Some "Higher Power" Homework

Dick B.

Some "Higher Power" Homework

Part Two

Where did this new "god" come from?

By Dick B.

No Need for a Label

In 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.

Whence came "higher-power-ism"?

I’ll 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).

Professor 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.

And 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.

I 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:


Now for Your homework

As 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":

Ralph Waldo Trine:

Said 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).

Trine 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.

William James:

If there be higher powers able to impress us, they may get access to us only through the subliminal door (William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: First Vintage Books/The Library of America Edition, 1990, p. 224, bold face added).

The solution is a sense that we are saved from the wrongness by making proper connection with the higher powers (James, The Varieties of Religious Experiencesupra, p. 442, bold face added).

The 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 Experiencesupra, p. 428-29, bold face added).

The 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 hypnotism, "suggestion," "diabolical possession," "hystero-demonopathy," "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.

The 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," "spiritualism," "spirituality," 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.

The 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:

Belief 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).

My, oh my! Whatever happened to Dr. Bob’s assurance that "Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!"

Elwood Worcester, Samuel McComb, and Isador H. Coriat

Now 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).

However 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 Medicinesupra, p. 304, bold face added).

A 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 room.

Victor C. Kitchen

The 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).

Victor 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 the Bible.

Norman Vincent Peale

During 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:

For 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).

In 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) this:

Just 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 Thinkingsupra, p. 233, bold face added).

The date was April 24, 1947. To paraphrase the Archie Bunker theme song: Those were the days!

Dr. 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!

And 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 all power!


Copyright © Dick B.


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