I received this email from an anonymous reader. This brings up some points I think are well worth addressing:
Thank you for the link to these Russian articles. Do you have link to the Pages of Sobriety book? It did not turn up in Google. Perhaps it is only in Russian, but that can be fixed. Second, the problem of “God as you understand Him” is causing problems in American AA today. The Russian article is correct about this. If it is taken as a statement that the wet-brained alcoholic addict cannot form a viable concept of anything, let alone God, and should proceed through the steps of repentance and amends, then it is valid. (Theoria after Praxis) About 20 years ago, “God as you understand Him” had stipulations – it required a loving, forgiving and personal God. Most people were Christian-religious on some level. The other “gods” such as door knobs, tea cups (heard that once), light bulbs, etc were called goofy gods and not tolerated by sponsors. This is no long always the case. I have seen members and sponsors opening discussing occult practices during meetings, and self professed wiccans running local meetings and treatment center program. I hate to say bad things about a program that has saved so many and has a good foundation but we need to be aware of this. AA works because it does have Christian roots. Some were stripped or hidden with the idea of reaching more people. Now, AA is saying that fewer people in the program are staying sober than in the early days. Wonder why... For me, the infusion of Orthodoxy into AA in Russia and elsewhere would be great.
Good observations. The problem of AA is that once it spread, the old ways of running a ‘tight ship’ went by the wayside. In the early days, the group heard a new member go through the first three steps on the spot, in front of them all, and then they voted whether the person was ready to stay in the group or needed to be expelled for further denigration and ‘experience.’ They were much more willing push people out.
Now, AA has gone in the opposite direction. Since it is also ‘leaderless,’ AA can fall into localized problems such as getting into religious practices. That’s a big no-no, but hard to cure with an organization of this nature. What usually happens is that the American ‘tradition’ of moving down the street and starting another group usually happens. That means the whacko pagans have their group and the others have another group.
AA does definitely have Christian origins:
Dick B. has done a lot of research in that area. Pagans have to do a lot of ‘theological yoga’ to fit the usual pagan definition of ‘god’ with the God described in the literature of AA.
However, we must look at the reason there are so many pagans to begin with: there are plenty of people in AA who reject Christianity because of the awful, heretical versions of it that are floating around. I’ve met more than a few people who drank in large part because of religious abuse ‘in the name of Christ.’
These people were abused by ‘Christians,’ and I think it is a little much to demand that they automatically accept Christ ‘as we understand Him’ in order to stop drinking. The Anonymous God allows those who have been harmed by the misunderstanding of God to return afresh to the topic of the Divine without the baggage of their pasts hanging them up.
To be honest, Orthodox Christians who drink also need an Anonymous God, because their own understanding of God is flawed, otherwise they would not drink. That’s not to say that all of alcoholism or addiction is a thought problem, but thought problems are a big chunk of the disease. They need to humble themselves and admit, much as Igumen Jonah seems to be hinting at, that they know little about God and aren’t really capable of thinking reasonably at all.
While I would like to reserve judgment of Fr. Jonah until I have had more of a chance to read his works (anyone interested in translating some Russian is welcome to contact me), I can’t say that I disagree with anything he said as quoted. The Steps are going to look different in Orthodox countries because the theology is different.
AA had to develop a definition of God because the Protestantism of early 20th century America was largely Puritan and eschatological: you stayed morally pure by effort, and the rewards were received after death.
Orthodoxy takes the exact opposite approach: morality is the manifestation of the growing presence of God, who begins to transform the believer in this life on into eternity. Death is a crown, not a radical change.
This is why, when the Steps are presented at Orthodox theological seminaries, the faculty usually have no issues with it beyond the problem of ‘God as we understand Him.’ Once they understand that this is a necessary step for a Christian to reappraise his theological understanding of God without relying on flawed personal definitions, then the professors soften on this. After all, if you really look at what AA teaches, the Orthodox Faith is the only one that really fits. The next closest would be Roman Catholics, and we see from history how quickly they jumped on board and helped shape the early days of the program.