you. Go fix them yourselves."

Likewise, God might say to them,

Here I am, the Lord, Creator, and God of the Universe. I've got 50 billion galaxies to run, and each of them has 400 billion stars, and lots of those stars have planets orbiting them, and lots of those planets have funny little crawly things on them, things that swim or slither or fly or walk, blue and green growing things that look like the biological disasters that you find in bachelor men's refrigerators, and you think I'm going to drop all of that and come running to your little backwater planet, just because you drank too much alcohol and now you want me to take care of your stupid life for you?

Think again...

You want to be restored to sanity, and have a bunch of your problems solved? Okay, try this simple one-step program:

Just don't drink any more alcohol.

After all, whatever happened to "The Lord helps those who help themselves"?

Also notice the infantile narcissism inherent in this step. That's a condition where people just regress to the infantile state, and act like babies who lay helplessly on their backsides and cry and wait for Big Mommy or Big Daddy take care of them and fulfill all of their wishes and demands. In this step, you are supposed to regress to powerlessness and then turn the care of your mind, your will, and your life over to the Cosmic Big Daddy, and expect Him to then do all of the hard work for you — making you quit drinking and removing all of your troubles and defects from your life, and solving all of your problems for you

"Quite as important was the discovery that spiritual principles would solve all my problems."
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 3, page 42.

We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
The Big Book, 3rd edition, William G. Wilson, page 84.

Many of us said to our Maker, as we understood Him: "God, I offer myself to Thee — to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life."
The Big Book, 3rd edition, William G. Wilson, page 63.

"Let Go and Let God."

The real world doesn't work that way. Grow up.

Someone made a poster that said,

The Christian motto shouldn't be "Let Go And Let God", but "Get God And Get Going".

Lastly, notice the locus of control. Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes an external, rather than internal, locus of control. Rather than assuming responsibility for their own actions and lives by saying, "I screwed up and made myself sick by drinking too much, so now I'm going to change my ways and heal myself", A.A. believers declare themselves incompetent and powerless over their problems, and wait for Somebody or Something outside of themselves to solve all of their problems for them:

To the intellectually self-sufficient man or woman many A.A.'s can say, "Yes, we were like you — far too smart for our own good.   ...   Secretly, we felt we could float above the rest of the folks on brain power alone."
As Bill Sees It, quotes from William G. Wilson, published by A.A.W.S., page 60.

Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, Chapter 3, More About Alcoholism, page 43.

Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power? Well, that's exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 4, We Agnostics, page 45.

As John Phipps said, "Waiting for God to provide is a good way to become very spiritual and very gone from this worldly scene."

And waiting for the Lord to do your work for you is also just plain lazy.

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

Here's where we start wallowing in guilt, making long lists of everything that might be wrong with us.

Do I get to list my good qualities, too?

No. This step is about guilt induction, not about getting honest with yourself and finding out what and who you really are, by doing an honest and complete inventory of ALL of your characteristics, good, bad, and otherwise.

And this is just another bait-and-switch trick: Since alcoholism is a medical problem — "an actual disease that has a name and symptoms like diabetes or cancer or TB" is what A.A. calls it — why doesn't Step Four tell us to do a searching and fearless medical examination? Why are we supposed to do a moral inventory?

The real answer is obvious: a medical examination won't induce enough guilt to destroy our self-confidence and feelings of self-worth, and make us surrender to the cult. And A.A. doesn't really consider alcoholism to be a medical disease at all. They consider it to be a moral problem, a "spiritual disease" that is caused by sin.

