Newt Gingrich’s attack on atheism is an extreme math fail

His anecdote is weak for many reasons. But listen to his story about the famous 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (later adopted by dozens of other programs).

“If you could drop the 2nd step, we could fund the other 11 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous… [because] the 2nd step is the one that recognizes a higher being.” – Federal Official

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol —that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. 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.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

That’s 7 out of 12. More than half!

Clearly this story is not based in reality. Maybe it’s a parable? I think it also implies that Newt considers himself powerless with regard to politics (first step). Because he is a godly man, and that’s “why it works.”

He’s known for writing his own stuff. That’s supposed to represent his ‘genius’ or something. I heard him refer to being a firm believer in the Republican ”11th Commandment” – a promise not to attack other Republicans. I believe he may have skipped over the specifics of the first 10 commandments as well; something about not cheating on your wife wives. So he’s consistent if nothing else.

Either way, thanks to the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers for posting it!

“Recorded at the Thanksgiving Family Forum in Des Moines Nov 19, 2011

Posted by the Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the preservation of rational thought.”

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  • Randomfactor

    So maybe someone should put together a five-step program. It would probably work better than AA does.

  • Matt

    Posting a picture of Newt Gingrich next to a mentally challenged individual is a great insult to said individual.

  • FormerlyNavy

    So, wait…saying I was an alcoholic and I wanted to “get help”, go to AA, etc…I’d have to believe in a god (or rather “the” god)? Because, what, I apparently was human enough to become an alcoholic int he first place, but I am not human enough to overcome my failures without the help of an imaginary being? That is absolute bull shit.

  • Lawrence C.

    Very salient points.

    But do you HAVE to post a pic with a caption mocking someone who has developmental disabilities?

    **RBB: Thank you. I wasn’t really thinking that original picture through all the way. It’s been removed. ALWAYS correct this stuff!**

  • JoeyDonuts

    I was with you right up until you posted the picture of the kid with Down’s Syndrome. That’s pretty freaking low – and a good way to give up a bit of the high ground. His comments are asinine enough without having a go at the developmentally disabled to reinforce your argument somehow.

    And if me – a fellow military veteran/atheist is saying something – you can bet those who would rather you just go away have noticed as well.

    **RBB: Thank you. I wasn’t really thinking that original picture through all the way. It’s been removed. ALWAYS correct this stuff!**

  • Point of order. From the AA 12&12

    Our 7th Tradition states “Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions”

    We don’t take money from outside sources. Period. No gubmint funds, no charity.

    Secondly, While it is true that many people in AA have no problem accepting a paranormal entity as their higher power, their are many of us (maybe 10%?) that have no god belief and use the group as a power greater than ourselves. Also, in order to work an AA program you have to have the ability to be honest to a fault. Newt would have a very difficult time with this since he wouldn’t know the truth if it sat on his face and started to wiggle. Let’s hope he never needs us.

  • Seamus Ruah

    “Posting a picture of Newt Gingrich next to a mentally challenged individual is a great insult to said individual.”

    I thought people were referring to Herman Cain.

    Too funny…

  • Justin Griffith

    @Seamus Ruah #7


    On a serious note, I actually like it when I’m wrong. It’s the only way to learn. I feel it would also be a tad dishonest to remove traces of being wrong to save face. I’ll take my lumps. 🙂

  • grumpyoldfart

    He’s terrified that an atheist President might have the strength to go it alone.

    I’m terrified that a religious President might do something crazy, simply because he thinks god won’t let anything bad happen.

    Who shall we smite? Smite everyone, God will look after his own.

  • Lill O’Lady

    When I first embraced sobriety my higher power was an oak tree. It sounds insane now, but it worked. I’ll be 25 years sober in June, 47 years atheist. If I were starting out with sobriety today, I’d get with a rational recovery group. The image of that oak tree got me through some very rough moments. Every AA, NA, CA group has atheists. The higher power is simply a way to trick the mind into waiting 5 more minutes until a craving passes, and breaking through the anxiety and rumination that occur in the first year or two until the brain chemistry becomes more normal. No AA, CA or NA group is allowed to define your higher power or push religious cant on you. And if they do, contact AA and run for the door. Find another group.If you are struggling with addiction don’t let the outmoded language stop you! Get help. There’s a wonderful life waiting on the other side of the canyon.

  • Lill O’Lady

    Sorry, wrong thread!

  • Lill O’Lady

    Ooops! Right thread! All apologies I’m working with an unfamiliar 8 inch tablet here, my desktop is busted, and I miss my 22 inch screen. Aaaaaarrrrgh!

