October 23, 1939, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its Stand Here
By ELRICK B. DAVIS
In a previous installment, Mr. Davis outlined the plan of Alcoholics Anonymous, an organization of former drinkers who have found a solution to liquor in association for mutual aid. This is the second of a series.
There is no blinking the fact that Alcoholics Anonymous, the amazing society of ex-drunks who have cured each other of an incurable disease, is religious. Its members have cured each other frankly with the help of God. Every cured member of the Cleveland Fellowship of the society, like every cured member of the other chapters now established in Akron, New York, and elsewhere in the country, is cured with the admission that he submitted his plight wholeheartedly to a Power Greater than Himself.
He has admitted his conviction that science cannot cure him, that he cannot control his pathological craving for alcohol himself, and that he cannot be cured by the prayers, threats, or pleas of his family, employers, or friends. His cure is a religious experience. He had to have God’s aid. He had to submit to a spiritual housecleaning.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a completely informal society, wholly latitudinarian in every respect but one. It prescribes a simple spiritual discipline, which must be followed rigidly every day. The discipline is fully explained in a book published by the society.
That is what makes the notion of the cure hard for the usual alcoholic to take, at first glance, no matter how complete his despair. He wants to join no cult. He has lost faith, if he ever had it, in the power of religion to help him. But each of the cures accomplished by Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritual awakening. The ex-drunk has adopted what society calls “a spiritual way of life.”
How, then, does Alcoholics Anonymous differ from the other great religious movements which have changed social history in America? Wherein does the yielding to God that saves a member of this society from his fatal disease, differ from that which brought the Great Awakening that Jonathan Edwards preached, or the New Light revival of a century ago, or the flowering of Christian Science, or the camp meeting evangelism of the old Kentucky-Ohio frontier, or the Oxford Group successes nowadays?
Every member of Alcoholics Anonymous may define God to suit himself. God to him maybe the Christian God defined by the Thomism of the Roman Catholic Church. Or the stern Father of the Calvinist. Or the Great Manitou of the American Indian. Or the Implicit Good assumed in the logical morality of Confucius. Or Allah, or Buddha, or the Jehovah of the Jews. Or Christ the Scientist. Or no more than the Kindly Spirit implicitly assumed in the “atheism” of a Col. Robert Ingersoll.
If the alcoholic who comes to the fellowship for help believes in God, in the specific way of any religion or sect, the job of cure is easier. But if all that the pathological drunk can do is to say, with honesty, in his heart: “Supreme Something, I am done for without more-than-human help,” that is enough for Alcoholics Anonymous to work on. The noble prayers, the great literatures, and the time-proved disciplines of the established religions are a great help. But as far as the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is concerned, a pathological drunk can call God “It” if he wants to, and is willing to accept Its aid. If he’ll do that, he can be cured.
Poll of “incurable” alcoholics who now, cured, are members of the Cleveland Fellowship of the society, shows that this has made literally life-saving religious experience possible to men and women who, otherwise, could not have accepted spiritual help. Poll shows also that collectively their religious experience has covered every variety known to religious psychology. Some have had an experience as blindingly bright as that which struck down Saul on the road to Damascus. Some are not even yet intellectually convinced except to the degree that they see that living their lives on a spiritual basis has cured them of a fatal disease. Drunk for years because they couldn’t help it, now it never occurs to them to want a drink. Whatever accounts for that, they are willing to call “God.”
Some find more help in formal religion than do others. A good many of the Akron chapter find help in the practices of the Oxford Group. The Cleveland chapter includes a number of Catholics and several Jews, and at least one man to whom “God” is “Nature.” Some practice family devotions. Some simply cogitate about “It” in the silence of their minds. But that the Great Healer cured them with only the help of their fellow ex-drunks, they all admit.