I’ve created this video to address what I believe are two potential pitfalls of 12-step programs: religion and cult. One of the most prominent 12-step programs is Al-Anon, which was formed in 1951, 12 years after Alcoholics Anonymous.
Many people benefit from 12-step programs, including Al-Anon, but, like any tool, knowing their limitations and characteristics helps us to use them better.
The first topic I would like to raise is ‘religion’. Al-Anon calls itself a spiritual program not based on any particular form of religion, and it is similarly structured to Alcoholics Anonymous. However, several high courts in the American judicial system have concluded that Alcoholics Anonymous is religious. So, from the judicial rulings, is it safe to conclude that Al-Anon and. perhaps. other 12-step programs are religious, too?
The second topic I would like to raise is ‘cult’. One noteworthy aspect of Al-Anon and other 12-step programs is Tradition Two. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon’s Tradition Two states that God “may express Himself in our group conscience.” If you have participated in any business meetings at the group level, you know that ‘group conscience’ is the decision of the group, usually by majority or unanimous vote. Whether or not God actually expresses Himself specifically in the conscience of the group, a running belief might be that He does, which may lend itself to deifying the majority opinion. Now, when you couple this with Step Three, which states that we “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him,” it’s natural to believe that the group’s conscience or majority rule might be an expression of God’s will, which we turn our will over to. In other words, can we submit ourselves to the group? It seems to me there is a danger in that it can weaken our own will power, and also deify more experienced members. In theory, perhaps that shouldn’t happen, but does it happen in practice?
Because each group and service arm of Al-Anon is organized independently, this video cannot be a conclusion, but the video is meant to ask the questions, and help you see potential pitfalls of Al-Anon, and other 12-step programs. Al-Anon describes itself as a fellowship, but arguably it is a religion. Many others have called Alcoholics Anonymous a cult, but whether or not it is, deifying the groups, service arms, sponsors, old-timers or anyone else, and subordinating your will to them may not be a wise practice for you.
Be careful, and consider thinking for yourself.
In conclusion, this video is meant to raise questions, and not provide answers. It can be a sensitive topic, and the best answer may come from your own personal opinion and experience.
:: Links to high-court rulings in the U.S. ::
Griffin v. Coughlin (1996):
Kerr v. Farrey (1996):
Evans v. Tennessee Board of Paroles (1997):
Warner v. Orange County Dept. of Probation (1999):
Inouye v. Kemna (2007):
:: More Links ::
What Alcoholics Anonymous Doesn’t Get Right / The Atlantic Health Forum: