The First Nationwide Alcoholics Anonymous History Conference
Phoenix, Arizona, February 21 – 23, 2003
Conference Theme: God, Alcoholism, & A.A.
The Comments of Dick B.
Writer, Historian, Retired Attorney, Bible Student
“Whenever a civilization or society perishes, there is always one condition present. They forgot where they came from.” – Carl Sandburg
Part 1: The Theme and Purpose of the Conference
Part 2: Alcoholics Anonymous, the Founders, and Belief in Almighty God.
Part 3: The Spiritual Beginnings of A.A.
Part 4: The Real Program of Early A.A.
Part 5A: Introduction: The Materials from the Bible That Dr. Bob Considered“Absolutely Essential”
Part 5B: The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)
Part 5C: The Book of James
Part 5D: 1 Corinthians 13
Part 6: Rev. Sam Shoemaker, an A.A. “Co-Founder” and Spiritual Source
Part 7: What the Creator Did and Can Do for Our Fellowship
The Theme and Purpose of the Conference
• Each person attending, and each person speaking, might see a different theme, a different purpose, and a different agenda for this conference. But we can start with what it is:
The First Nationwide Alcoholics Anonymous History Conference
We’ve had lots of conventions, conferences, roundups, bashes, forums, flings, assemblies, archivist panels, and plenty of meetings, meetings, meetings. Of course, at St. Louis, many years back, we had a convention – historical in nature – and fashioned by Bill Wilson to show that A.A. had come of age. But for the most part, we have been focused on sharing experience, strength, and hope; telling stories; and adopting resolutions. As a result, until about 1990, most of us knew little if anything about the spiritual roots, history, and principles of this society.
• First, therefore, this is a history conference – an event that will highlight our real roots.
• Also, this history conference has a theme and title. It is: God, Alcoholism, and Alcoholics Anonymous
We will be exploring each in relation to the other – from the standpoint of our own great history.
• The backdrop might be the following statement of M. Scott Peck in his best-selling Further Along the Road Less Traveled, in which that famous physician said this:
I believe the greatest positive event of the twentieth century occurred in Akron, Ohio. . . when Bill W. and Dr. Bob convened the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It was not only the beginning of the self-help movement and the beginning of the integration of science and spirituality at a grass-roots level, but also the beginning of the community movement. . . . which is going to be the salvation not only of alcoholics and addicts but of us all.
• The real question here, however, is whether – almost seventy years after the founding of our society – we can say that we have developed a program of complete recovery (Let’s get bold and say, as Bill W., Dr. Bob, and Bill D. said it, a “cure”) for those afflicted with alcoholism.
The answer will depend on several factors: What is alcoholism? What is the meaning of “recovery” and “cure?” What were the ingredients of our original program? Was it dependent upon God? What God are we talking about? What answers were given by our founders and pioneers? What was the real success rate? How important is that history? Can we apply the answers to the cure of alcoholism in today’s A.A.
• It sums up this way: have we really got something to share with others today? If so, what is it that we can share? And let’s start with what our own literature told us several decades ago:
When Bill left Akron in late August 1935, there were four members–possibly five counting Phil, who might have been in the process of drying out. From that fall to spring, Bill helped Hank P. and Fitz M., among others, get sober in New York. He made a short visit to Akron in April, 1936, writing Lois that he had spent the weekend and was “so happy about everything there. Bob and Anne and Henrietta Seiberling have been working so hard with those men and with really wonderful success. There were very joyous get-togethers at Bob’s, Henrietta’s, and the Williams’s by turns.” In September 1936, there was another visit, with Bill’s arrival “a signal for a house party, which was very touching,” he wrote. “Anne and Bob and Henrietta have done a great job. There were several new faces since spring.” In February 1937, another count was taken, and there were seven additional members in Akron, for a total of 12. Half of these had or would have some sort of slip, and at least one would never be really successful in the A.A. program thereafter. For most, however, the slip was a convincer. There were dozens of others who were exposed to the program up to February 1937. Some were successful for a time, then drifted away. Some came back. Others died. Some, like “Lil,” may have found another way [DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers. NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980, pp. 108-09]. Word of Akron’s “not-drinking-liquor club” had already spread to nearby towns, such as Kent and Canton, and it was probably early 1937 when a few prospects started drifting down from Cleveland. In the beginning, it was in twos and threes (By 1939, there were two carloads) [DR. BOB, supra, p. 122]
In November of that year , Bill Wilson went on a business trip that enabled him to make a stopover in Akron. . . . Bill’s writings record the day he sat in the living room with Doc, counting the noses of our recoveries. “A hard core of very grim, last-gasp cases had by then been sober a couple of years, an unheard of development,” he said. “There were twenty or more such people. All told, we figured that upwards of 40 alcoholics were staying bone dry.” As we carefully rechecked this score, Bill said, it suddenly burst upon us that a new light was shining into the dark world of the alcoholic. . . a “chain reaction” had started, and “Conceivably it could one day circle the whole world. . . . We actually wept for joy,” Bill said, “and Bob and Anne and I bowed our heads in silent thanks” [DR. BOB, supra, p 123].
