Also, AA Members Can Fly

From a CNN interview with Philip Yancey, promoting his new book, “What Good Is God?”

CNN: What can churches learn from AA?

Yancey: Two lessons stand out sharply to me: radical honesty and radical dependence.

Alcoholics Anonymous members can spot a fraud, hypocrite, or liar the minute he or she walks in the door.  They know the only path to healing begins with a frank self-assessment of failure.

When we go to church we like to look good and gain the respect of others.  A married couple may fight all the way to church, but when they pull into the parking lot they’re all smiles, “We’re just fine, Mrs. Jones, how about you?”  You’d never get away with that at AA.

AA also forces each person to admit their dependence on God (or at least a Higher Power) and on each other.  Most AA members freely admit they could never make it on their own.  People of faith believe that, too, yet how many of us practice it as passionately as those in a twelve-step group?

  • SoberPJ

    I was gonna read the entire interview, but realized there wasn't a barf bag handy and didn't want to risk it …

  • Eddie Spaghetti

    "Alcoholics Anonymous members can spot a fraud, hypocrite, or liar the minute he or she walks in the door. "

    What the fuck ever. They can't even figure Bill Wilson out. It's easy to bullshit your way through meetings and watch all the bobbleheads nod in agreement as you give your drunkalog and talk about the God who you understand to be Jesus Christ .

  • AndyM

    If clergy of churches that allow their church halls to be used for aa actually bothered to find out what crazy message was preached there they might learn that they could put their facilities to better use- maybe have a puppy training course or something….?

  • DeConstructor

    @Andy- that is one of the concepts we need to promote.

    If people actually had a clear understanding of the faulty theology that the AA faith was prosyltizing, the churches would close their facilities to them.

    It is part of their bag of tricks, which is ultimately the use of constant deception, particularly when they state they do not enter into controversy. They certainly do, and either lie or simply ignore direct evidence against them that does not promote their goals.

    This works for them, however, it is ultimately unsustainable when information is readily available. It is also unsustainable when more and more people in the public eye (Lindsay Lohan Charlie Sheen ad nauseum) are using the faulty disease model of addiction/recovery to excuse their inexcuseable behavior.

    The next couple of years are going to be very interesting.

  • Eddie Spaghetti


    What type of faulty theology do you mean? I am disagreeing at all. I am genuinly curious. As far as I know (which is not that much), many churches do have an understanding about what AA is and what it teaches. I am not religious though, so I really don't know how the teachings of AA conflict with those of most conventional churchs.

  • Eddie, For one thing, AA breaks the first commandment… Christians believe that there can is only God, and everything else is false. Of course, AA teaches that you can just choose whatever god suits you. I always wonder how Christians can reconcile instructing another member to choose whatever HP they want… If you believe that there are no other Higher Powers than Christian God, how on earth do you tell someone they'll have good results by choosing to pray to Vishnu or the sun? How does someone have a spiritual awakening by believing in a false god? And even more, how does a christian AA member do this, knowing that they are also supporting a course that will land this new member in hell?

  • Eddie Spaghetti


    Of course that makes sense logically. But (I THINK) most churches who allow AA to meet in their basements are well aware that members can choose their own higher powers. I am not sure that there is anything secret that goes on at AA meetings that would cause most churches to give them the boot. Maybe some 13th stepping would cause concern, but nothing really in the Big Book.

  • DeConstructor

    Also Ed-

    The AA god is purported and promoted to grant miracles upon request. This would be considered blasphemous by most western religions.

    The AA faith is basically repackaged Calvinism.

    The AA god is has clear methods of worship, as step #7 requires a specific prayer to the AA god. Also there are clear expectations of a miracle to be performed, on a daily basis, from that god.

    I guess the AA god did not care about people before the 1930's.

  • Marco

    This Philip Yancy does not know what he is talking about. It is precisely the superficiality and the false spiritual smiles OF AA that repel me in AA. There is little honesty in AA. It is the average AA member who is the fraud, the liar, the hypocrite…with some notable exceptions, who have some honesty and decency (usually females).

