Frequently, Iíve commented over a distressing discrepancy between the principle of separation of church and state as outlined in the First Amendment to the Constitution and the serious lack of separation of church and state in actual practice and policy of our American government.
Unfortunately, Iím about to do it again. Iíve mentioned the religious statement added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, the promotion of monotheistic religion added on to our minted money (starting in 1957), and state funded institutions and public placesí disregard for individual rights through the display of religious material such as The Ten Commandments, Nativity Scenes, and Menorahs. Iíve recounted the incessant use of the word ďGodĒ by public servants and officials in their speeches and campaigns. I have protested the idea of teaching ďintelligent designĒ and other God-based creation myths in public schools-- unless you teach those of all faiths, including even Satanism and Atheism (but youíd have to call it a religion or philosophy class, not a science course).
As these things reveal themselves to me, Iíll keep complaining. People who arenít monotheists or just arenít decided about their sense of faith have every right not to be forcibly exposed to religion by the government, according to the laws of that government. Itís somewhat like banning smoking in public buildings, since non-smokers have the right to not be exposed to harmful cigarette smoke. Of course, by that comparison, Iím not saying religion is harmful; Iím just saying that itís harmful to make religious impositions and generalizations over any diverse plurality of cultures and beliefs.
And the debate over whether or not a majority of historyís wars, genocides, and land thefts were waged over issues of religion is one for another time and wonít be used here as some evidence that religion is harmful. I believe religion to be rather like weapons-- guns donít kill people, people do. I suppose that guns have also been used to feed people, right?
And, eventually, after much digressive prologue, I will come to the point:
In September of 2002, I went to see a friendís band play at a local venue in Covina, California. I had way too much to drink, and, like a complete idiot, I set about driving myself home. I had never had a problem with such things before, even as drunk as I was, and I knew I had to be at work early the next morning. On my way through San Dimas, I fell asleep and hit a curb, bending a rim, flattening my tire, and smashing a part that housed my transmission. I got out to try to change the tire, not noticing the transmission fluid that was leaking all over the road. A Los Angeles County Sheriff pulled up to see if I needed assistance. As soon as I spoke to him, the jig was up, and he told me to complete some roadside sobriety tests. I could barely stand erect to try them, so I asked him to please just book me and get it over with. ďI am telling you, Iím fuckiní drunk, Dude, and I canít do it. Please donít embarrass me out here in the street.Ē
In retrospect, the cop was very respectful and sympathetic. He even elected not to report or confiscate the pipe and small amount of cannabis that he found in my car-- he said, ďIíll just leave that there for you-- youíre in enough trouble already.Ē
He took me to the local hospital for a blood test, which showed I was around twice the legal limit. He booked me, had the car impounded, and took me to the drunk tank to sleep it off. Although not a soldier, I was wearing a full set of desert camo BDUís; and I was bigger and taller than everyone else, so I had nothing to fear from my cell mates. Nobody was going to mess with someone in desert military gear in September. It was the third and last time Iíve been arrested. All three were alcohol related, the first two incidents being charges for underage consumption in my much younger days. This gave me something to think about. As much time, trouble, and money as this ordeal has cost me, I have learned to look at it as a positive thing. If I hadnít learned certain things that night, I might have eventually hurt others or myself. I might have continued drinking like I did that summer, the painful time of my divorce. I could have become a real mess, but I took the experience as a cue to get my act back together. I remarried, had my son, and got some of my bills paid off. I donít drink very much these days, either.
Aside from the thousands of dollars that Iíve had to pay in fines, court costs, probation fees, processing fees, and reinstatement fees, I was also required by the court to attend a DUI school. I went to one called NCADD, which stands for National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. There are many such institutions, and in California they require you to attend 3 months worth of classes. These classes are spread out at once a week, at about four hours apiece. Another requirement of the school is the attendance of six Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, which are signed off on a ďreport cardĒ by attending A.A. members.
Since I returned to southern California recently, I had to complete my program to have a CA driverís license. I had done everything except for the A.A. meetings before I spent a few years in Ohio, and I was happy that they didnít make me do the entire program all over again, to the tune of $435. Thatís right-- $435 to go sit in a room and be lectured at by people that were earnestly trying to make you believe that youíre an alcoholic, whether you had a real problem or not.
I had lost my license for being drunk, so I figured it was enough of a problem to go to their little classes and sit on my ass and keep my mouth shut until I was through it. And now, four years later, all they want me to do is go to some A.A. meetingsÖ O.K!
But I have to tell you, dear readers, that nothing has ever made me want a drink as much as an A.A. meeting. As a matter of fact, nothing has pissed me off this much since the presidential election of 2004. (People can be fooled into a bad choice once; to make the same bad choice again is pure stupidity.)
