The Christian God of the Steps

     When people talk of AA trying to "Christianize" them, they don't mean they're instructed to cross themselves or told that Jesus is their Savior. The issue is the deity, or "higher power", required in the steps. The attributes of this deity, regardless of shallow encouragement to conceptualize it however you wish, make it a Christian deity, and specifically a Protestant-revivalist deity in the tradition of the 19th century German Pietists, on whose theology Frank Buchman's Oxford Group (parent group of AA) philosophy was based.

     Even the always-recited "Serenity Prayer", which they claim is "non-sectarian", is clearly Christian when viewed in its entirety (only the first three lines are recited en masse at AA meetings), and in fact many AA cliche's are taken directly from it. It's usually credited to the turn-of-the-century German Protestant minister Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time.

Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it be.

Knowing that He will make all things right if I but surrender to His will,
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
and supremely happy in the next.

     The Steps themselves are very heavily based on Oxford Group notions of intellectualism, individualism, and "self-will" as qualities that drive people from God and render them "insane", and on ideas of making oneself "pure" by public confession of "spiritual defects" and public "amends" so that the spirit of God will enter and give you power to discontinue that which you are "powerless" over. It's interesting to note that there are presently over 200 different 12-step programs for all manner of bad habits (and even things that have nothing to do with bad habits, such as Diabetics Anonymous and Phobics Anonymous), and ALL use the IDENTICAL 12 steps, save for changing a single word in the first step, e.g. "We admitted we were powerless over our diabetes, and that our lives were unmanageable..."


1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

     Telling an atheist that he/she must believe in and pray to some superhuman power for salvation and removal of "defects" is clearly telling the atheist to accept monotheistic religious ideas, regardless of whether the word "God" is used. Thus the atheist newcomer is actively pressured into changing his/her belief system. But what about those who already have a religious affiliation and belief system? Is the 12-step belief system really compatible with all religious philosophies, as is claimed?

     The Jewish concept of prayer is not for personal guidance or salvation. "Salvation" by a "power greater than oneself" is an inherently Christian concept. The following is from a Christian website:

     "During the old covenant, or in Old Testament times, people were saved by their obedience to the law. God had set a choice before the people of Israel. He told them of the blessings He would give them if they obeyed the law and the curses if they would not obey it. They agreed to the covenant, but the scriptures show they were never able to keep the law. Through the life and death of Jesus, God made another covenant with people and it was different than the previous one. He would now judge people individually (not as a nation, organization, or race), look at their heart instead of outward appearances, and put His will (or law) in their hearts and minds."

     "[Salvation] is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast." - Ephesians 2:4-10

     "Any (good) works a Christian does are a result of Christ working through him, and the credit is to go to Jesus, not to the Christian."

     In Christian theology, a person is "saved" through belief in the divinity and saving power of Jesus, and is only then able to live righteously; i.e. as in the passage above, God, or Jesus, is responsible for an individual's righteousness, not the individual himself. The Buchmanist ideology takes this a step further, claiming bluntly that any human who behaves according to his own will shall be driven away from God and into "insanity". "Self-will" is a dangerous concept in this belief system.

"The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success..."

-- "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous

It is not only atheists who are put off by this -- the assertion that you can have any concept of God that you wish and still "work the steps" falls flat for those of us whose conception of God does not include "saving" people or "removing shortcomings".

Jewish prayers to the Almighty are for purposes of adoration, NOT for "guidance" or to have "character defects" removed. Free will, or "self-will", is a gift bestowed on man, and we are all responsible for the behavioral choices we make. God does NOT intervene in our daily comings and goings and doings, but merely watches how we utilize our free will (probably with amusement), and we adore him just for being God. Learning from our mistakes, and when necessary "turning over a new leaf", is part of what makes us human, and something God likes to see. But the power to do so is ours, and the credit goes to us, not to God. Actually in traditional Jewish theology only angels are devoid of "self-will" and have their actions dictated by God. Humans can no more "be relieved of the bondage of Self" (Big Book) than pigs can fly. The concept of immoral or unhealthy behavior being caused by a "spiritual disease" that only God's "grace" and no human effort can cure is foreign to Judaism.

I've yet to meet an AA member who understands or accepts this point of view. Usually they respond with something like "But I know AA members who are Jewish." Of course this is no response at all; one may be of Jewish descent but not currently practice or believe in Judaism. It's my understanding that a pretty sizeable percentage of Moonies are of Jewish descent. But I wouldn't conclude that the Unification Church is therefore "compatible with Judaism"!

     Jews do not believe in being saved from sin from beyond, but rather in personal repentance through "self-will". From the Yom Kippur service:

     "Do not say after you have sinned, 'There is no restoration for me' but trust in the Lord and repent, and God will forgive you.
     "...What is genuine repentance? --When an opportunity for transgression occurs and we resist it, not out of fear or weakness, but because we have repented..."

On the issue of being "powerless" over behavior, from Moses Maimonides (12th century sage), "Guide for the Perplexed":

     "If there was some force inherent in man's nature which irresistably drew him to a particular course... how could God have commanded us through the prophets, 'Do this and do not do that, improve your ways, and do not follow your wicked impulses'? What room would there be for Torah?"

On free will, and a non-interventionist God, from Rabbi Simchah Roth of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel:

      "The fact that we have free will, to choose [righteousness] or not, means that we have been granted the capability of doing enormous good and immense harm. We can find a cure for cancer or we can blow ourselves to bits: it's entirely up to us. But in order for free will to work, God has to set a limit to Divine power; if we are to be free agents morally, God may not intervene and deprive us of that capability... In other words, God has removed human behavior from the sphere of Divine control and influence."

     God as Jews understand him (Baruch HaShem) is not the God of the steps. A Jewish newcomer being told, "You can have whatever conception of God you wish, as long as you believe you're powerless and insane, that 'self-will' is a bad thing, and that it is God's job to remove your defects, restore your sanity, and relieve your urge to drink" is being told to convert to a non-Jewish belief system. So pervasive is the neo-Buchmanist Christianity of AA that any expression of ideas of self-improvement or "turning over a new leaf" is termed "denial" or "your disease talking." I was told point-blank in treatment by my "grateful AA member" counselor that believing in myself and my own capabilities is "dangerous"; that I could only "be in recovery" if I chose a "power greater than myself" with the attributes Buchman and Wilson thought it should have and allowed it to rescue me. Needless to say, I never did achieve the "in recovery" status; I simply stopped misusing alcohol, through my own power, and with my self-will happily "running riot."