    Really, I can't beleive this fucking guy. The blind leading the blind…


  • Marco

    BTW, his last name is spelt Yancey. Here is his Wiki bio:

    Philip Yancey (born 1949) is an American Christian author. Fourteen million of his books have been sold worldwide, making him one of the best-selling evangelical Christian authors.[citation needed] Two of his books have won the ECPA's Christian Book of the Year Award: The Jesus I Never Knew in 1996, What's So Amazing About Grace in 1998.[1] He is published by Zondervan Publishing.

    Contents [hide]

    1 Biography

    2 Bibliography

    3 References

    4 External links

    [edit] Biography

    Yancey was born in Atlanta, Georgia.[2] When Yancey was one year old, his father, stricken with polio, died after his church elders suggested he go off life support in faith that God would heal him. This was one of the reasons he had lost his faith at one point of time.[3][4]After high school he attended Columbia Bible College, where he met his wife, Janet.[5] Yancey graduated magna cum laude from Columbia Bible College and earned his MA with highest honors from the graduate school of Wheaton College. His two graduate degrees in Communications and English were earned from Wheaton College Graduate School and the University of Chicago.

    Yancey moved to Chicago, Illinois, and in 1971 joined the staff of Campus Life magazine—a sister publication of Christianity Today directed towards high school and college students—where he served as editor for eight years.[6] Yancey was for many years an editor for Christianity Today and wrote articles for Reader's Digest, The Saturday Evening Post, Publishers Weekly, Chicago Tribune Magazine, Eternity, Moody Monthly, and National Wildlife, among others. He now lives in Colorado, working as a columnist and editor-at-large for Christianity Today. He is a member of the editorial board of Books & Culture, another magazine affiliated with Christianity Today, and travels around the world for speaking engagements.

    Yancey was critically injured in a motor vehicle accident in February 2007 but recovered well. By August 2007, he had completed his goal of climbing all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot-plus peaks, the final three after his accident. [7]

  • Fixed Yancey.

  • Rick045

    @Eddie, I think it often depends on the denomination. Where I come from, it's practically unheard of to find a Baptist church hosting AA meetings. It does happen once in a while, but it's not common. Most meetings are at Catholic and Presbyterian churches that also tend to be heavily involved in community projects like scouting, food drives, etc. At least for some churches, I believe that emphasis on community involvement outweighs the theological considerations.

  • humanspirit

    "Alcoholics Anonymous members can spot a fraud, hypocrite, or liar the minute he or she walks in the door."

    Of course it is a given that God has given AA members unique and paranormal insight into other people's hearts and minds. How long do you have to be a member of AA to acquire these extraordinary powers of perception? A week? A month? Blimey, I'd go there for years if these powers would be granted to me!

    I thought that the only requirement for membership of AA was a desire to stop drinking. So where does that leave the 'fraud, liar or hypocrite' who wants to stop drinking? Where would this have left Bill Wilson?

  • causeandeffect

    @ HS It's not paranormal insight, it's what good ol' Bill said of all alcoholics. And everybody knows you don't walk in the door unless you're an alcoholic.

  • humanspirit


    I'm not sure about the logistics of this, but is there any way people like this Yancey person could just get a friendly little email saying that his ideas are being discussed on ST and maybe he might be interested in joining the discussion?

    Just a thought.

  • Marco

    I wanted to e-mail this Yancey dude, and send him all our posts. But he does not have an e-mail contact on his website.

  • tintop

    The guy is kidding himself.

    But, it will not do any good to tell him.

  • DeConstructor

    @Marco and everyone else-

    I just made a comment on Mr. Yancey's blog. It did appear so I guess he is not personally moderating.

    If anyone else would like to comment you can find it here…

  • AnnaZed

    Well you could draw the fire of his minions by posting to his facebook:!/Phi
    but be careful what you wish for.

  • AnnaZed

    Of if you must:

    Philip Yancey

    Author Website:

    Write to Zondervan authors or their estates in care of Zondervan. Your mail will be forwarded as soon as possible, but please note that the author might not be able to respond personally.

    Email or send postal mail to:

    Philip Yancey

    c/o Zondervan

    ATTN: Author Care

    5300 Patterson SE

    Grand Rapids, MI 49530

  • Rotten Ralph

    AA was originally a Christian program, and the Book of James was its handbook, according to the oldtimers. Bill Wilson soon tossed Christ out to make his program more attractive to newcomers, an act which real Christians should be very concerned about. The New Testament condemns actions like his in a goodly number of places, and many Christians then and now consider actions like his to be an "unpardonable sin" (which is why so many chose cruel deaths in Roman arenas rather than deny Christ).

