"Higher Power" Homework
did this new "god" come
Need for a Label
Part One, I hope we established
that we (or at least I) don’t know
what this new "god" is.
We don’t know what a "higher
power" is. AAs have called
"it" a something, a not-god,
an "any god," a "group,"
and Gertrude. You know all the other
names–lightbulb, radiator, and so
on. So it doesn’t seem necessary
to put a label on this "higher
power" phenomenon. "It"
can be just about anything! We don’t
necessarily need to put it in a
box and call it "higher-power-ism"
either. Nor is "it" just
an A.A. higher-power-ism. You can
find it in most 12 Step Groups,
in self-help groups, in "anonymous"
groups, and even in many Christian
recovery groups. But you sure can’t
find it in the Bible.
tell you at the outset that I don’t
know. I do know it didn’t come from
the Bible, and we’ve already covered
that. Bill Wilson said that no one
"invented" A.A. So–true
or false–his statement indicates
he wasn’t taking credit for "it"
or for any other specific ideas
in A.A.’s spiritual program of recovery–even
the ones that came from the Bible.
Despite these truths, you find scholarly
writers laying a trip on Alcoholics
Anonymous about its very special
"higher power.". Thus
Walter Houston Clark, Professor
of the Psychology of Religion, had
these things to say:
. . "Preach faith till
you have it and then, because
you have it, you will preach
faith." When a neophyte
applies to Alcoholics Anonymous
and is told he must rely
on a Power greater than
himself for strength, he
often objects that he believes
in no Higher Power. The
reply is that he must behave
as if there were a Higher
Power. This frequently results
in what is in effect a true
conversion in which, whether
by slow process or swift,
atheists and agnostics often
arrive at a belief in God"
(Walter Houston Clark. The
Psychology of Religion:
An Introduction to Religious
Experience and Behavior.
New York: The MacMillan
Company, 1958, pp. 195-96).
Clark underlines his lack of knowledge
of A.A. and helps compound the erroneous
additions to A.A.’s precepts. You’d
think Professor Clark was describing
some religion. First, he quoted
the itinerant Methodist preacher,
John Wesley, on preaching faith.
Then Clark says a neophyte "applies"
to A.A.–which he doesn’t. And can’t.
A neophyte (otherwise known as a
drunk) just plain shows up unless
some court or treatment center orders
or takes him there. Then, says Clark,
the newcomer "must rely on
a Power greater than himself."
Must? The Big Book says that A.A.
spirituality means dependence upon
our Creator! (Alcoholics
Anonymous 3rd ed., p.
68). Yet the compromise process
begins–similar, in a way, to the
deception of Eve in the Garden of
Eden. Add a word. Subtract a word.
Change a word. And soon, no word.
Clark then mentions a well-known
canard: The newcomer says "he
believes in no Higher Power."
I’ve never heard that language used,
in the Big Book or in meetings.
what "higher power"? How
did that forbidden fruit get mentioned
in our Garden? I’ve yet to
speak to an un-indoctrinated newcomer
who didn’t say that he believed
in God! It’s how you pose the question
that produces the result. Next,
Clark introduces the William James
"act as if" language.
This despite the fact that probably
no newcomer but Bill Wilson, and
probably Dr. Bob, ever read William
James in early sobriety or even
thereafter. Try reading it. It’s
a bear! And Clark then just plain
ignores everything in the Bible
from Romans 10:9 to John 3:1-16.
Clark asserts that this higher-power-ism
"process" frequently results
in a "true" conversion.
No Bible verses. No documentation.
And no support in the Big Book.
In fact, the most you might say
today is that most atheists and
agnostics would–if they actually
did what Clark says they do–wind
up with a belief in a radiator.
And retain that bizarre idea. In
fact, preach it. I hear that idea
on the rare occasions when my rare
e-mails from an atheist or agnostic
really do tell me about god.
have no occasion to attack Dr. Clark’s
position. He’s actually surrounded
by a hundred modern writings that
tell you how to find anything but
God in A.A. through a mystical process
that doesn’t involve Jesus Christ
or the Bible or the receipt of the
gift of the Holy Spirit. This new
"god" of our revisionist
writers just growed! If you would
like to have the names and writings
of people who have promoted the
humanist/revisionist new "god,"
just read the bibliographies in
those of my books which list "A.A.
