grammar school, I said the Pledge
of Allegiance to our flag. It talked
of "one nation under God."
Then I got hold of some coins and
bills. And they all said
"In God we trust." I joined
the Boy Scouts, and I pledged that
I would do my best to do my duty
to God and my country. And, in the
Army and when I was admitted to
law practice, I must have sworn
to uphold, protect, and defend the
Constitution–knowing that one of
our founding documents talked about
our being "endowed by our Creator"
with certain rights.
never had any trouble knowing Who
God was. And is! Actually, until
I came to A.A., I never really met
anyone else who had that trouble.
That’s not to say I didn’t know
what an atheist is: He or she is
someone who doesn’t believe in God.
I also acquired some knowledge about
what an agnostic is: He or she is
someone who just plain doesn’t know
whether or not there is a God. Finally,
I was the attorney for several Humanist
groups in the course of my legal
work; and I learned they didn’t
think there was a God at all. I
also learned that, despite their
non-belief, the the courts have
specifically ruled and held they
are a "religion."
I came to Alcoholics Anonymous,
I attended thousands of meetings
and participated in hundreds of
Big Book studies, Step Studies,
Conferences, Conventions, and Groups.
And I was sufficiently sick that
I didn’t give much thought to the
frequent mention of "higher
power" in meetings where I
was present. The "higher power"
stuff was just a phantom ship passing
in the night. True, in the Big Book’s
3rd edition, "higher
power" was mentioned–but only
twice–in its basic text (on page
43 and page 100). But, in both cases,
the usage was clearly in the context
of "God." Bill said so
on pages 45 and 46 as well as page
100. Besides, I was told, that when
you get to the Third Step and are
still talking about a lightbulb
or a doorknob as your "higher
power," you will be baffled
with a Third Step that says you
are to turn your will and your life
over to the care of God–a God it
says you understood. In fact, that
most of us very definitely understand
to one degree or another. I certainly
understood that this loving God
is not a lightbulb or a doorknob.
I began to listen to the "higher
power" talk, and to do some
reading about this "higher
power." Bill Wilson wrote in
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
that you could make the "group"
your higher power. My treatment
center people said your higher power
could be "good orderly direction."
Speakers sometimes said at meetings
that "it" could be "group
of drunks." Therapists said,
"Fake it till you make it"
and "Act as if." Fake
what! As if what! And the more I
listened, the more absurd the higher
powers became in the language of
powers were tables, bulldozers,
radiators, goddesses, "somethings,"
"any god you want," "yourself
as not-god," the Big Dipper,
Santa Claus, and–on Friday Nights,
at our Larkspur Beginner’s Meeting–"it"
was regularly called "Ralph."
Honest! It was! Sadly, today you
can find all of these gods, not-gods,
idols, and somethings in A.A.’s
Conference Approved literature and
in many "scholarly" writings
about the recovery field today.
You can find the weird names and
descriptions specifically documented
in many of my books, particularly
The Oxford Group and Alcoholics
and The Good Book and The Big
if your life depended upon help
from such a "higher power,"
wouldn’t you want to know what that
"higher power" was! I
did. So I’ve been searching for
11 years not only to find out where
A.A. came from, particularly in
the Bible, but also how in the world
someone threw Ralph into the mix.
The longer I remained sober, the
more ridiculous the Ralphs and the
radiators seemed. Yet, in a telephone
interview several years back, Bill
Wilson’s own secretary told me on
the telephone that a higher power
could be a chair. Of course, she
was a Buddhist; and perhaps, in
her thinking, there might be a god
in a chair. But such a god has no
reputation for curing drunks. I
sure know it isn’t our Creator or
"God"–the God that Dr.
Bob called my "Heavenly Father,"
as did Jesus Christ, God’s only
Start with the Bible to Look for
a "higher power"
Bob said many times that A.A.’s
basic ideas came from the Bible.
You can find that in DR.
BOB and the Good Oldtimers
and in Dr. Bob’s last major address
in Detroit in 1948. You can see
it in his talks and in the pamphlets
he commissioned in Akron. To this
day, I’ve never found or heard anything
that indicates Bill Wilson disputed
Dr. Bob’s statement about the Bible’s
being the source of A.A.’s basic
ideas. Nor could he. Because, even
if A.A. had been borrowed exclusively
from the teachings of Reverend Sam
Shoemaker or exclusively from the
Oxford Group itself (and it wasn’t),
neither of those sources propounded
any idea about Almighty God’s being
called some idol like Ralph, a radiator,
or a table. Or "Gertrude"–another
god I recently found in a scholar’s
early anonymous work.
the Bible Speak of a "higher
does the Bible say a "higher
power" is? My research in Young’s
in the Bible itself, and in several
Bible dictionaries shows no reference
to "God" as a "higher
power." There is a reference
in Romans to "higher powers;"
but the reference quite clearly
is not to our Creator–saying, instead,
there is no power but of
every soul be subject unto the higher
powers. For there is no power but
of God: the powers that be are ordained
therefore resisteth the power, resisteth
the ordinance of God: and they that
resist shall receive to themselves
Good Book Commands: Thou
shalt have no other gods before
are plenty of references to our
Creator, Yahweh, as the "high"
or "highest" God, but
God makes it clear that there are
to be no other gods before Him–nowhere!
