"It's Spiritual, Not Religious"

      One of the standard Alcoholics Anonymous claims is that it is "spiritual, not religious." That supposedly means that A.A. has no religious dogma or tenets, and is not in competition with other churches. And A.A. claims that it should not be limited by the laws that demand separation of church and state, because A.A. is not a church or a religion.

But the distinction between "religious" and "spiritual" is completely artificial, and quite meaningless, and is as phony as a three-dollar bill.


AA has been called religious for 60 years, and rightfully so, for its founder admitted as much, at least when denying it wouldn't have served him.

Bill Wilson at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in March, 1943:

"Divine Aid was A.A.'s greatest asset."
"An alcoholic is a fellow who is 'trying to get his religion out of a bottle,' when what he really wants is unity within himself, unity with God."
"There is a definite religious element here."

In The Way Home, a book put out by The Hazelden Foundation, we get the following lecture in a fictitious "group therapy" session:

        "Liz, Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritual program, not a religious one. It is important to note the difference. Let's try this," Jerry said. He wrote two words on the top of the easel and drew a line down the middle. One column was titled "Religion" and the other "Spirituality." "Let's go around the room and say words that we associate with religion and with spirituality." The women called out their answers, and he recorded a long list for each of the words:

God God, Higher Power
Church Centered
Sacraments Serenity
Confession New Age
Organization Peace
Guilt Connected
Black and white Inner strength
Punishing Trust
Penance Lack of stress
Showy, rituals The stars and the universe
Priests, ministers, men Earth
Laws and commandments Rivers, streams, lakes
Fundamentals Acceptance
Patriarchy Blue water, rain

        "Notice the difference between these two lists," the chaplain said to the women. Liz was amazed at how distinct the meanings were for all of them.
        "Religion is more structured and external. Spirituality is freer, more personal, broader. Ideally," Jerry added, "religion helps you achieve spirituality, but if it doesn't, then set it aside for a while."
The Way Home, A Collective Memoir of the Hazelden Experience, Hazelden, 1997, page 109.

What incredible propaganda. Notice that the whole drift of this lecture is to teach us that religion is bad, and Alcoholics Anonymous is good. But "Chaplain Jerry" actually has the labels reversed — the "Religion" column describes Alcoholics Anonymous far more accurately than does the "Spirituality" column:

  • It is Alcoholics Anonymous that pushes confession, guilt, and penance, far more than any of the mainstream religions do:

    • The Baptists, Unitarians, and Episcopalians don't tell you to make lists of every sin you've ever committed in your entire life, but A.A. does:

      Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions.
      First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.
            Resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick.
      We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty.
      The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 5, How It Works, pages 64-65.

      Sometimes we think fear ought to be classed with stealing. It seems to cause more trouble.
            We reviewed our fears thoroughly. We put them on paper, even though we had no resentment in connection with them.
      Now about sex. Many of us needed an overhauling there.
      The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 5, How It Works, pages 67-68.

      If we have been thorough about our personal inventory, we have written down a lot. We have listed and analyzed our resentments. We have begun to comprehend their futility and their fatality. We have commenced to see their terrible destructiveness. We have begun to learn tolerance, patience, and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people.
      The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 5, How It Works, page 70.

      (Curiously, Bill Wilson was listing how sick and flawed and bad we are, and then he suddenly declared that our enemies are sick people. What?)

    • The Presbyterians, Lutherans and Catholics don't make you confess every sin you ever committed in your whole life to another member of the congregation who is not even ordained clergy and sworn to secrecy, but A.A. does.

      Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
      The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 5, How It Works, page 59.
      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.
      The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 6, Into Action, page 75.

      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? How could we be certain that we had made a true catalog of our defects and had really admitted them, even to ourselves?
      Hence it was most evident that a solitary self-appraisal and the admission of our defects based upon that alone, wouldn't be nearly enough. We'd have to have outside help if we were surely to know and admit the truth about ourselves — the help of God and another human being. Only by discussing ourselves, holding nothing back, only by being willing to take advice and accept direction could we set foot on the road to straight thinking, solid honesty, and genuine humility.
      Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William Wilson, page 59.

      Yes, you won't be humiliated enough by just confessing your sins to yourself and God. You must also grovel before one of the old-timers, to complete your subjugation.
      ("Luke, you must come over to the Dark Side and kneel before the Emperor.")

    • The Methodists, Quakers, and Shakers don't tell you to make lists of everyone you ever harmed or offended, to whom you must make amends (do penance). But Alcoholics Anonymous does — it's Steps Eight and Nine.

      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 whenever possible, except when to do so would harm them or others.
      The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 6, Into Action, page 59.

    • The whole Alcoholics Anonymous program is designed to induce guilt, and then use guilt to manipulate people's minds.
      (Remember that guilt induction and confession sessions were the two essential elements of the Red Chinese brainwashing program. And Prof. Margaret Thaler Singer added "Induce a sense of guilt and helplessness." Step One takes care of that — it requires that members officially admit that they are powerless over alcohol.)

      Seven of the Twelve Steps, Steps Four through Ten, dwell on sins, "defects of character", "moral shortcomings", "the exact nature of our wrongs", offenses, people we have harmed, and more wrongs.

