The Creator, Any god, Not god, or Radiator?
Part One – What’s the A.A. Attraction
What’s our attraction in A.A.? Think of all the things to which people are attracted–some good and some bad. They are attracted by the millions to sports events, airlines, theme parks, cars and bikes, diets, fitness and nutrition programs, movies, TV, videos, Costco, and their personal computers. For many, the attraction is simply “to be entertained.” For some, avoiding boredom and loneliness. For some, to feel better.
But that’s not A.A. as it was intended to be. For sure, many today do come to A.A. to be “entertained” by relationships, meetings, roundups, huge conferences, dances, camp-outs, and the like. I’ve certainly enjoyed most of these myself. For sure, some–often called “rim-runners” by old-timers–come in because they’re lonely, bored, or want a cup of java. Some are “attracted” only by the orders of a judge or a probation officer or the comfort of a treatment center van. Those “attractions,” however, were not what the early A.A. fellowship, its Big Book, or its Steps were really about. A.A. offered a spiritual recovery program.
Unfortunately, lots of us saddled up in A.A. after its “simple kit of spiritual tools” seems to have become far less important to many than were its other attractions. Early A.A. had astonishing success rates. It had acceptable growth rates–some quite remarkable in places like Cleveland. Finally, A.A. in America hit the million mark. About a million “members.” About two million in the world. About ten million “text books.” Perhaps even millions of “repeaters” who just never clicked with the “spiritual” attraction though it was solidly underlined in the Big Book.
Early A.A. relied on the power of God Almighty. Bill Wilson correctly called Him our “Creator,” our “Maker,” and “God”–all words that were capitalized because Bill knew of Whom he was speaking. He wasn’t talking about just “any” god. He wasn’t telling people that A.A. was about “not” god. Dr. Bob kept it real simple and told AAs: “Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!” (Big Book, 3rd ed., p. 181). And I’ve never seen it recorded that Bill Wilson or Dr. Bob Smith told people our God–the “Creator”–was, or could be, a radiator. But that’s become a standard part of today’s publication and meeting jargon. They tell us in all sincerity: “Your (not necessarily ‘my’) ‘higher power’ can be anything you want ‘it’ to be.” Then we frequently hear or are told that “our” “higher power” can be a lightbulb, a chair, a table, an “It,” Gertrude, or, yes, even a radiator (Want to see the news article that quotes the radiator bit?). I’ve documented these “absurd names for God” (as Rev. Sam Shoemaker called them) many many times in my sixteen published books.
What’s the attraction? Do you find any “attraction” in a radiator? Who wants to rely on Gertrude to beat alcoholism? Who would invite a group to pray to a lightbulb? Who would advocate that you turn your will and life over to the care of a chair or an “it?” Yet for at least thirty years–perhaps even since 1950–the revisionist writers, therapists, treatment people, and even many AAs themselves have “created” a new god. A “god” from whom no intelligent person would seek “guidance,” to whom no desperate alcoholic would go for healing, and through whom no one would expect to receive forgiveness, deliverance, or a solution to the myriad problems we face as we enter A.A.’s doors.
Someone in A.A. sent me an email yesterday saying he didn’t think many AAs had any significant interest in A.A. history. The 125,000 visits on my website don’t bear that out. But I said to him: If AAs don’t have an interest in their history, it’s because they’ve seen so little of it. Their meetings focus on “sharing,” whining, fear, gratitude, or discussions either of the Big Book or the Twelve and Twelve. None of which provide history in any informative way. People inside and outside of A.A. today are calling it a “self-help” movement. Some in the religious community label A.A. a “spiritual” program, but not a religious one, hoping perhaps to bring people to the church and religion. Others use the same language to make A.A. “inclusive, not exclusive.” Some think A.A. is so religious that it is offensive to atheists, agnostics, scientists, and those who believe in other religions or none at all. What’s the attraction in that situation?
The answer is that the attraction is lessening. A.A. has stopped growing. A.A.’s success rate is far from astonishing today. But the most regrettable fact concerns the large numbers who are leaving A.A., avoiding A.A., or rejecting it in favor of “secular” or “rational” recovery or for “Christian” groups or for religiously supported Twelve Step Groups. I’ve not yet seen statistics that convince me that any of these splinter activities is growing in geometric proportions or achieving the astonishing success rates that were produced by pioneer A.A.. In fact, our government agencies seem to be putting billions into drug wars and drug czars and scientific research of “substance abuse” for the precise reason that they don’t think any solution has been found. The relapse rates seem to confirm their views. Regrettably, however, most of these agencies haven’t a clue that A.A. doesn’t lend itself very well to scientific research. It’s “anonymous.” It’s one-on-one assistance. Success is often measured “one to a customer,” as the venerable Geraldine Delaney often said (See Dick B., Hope!: The Story of Geraldine Owen Delaney, Alina Lodge, and Recovery) And, as A.A. said in one of its earlier articles in the Grapevine: “The AAs’ medicine is God and God alone” (Volume II, Best of the Grapevine, pp. 202-03).
For me, that’s the attraction. You can read more in my title By the Power of God and find that title and other references on my website at Meanwhile, there’ll be another article following that tells you how the revisionists ignored history and converted “as we understood Him,” “power greater than ourselves,” and “higher power” into new, unintended, “any” gods, “expedient” gods, “not gods,” and radiators. They seem to have “lost” God our Creator–the One A.A.’s Big Book urged us all to find. Now! That’s the One mentioned on the dollar bill, our other currency, and our coins. They all say: “In God we trust.” Why not be attracted to that when nothing else works.