Charles Bufe said it so well:

Unfortunately, the fourth step doesn't call for an inventory of irrational beliefs, physical causes, or other contributory factors; it calls for a moral inventory. What this has to do with recovery from alcoholism is anybody's guess. Unless one believes that alcoholism is caused by sin, this step makes no sense whatsoever.
      Unfortunately, Bill Wilson was an enthusiastic Oxford Grouper and did, at bottom, believe that alcoholism was caused by sin. If Wilson actually believed that alcoholism was caused by an "allergy," as Dr. Silkworth speculates in the "Big Book," it's extremely difficult to see why he would have included the guilt-inducing, religious term "moral" in this step. But at the time he wrote the steps, Wilson regarded the Oxford Group Movement as his rescuer, and so it was natural that he would share the assumption of the Groups that all human problems are a direct result of sin.
      In sum, this step is designed to produce guilt, and hence low self-esteem, which tends to contribute to self-damaging rather than self-caring behavior. Step four performs one other function: it prepares those being indoctrinated into AA for the next step, confession.
Alcoholics Anonymous, Cult or Cure?, Charles Bufe, page 70.

Yes. Frank Buchman declared that all human and social problems were caused by sin, and Bill Wilson believed it. Wilson declared that alcoholism is just another sin — it is just

-- and the cure for alcoholism was the same as the Buchmanite cure for all other sins:
Go to a meeting, and start confessing your sins.

It was Bill's doctor, Dr. William D. Silkworth, not Bill Wilson, who said that he considered alcoholism to be a disease, something like an allergy. Bill found Dr. Silkworth's idea to be good Public Relations fluff, something to tell the newcomers who got scared off by all of Bill Wilson's preaching about sin and God, but Bill never really bought into the disease model. Bill always hammered away at the sin angle. That's why you have to do a moral inventory here.

"We AA's have never called alcoholism a disease because, technically speaking it is not a disease entity."
== Bill Wilson, speaking to the National Catholic Clergy Conference On Alcoholism, April 21, 1960, in New York City

Our liquor was but a symptom.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, page 64.

After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, page 103.

Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires, it isn't strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose.
(Whose intended purpose? God's? Mother Nature's? The Force of Evolution's? What happened to "A.A. requires no beliefs?")
When they drive us blindly, or we willfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on earth. That is the measure of our character defects, or, if you wish, of our sins.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William Wilson, page 65.

Bill Wilson was all mixed up. Natural desires do not supply us with "satisfactions or pleasures". Natural desires, like the urges to eat or copulate, are itches and urges that drive us to go get some satisfactions or pleasures. The natural desire to eat food — hunger — doesn't give you any satisfaction — it gives you a nagging pain in the belly.

Nevertheless, according to the theology of Wilsonism,

our "character defects" = "our sins" = "how much we depart from perfection" =
"how much we willfully demand more pleasure than is due us in God's ledger book".

And, according to Bill Wilson, alcoholism is just one of our many sins. Alcoholism is just a "symptom"1 of our greater underlying sins and "defects of character".

The AA Grapevine continues to teach the same dogma today:

"The First Step showed me that I was powerless over alcohol and anything else that threatened my sobriety or muddled by thinking. Alcohol was only a symptom of much deeper problems of dishonesty and denial."
Listening to the Wind, anonymous, AA Grapevine, December 2001, page 34.

And you can't just quit drinking by yourself without the A.A. religious program; that would be "immoral" because it wouldn't deal with all of your other sins. Remember Frank Buchman's remarks while praising Adolf Hitler:

"Human problems aren't economic. They're moral and they can't be solved by immoral measures."

Buchman declared that any attempts to solve social problems, or to improve the world, by any means other than prayer, confession, and "surrender to God" were "immoral measures." So Bill Wilson declared that the only acceptable answer to alcoholism is to list and confess all of your sins and "surrender to God's will" (as defined by your sponsor, of course). Just quitting drinking without doing the Twelve Steps will not solve the "sin" problem; you will supposedly just become a "dry drunk", and that would be immoral.

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

Apparently, I don't get to list my good qualities, because Bill is only talking about "our wrongs" now. So much for doing a complete and thorough inventory.

That's another bait-and-switch trick:

  • First, they tell you that you are supposed to do "a complete and thorough moral inventory",
  • But then this Step says that you are only supposed to talk about your "wrongs".

It can't be a complete inventory without both the positives and the negatives.

