Alcoholics Anonymous, Guilty Conscience, and Jesus Christ

Arthur Christopher Schaper

Arthur Christopher Schaper is a blogger on issues both timeless and timely.

December 19, 2012

I was raised believing that the Bible, the word of God, gave us knowledge about Jesus Christ, but the "Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous" helped make living "practical". I would read my "one chapter a day" in the Bible, then I would read sections from the other "Big Book" along with selections from "One Day at a Time in Al-Anon" or "As Bill Sees It", a collection of maxims and "insights" from AA founder Bill W. or other prominent leaders in Alcoholics Anonymous.

From a young age, I often found that I was easily upset, even irritable. It was easy to hurt my feelings, and other people had this inexplicable ability to "make me mad." Taking my hints from the Twelve Steps, I would "take my inventory", trying to figure out what I had done wrong.

As I grew up, I found that making individual decisions for myself became more difficult. Often, I was afraid of making someone mad or doing something wrong. Even though at the time I did not realize it, I was falling into the same patterns which define "adult children of alcoholics." But no one in my house was a practicing alcoholic.

For many years, I struggled with guilt, anger, fear, all the terrible emotions which cause people to drink, at least according to the AA program. Every time that I got "a resentment", I would panic because now I had to "do something" about this feeling, or else "something bad" would happen. Often, I would get nervous talking to people, wondering if I had done or said something wrong, or worrying that they would say or do something which would "make me mad".

Since I have learned more about Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, I have learned that through Him all my sins are forgiven. II do not confess my sins in order to get right with God, but through Christ I have passed from dead in my trespasses to alive in Christ. Now I am a child of God, whom I can call "Daddy!" because of my standing in righteousness. I have not only learned that "AA" is not necessary for practical living, but it inhibits "Life and that more abundantly" (John 10: 10) through Christ.

The greatest need for man is acceptance, or more specifically "righteousness". Yet something in every man wars against this sense of peace, the sense that something that we have done or may do will get us in "big trouble" or rather that we must "do something." This inner turmoil is a manifestation of the spiritual death which every person born into this world will manifest. God made man in His image, yet when Adam sinned against God, he died by being separated from God. Since then, man is born in the image of fallen Adam, yet the last Adam, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to reconcile all of mankind to God, so that we may receive His righteousness, perfect acceptance, His standing as a Son, and His eternal life.

The sense of "wrong-doing" which afflicts many Christians, and even adherents to other faiths, has a name: sin conscience.

By defining people by their addiction, AA makes this sense of wrongdoing worse. Their drinking is a symptom of people who want to undo the inner death in every person, a desire to make oneself OK. People do not treat us nicely, or we fail to measure up to our own self-righteous standards, and so we drink.

It is shameful and abusive for any one group or program to label people based on bad or self-destructive behaviors. Such pernicious labeling messes with a person's identity. This identity issue, more than health or wealth, makes all the difference for us. Identity helps us to make decisions, assess our skills, define our place in this world. We need to know who we are, and through this reality we receive we find acceptance.

Contrary to vile religious teachings or traditional understandings, God is not mad at the world anymore. God took out all His wrath on His Son -- all of it -- and offers to every person the gifts of righteousness and grace through faith to become "the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5: 21). Christ Jesus then comes into the life of a believer through His Holy Spirit, who grants to us a never-ending conviction of righteousness (John 16: 10), or knowledge beyond thinking or feeling that we are "OK".

AA teaches people that they have to "take their inventory" in order to stay in "spiritually fit condition". AA teaches people to keep looking at themselves, to make sure to catch themselves before they slip into guilt, fear, resentment, or selfish thinking. The whole program just stirs up a "sin" or "guilty" conscience in people. Every time that I would get afraid, I would get angry that I got afraid, then I would focus on myself, trying not to feel that way. It made mountains out of emotional mole-hills, to say the least. Only recently have I learned that our feelings merely respond to what we are thinking. If someone goes about thinking that they have to watch their feelings and "keep short accounts", then it will not be long before this person feels forever trapped in a cycle of "getting by" to avoid "getting upset".

Worst of all, the hurt feelings from the wrongs that people have done in the past, or the wrongs which others have done to us, do not go away with a "Fourth Step" followed by confessing these "wrongs" to an untrustworthy "sponsor". That "sense" of guilt or wrongdoing just creeps up on people. The Twelve Steps cannot remove man's fallen nature, even though he receives the Spirit of God. This other element about the Christian was never taught to me. I now have Christ living in me, but I still walk around in "the flesh", in a body and a mind which can easily resent, fear, or give into other perversions. Yet as long as I rest in my new identity in Christ, I never need fear falling into sin.

The only way to give our conscience the rest that we seek, the acceptance that we crave, is through the Cross, where we can know and believe that all our sins are forgiven, and that through Jesus' death, we receive His perfect righteousness and Himself living and guiding us through His Spirit. To confess our sins, to make amends with others, or any other activity for a sense of "getting right with God" only makes us more sad and depressed, focusing on ourselves, and thus induces people to engage in addictions or perversions to distract ourselves or calm our emptiness.

AA fosters a guilty conscience; through Christ, you can be made perfect within that His life may live through you.

PacificPalisades Patch


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