The Core of Early A.A.

Dick B.

The Core of Early A.A.

A.A./Carl Jung/Rowland Hazard/Ebby Thacher
Myths or subjects of Hindsight Quarterbacking

Dick B. ©2005

The Core of Early A.A.

One of A.A.’s core New York underpinnings, as embodied in the Big Book and Twelve Steps, is the “solution”—a conversion experience—said to have been prescribed in the 1930’s for Rhode Island businessman Rowland Hazard by Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung. Jung recommended it as the necessary ingredient for Rowland’s overcoming his alcoholism characterized by Rowland’s having the “mind of a chronic alcoholic.” But it’s really under fire!

At this late date, you might wonder at the relevance of the following questions: Did Rowland Hazard ever treat with Dr. Carl Jung at all? If so, did Jung tell Rowland his primary hope lay in a transforming religious conversion? If Rowland was treated by Jung, was it only after the previous, alleged formative A.A. events that had led Rowland from Jung to Ebby Thacher and in turn to Bill Wilson—who co-founded A.A. thereafter? Finally, if Rowland actually recovered, did whatever success Rowland achieved come from following Jung’s advice, or through his treatment by therapist Courtney Baylor and the Emmanuel Movement, or by his simply undergoing a life-changing experience in the Oxford Group?

I don’t know for sure the answer to any of the foregoing questions.

The Challengers

But I seriously suspect the validity of the evidence presented by those who would answer “no” to most of those questions. Those people who today are claiming there is no record of the Jung/Hazard treatments. Those “new thought” advocates who are laying Rowland’s successes at the feet of the Emanuel Movement and the therapist Courtney Baylor. Those who seem to reject the fact that a number of alcoholics well known in Oxford Group circles (Rowland Hazard, F. Shepard Cornell, Cebra Graves, Victor Kitchen, Charles Clapp, Jr., and later Jim Houck) attributed their sobriety to their having followed Oxford Group principles and practices. 

I question this belated historical challenge, and the adequacy of the evidence on which it rests. For the challenges seem more calculated to lambaste the Oxford Group, the Bible, evangelical Christianity, and “religion” than to prove that these vital ingredients were never the heart of early New York’s recovery program. That their historical challenge deserves attention is not disputed by me– especially as I look at the secularization in the A.A. atmosphere of today. But these newly presented theories repudiate the foundation stones of A.A.’s Big Book premise. That premise is that you must establish a relationship with God by a conversion experience. That you do so by taking 12 life-changing steps. Many AAs have accepted that premise, and their stories are, in part, related in A.A.’s Came to Believe are neither factually substantiated nor historically reliable.

After 15 years of research into the history of Alcoholics Anonymous, I would challenge the revisionists by pointing to a good deal of evidence they have either ignored, minimized, or inadequately refuted.

The Real Rowland Hazard/Carl Jung Facts

First, the most compelling piece of evidence as to the accuracy of the story Bill Wilson wrote about Rowland Hazard and Carl Jung can be found in the extant correspondence between Bill Wilson and Dr. Carl Jung himself. I personally have copies of the correspondence that I obtained with permission from Bill’s home at Stepping Stones. And see Pass It On. NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984; Francis Hartigan, Bill W.; Lois Wilson. Lois Remembers, p. 93 in a letter to Bill Wilson. 

Second, the Rowland Hazard/Carl Jung account has been related by Rowland Hazard personally to many on the New York A.A. scene—people such as Bill’s sponsor Ebby Thacher, Rowland’s pastor Dr. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Rowland’s Oxford Group colleagues—F. Shepard Cornell and Cebra Graves, Bill Wilson himself, Professor Philip Marshall Brown of Princeton, and Shoemaker’s associates Rev. W. Irving Harris and his wife Julia.

Third, many others with no axe to grind have repeated the story. Bill Wilson has written several times on several different occasions of the Rowland/Jung events. So has Rev. Sam Shoemaker who personally knew and worked with Rowland. So has Rev. Irving Harris. And so have Oxford Group friends of Rowland such as James D. Newton, Eleanor Forde Newton, Victor Kitchen, and Hanford Twitchell.

Fourth, as if seeking to enshrine the account in the very foundation of Calvary Church in New York, the story persists to this day as visitors are guided through Calvary and shown the stained glass windows in the church which are dedicated to Rowland Hazard—A.A.’s Rowland Hazard, as their literature remarks.

