Sunday, December 7, 2014

breaking out of the AA bubble

If you were to go into an AA meeting and offer a calm, rational critique of belief in God, you would certainly be cut off and probably be fiercely jeered by many in the room.  If you were to go into that same meeting though and contemptuously mock researchers who are “wasting their time” seeking a better understanding of the problem of alcoholism, the response would probably be approving nods and self-righteous chuckling.  Many in AA consider it self-evident that everything they need to know about recovery from addiction is in the first 164 pages of the Big Book.  Even those who might silently disagree with the sentiment would probably just nervously laugh along with everyone else.  That there are so few in AA who find this situation strange bears looking at. 

The point I’m making is not that bashing religion would accomplish anything.  The problem isn’t that AA includes people who hold religious beliefs; the problem is the overt hostility on the part of many toward the whole idea of using science as a test of truth claims.  AA meetings are not the place to debate science or religion or to pit one against the other.  By the same token, those who value science and critical thinking should be able to feel just as at home in AA as religious believers.  Being hostile toward science is not a neutral position.  We shouldn't go to an AA meeting to convince others to embrace a scientifically informed approach to addiction, but at the same time, we shouldn’t have to be on the defensive just because we are interested in an honest appraisal of the facts. 

It is useful to know whether research shows that a particular approach is more effective than a placebo solution.  AA claims that its spiritual solution to addiction works.  Much of the solution’s effectiveness is in its visceral quality, but that doesn’t mean that AA should hide from what a more intellectual examination might reveal.  If AA works, it has nothing to fear from scientific scrutiny.  If a rigorous evaluation of AA’s approach leads to clearer understanding of the actual nature of the solution, AA would be one of main beneficiaries.  While AA meetings aren’t the place for technical discussions of scientific research into addiction, being open to scientific evidence ought to be perceived as a good thing rather than as a threat.  Unless AA is a religious cult, it shouldn’t be out of place for someone new to AA to want some assurance that the solution that is being presented isn’t just based on superstition and magic.  While getting sober might involve more than what science can explain, if aspects of the solution are placed above scrutiny, the credibility of the entire solution is undermined.  

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