AA: Good or Evil?
by Chaplain Farris Robertson
The meeting I facilitated this particular day is one of many that have been promoted as Christ-centered 12 step groups for Christians in recovery. Eventually the topic turned to meeting attendance. Two people openly admitted attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or other “secular” 12 step meetings during the week, but most of them only attended church and parachurch meetings.
I asked why and heard the normal Christian complaints about AA: AA’s “Higher Power” concept is idolatry. Only Jesus can deliver us from sin. There is too much cussing and smoking at AA meetings. They still think they’re alcoholics and call themselves that. Those people haven’t been freed from their sin and can only stay sober by attending meetings constantly.
I then asked, “Well then, is AA good or evil?” The silence betrayed their doubts. There was an emotional stirring the question caused. Saying bad things about AA seemed acceptable, but they hesitated to condemn it.
People gazed as if searching their souls for the truth. Some fidgeted. The first tentative responses were focused on the negative aspects of AA and its potential for idolatry and the harboring of unrepentant people. A few more chimed in agreement, thinking God could never approve of AA and its vague spirituality. It seemed to me the group was more easily swayed toward condemnation because there was little risk in quoting God regarding idolatry. But they were still clearly uncertain and less than smug.
These were people who had known pain in their own lives, who had battled the same difficulties and lost those battles many times. They knew how easy it was to succumb to evil, despite the fact they had Christ in their lives. They had the battle scars. They had eaten the dust of having been trampled by life and were slow to build a consensus.
But like a group of weary frontiersmen, they seemed to gather steam almost like a lynch mob, trying to prop up community thought toward a goal, clearly beset by emotionalism. Finally, one person summarized, “AA must be evil since it denies Jesus a place in their meetings.” That seemed to be the verdict, the noose was set, and the lever was about to be pulled. I waited for somebody to come back with the familiar argument, “But they close each meeting with the Lord’s Prayer.” But it seemed God had a different plan for that meeting.
A lone voice spoke up, “What about King Cyrus?” The man asking the question was one of the people in the group who had been attending AA regularly. He had been silent about whether AA was good or evil until then, but his sudden authoritative question caught us all off guard. Most of the group members had no idea what he was talking about.
He took a piece of paper out of his Bible. It was a printout of a website he had visited. He read, “After God used Nebuchadnezzar to punish His people, He raised Cyrus to deliver them from their captivity in Babylon and return them to their land. For the real Christ to be born in Bethlehem as the prophecy states, Jews had to be living in Judea. He [God] also inspired Cyrus to institute his conciliatory policy toward foreign religions so that a Temple could be built to which His Son could come.” (from: http://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/page/literature.articles.0803pw.htm)
The Spirit was on fire in this man and he continued to speak. He drew the analogy of Israel to the people in recovery, and King Cyrus was likened unto AA. He then read the same passage again with those analogical changes, “After God used King Alcohol to punish His people, He raised AA to deliver them from their captivity in Alcoholism and return them to sanity. For the real Christ to be born in One’s Life as the prophecy states, Alcoholics had to be living in sober mindedness. He also inspired AA to institute his conciliatory policy toward foreign religions so that a Soul could be built to which His Son could come.”
After a generous silence, we sat in awe as the Ancient of Ages seemed to have orchestrated a life lesson for all of us there that day. We were stunned by the analogy and tears crept down several cheeks. Many of us could finally see that we were, in fact, God’s chosen people. He had singled us out with our various maladies but brought us together in common humility, despite our self-centered theological dispositions.
I started to study the issue of good and evil in a secular world, especially regarding treatment for alcoholism and substance abuse. I found other instances where God used secular means to accomplish His will. Perhaps the most interesting study I conducted was Paul’s work in Athens. Here, Christianity was considered a foreign religion to the Greeks, just like Judaism had been considered a foreign religion by Cyrus some five centuries earlier.
While Paul was…in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. He went to the synagogue to debate…and he spoke daily in the public square…When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, "This babbler has picked up some strange ideas." Others said, "He's pushing some foreign religion."
Then they took him to the Council of Philosophers…So Paul, standing before the Council, addressed them as follows: "Men of Athens…as I was walking along I saw your many altars. And one of them had this inscription on it--`To an Unknown God.' You have been worshiping him without knowing who he is, and now I wish to tell you about him.
"He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn't live in man-made temples…His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him--though he is not far from any one of us…God overlooked people's former ignorance about these things, but now he commands everyone everywhere to turn away from idols and turn to him.” (Acts 17:16-30)
I find Paul’s use of the “Unknown God” similar to AA’s use of a Higher Power. There is only one true God and He is close to all of us, and it could only be that King of the Universe that would seek to free people from their alcoholism. Evil has no interest in seeing his slaves freed, and the secular world, with all of its psychology, hasn’t the means to free a man’s soul.
AA’s spiritual program may not be the pure form of worship we like to think we enjoy, but AA provides sobriety so that they may “feel their way toward him and find him.” Truly, that is not unlike the way God works in the background of every pre-Christian’s life. He is constantly bringing forth the circumstances that will humble us before Him and lead us into repentance. Certainly alcoholism is a humbling foe.
The AA program came out of a movement of faithful followers of Christ known as the Oxford Group. Their name prior to 1928 had been “A First Century Christian Fellowship”. In 1931 in England, a London newspaper editor, A. J. Russell, attended an Oxford Group meeting with the intention of exposing the group. But he wrote, "I came as an observer and became a convert!"
In 1932 and 1933, a former Rhode Island State Senator who was the son of wealthy mill owners, had become a hopeless alcoholic. In his quest for help he sought out the world famous psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud, but Freud was too busy to see him. Some psychiatric experts now maintain that was a blessing since the man instead consulted with the also famous Dr. Carl Jung, an advocate of spiritual experiences. It is thought that Freud would have surely mocked this man’s later spiritual conversion as neurotic.
Dr. Jung told him there was no hope for him there, and to go home and possibly find a conversion through some religious group. He did this in the Oxford Group in the United States and became sober. They taught him certain principles that he applied to his life. The principles taught were later spelled out in a talk by one of AA’s founders, Bill Wilson:
We admitted we were licked.
We got honest with ourselves.
We talked it over with another person.
We made amends to those we had harmed.
We tried to carry this message to others with no thought of reward.
We prayed to whatever God we thought there was.
Is there something ungodly in this? I had already pretty well arrived at the conclusion that portions of Christianity had been wrong to condemn AA. Only God had the right to denounce what He ordains. People had argued to me that perhaps God didn’t create AA, and I ask why Satan would want those people getting sober. What gain could there be in him releasing those enslaved? It would be a great stretch to say that Satan is sobering them up so that they can worship a godless idol. Indeed, the many people who find Christ because of their sobriety in staggering in comparison!
I asked myself why we would condemn the spiritualistic approach of AA without also condemning secular treatment methods. We seemed to tolerate treatment centers, hospitals, retreats, and mental health professionals of all varieties. The problem Christianity had with AA, I concluded, was that AA engaged in an approach that didn’t point directly to Jesus Christ as Lord.
That has troubled many a good Christian, and I can only point to God’s word about King Cyrus, and the Unknown God of Athens for answers. The fruit of AA is sobering people up where they might finally hear the Word that could never be heard in drunkenness. I say “God bless AA” and the work they do!