Not in chairs. Not in light bulbs.
Not in radiators. Not even in Alcoholics
shalt have no other gods before
shalt not make unto thee any graven
image, or any likeness of any
thing that is in heaven
above, or that is in the
earth beneath, or that is
in the water under the earth.
shalt not bow down thyself to them,
nor serve them. . . .
is One with
all power: Our Creator, Yahweh,
the Highest, the God of power
Is High All Right
Lord is great in Zion; and
he is high above the people.
blessed be the most high God, which
hath delivered thine enemies into
thy hand. . . .
Lord on high is mightier
than the noise of many waters, yea,
than the mighty waves of the
they remembered that God was
their rock, and the high God
thou, Lord, art most high
thou king, the most high God gave
Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom,
and majesty, and glory, and honour.
cried with a loud voice, and said,
What have I to do with thee, Jesus,
thou Son of the most high God?
Truth, the Highest.
love ye your enemies, and do good,
and lend, hoping for nothing again;
and your reward shall be great,
and ye shall be the children of
the Highest: for he is kind unto
the unthankful and to the
evil. Be ye therefore merciful,
as your Father also is merciful.
Good Book Says of Our Creator: For
thine is the power.
shall speak of the glory of thy
kingdom and talk of thy power.
make known to the sons of men his
mighty acts, and the glorious majesty
of his kingdom.
is our Lord, and of great
power: his understanding is infinite.
ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary:
praise him in the firmament of his
power. Praise him for his mighty
acts: praise him according to his
6:10, 13: Thy kingdom come. Thy
will be done in earth, as it
is in heaven. . . .
lead us not into temptation, but
deliver us from evil: For thine
is the kingdom, and the power, and
the glory, for ever. Amen.
my brethren, be strong in the Lord,
and in the power of his might.
on the whole armour of God, that
ye may be able to stand against
the wiles of the devil.
Corinthians 2:4, 5:
my speech and my preaching was not
with enticing words of man’s wisdom,
but in demonstration of the Spirit
and of power;
your faith should not stand in the
wisdom of men, but in the power
the Bible has much more: For
a much more thorough and complete
study, in the Bible itself, of God’s
name, nature, will, power, commandments,
and so on, see my titles: By
the Power of God (http://www.dickb.com/powerofgod.shtml)
and Why Early A.A. Succeeded
Smith, and the Pioneers spoke in
the beginning only of our Creator
spent 11 years endeavoring to learn
if A.A. was based on the Bible.
It was clear, when I began, that
Dr. Bob said so. It was clear that
Bill W. seems never to have disputed
the statement. And the Frank Amos
report to John D. Rockefeller, Jr.,
spoke only of the Bible in reporting
on early A.A. and its "Program."
you read the Big Book’s repeated
references to "Creator"
with a capital "C," to
"Maker," with a capital
"M," to "Father,"
with a capital "F," and
to all its other Bible descriptions
and mention of Almighty God, you
will have a hard time finding a
light bulb, a radiator, or a group
that’s called our living God. The
idols, "somethings," "not-gods,"
and chairs came later. But compromise
description of, and claims for,
the status of a "god"
are as old as the Bible itself.
But our Creator, God Almighty, Yahweh,
doesn’t speak kindly of our having
anything to do with other names,
other gods, or any other phoney
is no need for any of us to think
someone is trying to foist Christianity
or the Bible or even God Himself
on present-day A.A. It can’t be
done. Not the way things are now.
But it violates no Traditions, no
principles, and no Steps of A.A.
to let people in on our history
and on the early A.A. reliance on
our Creator that confirmed the source
of early A.A.’s "miracle."
really may cost A.A. something in
the sale of its reams of literature
if people return to discussing and
pinpointing the history of God in
A.A.. After all, you can read a
Gideon Bible for free in most hotel
rooms. Such discussion of God may
and does bother some people
who don’t believe in God or the
Bible. It may and does cause
some treatment centers or therapists
to think people won’t check in if
there is mention of Almighty God
or of A.A.’s religious roots. But
it does no service to anyone to
put a lid on God.
I’ve said so often: AAs may be sick
when they walk into the rooms of
A.A., but they are not stupid. Many
A.A. old-timers say to this very
day: If the word "God"
scares you out of these rooms, a
bottle of booze will scare you back.