    The only reasons I can see for Christian churches allowing a pagan cult like AA into their facilities are: ignorance of the true nature of the "spirituality" of AA; or, knowledge of AAs "spiritual" failings coupled with the hope that its members may be reached by the teachings of that church; or, lastly, a desire to attract any type of people to their dwindling parishes.

  • "What the fuck ever. " said eddie spaghetti.

    ditto. seriously. the people who are seen as popular in aaa are the loser fuck manipulation con artixsts. " need a sponsor?" "i got one for you." fuck, no. no thank you, keep the con artist lice outta my hair, thnx. cnn, come. on.

  • Oh yea this makes me sick too. I guess all of us need to write books too.

    " the truth about 12 step programs, the disease, the denial, all that lies beneath!

    I stil think we all need to write our own letter to main newspaper and big magazines.

    even if its just 10 of us here. If we decide to do it all this week. It will shift how AA is perceived.

  • Z

    AHA. Here is an abstract:
    It suggests the steps and slogans be read at a metaphorical level. It must be the research one of my academic stepper friends was referring to when she said I was taking it all too literally. I'd say the researcher has far too optimistic and benign a view of the thing. Metaphors and symbols are powerful in a good way when they're deep; there's a huge difference between complexity and convolution.


    Before I found this site I had no idea how many people had had almost exactly my experience and view of the 12 steps. I'd read Orange, yes, but still. I also didn't realize how *much* of the "information" I had on addiction was invented by AA, and how entirely different clinical views were. That was a huge eye opener.

  • Z

    Ah – I forgot to say, I also did not realize how UTTERLY seedy AA seems to be. I'd had an idea, just from the assumptions my infamous shrink had, but kept being told I was wrong.

  • Mike

    @Z: "It suggests the steps and slogans be read at a metaphorical level."

    This is what bothers me about religion in general. When presented with skepticism about their published literature (e.g. bible, big book), they say it's a matter of faith or that the prose needs to be taken within the context of when it was written. But then the same people gather together and gladly recite creeds (apostle's, rarely have we failed…) that reinforce the literal interpretation of the very same texts. It's disingenuous at best.

  • SoberPJ

    There were a couple studies that looked at the metaphorical aspects of powerlessness. Their $45.00 price tag certainly was pretty precise. No room for misinterpretation there.

    My guess is they asked a few people what powerless meant and got many different answers. So, it must be a metaphor because nobody answered in line with the real definition of the word. Words have meaning and metaphors are generally used in stories, not in a text for a life or death issue. I agree with Mike and add the complexity of determining what is a metaphor and what isn't.

    Anything can be a metaphor with enough imagination. I was speaking metaphorically there and what I really meant is cows can't fly. Didn't you see the connection? Shees, what's wrong with you !? You need more meetings, you're just not getting it.

  • howlermonkey

    @RottenRalph – I disagree that AA is a pagan cult. Whatever the truth of their claims, pagans are usually life-affirming and stress their bonds with their deities and the world around them rather than their unworthiness in the eyes of their deities. No, AA is strictly Abrahamic dualistic loving/hateful father-god stuff.

    Some might say that this dualism is exactly what Jesus was getting rid of. But in most versions of post-Nicene Christianity – especially the kind that went into AA – this is not the case. In most Christian theologies, Jesus just functions as the loving half of the divine love/hate duo.

  • AndyM

    Here's a standard letter I send to churches that host aa meetings when I have an idle moment. The original was sent to a catholic priest (hence "Dear Father"), but obviously it can be altered to suit the denomination. Feel free to use or adapt if anyone finds any of if anyone thinks any of it is useful:

    Dear Father XXX

    I am disappointed to hear that your church is allowing Alcoholics Anonymous to hold meetings on its premises. Whilst I am sure that this was done from the best of intentions, I would suggest that an examination of the precepts of this organisation as laid out in its literature and shown by the type of witnessing known as "sharing" in its meetings is incompatible with the Christian faith as understood by Catholics, or indeed any Protestant denominations I am familiar with. It's bogus "spirituality" has more to do with superstition, magic and occultism than Christianity. As a matter of fact (recorded in AA's own official biography of him, "Pass it On") this movement's co-founder Bill Wilson was an enthusiastic lifelong participant in seances in which he claimed to contact the spirits of the dead.

