Alcoholics Anonymous and Contemplative Spirituality

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by John Lanagan  
“For our struggle is … against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

The elements of the false church continue to take shape. Some, it seems, are already here. Striving to unite into one smooth apostasy, spiritual forces behind emergent and contemplative heresy continue to mix, and mesh, and blend with other systems. One such system is the 12 Step spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous. This powerful, theological chameleon has already done much damage to the Body of Christ.

In 2008, two influential contemplative advocates, Fr. Richard Rohr and centering prayer pioneer Fr. Thomas Keating, facilitated a conference “to demonstrate to those in 12 Step fellowship ways to embrace the invitation of the 11th Step to improve our conscious contact with God….[This] will offer us all a wonderful opportunity to deepen our contemplative practices.”[1] (italics mine)

In 2007, Fr. Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation presented ‘How Do We Breathe Underwater?? The Gospel And 12 Step Spirituality.'[2] Rohr has also authored ‘The 12 Steps as Coded Gospel.'[3]

Such subject matter sounds very Biblical. Yet Fr. Rohr is a proponent of interspirituality via meditation. He believes, like many contemplatives, that God is in all, and all is in God.

Fr. Thomas Keating has introduced thousands to centering prayer. His book, Divine Therapy and Addiction: Centering Prayer and the Twelve Steps, demonstrates “the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve-Step method and its connections to, and similarities with, the Christian mystical traditions of centering prayer and Lectio Divina.”[4]

So what is going on here? Why such interest in 12 Step spirituality? Contemplatives recognize the meditative Silence–“thoughtless, empty, and void”[5]–that has been simmering in Alcoholics Anonymous since its inception.

Much like farmers kneeling in rich, fertile soil, Rohr, Keating, and other contemplatives are tending a meditative garden that has already produced much fruit. There are now 12 Step groups for everything from overeating to sexual addiction. Literally millions of people have already experienced meditation as part of their 12 Step program.

AA’s 11th Step states: 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.

“Meditation is something that can always be further developed. It has no boundaries, either of width or height,” writes AA co-founder Bill Wilson.[6] This is equally true of 12 Step theology–there are absolutely no boundaries when it comes to defining the “higher power.”

In the Bible, we are clearly told, “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.” (Isaiah 42:8)

According to Alcoholics Anonymous, “We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men. When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God.”[7]

This undefined “god” is meant, of course, to help. Tormented people, in the grasp of some overwhelming bondage, enter a 12 Step group and are told they must turn to a higher power. It doesn’t matter what you believe in, they are told, but it is crucial you believe in something.

So they do. They choose a spirit, perhaps, or a self-designed deity, or decide to worship the universe, or St. Jerome, or virtually anything else. But they surely reach out to something.

Then, when they reach the 11th Step, they seek through prayer and meditation even deeper communion with whatever idol–or entity–they have invited into their lives. As instructed, they ask for knowledge. What does the deity want them to do? They ask for power. And some enter the silence.

While the silence has always existed in the thorny undergrowth of 12 Step spirituality, Rohr, Keating, and others would like to see this become an integral part of the 11th Step. Thus the contemplatives have brought the tools of their trade. They have introduced the repetitive word (mantra/centering prayer), and repetitive phrase (Lectio Divina), and breath prayer at their contemplative/12 Step conferences and workshops.

Roger Oakland writes, “When [someone] is introduced to meditation, which produces a feeling of euphoria and well-being, he mistakes this for the presence of God. And thus the foundation of his faith is not on Christ or the Word of God, but rather on this feeling.”[8]

“No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14)

Historically, around the world, much has been experienced in the meditative silence. Bliss. Spirit-guides. A higher self. Oneness. And there have been false “christs,” wrapped in shining deception, communicating instructions and “wisdom” to some.