“A beacon had been lighted. God had shown alcoholics how it might be passed from hand to hand. Never shall I forget that great and humbling hour of realization, shared with Dr. Bob,” said Bill [RHS, p. 8].
• The successes were confirmed by the careful investigation of Frank Amos and reported to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1938. It was that glowing report of Dr. Bob and Akron’s Group Number One that had caught Mr. Rockefeller’s interest and had further encouraged the formation of the Alcoholic Foundation. And Frank Amos has left us with a detailed description of the program as it stood before the writing of the Big Book began. Bill began writing the Big Book in 1938. According to his secretary, Nell Wing, there were slightly more than 70 alcoholics that had achieved sobriety. There never were the “100 men and women” that Bill mentioned when the Big Book was published in the Spring of 1939. Of those who were sober, fifty percent had maintained continuous sobriety; twenty-five percent had achieved sobriety after relapse; and the remainder “showed improvement.” By the early 1940’s, records in Cleveland showed that 93 percent of those who came to A.A. never had a drink again [DR. BOB, supra, p. 261].
• With that beginning, we’ll respectfully turn you loose on the questions we have posed and hope you enjoy such answers as we are able to provide.
• On the archive, tape, and literature tables are materials you may want to purchase. I will gladly inscribe my own books that are on sale. They are offered at half price for this conference. And you may simply leave cash or a check in the receptacle or see me for a form to use if you want to use your credit card or order other books.
Alcoholics Anonymous, the Founders, and Belief in Almighty God
Without Apparent Exception, A.A.’s Founders Believed the Creator Cured Them
There is no need here to go to the documentation in my titles God and Alcoholism: Our Growing Opportunity in the 21st Century and Cured: Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts. Suffice it to say that Bill Wilson said the Lord had cured him of his “terrible disease.” Dr. Bob spoke of Wilson’s being cured and then told his colleagues that he and another [Wilson] had discovered a cure for alcoholism. A.A. Number Three, Bill Dotson, declared that Wilson’s statement that the Lord had cured him had become for him [Dotson] the golden text of A.A. Pioneer Clarence Snyder spoke many times of the cures early AAs had received. The person who drafted one of the proposed covers for the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (published in 1939) put on the cover that it offered a cure for alcoholism. Extensive remarks of this kind were made by Larry Jewell (who was sponsored by Dr. Bob and Clarence Snyder). Jewell made them in a series of articles he wrote for The Houston Press in 1940. And the words of these old times were echoed by others contemporaneously. The Reverend Dr. Dilworth Lupton, pastor of the First Unitarian Church in Cleveland, wrote of the new cure in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1939. Morris Markey spoke of the “miraculous” “cure” for habitual drunkards in his Liberty Magazine article in 1939. Theodore English wrote in Scribner’s Commentator in January of 1941 that Wilson had developed a cure that had enlisted half the alcoholics encountered by the Houston AA group and cured two-thirds of them. Dr. William Duncan Silkworth (who wrote the “Doctor’s Opinion” for Alcoholics Anonymous) told one of his alcoholic patients (Charles K.) that the only hope for his cure was through the “Great Physician,” Jesus Christ. See Norman Vincent Peale, The Positive Power of Jesus Christ (NY: Guideposts, 1980), pp. 59-63. Finally, the AA Grapevine published an article by the famous medical writer Paul de Kruif stating the “A.A.’s medicine is God and God alone. This is their discovery. . . [and] that the patients it cures have to nearly die before they can bring themselves to take it.”