The Defective Challenges

Those who are known to espouse the rejection of Hazard’s visit are long on their support of the Emanuel Movement and New Thought and clearly deficient in their familiarity with the Oxford Group, with Oxford Group writings, and with Oxford Group members. They make no claim of having read or interviewed or reviewed the works and remarks of the Oxford Group people just mentioned.

They make much of dates, but little of facts. They purport to have reviewed Carl Jung’s records years and years after they were made. But they cannot and do not cite the entirety of Jung’s records or even claim to have examined them.

The detractors reject the very theory that enabled Bill Wilson to sell his whole East Coast version of the Alcoholics Anonymous road to recovery. That version, simply stated, was: (1) That the “medically incurable” and seemingly hopeless Rowland Hazard was told by Dr. Carl Jung that medicine could not help Rowland, but that a conversion might. (2) That Rowland sought a conversion via the Oxford Group—which happened to prefer the expression “change” in its own unique parlance for seeking for persuading “converts.” (3) That Rowland was changed and cured; sought out Ebby Thacher; and taught Thacher the Oxford Group life-changing principles. (4) That Ebby then had a conversion—albeit by accepting Jesus Christ at the altar at Calvary Rescue Mission (a fact seldom mentioned by historians). (5) That Ebby’s witness persuaded Wilson to go to Calvary and himself accept Christ (a fact seldom if ever mentioned by historians). (6) That Wilson then soon checked into Towns Hospital for treatment, was again indoctrinated by Ebby in the Oxford Group life-changing principles, and submitted himself to God as Bill said he then understood God. (7) That Bill had his resultant “hot flash” conversion experience in which Bill “found God,” and never drank again. (8) That Bill consulted the famous book by Professor William James on Varieties of Religious Experience, concluded that he had validated his own conversion in one of these experiences, and that James’s “deflation in depth” was also a necessary condition to conversion, and (9) That deflation in depth, application of Oxford Group principles, receiving a consequent conversion or “spiritual” experience as the result, was—when coupled with the Oxford Group idea of “sharing for witness” and thereby helping others to such an experience—the essence of a program developed by Bill Wilson himself in company with Rev. Sam Shoemaker and embodied in the language of Bill’s Big Book and Twelve Steps suggested as a program of recovery. 

And I believe the erroneous hindsight quarterbacking of several detractors of the Oxford Group/Conversion/Rowland Hazard/Carl Jung story (these being Dr. Ernest Kurtz, Dr. Glenn Chesnut, and Dr. Richard Dubiel) demonstrates in content that the analysts just plain missed the boat when it came to thoroughly investigating, describing, analyzing, and critiquing the actual events described above.

What has been demonstrated

There is ample evidence today that as many alcoholics get sober and stay sober outside the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous as do so within.

There is ample evidence today within the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous that between one and five percent of today’s members do get sober and stay sober within the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.

There is, to my satisfaction, observable evidence that a great many long-time sober AAs today got sober and stayed sober within A.A. whether they were Jews, Protestants, Roman Catholics, agnostics, and possibly even atheists.

There is, to my satisfaction , observable evidence that many sober AAs today came into the fellowship, grabbed a Big Book and a Sponsor, studied the Big Book, “took” and endeavored to practice the principles of the Twelve Steps, and remained sober.

There is, to my satisfaction, observable evidence that among those A.A. believers—be they Jews, Roman Catholics, or Protestants—there are many who believe in God, pray, study the Scriptures, seek God’s guidance, attempt to find and apply His will, and provide love and service to others within the fellowship. That being true whatever the religious convictions of their neighbors may be. This legion of helpers has helped to make A.A. as famous as it is.

There is, to my satisfaction, observable evidence that far too many AAs, therapists, treatment center people, clergy, physicians, and counselors have little or no knowledge of A.A. history, of its Christian roots, or its early program in Akron, or of the enormous difference in the success rates in early A.A. as compared to those today.