Frank Buchman, Bill Wilson, and Dr. Bob Smith really did love a good confession session, didn't they? Especially when it was other people confessing to them, other people grovelling and wallowing in guilt on their knees before them, other people surrendering to them.

Bill Wilson used a business example in the Big Book, and said that no business could run for long without doing an inventory and seeing what shape it is in. Agreed, in principle — Bill confused performing an inventory with balancing the books — a business must do both an inventory and balance its books to see the big financial picture. (And note that an inventory mostly counts assets — valuable things like tools, equipment, and the goods in the warehouse.) But a business that only counts its liabilities, and fails to also count its assets, including the money in the bank and accounts receivable, will have no idea what its financial condition really is. "We have a lot of bills to pay, but how much money do we have?" That last item, how much money you have, makes a huge difference in the big picture. Likewise, the good qualities that you have, and the good character features that you have, make an enormous difference in how you can expect to manage and live your life in the future.

It is good to do an honest self-assessment now and then, to do a reality check, but that isn't what these steps really do.

This Step is also just some more of the previous Step's "medical to moral morph" bait-and-switch stunt.

  • As a come-on, to get us to join, A.A. said that we were innocent, that alcoholism is a hereditary disease and that we couldn't help it — "we were powerless over alcohol" — and we were spared from all feelings of guilt. The Big Book said, "a disease was respectable, not a moral stigma!"
  • But now, after we have joined, we suddenly find A.A. making us feel horribly guilty, having to confess everything we ever did wrong in our entire lives: "the exact nature of our wrongs."
    Whoops! What happened to "not a moral stigma"?

This step is also a big part of the process of crushing an individual's self-confidence and pride, and making him ready to surrender his mind to the cult.

Since mind control depends on creating a new identity within the individual, cult doctrine always requires that a person distrust his own self.
== Combatting Cult Mind Control, Steven Hassan, 1988, page 79.

In his fascinating study of Red Chinese brainwashing of American and other United Nations prisoners of war during the Korean War, Edward Hunter wrote that:

The Reds had found that the easiest way to subdue any group of people was to give its members a guilt complex and then to lead them on from self-denunciation to self-betrayal. All that was required to put this across was a sufficiently heartless exploitation of the essential goodness in people, so that they would seek self-sacrifice to compensate for their feelings of guilt. The self-sacrifice obviously made available to them in this inside-out environment is some form of treason.
Brainwashing, From Pavlov to Powers, Edward Hunter, page 169.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, the only difference is that the form of self-sacrifice that is made available is
"[We] Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."
That is, surrender to the group and your sponsor, who speak for God, and then spend the rest of your life "seeking and doing the will of God" in Step Eleven, and spend the rest of your life recruiting for the cult in Step Twelve.

Bill Wilson claimed that we would get fantastic benefits from doing Step Five, and confessing everything to someone else. He wrote in the Big Book that when he confessed his sins, "the effect was electric". Bill also declared,

We pocket our pride and go to it, illuminating every twist of character, every dark cranny of the past. Once we have taken this step, withholding nothing, we are delighted. We can look the world in the eye. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall from us. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator. We may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience. The feeling that the drink problem has disappeared will often come strongly. We feel we are on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe.
The Big Book, 3rd edition, William G. Wilson, chapter 6, Into Action, page 75.

Gee, we get a great spiritual experience and feel like we are walking hand-in-hand with God on some broad highway in the sky just because we confess our sins to our sponsor?

Compare that to Lowell Streiker's description of conversion experiences in revivalist churches:

The prospect is directly confronted with his sins. His physical and psychic space are invaded by these self-confident strangers. He is discomforted and thrown off balance. He becomes anxious. The group tells him that his feelings are caused by his sinfulness. He is overcome with guilt and sadness. He realizes his life is not working. Eagerly he confesses his shortcomings — sexual lapses, lies, petty thievery, drug abuse, and so forth. Guided by the group, he prays that God will forgive him and receive him as His child. He is urged, "Ask Jesus to come into your heart." He does, and the inner turmoil subsides. The recruit senses an inner release and relief. The hugs and congratulations of the group tell him that he belongs, that he has identity, that he is accepted. Many ecstatic converts report, "It was as though a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders."
The Gospel Time Bomb: Ultrafundamentalism and the Future of America, Lowell Streiker, page 81.

