Alcoholics Anonymous a new religion? A competitor of
these misgivings had real substance, they would be serious
indeed. But, Alcoholics Anonymous cannot in the least
be regarded as a new religion. Our Twelve Steps have
no theological content, except that which speaks of
"God as we understand Him." This means that each individual
AA member may define God according to whatever faith
or creed he may have. Therefore there isn't the slightest
interference with the religious views of any of our
membership. The rest of the Twelve Steps define moral
attitudes and helpful practices, all of them precisely
Christian in character. Therefore, as far as the steps
go, the steps are good Christianity, indeed they are
good Catholicism, something which Catholic writers have
affirmed more than once.
Neither does AA exert the slightest religious authority
over its members. No one is compelled to believe anything.
No one is compelled to meet membership conditions. No
one is obliged to pay anything. Therefore we have no
system of authority, spiritual or temporal, that is
comparable to or in the least competitive with the Church.
At the center of our society we have a Board of Trustees.
This body is accountable yearly to a Conference of elected
Delegates. These Delegates represent the conscience
and desire of AA as regards functional or service matters.
Our Tradition contains an emphatic injunction that these
Trustees may never constitute themselves as a government
- they are to merely provide certain services that enable
AA as a whole to function. The same principles apply
at our group and area level.
Dr. Bob, my co-partner, had his own religious views.
For whatever they may be worth, I have my own. But both
of us have gone heavily on the record to the effect
that these personal views and preferences can never
under any conditions be injected into the AA program
as a working part of it. AA is a sort of spiritual kindergarten,
but that is all. Never should it be called a religion.
(The 'Blue Book', Vol.12, 1960)
Anonymous is not a religious organization; there is
no dogma. The one theological proposition is a "Power
greater than one's self." Even this concept is forced
on no one. The newcomer merely immerses himself in our
society and tries the program as best he can. Left alone,
he will surely report the onset of a transforming experience,
call it what he may. Observers once thought A.A. could
only appeal to the religiously susceptible. Yet our
membership includes a former member of the American
Atheist Society and about 20,000 others almost as tough.
The dying can become remarkably open-minded. Of course
we speak little of conversion nowadays because so many
people really dread being God-bitten. But conversion,
as broadly described by James, does seem to be our basic
process; all other devices are but the foundation. When
one alcoholic works with another, he but consolidates
and sustains that essential experience. (Amer. J. Psych.,
Vol. 106, 1949)