Yet by 1980–forty-five years after A.A.’s founding–an AA “Conference Approved” publication stated quite bluntly that, in effect, these sources were mistaken, misleading, and wrong [DR. BOB, supra, p. 136].. Despite this about-face by official A.A. employees, the only bases for such a claim that the founders had misrepresented to, and mislead the facts to the world were two ideas Bill Wilson had inserted in his Big Book four years after A.A.’s founding. And these ideas have persisted through all four editions of A.A.’s basic text. These new ideas were: (1) “We have seen the truth demonstrated again and again: ‘Once an alcoholic always an alcoholic’.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 33). (2) “We are not cured of alcoholism” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 85). The first statement, according to Wilson’s own explicit admission, came from a contemporary therapist named Richard R. Peabody, who died drunk, and therefore “proved,” said Wilson, that alcoholism was “uncurable.” The second statement flew in the face of all the evidence we cited above, which demonstrates that alcoholics had been cured, that they had been cured by God, and that the cures were miraculous, astonishing, and the basis for the whole “spiritual program of recovery” that AAs developed between 1935 and 1938. Details and documentation for each of these points can be found in Dick B., Cured: Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2003); Richard R. Peabody, The Common Sense of Drinking (Atlantic Monthly Press Book, 1933); and Katherine McCarthy, The Emanuel Movement and Richard Peabody (Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Vol. 45, No. 1, 1984).
A Large Dose of Pre-AA miraculous healings by the power of God:
Many have minimized or outright dismissed the miraculous. They have done so in various ways, depending upon the era involved.
For example, Old Testament signs and wonders are often relegated to the myth bin by calling them interpretative, artistic, imaginative, embellished, “touched up,”filled with discrepancies, or the products of tradition rather than experience. See Bernard W. Anderson, Understanding The Old Testament (NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1957), pp. 43-44, 180-82, 227, 385, 407-09. Other authorities, however, plainly state that signs, wonders, and miracles of Old Testament accounts had as their object the indication of the severity of an illness and the gravity of the prognosis against which to contrast the greatness of the cure and the divine power that effected it. These authorities–and they are numerous generally attribute the healings and miracles to the intervention of God. See New Bible Dictionary, Second Edition (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1982), pp. 457-65.
The healing accounts of the Gospels have also been denied for a variety of reasons. Philip Schaff wrote: “The credibility of the Gospels would never have been denied if it were not for the philosophical and dogmatic skepticism which desires to get rid of the supernatural and miraculous at any price.” See Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume I, 3rd Revision (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1890), p. 589. Decades later, writers popular in the early A.A. days, were still disputing the miraculous. See Emmet Fox, The Sermon on the Mount (New York: Harper & Row, 1934) and Dilworth Lupton, Religion Says You Can (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1938). Long before these johnnie-come-latelies of the 1930’s, however, scholars were citing emphatically: “great writers who were by no means biased in favor of orthodoxy [including] Dr. W.E. Channing, leader of American Unitarianism, who said: ‘I know of no histories to be compared with the Gospels in marks of truth, in pregnancy of meaning, in quickening power. . . As to his [Christ’s] biographers, they speak for themselves. Never were more simple and honest ones.” Schaff, History of the Christian Church, supra, p. 589.
So, also, despite volumes of testimony to the contrary, writers and various “historians” have disputed the miracles and healings by the Apostles as recorded in the Book of Acts. They have alleged that the “age of miracles” in the First Century passed out of the picture, sometimes allegedly because they were merely a stage which God no longer needed, or that they were myth and error. See Adolf Harnack, The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, Vol I (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998), pp. 121, 143, 180, 256-57, 268. The disputers have also placed in their disputed box, categorized, minimized, ridiculed, and often rejected endless numbers of Christian healers and healings from Mary Baker Eddy to Lourdes to Benny Hinn and Oral Roberts. But, for the founders of A.A., the proof was in the pudding; and Dr. Bob read extensively about healing by the power of God. In fact, even a brief glance at the Christian healing literature of the 1930’s–in A.A.’s founding years–will disclose a myriad of scholarly studies of God’s healing power and healings in the physical, psychological, mental, devil spirit, and other realms. We have included many of these in our bibliography.