      And Bill Wilson just raved non-stop about how bad, stupid, selfish, angry, resentful, and inferior all of us alcoholics are:

      • Your best thinking got you here.

      • How persistently we claim the right to decide all by ourselves just what we shall think and just how we shall act.
        ...but ...how well does it actually work? One good look in the mirror ought to be answer enough for any alcoholic.
        Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William Wilson, pages 36-37.

      • We want to find exactly how, when, and where, our natural desires have warped us.
        Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William Wilson, p.43.

      • Alcoholics especially should be able to see that instinct run wild in themselves is the underlying cause of their destructive drinking.
        Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William Wilson, p.44.

      • Selfishness — self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.
        So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so.
        The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 5, How It Works, page 62.

    • Then the A.A. literature really lays on The Big Guilt Trip:

      "After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol."
      The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 7, Working With Others, page 103.

      "The head of the house ought to remember that he is mainly to blame for what befell his home. He can scarcely square the account in his lifetime."
      The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 9, The Family Afterward, page 127.

      First, Bill Wilson told you, in Step One, that you were powerless over alcohol, so you couldn't help it — you weren't responsible for your actions. But then he pulls a bait-and-switch stunt on you, and tells you that it's all your own fault, and you have been so bad that you can scarcely make amends, even if you try for the rest of your life. Are you starting to feel guilty?

  • You want "Black and white"? Few mainstream churches push absolute black-and-white thinking to the degree that A.A. does. A.A. pushes it like only a cult religion can do it.

    • "Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic." The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 3, More About Alcoholism, page 33.

    • "It's Alcoholics Anonymous or else!" The Big Book, 3rd Edition, anonymous, Chapter C10, page 378.

    • "Work the Steps or Die!"

    • "You must totally abstain from drinking alcohol, and maintain absolute sobriety, or else you lose all of your clean and sober time. One drink, one drunk."

    • "The fellowship isn't perfect, but the program is perfect."

    • "The program never fails anyone. People just fail the program."

    • "None of us in Alcoholics Anonymous is normal. Our abnormality compels us to go to AA... We all go because we need to. Because the alternative is drastic, either A.A. or death."
      Delirium Tremens, Stories of Suffering and Transcendence, Ignacio Solares, Hazelden, 2000, page 27.

  • You want "Sacraments" and "Laws and commandments"?

    • Ever heard of The Twelve Steps and The Twelve Traditions?

    • Do mainstream religions start every single church service or meeting by reading the Ten Commandments out loud? No.
      Does A.A. start every single meeting by reading their commandments, The Twelve Steps and The Twelve Traditions, out loud? Yes — an emphatic YES. Always.

    • And every A.A. meeting is started by reading lists of Bill Wilson's lies, deceptions, and delusions from pages 58 through 60 of "the Big Book" Alcoholics Anonymous, the Holy Scriptures of the church.

      • They start with the claim that everybody at the meeting got sober by doing the Twelve Steps.

      • They claim that A.A. is a program of rigorous honesty.

      • They say, "If you want what we have, and are willing to go to any length to get it, then you are ready to take certain steps" — The Twelve Steps.

      • They say that you must be "fearless and thorough"; "half measures will avail you nothing."

      • And then they recite their outrageous 'nobody fails but the dishonest people' doctrine, playing the 'blame the victim when the program fails' game.

        RARELY HAVE we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.
        The Big Book, William G. Wilson, Chapter 5, How It Works, page 58.

        It seems to be the A.A. true believers who are "constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves."
        They are less than "rigorously honest" about their failure rate at the start of every meeting — the program really fails for at least 95% of all alcoholics, probably 99.9%, because more than 90% are gone within the first three months, and more than 95% are gone within the first year. Then attrition takes care of the rest. Old-timers with 20 or 30 years are as rare as hen's teeth. Only one or two in a thousand newcomers makes it for 20 years. Those few are mostly just the people who are really in love with cult religion.

        But A.A. still starts every meeting with the standard line about
        "RARELY HAVE we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path."

        De Nile isn't just a river in Egypt.

      • And then they read an arrogant statement that if you disagree with any of Bill Wilson's grandiose proclamations, and decide not to participate in his Buchmanite program — if you "balk" at some of his Steps — then you are guilty of thinking that you can "find an easier, softer way". (It's never, "You are guilty of thinking that you can find a better way.")
        At some of these [steps] we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way.
        The A.A. Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 5, "How It Works", page 58.
        They never honestly admit that some people may honestly see something very wrong with the mind-bending program of a dishonest cult religion. They just sanctimoniously accuse dissidents of being soft and lazy and trying to avoid "the hard work".

        De Nile isn't just a river in Egypt.

    • The Twelve Steps are a recipe for building a cult religion, not a formula for quitting drinking. The Twelve Steps are really just a verbose restatement of the cult-building practices of Frank Buchman's Oxford Group cult religion. Bill Wilson's Twelve Steps are not even original material.

      • The Twelve Steps don't even mention quitting drinking, or recovery or health, but they do mention God, directly or indirectly, in 6 of the 12 steps. The Ten Commandments of Judeo-Christian religions mention God fewer times than that — only 4 or 5 of the 10 commandments refer to God, directly or indirectly* — but the A.A. true believers still insist that A.A. is not a religion.

