AA is a Cult, part 70

Over the course of this series we have learned the history of Alcoholics Anonymous: how Bill W. and Dr. Bob got sober, the Oxford Group origins of the Steps, and the first women and black members of the fellowship. We’ve explored the theology and practices of AA, the low success rate, and court cases that determined coerced meeting attendance is a violation of first amendment freedoms. We’ve read slogans and the Steps and the Traditions. 

Alcoholics Anonymous is a cult. 

  • It was originally part of another cult,the Oxford Group
  • It uses cult tactics to recruit and retain members, including thought stopping, love bombing, isolating, and concealing the group’s true aims from brand new recruits and outsiders
  • It’s nothing but a giant bait-and-switch con, pretending to offer sobriety when it’s really a quack religion. 
  • The Steps induce guilt (over life before the cult) and fear (over leaving it.) 
  • No one graduates in AA. It’s a life sentence. If someone leaves, they will be ostracized. Their cult friends will shun them. 
  • The founder was an awful man, abusive and thieving. He stole the copyright and royalties of their Bible, the Big Book of AA. 
  • Sexual abuse in Alcoholics Anonymous is a wide scale problem AA, Inc. refuses to even acknowledge. 
  • Every member is requested and required to recruit new members, to “carry the message to others.” 

Bill Wilson died January 24, 1971, leaving 90% of Big Book royalties to his wife Lois, and 10% to his favorite mistress, Wynn C. A lifetime of heavy smoking gave him emphysema, and AA oldtimers of the era report that he would often be torn between the desire to light another cigarette and a need to use his oxygen tank to breathe. Cigarettes always won. From the 1940s on he had difficulty breathing. When he contracted pneumonia as well, it was too much for his battered body to take. He died at age 75. 

Most cults fail in their early stages. Not every would-be cult leader has the capacity to do it, and most successful cult leaders had a few false starts first. That Alcoholics Anonymous still exists, with an estimated two million members worldwide, is a testament to Bill’s exceptional abusive qualities. He successfully conveyed his vision, persuaded people to believe it, and even made them fearful of straying from it after his death . The existence of a board of directors (“trusted servants “) ensdured new leadership could seemlessly take over. 

Today Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12 Step groups are more abundant, powerful, and well known than the Oxford Group, which changed its name to Moral Re-Armament and then again to its current moniker, Initiatives of Change. Its current membership is a fraction of historical highs, and virtually no one has heard of it. AA, on the other hand, is larger than it was in Bill’s lifetime. 

It has infiltrated medicine, and AA meetings are a TV writing trope, an excuse to have a character monologue. AA influences drug policy at the federal and state level. It has more direct legislative power than almost any other cult (except Christian Science and The Family, both of which have members in Congress.) It has an undeserved good reputation Scientology and the Church of Latter-Day Saints could covet. AA is a cult that operates freely in the United States, in hospitals and jails and rehab centers, in church basements, and on TV shows and movies. I hope to see its decline and dissolution in my life, and will do what I can to hasten it. 

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