  • Al

    As an atheist and a recovering alcoholic, this little speech infuriates me on a fundamental level. I’m approaching AA from a secular humanist perspective, currently working step four and doing swimmingly without petitioning any creative force or higher intelligence. It is absolutely possible to recover without an omnipotent god, using only human means like a support system and sheer willpower.

  • I’d say Newt is a firm believer in the ”11th Commandment” for other Republicans. He has no trouble attacking Regan, and he has no problem with attacking Romney.

    And I’ve seen quite a bit of evidence that AA doesn’t work very well at all. Maybe the second step is why people go on insisting that it does.

  • khms

    And I’ve seen quite a bit of evidence that AA doesn’t work very well at all.

    I’ve heard the claim somewhere that the percentage of people getting over their addiction with the help of AA is pretty close to the percentage of people getting over their addiction without AA – in other words, that AA doesn’t really make a measurable difference.

    It may have even been somewhere on FTB.

    I think it was accompanied by an analysis how much of AA goes in the wrong direction, and some other stuff was significantly better – but having never had the need or know of any acquaintance who did, I don’t remember the details.

  • Ned Champlain

    The problem is it does not work. It never did work. The success rate is dubious at best and the failure rate is 96%. Yet courts continue to sentance people to attend meetings knowing the huge failure rates.

  • Mark

    Where does he expect to get all of the scientists to design and build his moon base? He needs to visit NASA and see how many biblical literalists he can find. (Hint, they’re the all in the janitorial staff)

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I believe he may have skipped over the specifics of the first 10 commandments as well; something about not cheating on your wife wives.

    I suspect you’ve got that wrong. “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” (Exodus 20:34; Deuteronomy 5:18) considered in the social environment of the time, is not about being faithful to one of your wives, it is about not causing some other woman to be unfaithful to her husband. I.e. the double standard of the time was even more lopsided than today. Multiple wives, concubines, temple whores, virgin women of some tribe you have decimated at the behest of Yahweh; for the man this is all no problem.

    Also, while that phrasing appears in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, it does not appear in Exodus 34; when Yahweh replaced the original 10 commandments, broken by Moses, with an identical copy which is mysteriously different.

    And remember the immortal words of Yahweh in Exodus 34:19:

    All that openeth the matrix is mine.

  • Kevin Hutchinson

    “A power greater than yourself” does not imply God. For example Buddhism seems to be very complementary to AA (see “One Breath at a Time” by Kevin Griffin. (Buddhism is the philosophy that includes the wonderful line “if you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha” – so I don’t think it counts as theistic).

  • Duckorange

    I’m an atheist working a 12-step program (thought it’s not AA).

    My “higher power” is the other guys in the group. God’s got nothing to do with it.

  • Lou Vignates

    Newt is a very religious man. The proof: Every time he cheats on a wife, he picks a fellow cheater of a different religion, then he converts to that religion and marries her. He observes the religious commandments by violating them. He couldn’t be religious if he ignored the commandments.

  • AA is yet another subterfuge deployed by christian corporations to net new customers when vulnerable to inculcation.

    The first step is worst thing to do to an addict but the best thing to do for a religion business. Telling a person that they are without power is worse than false. The second step draws a person in by substituting a higher power for the personal power that every individual is born with. The third step uses the word god and surrenders personal power to it. The “as we understand him” is a ruse to deflect scepticism. Once a person reaches and accepts step five, six and seven, the inculcation is complete. Personal power has been transfered to the religion business and a new customer and the new inculcate can be indoctrinated and manipulated by corporate religion.

    Only one power exists within this universe; the power of decision. No higher power exists. Even a person wanting to allow the possibility of a creator, of any definition, will acknowledge that a creator would, first, decide to create and then apply a creating force. Decision, even then, would be the first mover, the source of all value. Without a god, decision is the first mover, the source of all value.

    An addict has surrendered the power of decision to something other than themselves. AA leverages that condition by transferring that surrender to itself.

    To any person or organization that wants to assist an addict, focus immediately on the power of decision. Help the addict realize that they have surrendered some of their power to an mindless, external, imaginary value upon which they rely instead of relying upon themselves and exercising their own power.

    Nothing has power over an individual. Individuals are sovereign. The surrender of power is an impermissable abdication. We can delegate power to a government or an agency or an institution for specified, limited purposes. Even the delegation of power is problematic. The surrender of power is a betrayal of self. That betrayal produces its own punishment because duty to self, duty to exercise the power of decision cannot be escaped.

  • jiffylush

    Why the AA hate in the comments?

    step 1 – Newt Gingrich says something that is completely and possibly intentionally incorrect to show that church and state should not be separated.

    step 2 – People in the comments attack the program who’s process he “spoke incorrectly” about.