      • Again, seven of the Twelve Steps, Steps Four through Ten, are designed to induce guilt by dwelling on all of our past sins, "defects of character", "moral shortcomings", "the exact nature of our wrongs", everybody we ever harmed, and then some more wrongs.

      • The Twelve Steps tell people to surrender their wills and their lives to God, to pray to God, and then tell them how to pray and what to pray for, but the A.A. true believers still insist that A.A. is not a religion.

      • Then Step Twelve tells the believers to go recruit more members — to "carry the message to those alcoholics who still suffer." That is essential for building any cult.

    • Some groups even read The Promises out loud at the start of every meeting, as well. The Promises are just some more of Bill Wilson's deluded wishful thinking, but A.A. true believers insist that The Promises are inspired scripture.

    • Last but not least, there is the sacrament of confession. A.A. practices confession far more than even the Catholic Church does. In A.A., you are supposed to confess everything you ever did wrong in your whole life in the Fifth Step, and then you continue to confess everything in the Tenth Step. (And you confess everything to someone who isn't even an ordained Priest or sworn to secrecy.)

    That's enough "Sacraments, Laws and Commandments" to choke a horse.

  • You want "Ritual"? I just described a ritual. Every A.A. meeting is a ritual, begun by praying and incanting the magical Steps and Traditions, followed by reciting cult dogma about how the program never fails, except for the unworthy people... Then the ritual continues with the public confession session, and ends with more prayer.

  • You want "Punishing"? The A.A. system of rewards and punishments is subtle but powerful. First off, abstainers are rewarded with tokens or coins and applause and congratulations for sober time accumulated. Then, newcomers are gradually steered towards what they are supposed to "share" when they are called upon to speak, just by how the other people react to what they say. A room full of true believers can be very intimidating. They will coldly glare at you if you say the wrong things, or smile and bathe you in warm, loving looks if you say what they want to hear.

    In addition, sponsors will either praise or harshly criticize their sponsees in order to get conformity and proper behavior. All of this is enforced with the threat of death: either do what you are told, or you will relapse and die drunk (the ultimate punishment), they say.

    And, if you do not please your sponsor, he or she can fire you, and leave you to fend for yourself. That can be terrifying to a newcomer who fears for his life.

    People who have been sentenced to A.A. by a judge or parole officer face much greater threats of punishment: either please your sponsor so that he sends in good reports on you, or else you will get thrown in jail.

  • You want "Priests, ministers, men"? They are called "old-timers", "elder statesmen" (12X12, page 135), and "elders" (12X12, pages 142-144). They are mostly men. The host of High Priests starts with the dead "saints" William Griffith Wilson and Doctor Robert Smith and the other dead earliest members, and then includes all of the oldest still-living old-timers, those rare old dinosaurs with 30, 40 or more years of sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous... And then the 'local priests' are the resident old-timers, whoever has the most time.

  • About "church": It is very hypocritical of the Twelve-Steppers to criticize churches for having church buildings, and meeting in church buildings, when A.A. then meets in their basements. But they do it. They somehow imagine that they are morally superior to the people who own the buildings where they meet, because the other people own the buildings.
    "Well yeh, they are formal, and organized, and have church buildings, while we are free and open."
    That's really a crazy granfalloon.

  • As far as organization goes, A.A. is totally organized and legally incorporated, in spite of the tradition that says that it isn't supposed to be organized — Tradition Nine. Alcoholics Anonymous has two national headquarters, one for Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. and one for the General Service Organization. They also have between $6 and $10 million stashed in the bank, and they have executives, a board of trustees who each get $75,000 per year, and a national council, and regional, state, and local offices. Tradition Nine says, "A.A., as such, ought never be organized", but they don't follow that tradition any more than they follow the others. It's organized.

    And on another level, there is the sponsorship system, through which people can trace their genealogy in the tree of sponsorship all the way back to the founders William Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith. A.A. is all completely organized in a pyramid-shaped power structure. Most members have a sponsor, and the A.A. literature like the Big Book and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions exhorts followers to do whatever their sponsors say:

    • A willingness to do whatever I was told to do simplified the program for me.
      The Big Book, 3rd Edition, anonymous, Chapter C10, It Might Have Been Worse, page 381.

    • 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, 3rd Edition, anonymous, Chapter C4, The Housewife Who Drank At Home, page 340.

  • As far as Patriarchy goes, there are few things more patriarchal than Alcoholics Anonymous and its Twelve Steps, which force a dictatorial Old-Testament patriarchal male God on us:
    • "as we understood Him" in Steps Three and Eleven.
    • Step Seven: "Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings."
    • Step Eleven: "...praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out."
    • The Third Step Prayer has you grovelling before Him so much that you will wear holes in the knees of your pants:

      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, Chapter 5, How It Works, page 63.

    In fact, A.A.-cofounder "Doctor Bob" — Robert Holbrook Smith — was opposed to even letting women into the all-male A.A. organization back in the early days:

    The young were not welcome then. The feeling was they had not suffered enough, had not lived enough years and lost enough to have "hit bottom." Women alcoholics were not welcome either. Dr. Bob and many early members held to the Victorian idea that "nice" women weren't drunks.
    Getting Better Inside Alcoholics Anonymous, Nan Robertson, page 62.

