Last year, we posted a story about Herbert Jones, a deluded 12-stepper who showed up outside of a Portland, Maine AA meeting with a sniper rifle and a load of resentment toward pedophiles. Obviously, we don’t condone his actions, but I do give him credit for his strategy. I mean, if you are deluded, and your goal is to snipe off a pedophile, randomly spraying bullets into a crowd of AAs is like shooting fish in a barrel. You’re bound to pick off at least one, maybe two.
Recently, under a plea agreement, Herbert J was sent to a mental hospital, where he will hopefully get some proper treatment. There was no disagreement between the judge, prosecutors or the defense attorney as to whether or not this guy is mentally ill. I doubt anyone reading the facts of the case would disagree. He was, after all, receiving messages directly from God, and believed that he was on a divine mission at the time of his arrest. I doubt any reasonable person, understanding the facts of the case, would disagree with the fact that this guy is deluded, and that he needs psychological help.
This case brings up a couple of interesting points. First, it illustrates how AA is harmful in ways other than simply being ineffective at addiction treatment. I have no idea whether this man is an alcoholic or not, but I can say with certainty that it was not his primary concern. He is, through no fault of his own, bipolar — and he is not unlike many others who attend AA, and who suffer from any number of mental illnesses or emotional and psychological distress. These are the catalysts, the underlying reasons, for drinking problems which are left untreated by someone who addresses their addiction with 12-step snake oil. I’ve seen estimates that up to half of those seeking treatment for alcohol and drug dependence have underlying disorders such as depression and PTSD — conditions which are caused by such things a chemical imbalances and child abuse, and can be treated with medication and proper psychological counseling, but are treated in the rooms of AA with spiritual voodoo. When the voodoo does not work, the victim is blamed for not properly working the program, thus exacerbating any underlying condition. In the case of Herbert J, it was potentially fatal.
It is safe to assume that virtually everyone sitting in an AA circle is addicted to the sauce, at least to varying degrees – and it is safe to assume that there are multiple paths which took them to that circle. For many, their real problem is not alcoholism, even though they may have become alcoholics. Drinking for them is simply a symptom of an underlying condition, and a way of coping or self-medicating their way through life. My suspicion is that Herbert J might be one of those people. It is sad to imagine that this man, who needed real psychological help, was told the reason he felt as he did was because he is selfish and spiritually deficient. It’s even sadder to think that there many like him, as we read this, who are going through the same nonsense. Three weeks ago, a Massachusetts AA, who is also bipolar, confessed to stabbing another AA to death. According to this woman’s roommate, medication may have played a role in this killing. I would not be surprised if it is actually lack of medication that made her snap, and I have no doubt that if she has been in AA long enough, someone, somewhere along the way, likely dissuaded her from taking her prescribed meds.
It also brings up another interesting question: When a person speaks for God, or God speaks through a person, at what point does one cross the line between rational and crazy?
I once read a moderator over at the Sober Recovery forums describe how they used to place an empty chair in their AA meeting room, which was designated for God. That made me chuckle, but it weirded me out a tad. We often hear AAs speak for God, or interpret an event on God’s behalf — “I was in my kitchen, really having a rough time, debating whether I should go to a meeting, when I spotted the bottle of cooking sherry above my spice rack. I had decided then and there to pour me a glass, when suddenly the phone rang. It was my sponsor, who read for me a couple of passages from the ‘Big Book’, and I let the moment pass. Those things don’t happen by accident. God was looking out for me.”
AAs are good at this. Anything that cannot be explained, can be explained through providence. Just last week, one of the newest members of AA in Kentucky – a radio DJ with a fetish for kiddie porn named Roy Baldridge, aka “Dusty Dan” – was quoted in court as saying of his arrest and sentencing (which included AA attendance), “For me it was the best thing that ever happened. It was something I called out to God for, and be careful what you ask for, he answers in interesting ways.” How thoughtful of God to allow those children to be subjected to sexual abuse, and to allow a distribution network of pedophiles, just so He could answer Dusty Dan’s prayer!
