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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gallup Overlooked Twelve-Step Spirituality

The Gallup Poll figures discussed in the article “About Those Irreligious New Englanders” (Sept. 19, 2013) do indeed deserve a closer look, as Rob Weir stated. I do not question the accuracy of the information in the poll, but rather what was missing. In most communities in Western Massachusetts, we are without a doubt seeing the decline of organized religion. What was measured in the Gallup poll was specifically organized “religion,” not “spirituality.”

A group of spiritual programs that were not mentioned were the various Twelve Step groups. Many Fellowships (including AA, NA, Al-Anon, ACA, SLAA, OA, DA,  UA and CoDA, to name a few) meet weekly across Western Massachusetts.

Last year, as part of a project for a group, I counted well over 1,000 weekly Twelve Step meetings in Western Massachusetts. It was then that I realized that perhaps attendance at Twelve Step meetings across Western Massachusetts would soon outnumber attendance at church services, if it has not already.

The guiding principles for these Fellowships are the Twelve Traditions, several of which pertain to the anonymity of groups and their members.  What results is that there is a tremendous spiritual movement that is purposefully unobtrusive and virtually absent from the media. 

Information about how these fellowships have grown over the years is not easily gathered through polls. So, as the attendance in local churches declines, Twelve Step groups quietly meet weekly, often within the same church walls, serving the purpose of recovery from (broadly defined) addictions through “unorganized” spiritual programs.

 

[Editor’s note: In the spirit of Emerson’s famous observation that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” we have made an exception in this instance to our policy against publishing unsigned letters.]

 

USDA’s Catering to Meat Industry Won’t Protect Consumer Safety

According to the lead story in yesterday’s Washington Post, the meat inspection program that the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to roll out in meat and poultry plants nationwide has repeatedly failed to stop production of contaminated meat. The program allows meat producers to increase the speed of processing lines and replace USDA safety inspectors with their own employees. 

But plants operating under this program have experienced some of the worst health and safety violations. They include failure to remove fecal matter and partly digested food, according to the USDA inspector general. These contaminants may contain complex strains of deadly E. coli and listeria.

Traditionally, the USDA has catered more to the interests and profitability of the meat industry than to the health and safety concerns of American consumers. Consumer interests come into play only when large numbers of us get sick.

Having the USDA protect consumers is like asking the fox to guard the chicken house. 

The Obama administration must reallocate responsibility for consumer safety to the Food and Drug Administration. In the meantime, each of us must assume responsibility for our own safety by switching to the rich variety of plant-based “meats” offered in local supermarkets.

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