• What the Bible has to say about:
Miraculous healings long before Christ: Morton T. Kelsey comments: “As we have already seen, in the Old Testament there was no question, in theory, that Yahweh could heal. In several places remarkable instances were recorded. See Morton T. Kelsey, Psychology, Medicine & Christian Healing. Rev. and exp. ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1966), p. 33. Specific examples include children given to women who were barren (Genesis 18:10, 14; Judges 13:5, 24; 1 Samuel 1:19-20; 2 Kings 4:16-17); the healing of Miriam’s leprosy (Numbers 12:1-15) and Naaman’s leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14); healing of Jeroboam’s paralyzed hand (1 Kings 13:1-6); raising from the dead by Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24) and by Elisha (2 Kings 4:1-37); salvation of the Israelites from the later plagues in Egypt (Numbers 21:6-9); and the miracles wrought by Moses (Exodus 7-17). See New Bible Dictionary, supra, pp. 462, 782-83; Kelsey, Psychology, Medicine & Christian Healing, supra, pp. 33-36; In Healing: Pagan And Christian (London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1935), George Gordon Dawson opines: “The standpoint of the Old Testament, generally, is that good health results from holy living. It is a divine gift and the reward of loving service. Any cure of disease was regarded as a gift from Yahweh, and resulted from forgiveness. The sick person made his peace with Him by repentance, intercession and sacrifice. The right spiritual relationship was restored. The soul was at rest, and the inner life being calm the bodily symptoms disappeared” (p. 90). Alan Richardson writes: . . . in the Old Testament the historically decisive event, which became for the Hebrew mind, the symbol and type of all God’s comings in history is the Miracle of the Red Sea. See Alan Richardson, The Miracle Stories of the Gospels (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1941), pp. 3-4.
Miracles in the Gospels: “they brought unto Him all that were sick and them that were possessed with demons, and He healed many that were sick with diverse diseases, and cast out many demons. . . He had healed many in so much that as many as had plagues pressed upon Him that they might touch Him.” See Elwood Worcester, Samuel McComb, Isador H. Coriat, Religion and Medicine (NY: Moffat, Yard & Company, 1908), p. 345; Elwood Worcester and Samuel McComb, The Christian Religion As A Healing Power (NY: Moffat, Yard & Company, 1909), pp. 84-97; G. R. H. Shafto, The Wonders of The Kingdom: A Study of the Miracles of Jesus (NY: George H. Doran Company, 1924), pp. 8-9. Shafto calculated that there are some forty-two of the foregoing indirect references to miraculous action on the part of Jesus in the four Gospels. Kelsey concluded: “. . . we find that everywhere Jesus went he functioned as a religious healer. Forty-one distinct instances of physical and mental healing are recorded in the four gospels (there are seventy-two accounts in all, including duplications), but this by no means represents the total. Many of these references summarize the healings of large numbers of people.” See Kelsey, Psychology, Medicine & Christian Healing, supra, pp. 42-47. Alan Richardson points out the high proportion of the Gospel tradition that is devoted to the subject of miracle (209 verses out of 666 in the Gospel of Mark). See Richardson, The Miracle Stories, supra, p. 36. There are over 20 specific accounts – some healed at a distance, some with a word, and some with physical contact and means: blindness, deafness; dumbness, leprosy, epilepsy, dropsy, uterine hemorrhage, Peter’s mother-in-law and her fever–possibly malaria, Malcus’ severed ear; the man with withered hand, the woman bent double with a “spirit of infirmity,” three separate people resurrected from the dead; the man paralyzed for 38 years, demoniacal possession, and so on. Percy Dearmer reports there are forty-one instances of Christ’s works of healing in the Gospels (Body and Soul, below, p. 142-46). Also the miracles of water converted to wine, stilling of a storm, supernatural catch of fish, multiplying food, walking on water, money from a fish, a fig tree dried up. See New Bible Dictionary, supra, pp. 462-63; Leslie D. Weatherhead, Psychology, Religion and Healing (NY: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1951), pp. 29-69; Worcester, McComb, Coriat, Religion and Medicine, supra, pp. 338-68; Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: historical evidences for the Christian faith (Campus Crusade for Christ, Inc., 1973), pp. 128-31. Luke 7:21-22 state: “And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.” For a survey of the evidence, see E. R. Micklem, Miracles & The New Psychology: A Study in the Healing Miracles of the New Testament. London: Oxford University Press, 1922.
