Friday, June 26, 2009


I spent the past several days doing some "research" on material that is on the web that is negative about AA. I don't think the reason for this is particularly interesting or relevant. I won't do this stuff the favor of mentioning directly here it but there is really a lot out there - probably more that is negative about AA than what is in support of AA if search engines are to be believed.

It left me feeling sad and hurt. I spent some time thinking what I could do in response to my feelings about this research and it finally occurred to me that the best thing to do was nothing. Then, it occurred to me that this blog might be the best forum for me to do nothing on. So, here are a few responses to some of what I've seen:

Allegation: AA is a cult.

Response: While I appreciated the disparaging intention in this accusation, when I look at the definitions of cult, several definitions do fit what I generally consider a part of AA. We do like our different rituals and we do expect some general conformity from members (e.g. not drinking). There are also popular parts of our fellowship where there is guru adoration and the stuff that would be as familiar in Jim Jones' Jonestown as any AA meeting hall.

My own experience is that we "...create the fellowship (we) crave..." (Big Book, p. 164) and that I would be the 1st to criticize some of what is done in the name of AA as not conducive to my recovery from alcoholism. But, increasingly, I've seen where what seems like weird stuff to me can be useful to others. So, my general attitude is "live and let live" and look for what I can contribute in my little AA community.

Allegation: Bill and several of the co-founders were scoundrels, crooks and ill-intentioned opportunists.

Response: In a strange and perverse way, I find a great deal of comfort in hearing of how "bad" some of these folks might have been. That Bill might have been a womanizer or some of our early trustees might have been politically impure gives me a little hope. My own life, before and in recovery, has been less than stellar. I judge my moral behavior probably on a similar scale to what Bill did and the fact that we can both come up short (far short in my own case) gives me hope that I might be useful with the imperfections that I own.

Allegation: The General Service Office, AA World Services Board, AA Grapevine Board, General Services Board, and other parts of the organization are corrupt business entities.

Response: I'm pretty sure that some or all of these organizations are, by nature, self serving and that some of the individuals involved (e.g. Trustees, General Managers, etc.) may have agendas that include accumulation of wealth and fame. Again, I find some perverse satisfaction in this. I believe that, for the most part, our leadership has genuinely had their hearts in the right place - probably few, if any of them, have ever woken up in the morning and planned the demise of my beloved AA organization.

But, misguided or deliberate, I feel there is some justification of criticism where these organizations have made business decisions absent proper respect for our spiritual principles. As I've heard a number of times, what we do in service to our organization is often much less important than the way we make our decisions and do what we do. As someone who's been criticized as violating the spirit of our fellowship in business decisions I've participated in, I can appreciate the sensitivities involved in this.

However, I most fault the corporate mistakes I feel we've made (e.g. - secrecy, lawsuits, licensing, bad investments, bad priorities) with the possibility that the fellowship has never stepped up to the "ownership" of our organization as outlined in Concepts 1 & 2. There are many contemporary examples (from the 2009 General Service Conference) where the upside-down triangle of our organization (with the AA Group at the top) has been inverted in how decisions were made and setting of organizational directions. Allegedly, our organization could be completely changed or reorganized at the initiative of the Groups, given sufficient cause. It might be time to test that authority in at least some areas of interest.

It's also interesting to note that things are today as they ever were. Bill had as many or more issues with the organizations and boards that he created as any of us ever had. There is a balance and tension, by design, between the business interests and spiritual principles by which we wish to do this business. I don't think this tension is "bad" - only that, over time, it must be constantly and diligently monitored. My opinion is that we've failed to do this, as a fellowship recently (perhaps ever...).

Other allegations: There are many stories "out there" about individuals being seduced into immoral or illegal behavior by groups or individuals acting in the name of AA.

Response: I hate each and every one of these examples. I wish we could prosecute perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law and then some beyond.

However, we are a complex fellowship with sick individuals serving sick individuals. For the life of me, I don't know how to "fix" this. Truth is, I don't know that it needs to be fixed.

In my program, God is in charge of my life. From that experience, I've seen even the worst circumstances and my worst mistakes be used for my spiritual growth and betterment.

I believe that the same thing can happen to our fellowship at large. While I hate that anyone would ever be victimized by someone in the name of AA (and I know that it has happened), I don't get to see the whole picture from where I sit. If I observe it happening in my home group or Area, I will do what little I can to make up for it. I hope and pray that other members in other locations will be similarly motivated.

But, in the end, my only hope is that AA will be around as long as it's useful to God's purpose.

...and, I hope that I have the good sense to not be a member one day after AA is no longer useful to God's purposes in my life and the world...

It's the best I've got...


Syd said...

Ed, I guess that I'm surprised that there were more negative things about AA than positives. I have looked at the Orange Papers site and that is filled with a lot of negative information about AA. But again, I haven't done the extensive searching that you have.
As you said, AA is filled with those who are human and have human traits. None of us is perfect.

Mary Christine said...

One of the searches that most frequently brings people to my blog is "I hate AA" - I had a post once called "Why do people hate AA" and boy, did I get an earful! And I still do. Some people, I hate to say, have good points. In their way.

But I still say, imperfect as we are, we are the best game in town if you want to get sober and learn how to live that way.

And we will find our own level of fellowship, I believe that. If a group is abusive, why stay there? Unless, of course, you are getting something out of the abuse.

Prayer Girl said...

I have to just "keep it simple".

All I really know is that God led me to AA. Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life. I have a life second to none as I continue to live out the steps and principles of that program and pass it on to others.

My experience has been 300% positive. For me, END OF STORY!

Prayer Girl

Steve E. said...

Ed, you have done qute a bit of work on this, alerting me about something to which I have not given much thought.

I guess it has been working for me, more or less, because I'm working IT, more or less (actually, to the best I know how!)

Thanks for your research.