Pro and Con." See, for example:
for Your homework
I’ve said, I don’t know where "higher
power" came from. I do know
it didn’t come from God or from
the Good Book. Here, however, are
some of the sources a few AAs were
exposed to and which perhaps triggered
the new "ism":
the great Hindu sage, Manu, He who
in his own soul perceives the Supreme
Soul in all beings, and acquires
equanimity toward them all, attains
the highest bliss. It was Athanasius
who said, Even we may become Gods
walking about in the flesh. The
same great truth we are considering
is the one that runs through the
life and teachings of Gautama, he
who became the Buddha. People are
in bondage, said he, because they
have not yet removed the idea of
I. To do away with all sense of
separateness, and to recognize the
oneness of the self with the Infinite,
is the spirit that breathes through
all his teachings. Running through
the lives of all the mediaeval mystics
was this same great truth. Then,
coming near our own time, we find
the highly illumined seer, Emanuel
Swedenborg. . . . All through the
world’s history we find that the
men and women who have entered into
the realm of true wisdom and power,
and hence into the realm of true
peace and joy, have lived in harmony
with this Higher Power (Ralph
Waldo Trine. In Tune With the
Infinite: Or Fullness of Peace Power
And Plenty. 1933 ed. Indianapolis:
The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1897,
pp 198-99, bold face added).
talks of the Hindu, the teachings
of Buddha, the mystics, and the
spiritualist Emanuel Swedenborg
(of whom Lois Wilson was a follower).
But nary a mention of the Bible
or of Yahweh, our Creator in the
foregoing "Higher Power"
dissertation. The writings of Trine
and other "New Thought"
authors were studied by some early
AAs, including Dr. Bob. In fact,
the Emmet Fox books are still frequently
mentioned in A.A.
there be higher powers
able to impress us, they may
get access to us only through
the subliminal door (William
James. The Varieties of
New York: First Vintage Books/The
Library of America Edition,
1990, p. 224, bold face added).
solution is a sense that we are
saved from the wrongness by making
proper connection with the higher
powers (James, The Varieties
of Religious Experience, supra,
p. 442, bold face added).
whole array of Christian saints
and heresiarchs, including the
greatest, the Bernards, the Loyolas,
the Luthers, the Foxes, the Wesleys,
had their visions, voices, rapt
conditions, guiding impressions,
and ‘openings.’. . . The subjects
here actually feel themselves
played upon by powers beyond their
will. The evidence is dynamic:
the God or spirit moves the very
organs of their body. The great
field for this sense of being
the instrument of a higher
power is of course ‘inspiration.’
(James, The Varieties of Religious
p. 428-29, bold face added).
difficulty with Professor William
James is that he lumps his "higher
powers" and "higher power"
into one bin–a receptacle which
includes discussions of inspiration,
being an instrument, receiving openings,
and access by subliminal doors.
And, in discussing experiences with
these phenomena, James further pumps
"prophecy," and "levitation"
into his wide-ranging analysis.
It is safe to say, I believe, that
William James was not confining
his discussion of "higher power"
to Yahweh, our Creator.
result of the William James influence
on Sam Shoemaker and on Bill Wilson,
for me, seems to require my having
to listen–one hundred years later–to
AAs both in California and in Hawaii
talking about a "higher power,"
the Eleventh Step, and "sexual
fantasies" all in one breath.
And they most assuredly do, which
is precisely what I believe can
happen when you "open"
your mind to the intrusion of compromise
and spiritual wickedness into a
Bible-based recovery program. And,
to quote Lois Wilson, in the interest
of a "universal spiritual program."
Would that the Wilsons had heeded
the favorite early A.A. Book of
James. James 4:7 states: "Submit
yourselves therefore to God. Resist
the devil, and he will flee from
you." I believe the early influences
of Professor James on A.A. were
definitely corrupting and did stimulate
resistance to their devilish impact.
