The AA Creed of Powerlessness or Spiritual Fascism

When I began attending AA meetings I was led to believe that AA was a source of mutual support and encouragement for people who had been addicted to alcohol and shared a common goal of abstinence.  I hoped we could help one another rebuild self-esteem shattered by years of destructive drinking.
I was disappointed to find instead that there was a pervasive emphasis on individual powerlessness, not only with regard to alcohol, but in all areas of life.  Fatalistic defeatism seemed to be an article of faith to AA members. It was expressed in stock sayings, which were repeated at meetings like mantras:
“I’m powerless over people, places and things”
” I know I’m in trouble when I start thinking I can run my own life”
were just two of these sayings thatI heard counless times.
It was evident that those voicing these self-sabotaging sentiments were repeating some kind of received wisdom. Their source became clear over time.  They derived from AA literature, and in particular from the writings of AA’s co-founder “Bill W”.
I tried hard to ignore these disempowering messages and only listen to the minority of people who honestly expressed their own thoughts and feelings in their own words.  In practice, however, the format and tone of the meetings paid such reverence to the morbidly sanctimonious writings of Bill W that those who did not parrot his words were forced into the position of AA heretics, who were at best barely tolerated, and were commonly treated with overt condescension and contempt.
I later discovered that this creed of powerlessness, as I call it, was derived from a now forgotten religious movement in which the founders of AA were involved.  It was  started early in the twentieth century by the Rev Frank N D Buchman, and over time went under the different names of “First Century Christian Fellowship”, “The Oxford Group Movement” and “Moral Rearmament”.  Buchman aroused hostility amongst leading Christians who considered his ideas heretical and occultist.  He also became notorious for his far right-wing sympathies, and especially his widely publicised praise of Adolf Hitler in a newspaper interview.  Nowhere in AA’s main text, “Alcoholics Anonymous” or “The Big Book”, is this debt to Buchman acknowledged, probably because of his notoriety.
A creed of individual powerlessness has obvious attractions for those drawn towards fascist ideas, and it certainly gained Buchman plenty of financial support from weathy businessmen of extreme right-wing political persusion, who welcomed the preaching of a “spiritual” message which told the underdog he must not question his place in the world.
However, the implications of this creed of powerlessness have wider and graver implications than those of narrow class politics. If this ideology had gained universal acceptance historically (as Buchman insisted it must) then it would have prevented all advances in human freedom, including the abolition of slavery and child labour and the emancipation of women.
When applied to people already suffering from damaged self-esteem and psychological problems, it imposes a particularly insidious kind of learnt helplessness.  When framed as a “spiritual” solution to a potentially life-threatening problem such as addiction, it constitutes a form of oppression and disempowerment which I think is best described as spiritual fascism.


  1. ahenobarbus458

    The doctrine of powerlessness serves the interests of AA. As a practical matter, power is transferred to AA. Thus, Qui bono?

    Powerlessness puts the newcomer in the ‘one down’ position.

  2. sherwoode

    I was involved in aa for many years.The damage to one’s belief in oneself far out-weighed any advantages.The doctrine of powerless is very damaging.I watched people get sicker and sicker the longer they stayed in aa.There was rampant sexual and financial exploitation.Yes it’s true that if you don’t go along with the party line most members just drop any so-called friendship.For most the meetings became an addiction and escape from life.I remain sober for many many years and am finally free from aa and so many limited and unhealthy beliefs.I believe aa is a cult and do not suggest it to anyone.Sherwoode

  3. andymar

    Thanks for that response, Sherwoode. And congratulations on staying sober without subjugating yourself to the creeds and dogmas of steppism

  4. astrobluetooth

    I said somethin in AA once and someone aid to me “stop arguing, it sounds like you are trying to take your will back!” I didnt think they would say something as blatent in the Moonies!

  5. sherwoode

    Oh Yes you’re expected to turn will over to God ,over to your sponsor and ultimately over to aa.Your primary purpose becomes all about aa.

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    Once upon a time I used to spend a lot of time getting very, very drunk. I wasn’t pleased with myself for getting drunk so much but I couldn’t stop. Someone then told me I was an ‘alcoholic’ and that the only way I could stop drinking was to go to Alcoholics Anonymous.

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