There is, to my satisfaction, irrefutable and abundant evidence that: (1) In early Akron A.A., Bill Wilson—AA number one; Dr. Bob Smith—AA number two; and Bill Dotson—AA number three, all believed and stated they had been cured of alcoholism by Almighty God. (2) The program of recovery that was developed and used in Akron between 1935 and 1938 produced cures of alcoholism among 75% of those members who really tried and completely gave themselves to the program that was specifically described by Rockefeller’s agent Frank Amos after careful investigation in Akron. (3) That the Akron program was far different—definitely Christian in character and fellowship—than the one which Bill Wilson fashioned in New York primarily from Oxford Group life-changing principles taught him by Rev. Sam Shoemaker and embodied in the Big Book and Twelve Steps. (4) That if any AAs today were to hear of, learn, and apply the program developed and used in Akron throughout Dr. Bob’s life, those AAs would achieve the same 75% to 93% success rates that were achieved from the Akron program. (5) That many of us in today’s A.A. (myself included) have been in the trenches, have grabbed the Big Book program with enthusiasm, have dived into fellowship activities, have—with or without knowing what early AAs did—received the same help, healing, guidance, forgiveness, and love of God that is still available to those who want it and seek it. (6) That there is virtually no likelihood that the A.A. of today will, as a fellowship, ever accept, endorse, apply, or return to the A.A. of the pioneers. (7) That there is still a rampant hunger within the ranks of A.A. people today for facts about early A.A.’s Biblical program, Christian fellowship, and astonishing cures. (8) That if the early A.A. facts are widely disseminated within A.A. itself, there can be an enormous difference in the lives lived, the sobriety attained, and the service rendered by those who work within the fellowship and emulate the program which worked so successfully among the Akron pioneers.

No profit in ignorance

For years, perhaps at least 50, AAs have drifted farther and farther from any knowledge of, or resources about, their early program and its successes. For years, perhaps at least 50, AAs have been fed an idolatrous diet about higher powers and spirituality and good deeds that supposedly represent the real program of recovery. For years, perhaps at least 40, AAs have increasingly grown boisterous in their condemnation of religion, Christianity, the Bible, and even God—the number of such activists may well be few, but the sound of their voices is deafening and intimidating. For years, perhaps as many as 65, AAs have been spoon fed myths that detract from the Jung/Hazard/Thacher conversion beliefs, the Oxford Group program of the 1920’s and 1930’s, the vital importance of Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. in New York, the supposed failures of churches and of clergy and of religion, and New Age pap about strange gods, pseudo-Christianity, and outright unbelief. For at least 40 years, the spotlight has been focused on an irrelevant Washingtonian Movement, an unsuccessful Emanuel and New Thought movement (the latter being unsuccessful in penetrating A.A. ranks), and the shortcomings and supposed traitorous beliefs of Oxford Group Founder Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman.

All these tides have washed away valuable history, vilified sound reports, and produced increasing ignorance of what A.A. is really about. In fact, the less that is known, the less A.A. has to offer except for meetings and abstinence—neither of which have had everlasting success within or without A.A.

If A.A. is a spiritual program of recovery—and it is; and if A.A. distinguished itself originally in its reliance on the Creator, the truths in the Bible, the power received in a new birth, and the outreach of love and service by ordinary drunks, then those are the facts which should be made known. This is true whether you believe in the Creator, Jesus Christ, the Bible, the new birth, and conversions or not. That is the history that is missing in too many of today’s “Bill W.” biographies, irrelevant studies of tangential alcoholism movements, and the long temperance events of past centuries.

Using A.A.’s Real Early A.A. History to Compare other present-day contenders

If we are going to talk about the Washingtonians, let’s start with the fact that God was not part of their program. If we are going to talk about New Thought, let’s start with the fact that it rejected the born-again faith found in early A.A. If we are going to talk about conversion, Rowland Hazard, Ebby Thacher, Carl Jung, and William James, let’s start with the nature of the Oxford Group, the religious beliefs of Carl Jung, and the New Thought orientation of William James. But if we are going to talk about A.A., let’s start with the Book of James, the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13, and find just what ideas therein were proclaimed by Dr. Bob to be absolutely essential to the early A.A.’s basic program. Yet I don’t see these discussed at all by the quarterbacks. A few, however, are finally beginning to recognize that they have never really looked into, reported on, or accurately summarized the real early A.A. history, particularly the whole program in Akron, the program as reported by Frank Amos to Rockefeller, the United Christian Endeavor roots of the Akron program, and the significance of James, the Sermon, and 1 Corinthians. I suggest contrasting and looking at the materials in three of my latest titles: When Early AAs Were Cured and Why; Twelve Steps for You; and The James Club and The Early A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials.


Copyright © Dick B.


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