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X and Alcoholics Anonymous by Rev. Dilworth Lupton
was a sermon preached on November 26, 1939 by Dilworth Lupton
at the First Unitarian Church (Universalist - Unitarian),
Euclid at East 82nd Street, Cleveland, Ohio.
X was Clarence H. S. This was turned into one of the first
pamphlets concerning A.A. and was used by A.A. members in
Cleveland in the late 1930's and early 1940's.
X and Alcoholics Anonymous
friend, Mr. X, is a young man with a family. For five years,
to use his own words, Mr. X did not "draw a sober breath."
His over-patient wife was about to sue him for divorce.
Now for over two years, he has not had a single drink. He
maintains that his "cure" is due to the efforts of a group
of "ex-drunks" (their own term) who call themselves Alcoholics
have had several opportunities to meet members of Alcoholics
Anonymous. Not long ago I accepted an invitation from Mr.
X to attend one of their meetings, held in a private home.
They are simple affairs: First a brief prayer, then four
or five give public testimony to their experiences, refreshments
are served, and there is general fellowship. They call themselves
religious, but I find no sign of excessive piety, sensationalism,
or fanaticism. Furthermore they have a sense of humor, somewhat
of a rarity in religious circles. They are not trying to
make other people or the country into "dries." They merely
say, "We are the type that can't take it, and we have found
a way of leaving it alone."
my own home recently nine members of this group submitted
themselves to questions for four hours from a prominent
physician and a psychiatrist. Both were impressed by the
trim appearance, sincerity, manliness of the ex-victims,
and by the seeming efficacy of their methods. As the physician
said to me privately, "These boys have got something!"
God someone is throwing light on the problem of the chronic
alcoholic, a problem that has perplexed men for centuries.
There may be a million victims in the United States. Chronic
alcoholism is not a vice but a disease. Its victims know
that the habit is exceedingly harmful - as one of them graphically
expressed it to me, "I was staring into a pine box" - but
they are driven toward drink by an uncontrollable desire,
by what psychologists call a compulsive psychosis.
abstinence appears the only way out, but except in rare
cases that has been impossible of attainment. Religion,
psychiatry, and medicine have been tried, but with only
sporadic success. The members of Alcoholics Anonymous, however,
appear to have found an answer, for they claim that at least
fifty per cent of those they interest have stopped drinking
conversations with my friend, Mr. X, and with members of
the Cleveland group, I am convinced that this success comes
through the application of four religious principles that
are as old as the Ten Commandments.
The principle of spiritual dependence
X, who had been drinking excessively for years, found that
he couldn't summon enough will power to stop even for a
single day. Finally in desperation he consented to a week
of hospital treatment. During this time he received frequent
visits from members of Alcoholics Anonymous. They told him
that he must stop trying to use his will and trust in a
Power greater than himself. Such trust had saved them from
the abyss and could save him. Believe or perish! Mr. X chose
to believe. Within a few days he lost all desire for alcohol.
in God seems to be the heart of the whole movement. Religion
must be more than a mere set of beliefs; it must be a profound
inner experience, faith in a Presence to which one may go
for strength in time of weakness.
fact is made quite clear in the book ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS,
which gives the philosophy behind the movement and also
the testimony of thirty of those who have benefited. Although
written by laymen it contains more psychological and religious
common-sense than one often reads in volumes by religious
professionals. The book is free from cant, from archaic
phraseology. It gives with skill and intelligence an inside
view of the alcohol problem and the technique through which
these men have found their freedom.
will let "Bill," one of the contributors to ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS,
describe his own experience. He had been drinking in his
kitchen - there was enough gin in the house to carry him
through that night and the next day. An old friend came
to see him. They had often been drunk together, but now
he refused to drink! He had "got religion." He talked for
hours...it all seemed impossible, and yet there he was,
sober. But let me quote from the book:
had done for him what he could not do for himself. His human
will had failed. Doctors had pronounced him incurable. Society
was about to lock him up. Like myself, he had admitted complete
defeat. Then he had, in effect, been raised from the dead,
suddenly taken from the scrap heap to a level of life better
than the best he had ever known!
this power originated in him? Obviously it had not. There
had been no more power in him than there was in me at that
moment, and this was none at all.
floored me. It began to look as though religious people
were right after all. Here was something at work in a human
heart which had done the impossible. My ideas about miracles
were drastically revised right then. Never mind the musty
past; here sat a miracle directly across the kitchen table.