    Things have gotten better. Women are now allowed to join, but they still aren't quite equal to men. The Alcoholics Anonymous leadership is still patriarchal and male-dominated. The current leaders of A.A., the Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Board of Trustees members, are:

    Class A — non-alcoholic Class B — alcoholic
    Allen L. Ault, Ed.D.
    Leonard M. Blumenthal, LL.D.
    Linda L. Chezem, J.D.
    Vincent E. Keefe
    Elaine McDowell, Ph.D.
    Robert O. Miller, D.D.
    George E. Vaillant, M.D.
    Charles F. Bartell
    R.J.M. (Ric) Downey
    David V. Every
    Richard F. (Dick) Gallagher
    Ronald J. Gauthier
    Phyllis A. Halliday
    John C. Koster
    Dorothy J. May
    Alex D.J. Palmer
    Robert Pelot
    Beth Rabren
    Ted Stoa
    Tony Taschner
    Gregory (Greg) Tobin

    I count 5 women and 16 men.

    Notice that we began this web page with a quote from Hazelden Foundation literature where a man was teaching a room full of women how to live. That is typical.

In fact, nothing in the "Spirituality" column describes A.A., except for the first item: A.A. does yammer about "God and Higher Powers" a lot.

  • Beautiful flowery phrases like "The stars and the universe, Earth, Rivers, streams, lakes, Blue water, and rain" do not describe Alcoholics Anonymous at all. Whom do they think they are kidding?

  • A.A. is not characterized by "new age, serene, peaceful, lack of stress, centered, connected, accepting, inner strength", or any of the rest of it.

  • "New age"? A.A. is based on Buchmanism, the Oxford Group, which was an old cult religion by 1935. And the style of that religion is far more Old Testament than it is Christian. According to A.A., God is a patriarchal, dictatorial tyrant who will kill you with a slow, painful death by alcoholism if you don't believe in Him and grovel before Him and Seek and Do His Will every day.

  • "Serene, peaceful, lack of stress"? That is wishful thinking, not the truth. I've heard far too many people crying in A.A. meetings to believe the "serenity" slogans... And the crabby old-timer who angrily lashes out at anyone who says something wrong is a standard fixture at many meetings.

  • "Acceptance"? Alas, that's just like the "unconditional love" that they brag about. See how accepting they are, or how much they unconditionally love you, when you tell them that A.A. is a religious cult, Bill Wilson was insane, and The Twelve Steps are just a formula for building a cult religion. (Just recently, I was called a "pusswad" for doing that.) Official A.A. literature documents the story of Bill Wilson driving a man out of A.A. and condemning him to death by alcohol for not believing in God the way that Bill Wilson dictated. The Big Book also tells a story of "the elders" praying to find a way to kick an unbeliever out of A.A. (and presumably send him to his death from alcoholism) while "staying tolerant and spiritual". (See the Big Book, pages 246 and 247 of the third edition, or page 228 of the 4th edition, Jim Burwell's story, "The Vicious Cycle".)

  • And "Inner Strength"? Really now. A.A. teaches just the opposite:
    • Step One demands that we confess — "admit" — that we are "powerless over alcohol." The other half of Step One, which says that "our lives had become unmanageable", leads some people to believe that they shouldn't even try to manage their own lives, because they can't. A popular A.A. slogan declares: "I pray to God every day that I never get the idea that I can run my own life."
    • Failure to admit powerlessness is considered a major moral failing, one that will doom you to relapse.
    • Step Two is just as bad: it teaches people that they are insane, and that only a Supernatural Being can restore them to sanity — which means that they are helpless, and cannot heal themselves.
    • Then Step Three teaches a lifestyle of passive dependency, where A.A. members turn control of their wills and their lives over to "the care of God as we understood Him", and they expect God to run their lives and solve all their problems for them from then on...
    • And if you "take your will back", that is supposedly another major moral failing that will doom you to relapse.
    • Steps Five and Six teach members that they have such serious moral shortcomings and defects of character that only God can fix them.
    • Bill Wilson constantly preached about how alcoholics must give up their minds, "Reason", logic, and their independent thinking and behavior, and just depend on A.A. to save them and tell them what to do.
    • Then Bill Wilson declared that depending on somebody or something else was a jolly good thing.
    • Then they construct their whole religion around the idea that we are incapable of quitting drinking, drugging, smoking, or over-eating without having God to do the quitting for us, because we are powerless over alcohol, our addictions, nicotine, and food. (That's Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous, and Over-eaters Anonymous), and we must have our sponsor and Somebody Else running our lives for us, because we are mentally incompetent, and cannot do it ourselves.
    • Bill Wilson even equated "self-reliance" with stubborn willfulness — He considered it doing one's own will rather than the Will of God. Bill denounced taking care of yourself and managing your own life as "playing God". As Bill saw it, only God (or your A.A. sponsor) has the right to tell you what to do. You don't have the right to decide for yourself what you will do with your life.

