The following post appeared on 12-step-free today and it was such an excellent statement on a topic that has been discussed here, I asked for permission from the author to post it. Ken Ragge
[name deleted], 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, 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 Rheinhold Niebuhr:
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" being 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 God will perform the miracle of preventing you from engaging in whatever habits are considered "undesirable". 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..."
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 does the 12-step belief system really allow whatever monotheistic conceptualization one desires?
The Jewish concept of God is a deity that is prayed to for purposes of adoration, not for personal guidance or salvation. And "self-will", far from being a dangerous thing to be subjugated lest one be driven away from God and into "insanity", is considered in Judaism to be a gift bestowed on man by God. An observant Jew would never expect God to "remove" any personal shortcomings. The ideal in Judaism is personal reflection on behavior, followed by behavioral change as deemed necessary. The concept of immoral or unhealthy behavior being caused by a "spiritual disease" that only God can cure (but only if you "humble" yourself enough) is foreign to Judaism. 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 and that God will 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."
P.S. For those interested in different theologies and concepts of God, I recommend "A History of God" by Karen Armstrong.
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.