He shouted great tidings.*
Anonymous (New York, AAWS, Inc., 1976), p. 11
hard is it for us moderns to concede - much less express
it as our deep conviction - that our inner lives ultimately
are dependent upon a power-not-ourselves. Such an attitude
seems weak and cowardly. But we go even farther; we suspect
that faith in a spiritual Presence outside ourselves is
absurd? Our bodies are dependent ultimately upon the physical
cosmos, upon air and sunlight, and upon this strange planet
that bears us up. Why is it absurd then, to think of our
spiritual selves - our souls, psyches, call them what you
will - as being dependent upon a spiritual cosmos? Is it
not absurd, rather to conceive that the material side of
us is part of a material universe, but that our nature is
isolated, alone, independent? Is not such an attitude a
kind of megalomania?
any rate these ex-alcoholics declare that only when they
recognized their spiritual dependence was their obsession
The principle of universality
our great museums one usually finds paintings covering several
ages of art, often brought together from widely separated
localities - the primitive, medieval and modern periods;
products of French, American, English, and Dutch masters;
treasures from China, Japan, and India. Yet as one looks
at these productions he instinctively feels that a universal
beauty runs through them all. Beauty knows no particular
age or school. Beauty is never exclusive and provincial;
it is inclusive and universal.
too, in the field of religion. We are beginning to recognize
the substantial unity of all religious faiths. Back of all
religions is religion itself. Religion appears in differing
types, but they are all expressions of one great impulse
to live nobly and to adore the highest.
universality of religion is recognized by the Alcoholics
Anonymous. Their meetings are attended by Catholics, Protestants,
Jews, near-agnostics, and near-atheists. There is the utmost
tolerance. It seems of no concern to the group with what
religious bodies non-church-going members eventually identify
themselves; indeed there is no pressure to join any church
whatever. What particularly impresses me is the fact that
each individual can conceive of the Power-not-himself in
whatever terms he pleases.
- the writer already quoted in ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS - makes
this tolerance clear when he further narrates his conversation
with his ex-alcoholic friend:
friend suggested what then seemed a novel idea. He said,
'Why don't you choose your own conception of God?'
statement hit me hard. It melted the icy intellectual mountain
in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I stood
in the sunlight at last.
was only a matter of being willing to believe in a power
greater than myself. Nothing more was required of me to
make my beginning. I saw that growth could start from
that point. Upon a foundation of complete willingness I
might build what I saw in my friend. Would I have it? Of
course I would!*
Anonymous (New York, AAWS, Inc., 1976), p. 12
these laymen in Alcoholics Anonymous are laying foundations
for a new universal movement in religion. Surely the conventional
conceptions of religion have been too narrow. Religion,
itself, is far bigger and broader than we thought. It is
something we can no more capture through rigid dogmas than
we can squeeze all the sunshine in the world through one
The principle of mutual aid
again the case of Mr. X. When he was being hospitalized
eighteen laymen visitors called on him within the brief
space of five days. These men were willing to give their
valuable time in trying to help a man they had never seen
before. To Mr. X they related their own dramatic experiences
in being saved from slavery to alcohol, and offered their
assistance. Upon leaving the hospital Mr. X began attending
the weekly meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. (editor's note-
these were actually meetings of the Oxford Group as Alcoholics
Anonymous was not officially named in 1938)
long he was following the example of the men who had so
generously given him of their help. From what I know of
the practices of these members of Alcoholics Anonymous,
I feel quite confident that Mr. X this very day is using
virtually every hour of his spare time to assist other victims
in getting on their feet.
he said to me recently, "Only an alcoholic can help an alcoholic.
If a victim of chronic alcoholism goes to a doctor, psychiatrist,
or a minister, he feels the listener cannot possibly understand
what it means to be afflicted with a compulsion psychosis.
But when he talks with an ex-alcoholic, who has probably
been in a worse fix than himself and has found the way out,
he immediately gains a confidence in himself that he hasn't
had in years. He says to himself in substance, 'If this
fellow has been saved from disaster I can be too'."
weekly meetings of the Alcoholics Anonymous operate on this
same principal of mutual aid. The ex-victims bolster up
each other's morale through comradeship. Like ship-wrecked
sailors on a raft headed for the shore, the bond that holds
them together is the same that they have escaped from a
common peril. Upon each newcomer is impressed the necessity
of helping other alcoholics obtain the freedom he has attained.
They believe they gain strength from expenditure - not expenditure
of money, of which most of them have but little, but of
themselves. Said one of them to me, "What I have is no good
unless I give it away." There are no dues, no fees, just
the sheer pleasure and, in this case, moral profit, that
comes from helping the other fellow. This mutual aid acts
as a sort of endless chain. Mr. A, Mr. B, and Mr. C help
Mr. X out of the frightful mess he is in; then Mr. X turns
around and helps Mr. Y and Mr. Z. These in turn helps other
"Bill" writes in ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS:
wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea
of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems.