    • Bill Wilson repeatedly instructed members to become dependent upon A.A.:

      ... By so accepting our dependence on this marvel of science [electricity], we find ourselves more independent personally.   ...
            But the moment our mental or emotional independence is in question, how differently we behave. How persistently we claim the right to decide all by ourselves just what we shall think and just how we shall act.   ...   We are certain that our intelligence, backed by willpower, can rightly control our inner lives and guarantee us success in the world we live in. This brave philosophy, wherein each man plays God, sounds good in the speaking, but it still has to meet this acid test: how well does it actually work? One good look in the mirror ought to be answer enough for any alcoholic.
            ... The philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off. Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin.
            Therefore, we who are alcoholics can consider ourselves fortunate indeed.
      Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 37.

      I'm "fortunate" to be dying of alcoholism, because it will force me to become a dependent slave of Bill Wilson's wonderful group, where they will tell me what to think and what to do... After all, I don't really have the right to decide all by myself just what I shall think...

      The book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions adds this Orwellian double-think:

      Therefore dependence, as A.A. practices it, is really a means of gaining true independence of the spirit.
      Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 36.

      (Big Brother says, "Freedom is Slavery! Slavery is Freedom!")

      But dependence upon an A.A. group or Higher Power hasn't produced any baleful results.
      Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 38.

      A lot of people will disagree with that statement. Many of them are dead. Others are asking how many years it takes to deprogram from A.A. indoctrination.

      And Bill Wilson himself went into a deep clinical depression that lasted 11 years. He was so far gone that all he could do was hold his head in his hands all day long, or just lay in bed all day, and not even bother to get up. "No baleful results." Yeh, right.

      And most outrageous of all, Bill Wilson actually wrote that "No baleful results" line while he was right in the middle of his years of deep clinical depression.
      De Nile isn't just a river in Egypt.
      Bill Wilson was giving us his wishful thinking, not anything remotely resembling the truth.

      Then Bill Wilson finished his crazy sermon with this illogical psycho-babble:

      So how, exactly, can the willing person turn his will and his life over to the Higher Power?   ...   His lone courage and unaided will cannot do it. Surely he must now depend on Somebody or Something else.
      Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 39.

      What is this absurd double-talk?
      "A willing person cannot successfully use his will to turn his will over to the Higher Power?"

    • Thus, the properly-behaved A.A. member constantly confesses that he is powerless over alcohol and is incapable of running his own life, and needs his sponsor and A.A. to do his thinking for him, and says that he has no will power of his own because he gave his will away. So much for having any "inner strength".

  • And "centered and connected"? That is just some more wishful thinking... Start telling them my recovery jokes, and see how centered they stay. (Ever heard the expressions, "had a conniption", or "had a hissy-fit"?)

And then the final insult is this line:

"Ideally," Jerry added, "religion helps you achieve spirituality, but if it doesn't, then set it aside for a while."

In other words: "Chaplain Jerry of Hazelden" says that you should dump your current religion, and just believe in Alcoholics Anonymous. "For a while" will end up being "forever". They say that Alcoholics Anonymous isn't a competing religion, while they backstab and undercut the other religions. (But that comes as no great surprise, because that's what Frank Buchman's Oxford Group cult did, too, and Bill Wilson learned that stunt from them. Then Hazelden learned it from Bill Wilson.)

Then, that Hazelden propaganda book The Way Home ended that fictitious group therapy session with this hypocritical fluff:

        Next, Jerry took a medallion from his pocket and showed it to the group. "This is my medallion," he said. "It has the Roman numeral six on it and symbolizes the number of years I've been sober. On the back is a triangle that reads: 'To Thine Own Self Be True.' It appears in Hamlet. In your relationship to your inner self, this dictum is critically important. Be honest with yourself, with others, and with your Higher Power."
        "Can I see it?" Ann asked. Jerry passed it to her.
        "What do the letters H-O-W stand for?"
        "HOW the program of Alcoholics Anonymous works: Honesty, openness, and willingness," Jerry replied.
        "Cool," Ann said.
        "Yes, it is cool," Liz added.
        Ann smiled.
The Way Home, A Collective Memoir of the Hazelden Experience, Hazelden, 1997, page 110.

One last comment on that book: Notice how A.A. gets to eat its cake and have it too when Hazelden publishes pro-A.A. books — A.A. benefits from all of the ridiculous proselytizing propaganda that Hazelden publishes, but if anyone calls them on it, and criticizes them for things like back-stabbing the other religions, A.A. can claim innocence and say that they don't have any control over Hazelden, so they aren't to blame for what Hazelden says or does... That's a cute trick, isn't it? There are definite benefits to having front groups working for you.

And the truth is, A.A.W.S. — Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. — has a representative on the Hazelden Foundation Board of Directors, so A.A. most assuredly does have some control over what Hazelden does. And conversely, Hazelden is the single largest buyer and reseller of the books that A.A.W.S. publishes,1 so Hazelden has influence over A.A.W.S., too. They are very much in bed together. In many ways, for all practical purposes, Hazelden is just another front for Alcoholics Anonymous.