We can see the effect of one such false “christ” through the Oxford Group book, God Calling, in early AA history. Alcoholics Anonymous came out of Dr. Frank Buchman’s neo-evangelical Oxford Group of the 1930s. Buchman is credited with spreading meditation on every continent.[9]

AA co-founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith attended Buchman’s Oxford Group meetings together and separately. They poured Oxford Group meditative practices, along with its generic spiritual principles, into the bubbling stew of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Walter Martin, in Kingdom of the Cults, places Oxford Group founder Frank Buchman alongside cult figures such as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy.[10]

Pastor H.A. Ironside, who preached during the 1930s and 1940s, was familiar with the Oxford Group in his own city. He had grave concerns about its meditative practices:

“Each [Oxford Group] member is urged … to sit quietly with the mind emptied of every thought … waiting for God to say something to them…. Sometimes they tell me nothing happens, at other times the most amazing things come. Tested by the Word of God, many of these things are unscriptural. They lay themselves open for demons to communicate their blasphemous thoughts to them.”[11] (italics mine)

Oxford Group member (and minister) C. Irving Benson cautions about this Quiet Time/guidance and notes use of the Bible during this meditative period. Nevertheless, he writes, “The silence becomes a sacrament wherein God comes to us.”[12] Benson also states, “I wait in self-forgetting silence, contemplating the presence of God.”[13]

This brings us to God Calling, a book written by two women who identified themselves simply as “Two Listeners.”[14] Receiving Quiet Time “guidance” in the manner taught by the Oxford Group, they believed they recorded the words that Jesus Christ gave them daily.

The false “christ” that was channeled through these women advised, among other things, “Cultivate silence. ‘God speaks in silences.’ A silence, a soft wind. Each can be a message to convey MY meaning to the heart, though by no voice, or even word.” (January 7)

And, “Seek sometimes not even to hear me. Seek a silence of spirit-understanding.” (Feb. 27)

An ex-Oxford Group member named Richmond Walker, years later as an AA member, compiled prayers and meditations into one little book. Much of it was based on the demonic writings found in God Calling.

Walker, however, eliminated every reference to the Two Listeners’ “jesus” in favor of universal spirituality. The book, Twenty-Four Hours a Day, begins with an ancient Sanskrit proverb. “Twenty-Four Hours a Day” has been read by–and has influenced–millions of AA members.

According to an AA history website,
“[The book] explained how to practice meditation by quieting the mind and entering the Divine Silence in order to enter the divine peace and calm and restore our souls.”[15]

This meditation book also resonates with the New Age teaching that God is within: “There is a spark of the Divine in every one of us. Each has some of God’s spirit that can be developed by spiritual exercise.” (April 30)[16]

Do Christians in AA realize this New Age teaching can also be found in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book (the AA “bible”): “We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis, it is only there He can be found.”[17] (italics mine)

This belief that God is in all people is rapidly spreading. Alcoholics Anonymous and contemplatives like Rohr and Keating are wrong–God’s indwelling is not possible without receiving the Salvation of Christ. (Ephesians 1:13, 1 Cor 15:50, John 14: 15-17)

Yet Christians who embrace the 12 Steps are in error as well (2 Corinthians 6:14-17, Galatians 1:6-9). Cultural acceptance of higher power theology already has us on the verge of universalism; this growing fusion of contemplative/12 Step spirituality will produce, and ultimately proliferate, the great and terrible delusion of man’s divinity.

For more on Alcoholics Anonymous, see John Lanagan’s website.

1. Inner Room Conference promotional material
2. “How Do We Breathe Underwater?? The Gospel And 12 Step Spirituality,” Center for Action and Contemplation, promotional material
3. Fr. Richard Rohr, “The 12 Steps as Coded Gospel”
4. Fr. Thomas Keating, “Divine Therapy and Addiction: Centering Prayer and the Twelve Steps,” promotional material
5. Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing, Lighthouse Trails Publishing, pg. 15
6. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 101
7. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 46-47
8. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone, Lighthouse Trails Publishing, pg.112
9. Dave Hunt, Adaptation of Occult Invasion, 1998
10. Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, Bethany House Publishers, pg. 30
11. H.A. Ironside, The Oxford Group Movement: Is It Scriptural?
12. C. Irving Benson, The Eight Points of the Oxford Group: An Exposition for Christians and Pagans, Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, pg. 67
13. Ibid., pg.69
14. Two Listeners, God Calling, Barbour Publishing, Inc.
15. AA History–The 24 Hours a Day book
16. Richmond Walker, Twenty-Four Hours a Day, Hazelden Foundation, Meditation for the Day, April 30
17. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 55

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