"It was as though a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders." Of course — the pressure builds and builds until the moment of confession and surrender, and then the pressure is off. What relief. The sudden release of tension is interpreted as a spiritual experience, as being "born again". This is what Robert Jay Lifton called "Mystical Manipulation"

  • "Experiences are engineered to appear to be spontaneous, when, in fact, they are contrived to have a deliberate effect", and
  • "People mistakenly attribute their experiences to spiritual causes when, in fact, they are concocted by human beings".

With the Stepper, the pressure has been building all of the time he has been writing his list of sins in the Fourth Step, and then, once he has finally done his embarassing and humiliating Fifth Step, it's over, and the pressure is off, and he feels such a release that Bill Wilson says it's like walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe.

It's just like the old joke about the guy who was beating his head against a wall. A friend asked him why he was doing it. The answer: "Because it feels SO GOOD when I stop."

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

Heck yeh! I'm entirely ready to have God remove all of my defects, if He will really do it. That would solve a lot of my problems. Who wouldn't want to be perfect? Does He do warts and wrinkles, too?

This step is rather ridiculous. It looks like Bill Wilson had only eleven steps, and wanted one more to make an even dozen (for reasons of numerology and mystical numbers), so he shoved this step in here. With all of the other steps, we actually do things. With this step, we waste one whole step just thinking about doing something, just getting ready to do something, and then we spend the next step actually doing it. This step is quite unnecessary. Step Seven will do the same thing by itself.

Note that what was merely a "wrong" action in Step Five has become an integral part of ourselves, a "defect of character" in Step Six. And it will be a "moral shortcoming" in Step Seven. Bill Wilson started off by saying that we merely needed to perform an innocuous-sounding "moral inventory" in Step Four, but then he suddenly switched to declaring that we have characters that are so horribly defective that only God can remove all of the defects.

That's another bait-and-switch trick.

Just because we made a stupid mistake and drank too much doesn't mean that we have inherently defective characters. Labeling parts of ourselves as defective is good for instilling self-doubts and guilt (as part of a brainwashing program), but not good for much else. It promotes mental illness, not mental health or recovery.

That is a passive, infantile-narcissistic, approach to self-healing — we decide to just beg God to fix us. Otherwise, we will do nothing to fix ourselves. Again, we see the external, rather than internal, locus of control — Somebody or Something Else manipulates us like puppets while we do nothing except confess how bad we have been — "God" or "Higher Power" (or "Group Of Drunks", or "Group Of Drug addicts") supposedly controls our wills and our lives while we control nothing.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Ah, yes. Here is the problem. Is this a request, or a demand? It looks a lot like a demand for a miracle. It doesn't matter whether we "humbly, on our knees" beg God for a miracle (like the original version of Step Seven said), or arrogantly demand the miracle from God while we stand on our feet, Step Seven is still a demand for a miracle.

This step sounds a lot like,
"God: either you remove all of my shortcomings and defects of character, especially my desire to drink alcohol, or else I'll kill myself on the stuff, and it will all be your fault."

Suppose God says, "No. You made your bed, so you lie in it."

Then what? Nowhere else in these steps is there any alternate plan for self-improvement in case God doesn't feel like obeying us and fulfilling our demands.

On the other hand, if God really will remove all of my "wrongs", "defects of character", and "shortcomings", does that mean that I turn into Superman? This could make for a really neat movie:
"Having been bitten by a radioactive God, Peter Parker found himself transformed into a Superman without shortcomings or defects of character, a morally superior being who existed only to serve God whenever the Bat Signal shone in the night sky."