It was fortunate, for my old business associates remained
skeptical for a year and a half, during which I found little
work. I was not too well at the time, and was plagued by
waves of self-pity and resentment. This sometimes nearly
drove me back to drink. I soon found that when all other
measures failed, work with another alcoholic would save
the day. Many times I have gone to my old hospital in despair.
On talking to a man there, I would be amazingly uplifted
and set on my feet. It is a design for living that works
in rough going.*
Alcoholics Anonymous (New York, AAWS, Inc., 1976),
The principle of transformation
the last half century many able psychologists have turned
the searchlight of their investigations on "religious experience."
It seems quite clear from these studies that religion consists
not primarily in the intellectual acceptance of certain
beliefs. It involves even more the transformation of human
character. Such transformations have taken place not only
in the lives of saints and religious leaders, but in the
souls of multitudes of common folk as well. It is a scientific
fact that through religious faith people are sometimes suddenly,
and sometimes gradually aroused to a new set of interests,
are raised from lower to higher levels of existence. Life
and its duties take on new meaning, and selfishness (half-conscious
often) is displaced by the conscious desire to help other
any human being needs such a transformation, it is the chronic
alcoholic. He may not be at the point where he is willing
to admit that, but his family and friends are! Alcoholism
is a sickness, to be sure, but it is unlike any other malady
in certain fundamental aspects. Compare for example, the
case of the alcoholic with that of a tubercular patient.
Everybody is sorry for the "T.B." and wants to help. He
is surrounded by friendliness and love. But in all likelihood,
the alcoholic has made a perfect hell of his home and has
destroyed his friendships one by one. He has drawn to himself
not compassion and love, but misunderstanding, resentment,
seems to be every evidence that the Alcoholics Anonymous
group has been amazingly successful in bringing about religious
transformation. Note how a doctor describes the effect of
this technique on one of his patients:
had lost everything worth while in his life and was only
living, one might say, to drink. He frankly admitted and
believed that for him there was no hope. Following the elimination
of alcohol, there was found to be no permanent brain injury.
He accepted the plan outlined in this book (ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS).
One year later he called to see me, and I experienced a
very strange sensation. I knew this man by name, and partly
recognized his features, but there all resemblance ended.
From a trembling, despairing, nervous wreck, had emerged
a man brimming over with self-reliance and contentment.
I talked with him for some time, but was not able to bring
myself to feel that I had known him before. To me he was
a stranger, and so he left me. More than three years have
now passed with no return to alcohol.*
Alcoholics Anonymous, "The Doctor's Opinion" (New
York, AAWS, Inc., 1976), p. xxix
member of this movement declares that since he has come
to believe in a Power-greater-than-himself a revolutionary
change has taken place in his life; even his acquaintances
note a marked change. He has radically altered his attitudes
and outlooks, his habits of thought. In the face of despair
and impending collapse, he has gained a new sense of direction,
have seen these things with my own eyes. They are convincing,
final word to the members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Go back
to your synagogues and churches; they need you and you need
them. Preserve your principle of Universality, your faith
that all religion is one. Never allow yourselves to be absorbed
by any single church or sect. Keep your movement what you
call it now, a "layman's outfit." Avoid over-organization
for religious organizations always tend to follow the letter
rather than the spirit, finally crushing the spirit. Remember
that early Christianity was promoted not by highly involved
organization, but by the contagion of souls fired with enthusiasm
for their cause. And keep your sense of humor! So far you
do not seem afflicted with the curse of over-seriousness.
doctors and psychiatrists I would say; Be skeptical, investigate
this movement with an open mind. If you become convinced
of their sincerity and the efficacy of their methods, give
these men your approval and open support.
ANONYMOUS ought to have a wide reading by the general public.
For one thing the public ought to learn first hand that
the chronic alcoholic is suffering not from a vice, but
from a disease; that it is impossible for him to "drink
like a gentleman." Moderation for him is out of the question.
For him there is no such thing as the single drink. It is
one taste, and then the deluge.
every victim of alcoholism and every friend of victims ought
to buy or borrow and read this book, then seek to get in
touch with some member of the movement. The writer of this
article will be glad to furnish addresses of the Cleveland
leaders. Or communicate with Alcoholics Anonymous, Box 658,
Church Street Annex, New York City.
the book "How It Worked
- The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of
Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio" by Mitchell