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12-Steppism vs. Judaism

 

THE 12 STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

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.

 

     I'm not certain what the official anthropologist's definition of "religion" is, but I would guess it to be a specified system of rituals and beliefs based on a core belief in a supernatural power or powers.

     As far as I can see, this makes 12-step philosophy a religion, the "God as you understand Him" ploy notwithstanding. The God of the Steps CANNOT be any old god, but must be a god who has both the capability and the inclination to "remove shortcomings" and personally alter human behavior. This is a SPECIFIC god, whether or not AA newcomers are encouraged to visualize it in a personally appealing way as a mountain, a doorknob, the AA group, or whatever. It is promulgated on "salvation" theology, which is a Christian concept. And indeed, the founders of AA have written that AA's philosophy is taken from the "book of Matthew" and the "book of James"; these are specifically Christian holy books.

     Judaism is one religion that does not hold such a concept of God. Anyone getting spiritual beliefs and guidance from the "book of James", the "sermon on the mount", or any other part of the Christian-only Bible (i.e. what Christians call the "new testament") is not a Jew, but a Christian convert-in-the-making. Personal responsibility for behavioral change (rather than divine salvation) is central to Jewish teaching.

     One of the most respected sages/philosophers in Jewish history was the 12th-century rabbi/physician Moses Maimonides. He wrote extensively on ideas of free will, among other topics. The following is an excerpt from one of his works:

     "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', when from the beginning of his existence a person's destiny had already been decreed? What room would there be for Torah?"

     On the other hand, 12-step/disease concept ideology holds that it is impossible for humans to alter immoral/unhealthy behavior on their own; that in fact one must give up any idea of personal responsibility and personal competence and "turn their lives over" to sponsors, groups, meetings, and of course to the Lutheran/Pietist concept of God; a constant theme in AA literature is the necessity of giving up "self-will" and indeed it is postulated that alcohol abuse is caused by "self-will run riot" (AA "Big Book",p. 62). These ideas were taken from the early 20th-century religious organization known as "the Oxford Group" (which AA's founders were members of); the philosophy of that organization included (among other things) the idea that anyone who tried to run his own life and make independent decisions would be driven away from God and rendered "insane". OG members were exhorted to ask "spiritually advanced" elders of the group what "God's guidance" was for every facet of their lives. Complete surrender to "God-control" would result in salvation by God from all manner of sinful behavior. There is nothing Jewish about such a worldview.

      "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."

Rabbi S. Roth
Rabbinical Assembly in Israel

 

     The Oxford Group and its founder, Rev. Frank Buchman, were eventually discredited when Buchman praised Hitler in a 1939 interview, and suggested that the ideal government would be "a God-controlled Fascist dictatorship." However, the "God-control", "surrender", and salvation from "insanity" ideas continued on in the 12-step philosophy of AA and later spin-offs.

     There are numerous other facets of AA philosophy that are incompatible with Jewish tradition. AA devotees often speak of the necessity of "acceptance", and the AA "Big Book", p. 449, is often cited:

     "...I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at the moment... Unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes."

     A major concept in Judaism, on the other hand, is "Tikkun Olam" -- Repair of the World. The following is from a recent "Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly":

     "...Jews are commited to social action as a positive Mitzvah (commandment). ...We may not sit back and do nothing in the face of evil; we may not decline involvement and assert 'It's none of my business.' Indeed, every person's life impinges on ours. A Jew must be involved in the improvement of society and in the struggle for justice, truth, and peace."

     Preaching "powerlessness" over behavior, and encouraging endless confessions and "humility" in the hope that God will perform the miracle of changing your behavior for you, is not only offensive to many, but useless to most. Serious writers/researchers (e.g. Stanton Peele, Herbert Fingarette, etc.) know that the majority of problem drinkers will "mature out" of their unhealthy behavior without any official "treatment"; for those who require outside assistance there are, of course, many successful counseling programs based on science, not religion, which encourage personal responsibility and self-empowerment. In the U.S., however, these are unfortunately few and far between. For some reason a "born-again" religious fellowship created in the 1930's for well-off white Christian believers who were declared "hopeless alcoholics" by their doctors has become elevated to the level of "necessary treatment" for anyone who ever had too much to drink. For people to be forbidden from simply discontinuing their problematic behavior and instead be ordered by courts and employers into this religious cult, under threat of imprisonment or job loss, is an outrage. As part of Tikkun Olam, Jews must strive to correct this injustice.

~M. Kreuter