"What's that you say? No, I don't turn into Superman?
"You say there's this grand cosmic flash of light and God zaps me with a lightning bolt and miraculously turns me into an ordinary stupid shmuck just like I was before?
"Where's the fun in that?"

This step also has far too much Santa Claus spirituality for my tastes. Notice the similarity between

  1. writing a list of everything you want and then mailing it to Santa Claus, begging Santa to bring you the goodies, and
  2. writing a list of all of your defects and shortcomings, and then reading it to God and begging God to remove those defects and solve all of your problems for you.

It's also a lot like rubbing Aladdin's lamp and getting the genie to grant you three wishes. And the wishes we want granted are:

  1. In Step Two, restore us to sanity.
  2. In Step Three, take care of our wills and our lives for us, including managing our "unmanageable" lives.
  3. In Step Seven, remove all of our "defects of character" and "moral shortcomings", including the desire to drink alcohol.

    Henrietta! Get out the brass polish!...

  • A basic premise of the A.A. program is that if you confess your sins enough, Higher Power will be very pleased and will remove the desire for alcohol from you.
  • Now Higher Power could have done for you that a long time ago, and saved you from many years of suffering, but He didn't.
  • Which means that Higher Power has been torturing you with alcoholism for years, just to get you to finally do what He wants — which is to get on your knees and grovel before Him and confess everything.
  • Which makes Higher Power a very cruel tyrant. And not only has the alcoholic suffered for many years because of Higher Power's vain, selfish, egotistical desires, but so have the alcoholic's wife and children and other family members.
  • The A.A. Higher Power is a heartless fascist.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Actually, I think it's a wash. They hurt me as much as I hurt them... And I hurt myself most of all.

In this step, we must again make a long list of everything that we did wrong to someone else, and then "admit" it to our sponsor or someone.

This step is just more guilt induction.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

I have a few old bills to pay, but I'm not going to dedicate the rest of my life to it.

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

This is just "Repeat steps 4 through 9 in an infinite loop", like a computer program gone crazy. Been there, done that.

Note that we are instructed to promptly admit it when we are wrong, but we don't say anything when we are right. That is just more guilt induction. Grovel, grovel, wallow in guilt. Note the subtle implanted suggestion that you will be wrong...

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.

This step is just some dabbling in the occult, an attempt to "channel" God and hear the Voice of God in a séance.

Actually, meditation is a wonderful thing, if properly used. When you are meditating, you are not supposed to think anything. Inner silence is the goal. Constantly yammering, "God, give me some orders" and "God, tell me what to do" is not meditation, it is do-it-yourself brainwashing.

This step is pure Buchmanism again, Frank Buchman's "Guidance". You just sit quietly and wait for Der Grosse Führer in the sky to dictate your marching orders. Then you assume that your own internal mental noise is The Voice Of God. Note that there is no technique or policy for distinguishing The Voice Of God from someone's own subconscious mind, mumbling and rumbling and making noises.

The whole Buchmanite family participates in the Quiet Time.
They sit quietly with notebooks in hand, ready to write down the messages that they receive from God. Bill Wilson took that occult practice and made it into A.A. Step Eleven.

Something that I have never heard a stepper explain is how, while they practice Step Eleven, they distinguish between the Voice of God giving them Divine Guidance, and the voice of old Lizard Brain (base brain) while it demands its creature comforts: "I'm hungry. Feed me. I'm thirsty. Drink. I'm horny. Screw that attractive young female. I'm feeling uncomfortable; I hurt. Grab a painkiller — maybe a cigarette and a beer and some dope..." Bill Wilson did not have any teachings on that subject — no helpful advice at all — he just said that you can get into all kinds of trouble and do stupid things while practicing Step Eleven and believing that you are listening to the voice of God:

Being still inexperienced and having just made conscious contact with God, it is not probable that we are going to be inspired at all times. We might pay for this presumption in all sorts of absurd actions and ideas.
The Big Book, 3rd edition, William G. Wilson, page 87.

