are 12 step programs a cult? Discuss..

by avishai 26 Replies latest jw friends

  • avishai

    What qualities would you say they share w/ other high control groups?

  • transhuman68

    I've never understood the comparison of 12 step programs to cults.

    Sure, they may be a high control group, with meetings and a sponsor, and some pressure to conform; but they are a part of society, not separate to it; and there is more freedom to join or leave.

    Maybe a necessary evil- at least for a while.

  • Black Sheep
    Black Sheep

    Take a list of cult attributes and cross reference the group's teachings with it.

    You do have to be honest about it though. We have all seen JWs playing dishonest mind games to weasel out of fitting those descriptions. We can't have a different standard because 'its not a religion'/whatever.

    If it walks like a duck ..............


  • designs

    They can have there place in recovery from addictions. The premise is simple enough, admit to a group your true condition and feelings, set goals to make amends and life choices.

    To some it becomes their central social connection and others need a program like it for awhile to get healthy.

  • OnTheWayOut

    I think that groups that apply 12-step programs and get cultish are proof that a group can become a cult (or become cultish) unintentionally.

    I attend an Alcoholics Anonymous group that is for Atheists and Agnostics and we don't allow backtalk- critical comments on the statements and comments of other members. But I have seen groups that heavily apply the 12-steps and where members do critically judge the statements of others. AA is anonymous and it is not required to follow the steps. The only single requirement is a desire to stop drinking. With other groups, they may also have a single requirement for membership, yet the group may turn into something it should not be- a place of judgmentalness and applied pressure to conform.

    It's a great example of how WTS (and other groups) could have started with good intentions and warped into a dangerous mind-control cult. The success of the group became more important than the good of the individual members, applied pressure to conform increased the group success.

  • JeffT

    Onthewayout beat me to it. I've been going to AA for almost five years. Having been in a cult, and now being in AA I can tell you AA is NOT a cult. No one is required to believe anything or do anything (although you're likely to be told that not following the program is not going to help you quit drinking). There is no shunning. No larger organization telling people what to do, every group is autonomous except for a few matters that relate to AA as a whole. I have never seen anybody get kicked out of AA, and there is no list of rules that must be followed.

  • confliction

    "If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck..."

    Witless Response:

    No, see, this isn't what it looks like- a regular duck.

    It's so much more than a duck.

    this duck has the backing of the holy spirit, because it says it does.

    The duck told me it has holy spirit.

    And I believe it, because the duck never lies- because it has the holy spirit.

  • avishai
  • Twitch


  • digderidoo

    Look at the first sentence on the Orange Papers website.... "One man's analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous.". This guy is entitled to his opinion, but it's only one man's opinion. Personally i've never heard of women being raped or abused in AA and i wouldn't imagine for a minute that anybody abused would be silenced. I have heard of some guys who are refered to as "13th steppers", basically guys who ask newcomer women out, but not abuse.

    When i first came to AA i was very hesitant to attend meetings due to my JW past. I debated the AA program through and through, i left AA twice due to this line of thinking. When i left nobody contacted me to rejoin, it was left up to me, that was the big difference. AA is about attraction, rather than promotion, if you want it it's there, if you don't then don't go, it's as simple as that. I can honestly say that AA is nothing like the cult that JW's are. I can see how some groups exhibit cultish characteristics and if some believe it to be a cult i couldn't really care, it's kept me sober.

    Seven years ago i was a helpless, homeless drug taking alcoholic who would steal food as any money i had went on booze. Today i'm a sober, recovering alcoholic, half way through a law degree, have a nice home, job, have joint custody of my two boys, have my daughter living with me and most of all have a peace of mind after having come to terms with all of my past issues.....and all that i put down to AA and the 12 step program.

    If this Orange Papers guy and others believe it to be a cult then so be it, i don't believe it to be a cult and most of all it works for this alcoholic.


  • Black Sheep
    Black Sheep

    Another thing you can do to check out a group, is find out what its ex-members have to say about it.

    OTWOs experience is with an Athiest/Agnostic AA group, so there seems to be some leeway allowed between groups.

    Some of the AA teachings are probably common to all of the groups, so you would really need to get whatever manuals they work from to make comparisons.

    Do they all teach that: The program never fails, that it is the people that fail. AA is the only way to beat alcoholism. There are no graduates. You are in it for life. You will never finish your recovery. You will never stop going to meetings. You will never stop doing the Twelve Steps.

    What if you disagree with some aspect of the groups teachings, how are you treated?

    Try Googling the name of the group you are interesting in along with words like 'cult' and 'ex-members' and see what you get.



  • Nathan Natas
    Nathan Natas

    To my mind, a CULT subverts the will of the individual in favor of the will of the CULT.

    I don't see that happening with AA. AA helps people wrest control over their lives from substance abuse.

    It might even be possible to apply 12 step principles to help people overcome their addiction to imaginary friends!*

    *of course, one would have to find another way of stating "a power greater than myself" that the AA relies on.

    I have no personal experience with AA, but I have known people who have told me it helped them.

  • avishai

    As for your last statement, NN, many folks would say the same about JW's

  • 5thGeneration

    I was hitting the sauce way too hard and had to quit a year ago. Went to AA for a while and noticed the incredible similarities to JW meetings.