Miracles in the Book of Acts in Apostolic times: “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. . .by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people. . . . Stephen, full of grace and power, wrought great wonders and signs. . . [as to Philip in Samaria] many with unclean spirits and many that were palsied and lame. . . [as to Paul and Barnabus] speaking of the signs and wonders God had wrought among the gentiles by them. . . [as to healing activities of Paul on the island of Malta] The rest also who had diseases in the island came and were cured” See Weatherhead, Psychology, Religion and Healing, supra, pp. 70-72; Kelsey, Psychology, Medicine And Christian Healing, supra, pp. 83-102.. More specifically, the lame man at the Gate Beautiful, patients cured by the shadow of Peter and handkerchiefs which had touched them; restoration of the sight of Saul by Ananias; Peter’s healing Aenes of palsy; the paralytic healed by Paul at Lystra; the healing of Publius’s father of fever and dysentery by Paul; Dorcas and Eutychus were raised from the dead; multiple healings; and two occasions where demons were cast out. See New Bible Dictionary, supra, pp. 462-64. Harnack summed up with this quotation from Hebrews 2:3-4: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation: which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” See Harnack, The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, Vol. I, supra, pp. 250-73. There is a list of the specific miracles in the Acts of the Apostles. See Pearcy Dearmer, Body and Soul: An Enquiry into the Effects of Religion upon Health, with a Description of Christian Works of Healing From the New Testament to the Present Day. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd., 1909, pp. 183-91.
• What Early Christians accomplished:
Miracles after apostolic times and in early centuries: There is evidence of Christian healing from these sources: Quadratus of Athens (AD 126 or 127); St. Justin Martyr (the philosopher martyred circa 163, AD 100-163); St. Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyons, A.D. 120-202); Origen of Alexandria (AD 185-253), Tertullian (AD 193-211), St. Hilarion (monk, AD 291-371); St. Parthenius (Bishop of Lampsacus, AD circa 335-355); St. Macarius of Alexandria and four other Monks (AD 375-390); St. Martin (Bishop of Tours, AD circa 395- 397); St. Ambrose of Milan (AD 340-397), St. Chrysostom (AD 347-407), St. Augustine (AD 354-430), St. Jerome (AD 340-420); St. Symeon Stylites (layman, AD 391-460); St. Eugendus, Abbot of a monastery near Geneva, AD 455-517); St. Caesarius (Bishop of Arles, 502-542); St. German (Bishop of Paris, circa AD 555-576); St. Laumer priest near Chartres, AD 548-651); St. Eustace (Abbot of Luxeuil, circa 614-625); St. Riemirus (abbot of a monastery in the diocese of Le Mans, circa 660-699); Sophronius (Patriarch of Jerusalem, AD 640); St. Cuthbert (Bishop of Lindisfarne, AD 635-687), and St. John of Beverley (by Bede AD 721). See Leslie D. Weatherhead, Psychology, Religion, and Healing, supra, pp. 76-84; Worcester, McComb and Coriat, Religion and Medicine, supra. p. 367; Worcester and McComb, The Christian Religion as a Healing Power, supra, p.95. In a monumental treatise based largely on the Book of James as it relates to healing and anointing, F. W. Puller says: “I think I have shown that from the time of the Apostles onwards, during the first seven centuries of our era, the custom of praying over sick people and anointing them with holy oil continued without any break. And there seems to me to be good reasons for believing that in many cases the petitions that were offered were granted and that the holy oil was used by God as a channel for conveying health to the sick persons.” See F. W. Puller, The Anointing of the Sick in Scripture and Tradition, with some Considerations on the Numbering of the Sacraments (London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1904), p. 188; Pearcy Dearmer, Body and Soul, supra. Kelsey points to the important study by Evelyn Frost. which covers the earliest records of the church after the New Testament, from about the years 100 to 250 [Evelyn Frost, Christian Healing: A Consideration of the Place of Spiritual Healing in the Church of To-day in the Light of the Doctrine and Practice of the Ante-Nicene Church (1940)]; and Kelsey says of the Frost study: “It shows clearly that the practices of healing described in the New Testament continued without interruption for the next two centuries.” Kelsey, Psychology, Medicine And Christian Healing, supra, pp. 103-156.