And, for those who believe in the Devil, and demons, we have the big question of how to tell whether an evil demon is whispering in your ear. Bill Wilson reported that he received messages from all kinds of evil spirits (and somehow, he had no problem with being deceived by lying evil spirits):

      "The ouija board got moving in earnest. What followed was the fairly usual experience — it was a strange mélange of Aristotle, St. Francis, diverse archangels with odd names, deceased friends — some in purgatory and others doing nicely, thank you! There were malign and mischievous ones of all descriptions, telling of vices quite beyond my ken, even as former alcoholics. Then, the seemingly virtuous entities would elbow them out with messages of comfort, information, advice — and sometimes just sheer nonsense."
Bill and Lois Wilson, quoted in
'PASS IT ON': The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. staff, 1984, pages 278-279.
See larger quote here.

Bill Wilson claimed that we are mentally incompetent and unfit to receive messages from the spirits or "Higher Power" or "God" (a problem that he didn't have):

      ... if all our lives we had more or less fooled ourselves, how could we now be so sure that we weren't still self-deceived?   ...
      ... what comes to us alone may be garbled by our own rationalization and wishful thinking.   ...
How many times have we heard well-intentioned people claim the guidance of God when it was all too plain that they were sorely mistaken. Lacking both practice and humility, they had deluded themselves and were able to justify the most arrant nonsense on the ground that this was what God had told them.
Surely then, a novice ought not lay himself open to the chance of making foolish, perhaps tragic, blunders in this fashion. While the comment or advice of others may be by no means infallible, it is likely to be far more specific than any direct guidance we may receive while we are still so inexperienced in establishing contact with a Power greater than ourselves.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, pages 59-60.

Nevertheless, Bill Wilson told us to go ahead and do Step Eleven anyway. And then you are supposed to do whatever the voices in your head tell you to do. Really. Literally. You are supposed to spend the rest of your life "seeking and doing the Will of God", however you hear "the Will of God":

Nevertheless, we find that our thinking will, as time passes, be more and more on the plane of inspiration. We come to rely on it.
The Big Book, 3rd edition, William G. Wilson, page 87.

I saw a T-shirt today that said,
"I do what the voices in my head tell me to do."
I laughed.

And then it occurred to me that if the T-shirt was being worn by a Buchmanite, or a true-believer Alcoholics Anonymous member, that it wasn't a joke.

Worse yet, after you get your work orders from "God as you understand Him" in Step Eleven, you are supposed to submit those orders for the approval of your sponsor or other group elders. Theoretically, your sponsor is supposed to save you from your own stupidity by interpreting your received messages from God, and approving or disapproving of your received Guidance:

      ... what comes to us alone may be garbled by our own rationalization and wishful thinking. The benefit of talking to another person is that we can get his direct comment and counsel on our situation, and there can be no doubt in our minds what that advice is. Going it alone in spiritual matters is dangerous.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, pages 59-60.

But that just means that it will be your sponsor who decides what God said and what God wishes for you to do. You start off being told to listen to the voice of God, but end up being told to listen to your sponsor.

  • When did that sponsor become qualified to interpret messages from God for you?
  • So just where did your sponsor get his religious education?
  • What seminary did he attend, and when did he graduate?
  • What religion ordained him as a priest or minister, qualified to interpret the words of God for you?
  • And how do we know that he won't take advantage of the situation while he is giving you his interpretation of The Word of God? How do you know that he isn't a thief or a sexual predator? Can you really trust that stranger with your life?
And that's yet another Alcoholics Anonymous bait-and-switch trick:
  • First, they tell you that you are supposed to listen to the Voice of God, and do what He says.
  • And then Bill Wilson tells you to listen to the voice of your sponsor and the other group elders, and do what they say.