    First, people who say that AA doesn’t work are wrong. It does work for a lot of people. They have found a way of living and/or thinking through the program that works for them and helps them maintain sobriety. How is that bad or negative? What makes an organization that has been helping people do that for more than 70 years worthy of attacking?

    Some of you talk about all the people who are mandated to go to meetings AND talk about what a low percentage of people that it works for. Can you not see link there?

    Lots of people are forced to sit in a meeting listening to tales about how much better life is without doing something that their life revolves around. How would you react to it? Would you take it seriously? Would you stop doing the only thing you want to do because a judge made you go to some meetings? Or would you just go to the meetings and sit there and stay sober so that you can pass your drug tests, waiting for the time that you were no longer required to take drug tests and could go back to doing what you wanted to be doing the whole time?

    AA can only work if you want it to, you can’t make someone stay sober, it is something they need to do for themselves. AA is merely a tool that they can use to help them. If they choose not to use it it isn’t a failure of AA.

    If your complaint is that people shouldn’t be forced to go to meetings then say that, there is no need to disparage a group that aims to do nothing but help people stop drinking (or using) by getting them to work with people that have stopped drinking (or using).

    There is no profit motive, there is no corporation behind it returning money to investors. If you have a problem with the business of recovery and the ridiculous amount of money that some treatment facilities charge then attack those places. Those facilities make use of the 12 Steps and make money while doing it. It isn’t AA that is using those facilities.

    If the problem is that someone in your life did AA and it didn’t help them, you need to realize that it is their fault that they are not sober. They use the excuse of powerlessness or whatever to keep using. The point of admitting powerlessness in AA is to admit that you need and want help. Not to provide the excuse that you can’t help it and would stop if you could.

    Try to realize that a person’s life is fucked up because of their substance abuse, not because of a program that they chose not to follow or to only pay lip service to.

  • jiffylush


    AA is yet another subterfuge, blah blah blah.

    I am an athiest and so are many of the people in the meetings I go to. We talk about how ridiculous the big book is in the chapter ‘we agnostics’ in meetings. We talk about how substances were your higher power and you turned your life over to them. Some people talk about a ‘higher power’ as something that is within you that you can use to stay sober. Some of us also use other things, like the group itself, or the compassion of others. People use things like the ocean or other things outside of themselves. It doesn’t matter, it is whatever works for you. It is meant as a way to change the way you think and live your life because the way you were doing it before was what got you into the meetings in the first place. Using something outside of yourself helps a lot of people because not using seems like something that is insurmountable, something that they cannot do on their own which is why they are in the meeting. They are getting help from outside of themselves because when they did it on their own they failed.

    Is your complaint is that a book that was written 70 years ago doesn’t fit with your modern ideas about organized religion and spirituality or whatever? Wow, you are such a unique and special flower. How stupid are the people that can’t see what you plainly see?

    Do you not realize how many people in the program see the plainly christian foundation in it? It is obvious to anyone who reads the steps, you can see that ‘Higher Power’ or ‘God as you understood him’ was just tacked on. It is just like how Intelligent Design is just an update to the same old creationism that people have been believing for thousands of years.

    You are missing the big picture. The point of the program isn’t to create new christians and send them off to bible study to fill the coffers. It is to help people improve their lives by giving them tools to help them abstain from mood-altering substances that until this point were causing actual direct problems in their day to day lives.

    The program’s use God, imho, is due to something like 90% of the population of our country believing that there is a magic being in the sky. This group of drunks way back in the 30s discovered that you could exploit that belief to help you improve your life.

    If you don’t share the belief in some supernatural being then you just use whatever works for you.

    I had trouble with the program because of it’s focus on God and having a spiritual awakening. I already had a spiritual awakening that left me confident that there was nothing out there, the program can’t change that and isn’t trying to. For some reason the program is working for me anyway and I have been sober for the longest period of time since I was 17 years old.

    If you have a problem with a person who is in the program and doesn’t understand that other people don’t need to use the same ‘higher power’ then the problem is that individual. That individual is an evangelical christian who may be using the program to ‘spread the word’ which is what he thinks is what he should be doing. These are the same people who go to Israel and try to convert Jews. The problem is those individuals who are like that in any setting be it work or whatever. It isn’t the fault of AA or any other 12 step group as a whole.

  • @jiffylush

    Maybe some of the hateful commentary comes from the seven steps formed from the ideology of christian religion businesses?

    AA was formed by a christian society which put distance between itself and its creation.

    The addicted intuit that religious ideology is not required and that twelve steps are not required to liberate themselves from the substance they have surrendered power to.

    Surely, you are correct to point out that it is the will of a person and not the form of the program that determines outcome.

    My criticism of AA is the transfer of dependency from a substance to AA and the way the program puts a person vulnerable to proselytizing. I have nothing against persons who succeed in recovering their personal power by any means.

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