The Tyranny of “Spirituality” and The Roots of Passive Aggression in AA
By John H. – Washington, DC
In AA the words “spiritual” and “spirituality” are used to control and intimidate the atheist. This is true in conventional AA as well as in certain segments of SecularAA.
The terms, as freely used as bludgeons within the context of conventional AA, are the “cringeworthy” impetus for many new members who seek out secular alternatives.
Sadly, as I indicated above, these sometimes-destructive concepts have crept through the doors of SecularAA and are part and parcel of a passive aggressive agenda being deployed against the more “militant” atheist members here.
Under the guise of “Inclusiveness and Diversity” (which is not, of course, an inherently bad thing) a disturbing dynamic is emerging that needs to be explored further.
“Wow!”, the reader might be thinking, “What’s he up to now? More blanket statements?”
As always, and as I continually re-state in these pieces, my opinions are my own and do not represent anyone other than myself. They do not reflect the majority view of any group or sub-group within SecularAA though I do, personally, believe them to be true.
The beginning of any discussion of organized conventional AA must go back to the words and deeds of its founders. At its inception a joint effort the AA fellowship was, at the time of his death, the product of the sum of Bill Wilson’s writings and talks regarding his vision of what AA is and what it is not. Unlike some in Secular AA, I take Bill literally knowing that his intentions were always clearly stated though laced with a born salesman’s gift for sugarcoating the unpalatable.
Bill was forever speaking out of “both sides of the mouth” as regards the non-believer. Very early on the use of the word “spiritual” and the discussions of “spirituality” in both the Big Book and 12×12 were used as a supposedly benign “smoke screen” in order to induce a “transitional state” in the agnostic or atheist so that a passage to the “broad highway” of religious faith could be established.
These foundational documents of AA are messianic and openly seek to convert the non-believer to “right” ways of thinking and acting. These “right ways” are the ways of the White Protestant American majority of the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s. These beliefs, patterns of thought and world views of the “moral” life that are the foundations of these books and the dogma contained therein come directly from that culture. I should know because I was once one of them, the product of a White American Protestant family that can trace its roots here back to the 1680’s. If you ask me how I know these things I could say, in a sense, that Wilson and Smith are part of my DNA.
The roots of AA as the crypto-cult it has become in some parts of the conventional fellowship today are found in these books and the maintenance of “quality” sobriety is, supposedly, based on your “willingness” and “openness” to the entertaining of, at minimum, a level of “tolerance” of this crap.
The conversion process is begun using the passive aggressive tone of these “soft” words to “open the gateway” to the “sack cloth and ashes”, “poor helpless me” attitude they want you to assume. When you “get it”, your rational thought process and very existence will be so subjugated to their philosophy of life that you will, one day, arrive at that famous place in the Big Book, on page 449, where, “Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.”
I never have, and never will, “accept” any of that shit!
Just listen, in conventional meetings, to statements like “my best thinking got me here”, “my brain needed washing” and the truly unctuous and morally corrupt “fake it till you make it”! If it were not for the power of sharing and the wonderful individual human bonds formed in the rooms I would have stopped going to regular meetings decades ago.
Once you go down the road of “acceptance” of the “spiritual life” you will be ready to receive the God being imposed upon you by people who claim they are making no such imposition.
The true experts at AA passive aggression deploy words like “unity” (meaning uniformity), “tolerance” (meaning acquiescence) along with phrases like “live and let live” (meaning knuckle under) and the truly terrible “contempt prior to investigation” (meaning don’t think for yourself). All this is part of the “soft power” of conventional AA, a formidable arsenal deployed first by Wilson and Smith and then by Wilson alone.
For this article I attempted to re-read ‘Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions’, after a number of years of leaving it where it belongs on my bookshelf in the AA history section. I must admit I was just not up to the full task. When Bill says, “When we encountered AA, the fallacy of our defiance was revealed.” and “We soon concluded that whatever price in humility we must pay we would pay.”, I nearly threw the book across the room. I had blissfully forgotten some of these phrases and really was shocked by his controlling, passive aggressive pathology, openly revealed in these pages. His history of untreated manic depression is obvious here I think.
As to Mr. Wilson and the implications of his “moral philosophy” for us and his real feelings regarding apostates I’ll let him speak for himself about his “Steps” from page 40 of the 12×12:
“All of the Twelve Steps require sustained and personal exertion to conform to their principals and, we trust, to God’s will.”
So, Bill, that’s the way it is, “conform to their principals”? “God’s will”? I guess I’m out of the game Bill.
I had to calm myself down and remember the great good that the man did by introducing the power of sharing and the great benefits inherent in helping another alcoholic to millions of his fellow sufferers. Not wanting to hate Bill Wilson I found that I needed to “let go” and view him, in the personal sense, as the purveyor of an outmoded and defective philosophical system that had, paradoxically, some positive effects despite its inherent coercive tone and passive aggression directed at people like me.
Wilsons later day “spiritual” acolytes are all over conventional AA of course but they are even with us here in the supposedly “Secular” version of our beloved fellowship.
As I noted some time ago in my article that was initially suppressed by AA Beyond Belief in 2016 and later published here, https://atheisticaa.com/aa-skepticism/stockholm-syndrome-atheist-agnostic-aa/ , there are a sub-set of members of Secular AA who, in my opinion, overly identify with the “powers that be” in conventional AA such as the General Service Office (GSO), The Grapevine and various Regional Service entities. These entities base their philosophy and practice on Bill Wilsons Oxford Group inspired 12 Steps, The Big Book and the 12×12.
I believe that there are moves being made to more closely affiliate SecularAA and our SecularAA groups with these entities that do not, by their very nature, hold atheists and agnostics in the highest esteem. I have even heard rumors of proposals to eventually fully integrate SecularAA with the conventional AA program thus making our separate service entities and even our bi-annual convention unnecessary.
Members such as myself who oppose closer ties with these entities have been increasingly characterized in negative ways on line and elsewhere in print as have those members who oppose all forms of the 12 Steps (Original or Revised) and the Big Book.
The cry for “Inclusiveness and Diversity” (a laudable liberal phrase when used in the context of Government, Business and Politics) is turned on its head and the same (or very nearly the same) passive aggressive attacks are made on the “militants” here as are made on the “ungodly” of whatever stripe in conventional AA. Its as if, even here in SecularAA, we are being accused of lacking a “spiritual center”.
There will be ongoing debates about the wisdom of SecularAA associating more closely with other groups that may be fundamentally oppositional to our best interests and I predict the conversation will rage on for years to come.
What absolutely won’t happen, in terms of myself and others in the fellowship who value their freedom of thought and expression, will be a “knuckling under” to passive aggressive attack propounding a monolithic uniformity of viewpoints under the false flag of “AA Unity”.
John Huey’s student work of the 60’s-70’s was influenced by teachers in Vermont such as John Irving at Windham College and William Meredith at Bread Loaf.
After many years he returned to writing poetry in 2011. He has had poems presented in ‘Poetry Quarterly’ and in the ‘Temptation’ anthology published in London by Lost Tower Publications. Work has also appeared in ‘Leannan Magazine’, ‘Sein und Werden’, at ‘In Between Hangovers’, ‘Bourgeon’, ‘The Lost River Review’, ‘Red Wolf Journal’, ‘Perfume River Poetry Review’, ‘What Rough Beast’ and ‘Memoir Mixtapes’. His full-length book, ‘The Moscow Poetry File’, was published by Finishing Line Press in November 2017. Full information and Amazon links can be found at http://www.john-huey.com.