If there’s one thing everyone knows about Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s that the group uses a Twelve Step program to help people overcome their addiction. No doubt AA has helped a lot of people, but there’s also no doubt the Twelve Steps call on people to give themselves over to a Higher Power. That’s why AA is considered a religious organization.
In British Columbia, however, many treatment centers only recommend AA to alcoholics. The government’s own health information website also endorses AA. That’s a problem if you’re someone who either wants secular alternatives or prefers programs that operate based on the best available scientific evidence.
This week, Ian Bushfield, the Executive Director of the BC Humanist Association, spoke in front of the province Legislature’s Standing Committee on Health to convince them to include secular recovery programs wherever possible while also making clear that AA is a religious group that isn’t run based on evidence.
It was actually a good discussion for the most part. The legislators seemed to really be listening to what Bushfield was saying, with one of them saying this to him before asking pointed questions about how the government could fix the problem:
This is a real eye-opener for me. It’s not something I was aware of at all, so I want to really thank you for coming forward and making this presentation and helping to open some of our eyes on it, who weren’t aware of this.
Great! Nice to have someone who listens to the evidence being presented.
But I want to bring up one particular comment from legislator Dr. Darryl Plecas, who was much more dismissive of Bushfield’s silly reason-based ideas:
… In fact, there’s evidence to the contrary that would suggest that belief in a higher power has an incredibly powerful healing effect with people with all kinds of disorders. I’m just saying that’s the medical literature, which is telling us that.
[Ian Bushfield: Well, I would disagree with that. I haven’t seen the study you’re talking about.]
Well, I think there’s a fair amount of evidence which says that — like, such things as prayer would be helpful to people…
It makes you want to bang your head against the wall, doesn’t it?
Plecas was basically arguing AA shouldn’t be discounted because the “medical literature” says belief in God and prayer help people overcome their addictions and “all kinds of disorders.”
Just to be clear, there’s absolutely no scientific proof (and there never has been) that God helps people in any meaningful way.
What Plecas may have been referring to are studies that show belief in God and prayer function as powerful placebos. If you think they’ll help you, they just might. But there’s nothing divine going on there. If you think holding a rabbit’s foot will help, say, relieve your anxiety, that might help, too… but it doesn’t mean the rabbit’s foot has any special power.
In case you’re curious, in every study where people pray for strangers without their knowledge, the strangers never get better in any statistically significant way. (Sometimes, they got worse.)
Let’s hope the more rational minds win out here and secular alternatives are promoted at treatment centers in BC before long. It would be a resounding victory for those of us who care about recovery without the superstition.
(Image via Shutterstock)