One of the most pervasive redefinitions in the Alcoholics Anonymous dictionary is the meaning of the word "spiritual." Spiritual seems to mean different things at different times:

  • Sometimes it means doing the Twelve Steps.
  • Sometimes it means going to meetings.
  • Sometimes it means believing in God, as "we" understand Him, or as A.A. understands Him.
  • Sometimes it means recruiting new members for the cult.
  • Sometimes, it is some kind of technology, or magic:
    "Quite as important was the discovery that spiritual principles would solve all my problems."
    (The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 3, More About Alcoholism, page 42.)
  • Sometimes, it is just part of a smug game of one-upmanship:
    "Religion is for people who are afraid of going to Hell; Spirituality is for people who have been there."
    (Which implies that A.A. people are superior to ordinary religious believers, because A.A. members aren't afraid of going to Hell any more.)

  • And sometimes "spiritual growth" or "spiritual development" means becoming a religious fanatic and obsessively devoting your whole life to A.A.:

    Assume on the other hand that father has, at the outset, a stirring spiritual experience. Overnight, as it were, he is a different man. He becomes a religious enthusiast. He is unable to focus on anything else. As soon as his sobriety begins to be taken as a matter of course, the family may look at their strange new dad with apprehension, then with irritation. There is talk about spiritual matters morning, noon and night.
    Though the family does not fully agree with dad's spiritual activities, they should let him have his head. Even if he displays a certain amount of neglect and irresponsibility towards the family, it is well to let him go as far as he likes in helping other alcoholics. During those first days of convalescence, this will do more to insure his sobriety than anything else. Though some of his manifestations are alarming and disagreeable, we think dad will be on a firmer foundation than the man who is placing business or professional success ahead of spiritual development.
    The A.A. Big Book, William G. Wilson, Chapter 9, The Family Afterward, pages 129-130.

    Yes, his manifestations are alarming and disagreeable — he is neglecting his family and career while he turns into an obsessed, monomaniacal, "religious enthusiast" who cannot focus on anything else. And then they say that A.A. is "spiritual, not religious". Huh?

And much of the A.A.-booster literature is even worse when it comes to defining "spirituality". See the article Spirituality: The key to recovery from alcoholism for an entertaining example of someone constantly flip-flopping around like a fish out of water, trying to figure out what it is.

Historically, William G. Wilson started off talking about religious experiences. That's what he felt he had on December 14, 1934. At least, that's what he thought he had after he read William James's book, The Varieties of Religious Experience in the following days. But that terminology was a problem — Bill didn't want to get into trouble with the Catholic Church, which would have then banned the organization if they felt that A.A. was a competing religion. Bill found a simple solution in the word game that the Oxford Group used: Oxford Groupers called themselves "More spiritual than religious", and Bill found it useful to extend the terminology just a little bit further, and declare that Alcoholics Anonymous was "spiritual", and not religious at all.

"The Oxford Group is not a new religion; it is religion anew."
== Oxford Group slogan

"The Oxford Group is more spiritual than religious."
== Oxford Group slogan

"The Oxford Group is not a religion..."
What Is The Oxford Group?, "By the Layman with a Notebook", 1933, page 3.

"This is not an organization, but an organism."
== MRA slogan, quoted in Inside Buchmanism, Geoffrey Williamson, 1955, page 7.

"Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization."
The A.A. Big Book Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Foreword, page XX.

"Alcoholics Anonymous is spiritual, not religious."
== A.A. slogan.

Still, Wilson's substitution of the word "spiritual" for "religious" wasn't complete. When he added an appendix to the second edition of the Big Book, rationalizing why the Twelve Steps were failing to give members religious or spiritual experiences, he wrote:

The terms "spiritual experience" and "spiritual awakening" are used many times in this book which, upon careful reading, shows that the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism has manifested itself among us in many different forms.
      Yet it is true that our first printing gave many readers the impression that these personality changes, or religious experiences, must be in the nature of sudden and spectacular upheavals. Happily for everyone, this conclusion is erroneous.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Appendix II, Spiritual Experience, page 569.

So there it is: you can get your religious experience very quickly or very slowly, but you must get one. Bill says that the goal of the Alcoholics Anonymous program is to induce religious experiences so strong that they will permanently change the personality of the newcomer and make him quit drinking forever.

Unfortunately, the technology that Bill thought he had discovered for causing such a religious experience, "completely deflating the ego", does not work at all, and is nothing but psycho-babble nonsense. Worse yet, Bill's nonsense is demonstrably harmful to many people, and has even driven people to suicide.

In those two paragraphs, Wilson used both the "spiritual experience" and "religious experience" terms. They were interchangeable, and meant the same thing, as far as Bill was concerned. Claiming that A.A. was 'not a religion' was just a word game that Bill Wilson used to hide from the newcomers the fact that A.A. was a religion. Like Wilson wrote while warning recruiters not to use religious terms which would tip off a prospective recruit about the real nature of the Alcoholics Anonymous program,

There is no use arousing any prejudice he may have against certain theological terms and conceptions about which he may already be confused. Don't raise such issues, no matter what your own convictions are.
The Big Book, William G. Wilson, 3rd & 4th Editions, page 93.