Again, quoting the Book of James:
"This wisdom descendeth not
from above, but is earthly,
sensual, devilish" (James 3:16).
Now, one website moderator who specifically
excludes all such writing, including
mine, from her A.A. "history"
website would call such remarks
"preaching." I call them
quoting! AAs read the Book of James
far more than they read William
James. They even wanted to call
the Fellowship The James Club–not
meaning the good professor.
more AAs have listened to the revisionists
in the last fifty years, the farther
the program has moved from the Bible
to its present "any god,"
"not-god," and "something"
idol worship. One of the many new
gods appearing in revisionist literature
is that the "higher power"
is simply that which gets you sober.
Disulfiram (Antabuse)? Naltrexone
(ReVia)? Acupuncture? Hypnosis?
Therapy? Forced attendance? Meetings?
Service? A "group" of
drunks? A lightbulb? (And see Clarence
Snyder. My Higher Power the Lightbulb.
Florida: Steve Foreman, 1982). One
new writer on the scene says this:
in something transcendental–a "higher
power," outside of the individual–is
part of the program, and prayer
and meditation are seen as the principal
means of conscious contact with
this "higher power." The
idea is not so much to pray to God
for help in finding a way out of
an alcohol problem; it has more
to do with humility–"cleaning
house" so that the "grace
of God can enter us and expel the
obsession." . . . . AAs Twelve
Steps and Twelve Traditions stresses
that AA does not demand belief in
anything" (Anne M. Fletcher.
Sober for Good. Boston: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 2001, pp. 240-41).
oh my! Whatever happened to Dr.
Bob’s assurance that "Your
Heavenly Father will never let you
Worcester, Samuel McComb, and Isador
among the things which seem to tell
against faith in the infinite goodness
of the Power which this universe
discloses are the facts of pain
and disease. . . . But if the order
of nature is the expression of the
Divine Will it follows that God
wills health, that He means his
creatures to be healthy, and that
He is opposed to pain, disease,
abnormality of every kind, just
as He is opposed to sin and vice
(Elwood Worcester, Samuel McComb,
Isador H. Coriat. Religion and
Medicine: The Moral Control of Nervous
Disorders. New York: Moffat,
Yard & Company, 1908, p. 292).
man first became aware of a Spirit
behind or within this universe,
he has been aware of it, and he
has felt that in this Infinite Spirit
he lives and that on this Spirit
his life and salvation depend. Not
only has man been conscious of his
dependence on a higher Power,
but also he has sought to bring
himseslf more and more into harmonious
relations with this Power, and his
desire goes forth in prayer. In
a sense prayer is man’s language
with God (Worcester, etc., Religion
and Medicine, supra,
p. 304, bold face added).
diligent, researching, AA, named
Cliff M., called the Religion
and Medicine citation to my
attention, for which I thank him.
The three Religion and Medicine
authors rejected Christian Science
and other New Thought ideas and
quoted much from the Bible to support
the idea that God is and has the
"Power" to heal man and
keep him healthy. For them and probably
for the Emmanuel Movement of which
they wrote, God was the "higher"
"Power" upon which they
sought to rely for treatment. And
that is the concept that Bill Wilson
spelled out on pages 43, 45, and
46 of the Third Edition of the Big
Book when Bill spoke of a "Higher
Power," said he was going to
talk about "God," and
then defined the "Power"
as "God." Quite a difference
from his writing in Twelve Steps
and Twelve Traditions where
readers were invited to consider
the option that this "higher
power" could be the "group."
That particular nonsense sent me
spinning for months in an A.A. Step
Meeting until my mind really began
to heal and clear. Yet it has become
doctrinal these days in many a meeting
re-direction of old desires
and substitution for old stimuli
has extended not only throughout
my sensual life, but into
my social and intellectual
life as well. It enters into
all of my thinking and into
all of my dealings with other
people. When, for instance,
I only thought about
God–when He existed only in
my mind as a belief–I could
reach Him only as an intellectual
conclusion. I concluded that
there must be some Higher
Power to account for all
the things taking place in
space much as scientists concluded
that there must be an atom
to account for all the things
taking place in physics (Victor
C. Kitchen. I Was a Pagan.
New York: Harper & Brothers,
1934, p. 85, bold face added).
