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Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult Or Cure?

by Charles Bufe

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From Library Journal
Bufe ( The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations , See Sharp Pr., 1988) scrutinizes Alcoholics Anonymous, delving into the organization's origins and development. Tracing its roots to the Oxford Group movement, which was a revival of the Church of England begun in 1833, he demonstrates how major tenets of AA are derived from Oxford Group principles. He includes colorful details concerning organization founders. In critiquing the 12 steps, which are the heart of the AA recovery program, he leans heavily on the work of psychologist Albert Ellis. Bufe considers the AA religio-spiritual emphasis anathema. He also objects to AA's espousal of individual culpability for alcoholism, which does not acknowledge socioeconomic influences. His conclusion is that AA is a quasi-cult, devoid of harmful excesses but demanding strict adherence from its membership. Despite his purported objectivity, his secular bias is very much in evidence. The appendix includes descriptions of secular-based alcoholic recovery programs, and also a secular version of the 12 steps.
- Carol R. Glatt, VA Medical Ctr. Lib., Philadelphia
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Charles Bufe tried AA in 1983, hated it, and kept drinking until 1985, when he achieved sobriety on his own. Clearly, Bufe has something of an ax to grind, but for the most part he grinds it fairly. (At worst, the author's skepticism is no more extreme than the zeal of some AA supporters.) Bufe poses two major questions - Is AA religious? Is it a cult? - and raises some interesting points along the way. He traces the program's religious overtones to the Oxford Group Movement of the 1930s. This movement, he argues, heavily influenced AA founder Bill Wilson. Bufe supports his thesis with detailed, if not always fascinating, quotes and parallels. He concludes that AA is religious, a label sure to rile members who consider their program a secular one. His other conclusion - that AA isn't a cult - is only common sense: AA has no leader, makes no financial demands, and does not use highpressure tactics. Bufe raises a timely point regarding the seemingly endless spin-off groups that have adopted AA's 12 steps as their own. How do victims, such as members of Incest Survivors Anonymous, profit from steps designed for the addicted? Appendices include secular alternatives to AA and the 12 Steps.



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