Likewise, Bill Wilson wrote that the ultimate effect of "working the program" was religious conversion. In his second book, Wilson described his experiences while indoctrinating and converting newcomers:

From great numbers of such experiences, we could predict that the doubter who still claimed that he hadn't got the "spiritual angle," and who still considered his well-loved A.A. group the higher power, would presently love God and call Him by name.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, pages 108-109.

Finally, in spite of Bill Wilson's denials, Alcoholics Anonymous is blatantly, obviously a religion. Bill Wilson left no doubt:

At the moment we are trying to put our lives in order. But this is not an end in itself. Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.
The Big Book, 3rd & 4th Editions, William G. Wilson, Chapter 6, Into Action, page 77.

But the only way that they want to "serve" other people is to convert them to Bill Wilson's religious beliefs. A.A. intends to perform no other "services" for people, because:

The minute we put our work on a service plane, the alcoholic commences to rely upon our assistance rather than upon God.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 7, Working With Others, page 98.

That's why you never see Alcoholics Anonymous doing any charitable work for the homeless people, many of whom are alcoholics. Just as Frank Buchman taught, the poor and the homeless should learn to rely on God.

One last parting comment on the "It's spiritual, not religious" slogan: They goofed and let the truth, and that nasty 9-lettered 'R'-word, slip into the Big Book in a few places:

He [Ebby Thacher] looked straight at me. Simply, but smilingly, he said, "I've got religion."
      I was aghast. So that was it — last summer an alcoholic crackpot; now, I suspected, a little cracked about religion.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William Wilson, Chapter 1, Bill's Story, page 9.

But my friend sat before me, and he made the point-blank declaration that God had done for him what he could not do for himself. [Quit drinking.]   ...
      That floored me. It began to look as though religious people were right after all.   ...   My ideas about miracles were dramatically revised right then.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William Wilson, Chapter 1, Bill's Story, page 11.

Assume on the other hand that father has, at the outset, a stirring spiritual experience. Overnight, as it were, he is a different man. He becomes a religious enthusiast. He is unable to focus on anything else.   ...   There is talk about spiritual matters morning, noon and night.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William Wilson, Chapter 9, The Family Afterward, page 129.

[At an early A.A. meeting] there was no literature except various religious pamphlets.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, page 291.

Dr. Bob always emphasized the religious angle very strongly...
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, page 292, and 4th edition, page 263.

A.A. claims that it is a "spiritual" organization, and not "religious", and not a religion, but there is no great difference between the words "religious" and "spiritual." The distinction is artificial — just another deceptive word game.

In the case of Grandberg v. Ashland County, a 1984 Federal 7th Circuit Court ruling concerning judicially-mandated A.A. attendance, the court said:

Alcoholics Anonymous materials and the testimony of the witness established beyond a doubt that religious activities, as defined in constitutional law, were a part of the treatment program. The distinction between religion and spirituality is meaningless, and serves merely to confuse the issue.
— Wisconsin's District Judge John Shabaz

All of these courts have ruled that Alcoholics Anonymous is a religion or engages in religious activities:

  • the Federal 7th Circuit Court in Wisconsin, 1984.
  • the Federal District Court for Southern New York, 1994.
  • the New York Court of Appeals, 1996.
  • the New York State Supreme Court, 1996.
  • the U.S. Supreme Court, 1997.
  • the Tennessee State Supreme Court.
  • the Federal 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, 1996.
  • the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
  • the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh District, 1996.
  • the Federal Appeals Court in Chicago, 1996.
  • the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, September 7, 2007.

The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear challenges to those rulings, or to change or over-turn those lower court decisions. By letting them stand, the Supreme Court has made them the law of the land.

But there is one very important exception to that statement — one case has been heard by the U.S. Supreme Court — the Griffin v. Coughlin decision, from the New York State Court of Appeals, 1996, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997.

In Griffin v. Coughlin, the prison inmate David Griffin complained that state prison officials in 1991 told David Griffin, a self-described atheist with a history of drug abuse, that in order to be eligible for expanded family visitation privileges, including conjugal visits, he would have to attend a prison rehabilitation program patterned after AA's 12-Step model.2

Griffin, then a prisoner at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County, refused to attend the program, contending that the 12-Step approach requires participants to express a belief in a "power greater than ourselves" and to "turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him." These requirements, his lawsuit against the state contended, violate the First Amendment's mandated separation of church and state.

Griffin lost in two lower courts, but won in New York State's highest court, the New York Court of Appeals.

In Griffin v. Coughlin, Judge Levine, writing for the court's majority, concluded that the AA program is devoted to proselytizing for a religious belief. The court's conclusion was based on its reading of several profiles of early AA members as they are set forth in the AA Big Book and the AA Twelve and Twelve.

Judge Levine said "While it is of course true that the primary objective of A.A. is to enable its adherents to achieve sobriety, its doctrine unmistakably urges that the path to staying sober and to becoming happily and usefully whole is by wholeheartedly embracing traditional theistic beliefs."

From its review of AA literature, the majority concluded that the AA Twelve Steps amount to a worship service and that the AA fellowship is dedicated to converting alcoholics to a belief in a traditional deity. Accordingly, the court found that, "The foregoing demonstrates beyond peradventure that doctrinally and as actually practiced in the 12-Step methodology, adherence to the A.A. fellowship entails engagement in religious activity and religious proselytization. Followers are urged to accept the existence of God as a Supreme Being, Creator, Father of Light and Spirit of the Universe."