Healing ministry by individuals from 1091 forward to the late 1800’s: There is testimony of individual healers, who, with no psychological technique, but through their communion with Christ by His power, healed the sick: St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153); St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226); St. Thomas of Hereford (1282-1303); St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), Martin Luther (1483-1546), St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), St. Philip Neri (1515-1595); George Fox (1624-1691); John Wesley (1703-1791); Prince Alexander of Hohenlohe (1794-1849); Father Theobald Matthew (of Ireland, 1790-1856), Dorothea Trudel (from Zurich, 1813-1862); Pastor John Christopher Blumhardt (Lutheran pastor from Stuttgart,1805-1880); and Father John of Cronstadt (of the Orthodox Church of the East, 1829-1908). See Weatherhead, supra, p. 86; Worcester and McComb, Religion and Medicine, supra, p. 367; Dearmer, Body and Soul, supra, p. 278, 338-82. Kelsey, Psychology, Medicine And Christian Healing, supra, pp. 157-188.
The Hypothesis that the First Century ended miracles even though there is no Biblical authority for this proposition–a contention contrary to the promises of the Creator: There has come into the healing picture the widely believed, but undocumented, claim that the “age of miracles” ended because God no longer had use for them. First of all, the Creator’s abilities did not cease; nor did the power that He made available through the accomplishments of Jesus Christ end. That power and the gifts of healing may actually have been little used or undeclared because of church wrangling, but the Bible assurances did not change. Despite an increasing separation between medical healing and religious healing during the first years of the nineteenth century, “Pentecostal Christianity” and the work of many individuals brought Biblical assurances to the practical fore. The individuals included Glenn Clark, Mary Baker Eddy, A. J. Gordon, Pearcy Dearmer, Agnes Sanford, Starr Daily, John and Ethel Banks, Oral Roberts, Ruth Carter Stapleton, and a number in the Roman Catholic Community. See Kelsey, Psychology, Medicine and Christian Religion, supra, pp. 186-284.
Yahweh’s promises in His Word have not changed: See Exodus 15:26: “I am the Lord that healeth thee;” Psalm 103:3-4: Yahweh our God forgives all our iniquities, heals all our diseases, and redeems our lives from destruction;” Matthew 10:8: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give;” Mark 16:19-30: “And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. . . they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover;” John 14:12: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” These and many other Bible assurances were the daily diet of many early AAs and particularly Dr. Bob as he frequently used The Runner’s Bible devotional. See the verses and comments in Nora Smith Holm, The Runner’s Bible: Spiritual Guidance for People On The Run (Lakewood, CO: I-Level Acropolis Books, Publisher, 1998), pp. 171-96. Also, J. R. Pridie, The Church’s Ministry of Healing (London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1926); C. S. Lewis, Miracles: How God Intervenes in Nature and Human Affairs (NY: Collier Books, 1947); Friedrich Heiler, Prayer: A Study in the History of Psychology and Religion (Oxford: Oneworld, 1932); Jim Wilson, Healing Through The Power of Christ (Cambridge, England: James Clarke & Co., Ltd., 1946); Dawson, Healing: Pagan and Christian, 1935, supra; Philip Inman, Christ in the Modern Hospital (London: Hodder & Stoughton Limited, 1937); G. R. H. Shafto, The Wonders of the Kingdom, 1924, supra.
• The Successes of the Christian Missions and Evangelism:
A. Rescue Missions: Religious “conversion” was the catch-word for such endeavors, but this kind of language masked the importance of the Creator, the place of Jesus Christ, and the use of the Bible, prayer, and healing. It is quite fair to say that the latter–the Creator, Jesus Christ, Bible, prayer, and healing rather than “conversion”–marked the mission and program of the missions. See the excellent survey in: Howard Clinebell, Understanding and Counseling Persons with Alcohol, Drug, and Behavioral Addictions. Rev. and Enl. Ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968, pp. 167-194. The following were the three major mission landmarks:
(1) Jerry McCauley’s Water Street Mission was founded in October, 1872 – the outcropping of his own deliverance from alcoholism; and it helped thousands. Meetings were simple. There were no sermons. They opened with singing, a Bible reading, and a message from Jerry. This was followed by testimonies where drunkards spoke of their fall and rebirth. Often, Jerry laid hands on the penitent and encouraged him to pray out loud for himself.
