A.A. and Religion Today
Copyright 2008 by Anonymous. All rights reserved
A.A. is a religion
I think it fair to say that those who claim A.A. is not a religion are probably those who do not want A.A. to be a religion. Also those who don’t realize that it doesn’t matter a whit whether A.A. is or isn’t a religion. Days, months, and many recent years have been fruitlessly devoted to arguing that A.A. is not a religion.
What A.A. literature says: Take a look first at the Third Edition of A.A.’s basic text and personal stories, which contain these statements:
“They had told of a simple religious idea and a practical program of action” (3rd ed., p. 9)
“It began to look as though religious people were right after all” (3rd ed., p. 11)
“Of necessity there will have to be discussion of matters medical, psychiatric, social, and religious” (3rd ed., p. 19)
“Not all of us join religious bodies, but most of us favor such memberships” (3rd ed., p. 28)
“Is it possible that all the religious people I have known are wrong?” (3rd ed., p. 56)
“If we belong to a religious denomination which requires a definite morning devotion, we attend to that also” (3rd ed., p. 87)
“If not members of religious bodies, we sometimes select and memorize a few set prayers which emphasize the principles we have been discussing (3rd ed., p. 87)
“Be quick to see where religious people are right” (3rd ed., p. 87)
“The big A.A. book had not been written and there was no literature except various religious pamphlets” (3rd ed., p. 291)
“Dr. Bob always emphasized the religious angle very strongly, and I think it helped” (3rd ed., p. 292).
“Our more religious members call it ‘God-consciousness’.” (3rd ed., p. 570)
Read my titles Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed.; Anne Smith’s Journal, 3rd ed.; The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed.; The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible; 2d ed,; The James Club and The Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials; Real Twelve Step Fellowship History, God and Alcoholism, and The Conversion of Bill W. (http://www.dickb.com/titles.shtml). There you will find hundreds of documented statements about early A.A. and the Bible, its old fashioned prayer meetings, required conversions to Jesus Christ, its Biblical references, and even the very name (“James Club”—from the Book of James in the Bible) that AAs favored as the name for their Society.
Co-founder Dr. Bob’s own personal story set the frame and religious challenge:
“If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you. . . . Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!” (3rd ed., p. 181)
Co-founder Bill Wilson explained in the following words his own cure by the power of God:
“Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people” (3rd ed., p. 191)
The point is not whether A.A. is a religion. It is. Nor is the point that A.A. is allied with some particular sect or denomination. It isn’t. The point is that its own Bible roots, its own religious practices, its own history of religious conversions, and the words of its own founders show that this “unique” religion was and is in fact a religion—whatever importance that fact may have in helping the still suffering alcoholic to be cured. In fact, early members called themselves a “Christian Fellowship.” Likened to the meetings described in the Book of Acts, the organization could hardly escape the religious label.
The “religion” findings and rulings in six court decisions: The United States Court of Appeals
for the Ninth Circuit has now joined four other courts in ruling that Alcoholics Anonymous is a
religion.and therefore that government compulsion of A.A. attendance violates the First
Amendment of the
Recently, Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D., and Charles Bufe with Archie Brodsky published their title Resisting 12-Step Coercion: How to Fight Forced Participation in AA, NA, or 12-Step Treatment (
Kerr v. Farrey (1996). The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (
Warner v. Orange County Department of Probation (1999). The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed 2-1 a district court ruling that recommending an inmate plaintiffs participation in Alcoholics Anonymous as a condition of probation violated the Establishment Clause (p. 118)
The four decisions do not stand alone of this matter of A.A.’s religious character.
De Stefano v. Emergency Housing Corp (2002). The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit determined that A.A. is a religious activity and accordingly OASAS funding of providers who mandate patient participation in A.A. and, by extension, other government funding of providers who mandate participation in A.A. is a violation of the principle of separation of Church and State (This is a summary taken from Volume 8 of Visions, July, 2002, published by NAATP).
“Appeals court says requirement to attend AA unconstitutional” Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer [
Chronicle, September 8, 2007] San Francisco
“Saturday, September 8, 2007
“Alcoholics Anonymous, the renowned 12-step program that directs problem drinkers to seek help from a higher power, says it's not a religion and is open to nonbelievers. But it has enough religious overtones that a parolee can't be ordered to attend its meetings as a condition of staying out of prison, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
“In fact, said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
“Rulings from across the nation since 1996 have established that ‘requiring a parolee to attend religion-based treatment programs violates the First Amendment,’ the court said. ’While we in no way denigrate the fine work of (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous), attendance in their programs may not be coerced by the state’."
