Alcoholics Anonymous sobriety chip. (Wikimedia commons)

Alcoholics Anonymous is probably the best known anti-addiction program in the world. Some version of its 12 Steps are incorporated in almost every rehab center, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its detractors. Some even call it a cult.

It’s not. It’s a peer fellowship of people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) who gather to offer support to others with AUD. They tell stories, offer advice from their own experience, and those longer in recovery act as “sponsors” for those newly in recovery.

True, it’s not a cure or even a treatment for alcoholism, but then it doesn’t really claim to be. By acknowledging and proclaiming that addiction has no real cure, that the only solution is to take it one day at a time, it provides a valuable service.

Some critics try to smear it by association. For example, that AA founder Bill W. was a Mason.

Freemasons are among the most charitable groups in the world, but because they use esoteric ritual and names, some suspect them of being a conspiracy that rules the world behind the scenes.

Some people believe that Alcoholics Anonymous co-founders Robert Holbrook Smith (Dr. Bob) and Bill Wilson (Bill W.) were Freemasons or were inspired or influenced by Freemasonry. Unfortunately, this seems to be mostly the opinion of those who feel one or both organizations are fronts for Lucifer, cults dedicated to brainwashing, thought control and world domination through the New World Order or a cover for the Illuminati.

That said, if there is a connection, it seems like it’s at worst harmless, and at best a good thing.

Despite all the fear and paranoia about Freemasonry, it is just a fraternal organization—the oldest and largest in the world—that gathers for friendship and to do good works.

Freemason symbol (Pixabay)

Both groups have been accused of being cults, threats to or alternatives to real religions (though I don’t think the Pope has ever railed against AA) and money-making machines for the leaders (though AA doesn’t have leadership, dues or other rehab costs).

However, the AA-Freemason connection (though not the smear) might be real.

Orange Papers, an anti-AA (or “steppism,” for its Twelve Steps) site, printed a letter “Confirmation from Cedric Smith,” allegedly the “Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Vermont,” to the effect that “a Robert H. Smith … was a member of our Passumpsic Lodge No. 27 located in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.”

But so what? That doesn’t prove that AA was founded on Masonic principles or as part of a “Masonic conspiracy” (whatever that is imagined to be!). Site moderator “Agent Orange” points out that there’s only “one huge similarity between Masonry and steppism, the idea that a belief in some form of God is necessary for membership.” Most Americans would see that as a good similarity, not a conspiracy.

The official version (but all conspiracy enthusiasts know you can never trust the official version) is that AA grew out of the Oxford Group, which Bill W. joined and which helped him stop drinking. A nondenominational but definitely Christian organization, the Oxford Group relied on fellowship, social activities, sharing sins, seeking guidance from and surrendering to God. Like AA, it had a number of enumerated beliefs or practices: the Four Absolutes, the Four Practices, the Five C’s and Five Procedures. You can easily see this DNA in AA.

But while AA speaks of accepting a Higher Power, and meetings can be more or less religious depending on the composition of its membership, religious belief is not required. Many non religious addiction recovery centers include some version of AA, Narcotics Anonymous or other 12 step model. The Oxford Group is a little more insistent on Christian faith, as is Freemasonry (through Freemasonry mandates there be no discussion of religion—or politics for that matter).

Bill W. took the principles and methods that he learned from the Oxford Group and tried to help other alcoholics. When that didn’t work, he made modifications. Thus he helped Dr. Bob stop drinking, and together they developed the current Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of the The Big Book, creating Alcoholics Anonymous in the process. Maybe they borrowed from Freemasonry, too, if they were members or knew of it.

But even as harsh an AA critic as Orange can find 17 good things to say about the program, including that it provides moral support, structure, “is everywhere, almost all of the time,” and is free.