(2) Next came the Gospel Missions – still in existence today with a new name, but better remembered as the International Union of Gospel Missions. In April, 1882, Samuel Hadley overcame his alcoholism with a religious experience and passed the Gospel mission torch to his son, and these events marked the beginning of that approach.
(3) Hadley’s son later was in charge of Calvary Rescue Mission with Shoemaker being an underlying recovery force when Sam became rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York in 1925. It was at the Calvary Rescue Mission that Ebby Thacher, Bill Wilson, and thousands of others overcame their alcoholism. The meetings involved hymns, Bible reading, prayers, testimonies, and decisions for Christ. The cry was “I’ve got religion.” (William L. White. Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America. Bloomington, IL: Chestnut Health Systems/Lighthouse Institute, 1998, pp. 71-74). Reverend Shoemaker uttered a simple description of Calvary’s Mission on November 25, 1932. He said it was “where God reclaims men who choose to be reborn.” See Dick B. Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes. Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1997, p. 96.
B. The Salvation Army: It was founded in 1865 out of the pastoral work of a Methodist Minister William Booth. It was first called the Christian Revival Association and rechristened the Salvation Army in 1878. Its vision was that Christian salvation and moral education in a wholesome environment would save the body and soul of the alcoholic. There were so many cures that the Salvation Army served alcoholics for more than a century and was called “the largest and most successful rehabilitation program for transient alcoholic men in the United States.” Its most striking testimonials were those in Harold Begbie’s Twice Born Men – about rescue in the slums of London. This was a book widely read by A.A. pioneers and recommended by Dr. Bob’s wife Anne. Unfortunately, the Army gave way to professionalization, but its people continued to wrangle over the disease concept. Finally they adopted these two statements about 1940:
“The Salvation Army believes that every individual who is addicted to alcohol may find deliverance from its bondage through submission of the total personality to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Salvation Army also recognizes the value of medical, social and psychiatric treatment for alcoholics and makes extensive use of these services at its centers.” (White, Slaying the Dragon, supra, p. 78).
C. The Keswick Colony of Mercy in Whiting, New Jersey. Founded in 1897 by William Raws who overcame alcoholism through religious salvation. Up to 39 men at a time reside there, undergoing Bible study, prayer, and counseling. They make a “pastoral covenant” to continued religious education and are expected to seek continued support through religious recovery groups such as Alcoholics Victorious. More than 17,000 alcoholic men have sought help there since its founding in 1897. (White, Slaying the Dragon, supra, pp. 75-76).
• The Revival of Christian Healing through the person and power of Jesus Christ
See Heal the Sick by James Moore Hickson (London: Methuen & Co., 1924).
Hickson’s book and extensive healing work were detailed in this as one of the many healing books studied by Dr. Bob. It reports thousands of healings world-wide..
See Healing in Jesus Name by Ethel R. Willitts (Crawfordsville, Indiana: Ethel R. Willitts, Publisher, 1931). This review of Biblical healings and the personal healings by the author was studied by Dr. Bob.
See Psychology and Life by Leslie D. Weatherhead (New York: AbingdonPress,1935).