    AA also explicitly encourages the heresies of indifferentism and syncretism, which suggest that any conception of God (euphemistically downgraded in AA to "higher power") is as good as any other and that parts of disparate belief systems can be cobbled together into a sort of personal deity of one's own invention. Even the absurd notion that people can pray to things like light bulbs, doorknobs or chairs is routinely suggested in AA meetings as a step on the way to abdicating responsibility for one's own life and trusting implicitly that Alcoholics Anonymous has all the answers one will ever need on how to live one's life.

    You may be surprised to know that Alcoholics Anonymous has very little to say about the nature of alcohol addiction as a health problem, but has a great deal to say about the supposed importance of embracing some very strange concepts concerning the nature of God, the purpose of prayer and the notion that "spiritual diseases" exist. These ideas are not really compatible with mainstream Christianity, although they may have some superficial similarities with the beliefs of more eccentric sects such as Christian Science.

    Alcoholics Anonymous had its origins in the 1930s in an envangelising Protestant sect known as the Oxford Group, run by the Rev. Frank Buchman. This movement was highly contoversial, partly because of accusations of religious heresy (Catholics were actually banned by the Vatican from participating in it) and partly because of its Machiavellian politicking and string pulling and the notorious far-right political sympathies of its leader, who openly and unashamedly praised Hitler.

    The sacrament of confession, familiar to me as a baptised Catholic is sacrilegiously distorted in AA so that one is encouraged to divulge one's guiltiest secrets (supposedly with God's blessing) to an AA "sponsor" whose only qualification to hear them is that he or she has been a drunkard. Such a person is, of course, unordained, untrained, unaccountable and not sworn to secrecy.

    This organisation has a morbid and sickly religiosity which is entirely its own and is not compatible with Christianity. To many who have been involved with it for any length of time it becomes clear that its "spirituality" is a matter of making AA itself the central authority and guide in one's life, not God. This becomes very clear as one hears old-established members talk with undisguised contempt and disdain about the Christian religion, whilst literally giving AA writings such as the so-called "Big Book" (really called "Alcoholics Anonymous") the same reverence and affording it the same authority as Christians would reserve for the Bible.

    AA successfully misrepresents itself to the outside world as a no-strings-attached self-help and support group. In reality it is closer to being a peculiar and exclusive medico-religious cult. Despite its protestations of ecumenical religious open-mindedness, it actually requires beliefs and practices which set it quite apart from any other religion and make it a de facto religion in its own right.

    I know quite a lot about this organisation because in the past I had a problem with drinking too much. I am pleased to say that this is no longer an issue, but for a time I did become involved with the movement. However, I was repelled by its heretical religiosity, its dishonesty and the obvious danger of some of its practices to the mentally ill or vulnerable.

    I don't think this movement should be taken at face value, any more than should, say, the Moonies or Scientology (who also run a plausible addiction "recovery" program). In particular, AA's claim that there is nothing in its teachings that can possibly conflict with a person's prior religious beliefs needs close examination. I don't believe that claim stands up to honest scrutiny.

    I am not alone in having these concerns. There has for some considerable time been a growing body of criticism of AA in print and on the internet amongst ex-members, mental health professionals, researchers and members of churches about the unaccountable way this movement intrudes a skewed and loaded "spiritual" agenda into what is supposed to be simply support group for vulnerable people. Some of this criticism comes from humanists, atheists and agnostics who feel that they have been duped into religion in the guise of therapeutic support, but some of the most impassioned critics are actually practising Christians.

    I hope you don't mind my airing these views. When I first heard of Alcoholics Anonymous I assumed it to be an obviously benign movement, but considerable first hand experience of the organisation and its message has caused me to think differently.

    Yours sincerely


    Best wishes

    Andy M

  • Mike

    @Andy. My experience as a life-long Catholic is that priests stops listening when a non-priest attempts to argue theology with them. My take on a letter campaign is that parishes should be warned that sex-offenders/convicted felons may be entering the premises and gaining access to potential victims. This should get their attention, at least where I live in US.