I went to the meetings with some preconceived notions, and most of them were correct. I went to six different meetings with six different groups of people. I found myself surrounded by a bunch of people that proclaimed themselves incapable of controlling themselves. Alcoholism and suggestions from THE DEVIL were responsible for every bad thing that had happened in their lives. Every good bit of living they had done since finding A.A. was all GODís doing! They were incapable of taking responsibility for their own actions, even when there was no alcohol involved.
It seemed that here was a group of people commiserating in their inability to control their actions when under the influence of alcohol. I could understand that. But the constant mention of GOD and saying prayers together freaked me out. Some of the speakers mentioned GOD every sentence or so. What does GOD have to do with Alcoholism?
Nothing. But A.A, its founders, and all of their literature assert constantly that a religious experience or a spiritual conversion is necessary to conquer alcoholism. They based this on the opinion of a famed psychiatrist, Dr. Carl G. Jung, that alcoholism could be cured by a genuine conversion; and also from the Harvard Professor William James that recovery by conversion had been sporadically taking place for centuries in the churches, in the rescue missions, and in the Salvation Army.
The following are standard materials used and recited in A.A. meetings:
The 12 Suggested Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
THE TWELVE TRADITIONS OF A.A.
1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
2. For our group purpose, there is but one ultimate authority--a loving God as he may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups of A.A. as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose--to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.
They run their meetings like a church, with standardized prayers and incantations. There are statements made by the meeting leaders that are immediately answered by the entire congregation, much like the responses made by the parish of a Catholic Church. They even passed collection trays around the room! Everyone is encouraged, peer pressured, and I dare say nearly coerced into participating in the ritualistic banter, to testify, each identifying himself with, ďHi I am (name), and Iím an alcoholic.Ē Stories are told about the sorrow in their lives, and by the end of the meeting, everyone knows everyoneís name and a bit about him/her. So much for anonymity!
By my third meeting, I was really very irritated. I had managed to avoid speaking, and I was being pressured pretty hard. This meeting had a base topic, as some of them do, whereas others are just open forums or study groups who pore over the ďbig book,Ē simply titled Alcoholics Anonymous. A.A. members seem to view this book as one of the lost Gospels of the Bible. This meeting was called ďResentment Workshop,Ē and thatís exactly what everyone spoke about. When it came to my turn, I couldnít hold it in anymore.
ďHi, Iím Jonathan, and I got a D.U.I. four years ago. I was forced to come here by the state government as part of my penance. Iíve got enough resentments to fill up your next five meetings, so Iíll just share whatís pertinent here. I resent that I had to go through all of this bullshit. I resent that this entire program has been aimed at convincing me that thereís something wrong with me. And I resent that Iíve been sent here to your fucking church to listen to you guys whine about your problems. I mean, if this is actually helping any of you, and I hope it is, I donít want to slam it too hard. But, if honesty is important to you, it seems to me like youíre a bunch of mealy-mouthed pussies who refuse to stand up and take responsibility and control over your own lives. What about will power? You blame alcohol for everything you have screwed up, and you blame God for everything youíve actually done right. It doesnít seem to me like any of you have any pride in yourselves-- but I donít really resent any of you for that. I resent that I am warranted freedom of religion by the First Amendment, yet somehow the government saw fit to send me to a religious group that is obviously interested in promoting GOD and monotheism. I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and frankly, I am offended by this imposition. Iím sorry if I have offended any of you, but I just donít want to hear about your religion all day. Thanks for letting me share.Ē
In retrospect, I do somewhat regret using the word ďpussies.Ē
A few of the hard-core church-lady-types recoiled in horror, but I was surprised to find that a majority of the members there looked at me with either mild annoyance or something that looked like understanding. One of the guys said, ďYep, thatís how I felt when I first came here.Ē
Oh great, I thought, so youíve just been sold on this crap since then, huh?
I was immediately handed a copy of the ďbig book,Ē marked at chapter four, which is called ďWe Agnostics.Ē You can read it yourself at the websites below, but it basically asserts that around half of the original fellowship were agnostics or atheists. These people had become so desperate that they had succumbed to buying the theory that a ďhigher powerĒ was necessary to overcome their affliction, even if they had to create one for each oneís own personal conception of God. It makes thin excuses for the use of the word God and the pimping of monotheism to people who really just need not drink alcohol.
Is there a higher power than myself? Certainly. The earth, the sun, and the Mississippi River are certainly greater than I am. The immobile strength of an oak tree or the night skyÖ Who knows? Maybe there is a god or group of deities that has some sway over this world (although it would seem to be precious little influence here, to me). I am a true agnostic who is only willing to admit that the possibilities are endless and cannot subscribe to any one man or groupís version of the truth. Nobody knows. Nobody.