    Feel off the wagon a month ago and went back to a meeting with a friend. Explained stress and letting my guard down in my resolve and that I believed some anti-anxiety drugs may have triggered my binge.

    I was told that if I had been going to 3 or 4 meeting a week for the past year, I never would have had the stress in my life that would make me want to drink.

    I wasn't about to tell him that people's lives and circumstances (JW guilt in my case) don't disappear because you blindly go to AA meetings and hear all of these other people's horror stories.

    Yes, as a matter of fact, I believe AA is cult-like. Non-submission and attendance is strictly deemed as a recipe for automatic failure.


    BTW: This reminds me of a thread I've wanted to start for a while about AA's beginnings and the Society's rigid rules on meeting attendance possibly being linked to Rutherford's alcoholism. Stay tuned...

  • Nathan Natas
    Nathan Natas

    So Avishai, are you in agreement with those Stockholm syndromers who say the WTB&TS was the best thing that ever happened to them? Do you think it was?

    For those who have been to AA and think it was a cult:

    Were you counseled for inappropriate dress at AA meetings?

    Inappropriate hair length?

    Were beards on men considered unseemly?

    Were women told not to wear pants to the meetings?

    Was it "forbidden for a woman to speak" at the meetings?

    Did they tell you not to speak to family members who were not in AA?

    Did they dictate what medical treatments were approved by AA?

    How many hours of you time each week did they commandeer?

    How many times did they suggest that you should leave your estate to them instead of giving it to your family?

    Do they have an international HQ where members take a vow of poverty and work like dogs in exchange for meals and a bed?

    Do they send you from door-to-door to spread the word?

    Do they tell you which sexual practices are appropriate?

    Do they condemn homosexuals and insist that they can only be accepted if they're celibate?

    Do they mock "false rehabilitation methods" as being demonic?

    If you are sick, your doctor will tell you what to do to get well. Sometimes you have to take bitter medicine, or submit to the knife that does not make him a cult leader.

    If you want to be relieved of substance abuse problems, it isn't going to happen with Tinkerbell waving her sparkly wand; it will take hard work and some people aren't willing to work hard, even to save their lives.

  • JeffT

    One of AA's principles is to avoid controversy. I expect after this post I will follow that principle. It is simple if you think AA is a cult and don't like it, don't come to our meetings. I don't bang on doors recruiting members. You can keep drinking if you want to. I won't stop talking to you or shun you. I work on the principle "If you want what we have..." If you don't want it, that's OK.

  • OnTheWayOut

    OTWOs experience is with an Athiest/Agnostic AA group, so there seems to be some leeway allowed between groups.

    Yes, I have been to groups that seem more rigid on the 12-steps and getting a sponsor and that do allow backtalk toward members and have everyone say the Lord's Prayer. Some can feel cultish. They still don't kick people out or shun them, but there can be groups with group pressure to conform.

    Do they all teach that: The program never fails, that it is the people that fail. AA is the only way to beat alcoholism. There are no graduates. You are in it for life. You will never finish your recovery. You will never stop going to meetings. You will never stop doing the Twelve Steps.

    They do not teach that the program never fails, but some groups will act as if an individual failed because they don't follow "the program."

    They do not insist that it is the only way to beat alcoholism, but they generally teach "powerlessness over alcohol" as an important realization that differs from other programs that teach self-empowerment or even an adjusted ability to drink without powerlessness. I know that won't work for me and many in AA scoff at any programs that don't teach "powerlessness."

    There are no graduates. But people come and go and there is a tendancy to act like you are starting over again when you take a drink. So, in some ways, the feeling of "in it for life" exists. There are some cultish tendencies to watch out for.

    What if you disagree with some aspect of the groups teachings, how are you treated?

    That's a tricky one. Many learn to keep quiet about it. In my group, you can disagree all you want. Officially, you also can disagree. "The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking." Still, group pressure can force you to conform or shut up in many groups.

  • NeonMadman

    I went to Overeaters Anonymous meetings when I was a JW for a while. At one point, some of the members started opening their sharing time by saying, "Hi, my name is xxxx, and I'm a food addict." This caused a major uproar in the groups I was meeting with, since the 'accepted' phrasing was, "Hi, my name is xxxx, and I'm a compulsive overeater." Lots of people argued passionately about their opinions as to whether people should be allowed to use the alternate wording. This, along with some less blatant things, struck me as being rather cultic, even when I was a JW.

  • avishai

    Thanks OTWO for your balanced analysis. I will write more on my thoughts on the matter soon..

  • Jankyn

    Lots of judgmental people in AA meetings. Uh, hello! Lots of judgmental people everywhere---including occasionally on this board. What the heck--I've been know to be judgmental from time to time myself. I'm just trying to get better!

    There are as many kinds of AA meetings as there are kinds of drunks. Some people are always attracted to moral certainty and high control. That doesn't mean I have to play along. And just because someone tells me I have to do something doesn't mean they are right. I will never again surrender responsibililty for myself to anyone or anything---including alcohol.

    Bottom line: If you don't find what you need in one meeting, try another. If AA isn't doing it for you, try something else. Just don't give up and drink yourself to death while trashing everything worthwhile in life. AA's 12 steps are a "suggested" program of recovery. My higher power is a trio of ideals: honesty, unselfishness, kindness. I never live up to those ideals, because guess what? They're greater than me. That makes them ideals. Doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying.

    (Coming up on 24 years clean and sober.)

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