Cult

A Brief Outline Of The 12 Steps — Step 3

This is the fourth in a series of posts in which we hope to acquaint our readers with some of the details surrounding the programs that we recommend.  There are a variety of other programs, but because we and most other facilities shape our treatment plans around the 12 Step fellowships, those are the ones on which we will concentrate.

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

Step three has been the source of a great deal of controversy over the years.  It seems to be the reason for most objections to the 12 step programs, as well as the cause of most claims that they (especially AA) are religious cults.  Let’s deal with the cult issue first.

The overriding issue in defining a cult is harm: is it harmful or helpful to its followers?  All cults have three things in common:

  • Material and/or social gain on the part of an individual or individuals, with an essential disregard of the effects on the rank-and-file.  
  • Coercion of followers to remain in the group.
  • Isolation of members from the rest of society in various ways.  

There are others, but these three things are common to all cults.  The twelve step groups fail to meet any of the above criteria.

  • There is no material gain. Members can donate a dollar or two to help defray expenses such as rent, if they wish — or they can attend for months without contributing a penny.  
  • There is no social gain for leaders, because there are no real leaders.  “Our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern.”
  • Although some few people might argue otherwise, it is difficult to sustain any real suggestion that the fellowships do not help members.  Certainly it would be hard to support an assertion that they do them harm.  Obviously, for many, they do a great deal of good.
  • There is no coercion or isolation of members.  The general attitude among groups is that you are welcome, but that if you want to leave and try something else, or go back to your drug or activity of choice, then you are perfectly free to do so.  That is not to say that no one will attempt to talk you out of it, but that is the extent of any effort to prevent your leaving.
  • Finally, the entire purpose of the 12 step approach is to help people remain abstinent, deal with their issues, and return to a normal life.  Although there may be suggestions that a member limit contact with some people and situations in the beginning, in order to avoid temptation and stress, the ultimate purpose is to help them become productive members of society.  

The principle behind the Third Step is Faith.  If we do not believe that our course of action is in our best interest, we are unlikely to sustain it long enough to gain from our efforts.  When the steps were formalized, the expression “care of God as we understood Him” was an easily-understood way of expressing the need for faith.  In the 70-odd years since, it has become socially acceptable to think of religion in a variety of ways that were not common — or were left unspoken — in 1939.  

Religious people today adhere to the literal meaning of the words, but others choose to think of them as simply an expression of the need for faith in the process in order for it to have much chance of succeeding.  Many, this writer among them, have succeeded in remaining sober without faith in the religious sense.  

However, belief that we cannot do it alone (Step Two), and faith in the process of “working” the steps are essential.  Those who remain around the groups long enough will witness change in other members, and themselves.   They will grasp that the program works when people are serious about it.  Such direct, personal observation should be all the proof that anyone needs, if they are open-minded and willing to change.