I admit that religion seems to work really well for some people. Some are true believers, and I can not fault them for being so, nor would I want to. But some are just weak-minded or weak-willed and need some sort of mind control to dictate their lives for them. In all of history, there hasnít been a form of mind control more successful than religion and standardized or enforced concepts of morality. But such sheepish weakness and conformity isnít admirable to me. I donít particularly sympathize with atheists, but Iíll say this-- They think, at least, that they have the balls to stand on their own. (I have repeatedly stated, however, that atheism is a faith-- a belief that requires conviction based on insufficient evidence-- and a conformist attitude, albeit a minority one.)
Concerning legal issues with A.A, Wikipedia listed this:
U.S. judges sometimes require attendance at AA meetings as a condition of probation or parole or as an element of a sentence for defendants convicted of a crime. "Open" AA meetings are open to anyone who wishes to attend, including those mandated by a court. A federal appeals court ruled in 1999 that mandating attendance at AA meetings compromises the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment right not to have religion dictated to them by government - because A.A. practices and doctrine are (in the words of the district court judge who wrote Griffin v. Coughlin "unequivocally religious". In that ruling it was also noted "adherence to the A.A. fellowship entails engagement in religious activity and religious proselytization. In "working" the 12 steps, participants become actively involved in seeking God through prayer, confessing wrongs and asking for removal of shortcomings." The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari and let this decision stand. Grandberg v. Ashland County is another example concerning judicially mandated A.A. attendance and the Establishment Clause. In that case the Federal 7th Circuit Court ruled, "Alcoholics Anonymous materials and the testimony of the witness established beyond a doubt that religious activities, as defined in constitutional law, were a part of the treatment program. The distinction between religion and spirituality is meaningless, and serves merely to confuse the issue." In Warner v. Orange County Department of Probation a man convicted of drunk driving was sentenced to A.A. The court found that the county was guilty of ďcoercing the plaintiff into participating in religious exercises, an act which tends toward the establishment of a state religious faith.Ē
I just didnít have the money to fight Los Angeles County, the State of California, the DMV, or the Federal government on that issue. If I had, I probably would have helped to set yet another precedent against this government enforced exposure to religion. It seems that if you arenít independently wealthy, your rights are sometimes forfeit in the U.S.A.
Our country was founded on principles of strength of character, individuality, and the power of dissent. The Amendments were added to the Constitution because they were deemed necessary measures to protect the human rights and civil rights of the individual. Religious oppression and censorship are the greatest threats possible to personal freedom, along with tampering with rights to privacy, which the current President and his administration are threatening with domestic wiretapping and a number of other practices. A lot of us may be concerned with whom to blame; the President, Congress, the so-called ďreligious right,Ē etc. But, to paraphrase the main character in the film V for Vendetta, we all need only to look in the mirror. Although it is less so than ever, this is still a representative republic, and the voice of dissent is still a possible vehicle for positive change and reform. Unfortunately, most of us arenít using our voices and power as citizens. Weíre too concerned with ringtones and cheeseburgers and what the neighbors might think. Americans have become too complacent to argue with what theyíre being told the status quo should be. Advertising and news media are feeding your opinions to you like dirty breast milk from a corrupt and fascist-minded teat. Do you have the balls to stand on your own?
People constantly bombard me with a bullshit story that the U.S. was founded for Christians as a Christian nationÖ If that is so, then what is the First Amendment there for, jackasses? Read it again, because the language is clear and in everyoneís best interests.
If you think that youíre going to save me or help me make up my mind about GOD, youíre fooling yourself. I donít want your help. Only I am responsible for my own actions and my own sense of faith. I donít mind if you pray for me, but I donít want to hear about it. I just want to be left alone to find what really matters to me and continue studying religion and sociology for what I appreciate them as-- academic pursuits. And I canít think of anything more Un-American than insisting that someone go to a church or profess some belief he doesnít really have. I still canít believe I was forced, in the U.S.A, to go to a church for the sake of bargaining for my other freedoms. Iím still pretty pissed.
To those who are being helped by A.A, I donít mean to shit on your saviour. To those whose lives have been dramatically improved by organized religion, I mean you no harm, either. I just personally think itís bullshit, and the government is required by its own legal charter to keep its nose out of it. I usually try pretty hard not to take an offensive position, but this time Iíll go ahead and say the big nasty. I am still an American and I have the right to say whatever the hell I want.
Just keep your goddamn religion out of legislation. Itís un-Constitutional and patently wrong to impose it on others. Thank you.
You can learn more about A.A. at:
The commentary in this article is in part speculation and opinion based on my understanding of my own research, and should not necessarily be construed as concrete fact. I have drawn largely on various sources; including reports from government agencies, library reference materials, and data collected by private agencies.
If I you have questions or comments, write me at email@example.com. Also, if you like, look up Mark10:18 in the Bible and tell me what you think it meansÖ You can also write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free copy of the United States Constitution. Iíll send it to you-- Please read it! You can also tell me there what kind of American you think I am-- or how poorly informed I may or may not be.
Copyright 2007, Jonathan DownardSend us your comments on this article