  • Z

    @howlermonkey, yes. Also the US has all sorts of fringe Protestant cults, always has. Check out the Great Awakening of the 1740s or so, complete with people going into convulsive states as they were grasped by the Spirit. It was about getting a personal relationship with Jesus, and admitting more serious levels of sin.

    @soberPJ, yes, I'm sure you're right — to say it's "metaphorical" is just one more B.S. excuse.

    @Mike, disingenuous when that happens, yes. Although there is ambiguity, which can be rich and not vague. It is weird to me that the 12 steppers tend to dislike ambiguity, but love vagueness. But then I should get it: to deal with ambiguity you have to be mentally sharp, but vagueness is a free for all.

    And it is the free for all aspect of 12 stepping I dislike. Anything can mean anything and anything goes so long as you "know" Jesus. Yee-haw in some bar gets transferred to yee-haw in the meetings and therapy.

    It's: there's one answer, but then any answer. Whereas if you want to get anywhere really, you have to realize that there are many answers to anything, but that just any answer won't cut it.

  • DeConstructor

    Although the letters are a good idea, I do not think they would have the punch we could have, if we decided to take more direct action, and use available means of publicity.

    It all depends on what length we want to go to.

    In my particular case, I did have grounds for a valid lawsuit. However, for me to take Humana/CorpHealth/LifeSynch to court would have not been the proper play as they would have dragged it out for years, they have deep pockets, and certainly would have made statements to discredit me using anything possible-

    The better play would be to publicize the AA faiths shortcomings, and this could effectively be done in a number of ways. For example, if one person makes derogatory statements at a meeting, they are told to "shut up!", it is their "disease" talking, and they are immediately discounted and removed.

    This would not be possible if SEVERAL of our people showed up at a meeting. One person, maybe two can be discounted, however in a meeting of 20, say 8 or so of us show up, the meeting could take a drastic turn. A few visits from us to online meetings would get the attention of the corporate office, and may even force the recovery industry to change their way of business.

    Also, I would certainly consider, and hope others would, using hidden cams to record AA meetings. These videos should be posted online, (perhaps on offshore sites like vidooshtv, sites controlled by countries with no diplomatic ties to the US such as Iran, as they are not under the jurisiction of US courts) and certainly should show every face of everyone at the meetings. These are public meetings and there is NOTHING that guarantees any confidentiality, other than a "suggestion" It would be best if recordings could be made of old timers bloviating about the dangers of using medications such as high blood pressure pill and insulin while smoking.

    There are many things we can do as a group that would be could not be countered by the AA faith, should we decide to.

  • Rotten Ralph


    Thank you for your response to my post.

    Whenever I use the term "pagan", it is in the conventional Western sense of the word – meaning a belief system that is neither Christian, Jewish, nor Moslem. I don't use it in a judgmental sense, but only as a definition.

    Paganism has run the course throughout history from infanticide and ritual prostitution (Old Testament era) to the life-affirming forms still practiced by many Native Americans (although certainly not all, and not necessarily at all times).

    I have met some people in our own cities who consider Satan to be their truly caring deity, and wonder why those people couldn't use him as their "higher power" should they enter AA or NA.

  • AndyM


    Yes, I take your points. Quite apart from clerics getting pissed off with a layman being pedantic about points of theology, quite a lot of them seem quite hazy on that subject themselves. I've encountered a couple of ptiests in aa and always wondered how they reconciled the step dogma with their religious faith. The most I would hope for from letters would be that they might just prompt one or two people to look into aa a bit more critically and/or discuss it with their colleagues.

    I think the point about bringing it to the attention of churches (or other bodies) hosting 12 step meetings that they can be dangerous places is a really good one. Ftg seems to find a steady stream of press reports about criminality connected to aa which might serve as examples.

  • Marco

    Andey M:

    With all due respect, I don`t see ANY Christian church as better than AA, and that they therefore should be warned about AA in its basements. They are all bullshit to me, except for the rare isolated decent Christian, who usually gets in trouble with his church.

    DeConstructor: oops , sorry missed that place to send e-mail to Yancey. Glad you found it. I hope someone sends him all our posts (I just don`t have the time now to go back there and do it myself)