Fundamentalist preachers get into this God interpretation often. It’s like sockpuppetry for God. It’s godpuppetry. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell got into the act after the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 – and John Hagee, a whackjob preacher out of San Antonio, was kind enough to offer up God’s rationalization for serving up hurricane Katrina: “All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that.” Apparently, there was a gay pride parade planned for that upcoming Monday, and it pissed God off to no end. The obvious thing for Him to do would be to kill or displace a few hundred thousand innocent, God fearin’, church goin’ people who had nothing to do with any parade.
Of course, this godpuppetry does not just happen with AAs and other fundamentalist religious fanatics, although they are no doubt better at it than any people I have ever seen. I’m sure that as Dusty Dan stood in court, explaining how this is all part God’s devine plan; and as Rev. Hagee droned on about God’s issue with the “dykes on bikes” and men parading around in assless chaps, others shook their head in agreement. Just read any firsthand account of survival of anything from a fire to an avalanche, and you will likely hear a summary of God’s thinking. Even sports figures get into the mix, thanking God for their victories, and pointing to the sky when crossing home plate after a home run. Just once I would like see the loser of the Super Bowl blame God, or see a player stand in the batter’s box after striking out, look up in the sky and shrug his shoulders, as if to say, “Hey God…what the fuck!?” — or have some tornado survivor standing in front of her spared home, thanking God for saving them, and then pointing to the torn down trailers on either side of her saying, “…but He smacked these sinful bastards pretty good!”
We can speak for God, and come across to others as lucid and rational. I remember a conversation at the rehearsal dinner for my wedding, when my sister, a dyed in the wool southern Baptist, droned on about how my wife and I met, and how unlikely it was, and how it had to be the hand of God that put us together. All the while, the other people sitting around the table were each nodding their heads in agreement. This type of thing happens all the time, and when someone speaks for God in this way, it isn’t just accepted — it is encouraged. No logical thought is ever considered. The funny thing about this story is, I met my wife, who is a nurse, at a hospital while visiting a family member. I later asked my sister why God didn’t just arrange for me to bump into her at a coffee shop, and instead went to the trouble of giving a loved one a heart attack, just so the two of us could meet. That went over like a lead balloon.
Now, the general consensus would be that someone like my sister, or a person who survived an accident or natural disaster, is not crazy when they speak for God. It is also the consensus that a guy like Herbert J is mentally ill, and when he claims God told him to snipe a few bad apples, no reasonable person would take him seriously. Somewhere between my sister and Herbert J, the line between “normal” and “crazy” blurs. The more one is subjected to godpuppetry, the more jaded one becomes to the crazy — and the more detached a person is from this type of thing, the more objective they become to what is rational, and what is not.
Frank Buchman and Bill Wilson, like every cult leader, understood this. Even most AAs understand this, at least intuitively – which is why new sheep are told to “quit thinking” and “fake it ’til you make it” when they enter the program. Until a person is fully indoctrinated into any religion, the lunacy of it sticks out like a sore thumb. Once we are in it, normalcy is turned on its head, and we don’t realize this fact. It is simple to see simply by looking at other religions. Mormons believe that God is in the form of of a man, who resides on another planet with his many wives. They believe that native Americans are the lost tribe of Israel, and that they have magic underwear which will protect them from harm. Most of us (I’m assuming the ex-drinkers who read this blog are not Mormon) can see the absurdity of this, and we can even get a chuckle out of the whole thing. My sister even shook her head in disbelief when telling me how “Mormons think they can baptize dead people!” Of course, she never thinks to consider the idea of talking snakes and burning bushes and virgin births, to be odd, because it happens to be part of her own religion. Likewise, AAs do not, cannot, see the crazy in their scripture of white light experiences and spiritual faith healing.
“Crazy” is a relative term, and it’s relative to how detached from any sort of dogma a person happens to be. I believe both Herbert J and the AA who left an open chair for God are both nuts. One just happens to be more benign than the other. Still, delusion is a lot like pregnancy: there really is not any such thing as being “sort of delusional.” Whether you interpret God’s message as an actual voice, as with Herbert J, or as a ghostly spirit that haunts ‘Big Book’ study sessions and has a fetish for keeping alcoholics sober, you’re still tapping into the same keg of delusion. The only difference is the amount of, and the type of, harm it causes.