December 31, 2007

Beware of the Dogmatists

A discussion of God, religion, spirituality and AA leads naturally into the problem of AA dogmatism – actually, the problem of AA dogmatists. The actual "official" AA program as described in the Big Book and other approved literature is conspicuously and consciously non-dogmatic and broad. The famous Twelve Steps themselves are merely "suggested as a program of recovery."

But because human beings tend to have opinions about matters vital to their welfare, and because alcoholics as a group are probably more prone to having and expressing strong opinions than average, it is not uncommon to find AA members here and there who are convinced that their understanding of the AA program is the only possible correct one, and hence that failure to adhere to their beliefs and practices will inevitably lead to ruin on the part of anyone unwise enough to disregard their superior wisdom.

Since the whole psychological or spiritual aim of AA recovery is to gain a sense of perspective on oneself that leads to tolerance and a nonjudgmental outlook, individuals who attempt to compel others to accept their own beliefs cannot be said to be "practicing the program" themselves. Such people are often described as "dry drunks," i.e. alcoholics who, though not drinking, are nevertheless behaving the way alcoholics commonly do when they drink. These "dry drunks" manifest judgmental and intolerant attitudes and a sense of personal grandiosity and "know-it-all"-ism that causes them to believe they know best, not only for themselves but also for other people.

They are not content to keep their opinions to themselves, nor even to state them humbly or diplomatically. In extreme cases they resemble the firey pulpit preachers of organized religion's yesteryear, always prepared to thunder forth their understanding of the one and only Truth to infidels and unbelievers, coupling their sermons and admonitions with the direst possible warnings of what will unquestionably befall those who fail to heed them. They are unattractive personalities who violate the AA principle of "promotion by attraction," i.e. of the responsibility of each AA member to strive to become the sort of person that others desire to emulate. The AA newcomer can safely ignore the often detailed instructions and advice of such people in favor of the more relaxed and accepting suggestions of less rigid or fanatical members.

Newcomers should also be prepared for the diversity and individuality of opinion that is usually expressed in meetings, and should realize that nobody in the meeting, regardless of how they may present themselves and their beliefs, is officially authorized to speak for AA itself. Everyone's opinion, from the rankest newcomer to the most seasoned and sober veteran, is simply their opinion.

In AA there are no generals, no officers, nor even any non-coms. Everyone alike is a pfc – "private first class." This certainly does not mean that everyone's opinion is just as true or useful as everyone else's – but it does mean that no one has been officially commissioned with the AA authority to lord it over anyone else or to tell them with any authority beyond that of their personal opinion how they must practice their own program of recovery.

From an excellent web page chock full of good advice and resources - Your First AA Meeting, whose table of contents is reproduced below.

Your First AA Meeting
An Unofficial Guide For the Perplexed

Locating a meeting
Types of AA meetings
Discussion meetings
Big Bookand Step Study meetings
Speaker meetings
Clubhouse and church meetings
Meeting size
Smoking or non-smoking?
The diversity of AA groups
Ritualsand readings: What goes on at a typical AA meeting
The problem of fear
90 Meetings in 90 days? You must be CRAZY!
Arriving late, leaving early
Anonymity and confidentiality
What should you say if you share?
God, Religion and Spirituality
Dogmatism and dogmatists
Sponsors and sponsorship
Principles before personalities
Before and after the meeting
Brainwashing, mind control and cultism
Slogans and other superficial things
A New Vocabulary: Acceptance, Humility, Powerlessness
AA and Psychiatry. The Question of Medications
The AA Preamble
The Serenity Prayer
The Twelve Steps of AA
The Twelve Traditions of AA
The Promises of AA
Links to AA resources(Big Book, meeting finders, &etc.)

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