When the U.S. Supreme Court heard the appeal, it sided with the atheist convict who said the New York Department of Corrections' attempt to link extra privileges for inmates with attendance at meetings modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous violated the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.3

On November 14, 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn, thus allowed to stand, a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordering that forced attendance at Narcotics Anonymous meetings end immediately, because it was a violation of Freedom of Religion. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the high courts of the states of Tennessee and New York have also made the same ruling.

Legally, Alcoholics Anonymous is established as a religious organization. And so is Narcotics Anonymous. Lawyers and judges now consider the issue "a moot point", one that is so thoroughly established that they will not argue the point again. They just accept it as a given.

Then, for a recent legal kicker, on July 31, 2001, United States District Court Judge Charles Brieant overturned the manslaughter conviction of Paul Cox because Cox had "shared" his memories of two murders with other Alcoholics Anonymous members at an A.A. meeting, and then one of those members turned him in. And at the trial, other A.A. members were subpoenaed and forced to testify against Cox.

The District Court Judge ruled that Cox's confession at the A.A. meeting was protected and inadmissible evidence, just like Catholics' confessions to their priests are protected and inadmissible in court. Judge Brieant cited a 1999 federal appeals court declaration that Alcoholics Anonymous is a religion. And then the judge threw out the conviction because it was based on inadmissible evidence.

As far as the courts of the USA are concerned, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are, beyond a doubt, organizations that engage in religious activities. And their meetings qualify as religious services. It's a done deal. Nobody denies it but Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and the other 12-Step groups.

An appeals court has overturned Judge Brieant's ruling on the grounds that Cox was not seeking religious counselling when he confessed to murder — some of his confessing to fellow A.A. members was done immediately after the A.A. meeting, and was not done while "seeking spiritual guidance".

The general opinion is that this now opens the door of the 12-Step clubhouse to legal intrusions, and anything you say in a 12-Step meeting could be, or might be, used against you in a court of law.

In fact, the police in Toronto, Canada, have been found to be sending secret agents into Narcotics Anonymous meetings to gather information on the dopers...

We don't know for sure what they are doing in the USA...

24 February 2003:
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Paul Cox. The appeals court had stopped short of deciding whether AA conversations were protected as religious speech, ruling only that the court record of the case failed to establish that Cox communicated with fellow AA members to seek spiritual guidance. The Supreme Court denied the appeal Monday without comment or hearing oral arguments in the matter, thus letting stand the decision of the appeals court.

And most recently, the Federal Appeals Court in Hawaii, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, September 7, 2007, in the Inouye v. Kemna case, ruled that any "coercing authority" can be held individually, civilly liable for the 1st Amendment constitutional rights violation that they perpetrate on people unwillingly and involuntarily forced to go to 12-Step programs. Meaning: you can sue a judge, a prison warden, a parole officer, a "counselor", or anyone else in a position of authority who forces you to go to A.A. meetings.

Also see the SMART web page about legal cases that have established that coerced A.A. meeting attendance is unConstitutional:

One last item: try to reconcile the statement, "It's spiritual, not religious," with this quote from the A.A. "Big Book":

This was such a new thought to me that I got all sorts of books on Higher Powers, and I put a Bible by my bedside, and I put a Bible in my car. It is still there. And I put a Bible in my locker at the hospital. And I put a Bible in my desk. And I put a Big Book by my night stand, and I put a "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" in my locker at the hospital, and I got books by Emmet Fox, and I got books by God-knows-who, and I got to reading all of these things.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, anonymous, Chapter C6, Physician, Heal Thyself!, Page 348.

Since when is the Bible "spiritual, not religious"?

The A.A. people are always saying that their program is "Spiritual, not Religious."

Some people were asking, "What's the difference between religion and spirituality?"

The answer is simple: "The religious people meet in a church — specifically, in the church main hall. The A.A. 'spiritual' people meet in the church basement."

Also see these letters on the subject of "it isn't religious":


* Four or five of the Ten Commandments mention God: Which it is depends on the "Honor thy mother and father" commandment. That wording doesn't mention God. But the original text in the Bible, in the book of Exodus, chapter 20, does. The modern translation reads: "Respect your father and your mother, and you will live a long time in the land I am giving you." The speaker is God, so that commandment indirectly refers to God.

12X12 = Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, published by AAWS, 1952, 1953.

1) Kurtz, in Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1991, page 281, says that one large treatment agency accounts for two thirds of the outside sales of A.A.W.S. literature. Without a doubt, that one treatment agency is Hazelden. They so aggressively redistribute A.A. literature that the California Supreme Court ordered all Hazelden and A.A. literature removed from the California schools on the grounds that Hazelden was promoting a religion.

2) Conlon, Leon S., Griffin v. Coughlin: Mandated AA meetings and the establishment clause, Journal of Church & State; Summer 1997, Vol. 39 Issue 3, p. 427, 28p.

3) Supreme Court upholds prisoner's right to refuse AA, Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly; Jan. 13, 1997, Vol. 9 Issue 2, p. 3, 3/8p.

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Last updated 11 February 2015.
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