12-Steppism vs. Judaism

     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).

     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 bewteen. For some reason a born-again "repent and be saved!" 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.

~Railroad Rita