. . . if you live that long.
people stop drinking without God.
Certainly, people get sober without
A.A. In fact, people get sober in
A.A. "relying" upon some
phantom "higher power."
In so doing, all these people–probably
without even knowing it–have directly
or indirectly added something to
A.A. that’s not the original, genuine
coin of the realm. For, as Bill
in the power of God, plus enough
willingness, honesty and humility
to establish and maintain the new
order of things, were the essential
Anonymous, 3rd ed.,
all we can say, many who are real
alcoholics are not going to believe
they are in that class. By every
form of self-deception and experimentation,
they will try to prove themselves
exceptions to the rule, therefore
nonalcoholic. If anyone who is showing
inability to control his drinking
can do the right-about-face and
drink like a gentleman, our hats
are off to him. Heaven knows, we
have tried hard enough and long
enough to drink like other people
(Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd
ed., p. 31).
trust infinite God rather than our
finite selves. . . . We never apologize
to anyone for depending upon our
Creator (Alcoholics Anonymous,
3rd ed., p. 68).
he [the candidate for A.A.] thinks
he can do the job in some other
way, or prefers some other spiritual
approach, encourage him to follow
his own conscience. We have no monopoly
on God; we merely have an approach
that worked with us" (Alcoholics
ed., p. 95).
Dr. Bob said it much more simply:
you think you are an atheist, an
agnostic, a skeptic, or have any
other form of intellectual pride
which keeps you from accepting what
is in this book, I feel sorry for
you. . . . Your Heavenly Father
will never let you down!" (Alcoholics
Anonymous, 3rd ed.,
Your "higher power" Homework
don’t know where Bill Wilson got
his "higher power." As
far as I can ascertain, he never
told us. He definitely dabbled in
spiritualism. He definitely dabbled
in "New Thought." He definitely
dabbled in the writings of Williams
James. There is even one Oxford
Group writing that mentions a "higher
power" (though Oxford Group
activist and expert Rev. T. Willard
Hunter told me personally that he
had never heard in the Oxford Group
of any "higher power").
So like today’s mysterious "Bin
Laden," our "higher power"–varying
in location and scope from chairs
to Santa Claus seems to be hiding
its roots. If you find those roots,
please let us all know. I have a
hunch you will find the "higher
power" is really God in the
minds of those who use the phrase.
But they are scared to death to
surrender and admit their need for
God. Or they are scared to death
of a church or their former church.
Or they just plain don’t want to
read the Bible, or our history,
or perhaps not even the Big Book
and its earlier manuscripts (See:
Turning Point: A History
of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots
Sources which were probably read
by some early AAs. And Which
You Can Research.
few early AAs read the following
books which mention a "higher
power" of some sort: (1) In
Tune with the Infinite: Or Fullness
of Peace, Power, and Plenty,
by Ralph Waldo Trine. (2) The
Varieties of Religious Experience,
by Williams James. (3) Religion
and Medicine: The Moral Control
of Nervous Disorders, by Worcester,
McComb, and Coriat. (4) I Was
a Pagan, by Victor Kitchen.
And are there more? I’m inclined
to think there may be because of
the large numbers of new thought
writers, the immense research and
writing done by William James, the
interest in "mind-cure"
ideas, and the popularity of Victor
Kitchen with Bill Wilson and in
the New York Oxford Group circles.
personally have no particular interest
in "new thought" literature.
Nor am I a fan of the religious
views, if any, of William James.
Nor has much evidence come to my
attention concerning the possible
successes McComb, et.al. Nor do
I find anything in Kitchen’s writing
that suggests he was simply referring
to some "Higher Power,"
with which he needed to establish
a relationship, and which he came
to recognize as God as a result
of his Oxford Group experiences.
Nor have I seen much in any of the
foregoing writings (other than Kitchen’s)
that suggests a strong belief in
the power of our Creator; or in
the necessity for coming to Him
through confessing Jesus as Lord
and believing God raised Jesus from
the dead (Romans 10:9). My particular
interest, as is known by many, is
in the Bible; the truth about God
and His power and His will that
can be found in the Bible; the necessity
for coming to Him through Jesus
Christ; and the exceedingly abundant
power and healing available to those
of us who choose that route (See
Ephesians 3:20). In fact, I have
found that even Bill Wilson’s medical
mentor, Dr. William Duncan Silkworth,
had spoken positively about making
a turn to Jesus Christ, whom he
called the Great Physician, for
the healing of alcoholism (See:
The Positive Power of Jesus Christ,
by Norman Vincent Peale).
Two of this Article may prove helpful
to you in tracking the origin of
"higher power" and help
you do more research on the subject
if you care to. It’s sure not my
area of expertise.