Bill Wilson copied this bait-and-switch trick from the Oxford Group, along with all of the other theology of Buchmanism:

Dr. Herbert Hensley Henson, the Bishop of Durham, pointed out that Buchman's doctrine of Checking Guidance created a great contradiction:

      In the Groupist system, although the individual is encouraged to attach Divine authority to the 'luminous thoughts' which visit the mind during the 'Quiet Time', and may be written down in his 'Guidance Book', and although he is urged to govern his daily course, even in the pettiest details and in spite of the dislocation of carefully-prearranged engagements which may be entailed by his obedience to their direction, external authority is not lacking. Above the Groupist there is the Group to which he is attached, and beyond the Group there is an 'Inner Group' over which Dr. Buchman himself presides, and whose decisions are final. Groupism is thus a closed system, as close-knit and dominating as that of the Jesuits, which leaves to the individual Groupist little liberty and no ultimate responsibility. In a recently published letter, expressed with gravity and restraint, twelve Evangelical clergymen resident in Oxford have instanced this aspect of the Movement as one of the objections which may be fairly urged against it:

'They [sc. the Groups] insist that individual guidance must be "checked" (i.e. tested and approved) by the collective guidance of the Group, with ultimate reference to the "Inner Group" of which Dr. Buchman is the head. Loyalty to the Group — as being directly controlled by the Holy Spirit — is the dominating factor in determining the actions and choices of its members.'

      We seem to be contemplating a paradox. A religious movement which begins by ignoring all existing systems, and claims to have none of its own, ends by becoming a system more despotic than any! In order to 'check' the marching orders from on high which the Groupist has been taught to count upon, and which in fact he claims to have received, the movement has found itself forced to create a 'checking' machinery which robs the Groupist of his private judgement, and binds him to an unquestioning obedience to the verdicts of another authority than that of the 'luminous thought' which he was originally required to look on as Divine!
The Oxford Groups; The Charge Delivered At The Third Quadrennial Visitation Of His Diocese Together With An Introduction, Herbert Hensley Henson, D.D., 1933, pages 72-73.

Indeed. "A system more despotic than any!" It would seem that Frank Buchman got to over-ride "the Word of God" whenever he felt like it. No matter what "God" seemed to have said to a Group member during his Quiet Time, it was Frank Buchman and his lieutenants who got to decide what God really said.

That is a classic example of a bait and switch trick — you start off being told to listen to God, but you end up being told to listen to the cult leader — and Alcoholics Anonymous still uses the same trick today.

The individual ... is merged into the group, the 'Cell', the state, and as such is bound into a system more analogous to the polity of bees or ants than anything properly human. The Buchmanite group reminds us irresistably of the Russian soviet, and "Frank's" sovereignty in the one system is not wholly unlike that of Lenin or Stalin in the other.
The Oxford Groups; The Charge Delivered At The Third Quadrennial Visitation Of His Diocese Together With An Introduction, Herbert Hensley Henson, D.D., 1933, page 48.

There is also another contradiction here: We are supposed to be "praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out." This is classic Buchmanism. In Buchmanism, you are not supposed to pray for anything for yourself. You can forget about Janis Joplin's funny song, "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a color TV..." It shouldn't apply to good Buchmanites.

But in Step Seven, we specifically make a huge request for something for ourselves — we make an extremely selfish request — we ask God to perform a miracle for us, to interfere with physical reality and change us into something much greater: a creature without "moral shortcomings" or "defects of character" — an alcoholic who does not drink alcohol any more.

And, for that matter, we also want God to manage our lives and make us quit drinking in Step One, restore us to sanity in Step Two, and take good care of our wills and our lives for us in Step Three, so we really want God to be doing lots of work for us. God will be waiting on us hand and foot.

So which is it, praying only for "knowledge of God's will and the power to carry it out", or also selfishly praying for the miraculous transformation of ourselves into superior spiritual beings, and praying for God to take care of us and solve our problems?

Well, Bill Wilson wrote that it was the latter. His Third Step Prayer begs God to:

Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
The Big Book, 3rd edition, William G. Wilson, page 63.

Notice how cleverly Bill Wilson argued that God should do big favors for him so that God would look better to prospective new recruits.