The authoritative status of these six decisions has yet to be decided by the United States Supreme Court as far as the First Amendment aspect is concerned. But the factual determinations are persuasive on the question of A.A. as a religion.
Tribunal after tribunal has taken a look at the Big Book and its 400 references to God; a look at the Twelve Steps and their unmistakable references to God and the Biblical phrase
“Father of light,” the prayers in A.A. meetings; and the language which puts the steps on a path to a relationship with God. While there has been much sympathy for the A.A. cause by various courts in various jurisdictions, the majority see A.A. as a religion; and so do I. In fact, when I was practicing law, a distinguished
A.A.’s basic text provides a conclusive answer to the reasoning mind: Compared to the ruling that a humanist organization is religious, even these obfuscations do not remove A.A. from the religion category. In fact, I have found no significant writing between 1935 and 1939 that alters the Big Book declarations which explicitly speaks of “that Power, which is God” (3rd ed., p. 46), saying, “Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God” (3rd ed., p. 29), and “many hundreds of people are able to say that the consciousness of the Presence of God is today the most important fact of their lives” (3rd ed., p. 51), and “Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us” (3rd ed., p. 77), and “How can I best serve Thee—Thy will (not mine) be done” (3rd ed., p. 85). In fact, many an AA goes into a church and kneels to say his “Third Step Prayer.” Bill adds: “We never apologize to anyone for depending upon our Creator. We can laugh at those who think spirituality the way of weakness. . . The verdict of the ages is that faith means courage. All men of faith have courage. They trust their God. We never apologize for God’ (3rd ed., p. 68).
And how much more time will be spent by good-hearted people denying the obvious. The real question is not what A.A. is or what it isn’t. The real point posed by Hebrews 11:6 and by Rev. Sam Shoemaker and by Bill Wilson in the Big Book is that God either is, or He isn’t. Bill added, “We had to have God’s help” (p. 62). The alcoholic has a choice. According to A.A.’s basic text, he can choose to believe that God is, and rewards those who diligently seek Him; or he can go on to the disaster, destruction, and even death yielding to temptation and resuming self-destruction.
A Probable Suffering Newcomer Viewpoint
My own experience: I didn’t come into A.A. looking for a religion. I already had one—the Christian religion. I didn’t come into A.A. thinking I was joining a church. I already belonged to one—a community church in
I simply had one objective at the beginning—to feel better than I did. Quickly I got the point that alcohol and sleeping pills might possibly be at the heart of my troubles, and that quitting these was part of the game. My understanding of the miseries of alcoholism was hastened when I had three grand mal seizures in the first week, was taken to ICU in an ambulance, and wound up in a 28 day treatment program—but only after I had met and grabbed a sponsor who insisted that I was to attend an A.A. meeting every day. That’s something I did before I had the seizures. And that’s something I did for many years after I left the treatment center. Turning to God later became a necessity to whip the fear, the depression, the anxiety, and the seemingly insuperable problems. I did so with my sponsor and his sponsor battling my religious inclinations at every opportunity. That was 21 years ago. I am fully enthusiastic about A.A. I am fully recovered, and I have been healed of alcoholism—this despite the fact that modern A.A. literature says you can’t be cured. And to make a long story short, I wasn’t cured by quitting drinking. I wasn’t cured by going to meetings. I wasn’t cured by studying the Big Book and taking the Twelve Steps. I wasn’t cured by finding some absurd “higher power,” or by attaining “spirituality,” or by relying on a light bulb or a tree or a group or “something” or “somebody.” No. I was cured by Almighty God; and so were the early A.A. pioneers between 1935 and 1938.
The earliest message in pioneer A.A. and the optional message today: Early AAs had to be told about and renounce alcohol as their nemesis, their temptation, their poison. Most had to be hospitalized to avoid the seizures that I had naively walked through. Most had to be introduced to God at the earliest possible moment. Dr. Bob’s most significant question at the close of brief early hospitalization was: “Do you believe in God?” And there was only one satisfactory answer. When Ebby Thacher witnessed to Bill Wilson and said “I’ve got religion,” Bill noticed what had happened. Ebby declared to Bill that God had done for him what he hadn’t been able to do for himself. Bill went to Calvary Rescue Mission, knelt at the altar, accepted Christ, wrote “I’ve got religion” and also that he was “born again.” At