Kitchen was a good friend of Bill
Wilson’s. Kitchen was a member of
the same Oxford Group businessman’s
team of which Bill was a member
around 1935-1936. Kitchen wrote
articles for Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s
Calvary Evangel. He was a
member of the Oxford Group team
that brought the Oxford Group to
the famous Firestone events of the
1933 period–events that led to the
recovery of Dr. Bob in Akron. Kitchen’s
I Was a Pagan was a very
popular book about the time Bill
Wilson was getting sober. The book
contains much language that is similar
to that used by Wilson (See The
Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous,
If you want to know whether Kitchen
thought his "Higher Power"
was Almighty God and that you came
to him through His Son Jesus Christ,
just read I Was a Pagan.
In two words. Kitchen did.
He tells how he stopped pursuing
false gods (as he called them) and
came to believe in the one, true
living God as God is described in
my lengthy interview and meeting
in Pawling, New York, with Dr. Norman
Vincent Peale, the famous preacher
and religious leader stated to me
that he had never met anyone who
didn’t think that God was the "Higher
Power" to which Bill Wilson
referred. Peale was a long-time
friend of Wilson’s and a long-time
supporter of A.A. Later, I found
Peale had written the following
in his best-selling book:
many years I have been interested
in the problem of the alcoholic
and in the organization known as
Alcoholics Anonymous. One of their
basic principles is that before
a person can be helped he must recognize
that he is an alcoholic and that
of himself he can do nothing; that
he has no power within himself;
that he is defeated. When he accepts
this point of view he is in a position
to receive help from other alcoholics
and from the Higher Power–God
(Norman Vincent Peale. The
Power of Positive Thinking.
New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1952,
p. 230, bold face added).
the same book, Peale related the
story of a man who had said he had
no interest in religion, who was
fighting a losing battle over alcoholism,
and was persuaded to attend an Alcoholics
Anonymous meeting. The alcoholic
said that a rebirth had taken place.
He went to church. Peale told of
his friendship with the man and
of the man’s telling him (Peale)
where my new life began is
a matter that is difficult
to determine. Whether it was
when I met Carl in the bar
[who had suggested A.A.],
or wrestling past the drinking
places [asking God to help
him get past the places],
or at the Alcoholics Anonymous
meeting, or at the church,
I do not know. But I, who
had been a hopeless alcoholic
for twenty-five years, suddenly
became a sober man. I could
never have done this alone,
for I had tried it a thousand
times and failed. But I
drew upon a Higher Power and
the Higher Power, which is
God, did it (Peale, The
Power of Positive Thinking,
supra, p. 233, bold
date was April 24, 1947. To paraphrase
the Archie Bunker theme song: Those
were the days!
Bob was still alive. The first edition
of the Big Book–published in 1939–was
still the basic text. Wilson had
not yet written his own treatises
(A.A. Comes of Age and the
12 x 12). The "Higher
Power" was God! In the words
of a well-known comedian, "Let’s
have a little respect, please!"
What a boon it would to the dismal
recovery scene of today if all the
government and grant-subsidized
and other scholars, historians,
revisionists, therapists, and treatment
people would take a look at the
real A.A. of yesteryear, as seen
by those who were there: Fosdick,
Peale, Shoemaker, Hazard, Cornell,
and even good old drunken Ebby (Bill’s
sponsor). They all talked about
God! Just God! Only God!
that completes your homework assignment
which has been covered in two articles
that ask "who is this new god"
and "whence came this new god."–the
One that has become a lightbulb,
just any old idol, "something,"
or nothing at all. The One the Big
Book says is our Creator and has
© Dick B.
B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; 808
874 4876; firstname.lastname@example.org