Step 11 reveals a complete lack of humility in A.A. Bill Wilson loved to brag about humility, but that is a sham.

We are told in Al-Anon that there can be no progress without humility. This idea is confusing to many at first, and it almost always encounters a stubborn resistance in us. "What!" we say, "am I supposed to be a submissive slave to my situation and accept everything that comes, however humiliating?" No. True humility does not mean a meek surrender to an ugly, destructive way of life. It means surrender to God's will, which is quite a different thing. Humility prepares us for the realization of God's will for us; it shows us the benefits we gain from doing away with self-will. We finally understand how this self-will has actually contributed to our distress.
One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, 1990, page 61.

(Notice the word redefinition game: "Humility" does not mean "surrender to God's will".)

So it is that we first see humility as a necessity.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, page 73.

In truth, the A.A. attitude is, "I am so holy and so special that I have a direct hotline to God, and He gives me his personal attention, and God talks to me and gives me instructions and wisdom, and work orders and the power to carry them out, while God ignores six billion other less-worthy souls. Not only that, I am also very, very humble."

That is not humility, that is extreme arrogance and delusions of grandeur.

**     And the Devil did grin, for his darling sin,
**     is pride that apes humility.
**        ==  Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Devil's Thoughts

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.

Did you get that "spiritual awakening" when you plugged that frayed old extension cord into the wall? Or did you use hallucinogenic drugs, like Bill Wilson did?

You want me to be a missionary and carry a message to all of my old drinking buddies? Okay, how about, "A.A. is crazy. Stay away." No way am I going to recruit all of my friends for this cult religion.

And there are actually no real "principles" here to practice. The Twelve Steps are not spiritual principles; they are the cult religion practices of Dr. Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman and William Griffith Wilson. Frank Buchman routinely called his group practices "spiritual principles", and Bill Wilson just copied his wording.

Complaining about helplessness and wallowing in guilt are not spiritual principles that one can practice for life. Narcissistically demanding that God take care of your will and your life for you, and solve all of your problems for you, is not "practicing spiritual principles".

Here are some spiritual principles that you can live by, and practice in all of your affairs:

  • Thou shalt not steal.
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  • Those shalt not lie.
  • Those shalt not deceive others in order to get them to join your religion.
  • Thou shalt not commit murder.
  • Play fair.
  • Be nice.
  • Never forget a debt; always forgive a debtor.
  • A stitch in time saves nine.
  • Love thy neighbor as thy self.
  • Love thy God as thy self.
  • Be tolerant of your friends' and neighbors' faults and weaknesses.
  • Look for the best in others, not the worst.
  • Never miss the opportunity to do someone a kindness; always skip the opportunity to be unkind and cause someone pain.
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • Be compassionate.
  • Do not take part in racism or religious bigotry.
  • Honesty is the best policy.

See the difference?

Also see the Twelve-Step list and commentary in the file "A.A.-Booster Pseudo-Science".

For a far less serious look at the Twelve Steps, try The Thirteen Steps.


1) "Symptom":   Both Bill Wilson and Marty Mann misused the word "symptom". According to Ms. Mann, from reading the Big Book, she learned that alcoholism is ...

... an actual disease that has a name and symptoms like diabetes or cancer or TB.
The Big Book, Marty Mann, page 227 of the 3rd edition.

The symptoms of a disease are those things that the patient complains about, like "My throat hurts. I feel awful." A doctor observes the signs of a disease, like "The patient's temperature is 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and he is flushed and sweating, his throat is red, and the lab tests say that he has a streptococcus infection."

If alcoholism were really a spiritual disease that is caused by sin, as Bill Wilson claimed, then drinking alcohol would be a sign of the underlying spiritual disease, not a symptom.

And a disease that has only symptoms is called a hysterical illness. They say that it's all in your head. I never heard a competent doctor declare that alcoholism was a hysterical illness.

2) Nan Robertson, Getting Better Inside Alcoholics Anonymous, page 43.

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Last updated 5 January 2015.
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