Also, Leslie D. Weatherhead, Religion, Psychology and Healing, supra. Though Weatherhead’s materials are heavy with writing on psychological, spiritualism, and psychic methods, Dr. Weatherhead was Minister of the City Temple in London and wrote exhaustively on the place of healing in the modern church. Highlighting the merits of Christian Science, he nonetheless rejects it, as he does the importance of healings at Lourdes. He then mentions the work of The Guild of Health, started in 1905 to arouse the Church of England and others to a fresh recognition of the place of health of mind and body in the Christian message. Next comes his discussion of The Guild of St. Raphael, formed in 1915, to push the Anglican Church and unite within the Catholic Church those who hold the faith that “Our Lord wills to work in and through His Church for the health of her members in spirit, mind, and body. Holy Unction, The Laying on of Hands, and intercessory prayer are utilized. Next, the Emmanuel Movement in America and the role of Worcester, Mc Comb, and Coriat. Next, Milton Abbey, opened in 1937 with Rev. John Maillard, an Anglican Clergyman as first warden–Maillard’s book, Healing in the Name of Jesus, having just been published. Weatherhead next discusses The Divine Healing Mission, closely linked with the work of James Moore Hickson. He mentions The Friend’s Spiritual Healing Fellowship (Quaker), The Methodist Society for Medical and Pastoral Practice, founded in 1946, The Churches’ Council of Healing started in 1944 under the impetus of Archbishop Temple. Independently of the foregoing discussion of missions and individuals, Weatherhead analyzes the practice of intercession and The Laying on of Hands. And see the discussion of Weatherhead’s materials in Dick B. Dr. Bob and His Library 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), pp 78-79. There are many studies of the importance of the charismata, liturgies, anointing, sacraments, “unction,” “incubation,” shrines, demonology, exorcism, and the laying on of hands as part of Christian healing and Christian history. See Reverend F. W. Puller, Anointing of the Sick: In Scripture and Tradition, With Some Considerations on the Numbering of the Sacraments, supra; Dearmer, Body and Soul, supra, pp. 287 et. seq.; Evelyn Frost, Christian Healing: A Consideration of the Place of Spiritual Healing in the Church of To-day in the Light of The Doctrine and Practice of the Ante-Nicene Church, London: A. R. Mobray & Co. Limited, 1940; William Temple, Christus Veritas An Essay (London: Macmillan & Co Ltd, 1954); Dawson, Healing: Pagan and Christian, supra; Pridie, The Church’s Ministry of Healing, supra
And see the many other titles on healing and prayer that were studied and circulated by Dr. Bob among A.A. Pioneers and their families. See Dick B. Dr. Bob and His Library, supra, pp. 35-40, 83-85. In the early A.A. of Akron, there was circulation and study of a large number of prayer and healing books including those by Glenn Clark, Starr Daily, Lewis L. Dunnington, Mary Baker Eddy, Charles and Cora Filmore, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Emmet Fox, Gerald Heard, E. Stanley Jones, Frank Laubach, Charles Laymon, Rufus Mosely, William Parker, F. L. Rawson, Samuel M. Shoemaker, B. H. Streeter, L. W. Grensted, Howard Rose, Cecil Rose, St. Augustine, Brother Lawrence, Mary Tileston, Oswald Chambers, T. R. Glover, E. Herman, Donald Carruthers, and Nora Smith Holm with her Runner’s Bible. See Dick B., The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7th ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998). As our bibliography at the close of this books shows, and also as the foregoing citations as to healings make clear, the period of Dr. Bob’s study of prayer and healing was one of widespread scholarly discourse on this very same subject. It does not seem surprising, therefore, that Dr. Bob observed prayer time at least three times a day; that he studied and quoted Scripture with great frequency; and that he was asked to and did in fact pray for others. As he himself expressed as to his beliefs: “Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!”
• Successes of Oxford Group people in overcoming alcoholism prior to A.A.
In their zeal to cut down the Oxford Group, many have ignored the well-documented victories over alcoholism through the power of God by well-known Oxford Group writers and leaders–most contemporaries of friends of Bill Wilson’s. These include Rowland Hazard, F. Shepard Cornell, Victor C. Kitchen, Ebby Thacher, James Houck, Charles Clapp, Jr., William Griffith Wilson, and even Russell Firestone for a time. Both Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman (founder of the Oxford Group) and Rev. Samuel Shoemaker (its most prolific writer) helped sober up many drunks through the power of God. Their classic phrase was: Sin is the problem. Jesus Christ is the cure. The result is a miracle. See Dick B. Cured!, supra, pp. 18, 30-31.
The Present Tendency of Writers to Ignore our Real Spiritual Healing Roots and to Bloat up the Supposed Importance of a Few, Unimportant, Unsuccessful, Little-known Predecessors at the turn of the Last Century
The Washingtonians. You can find more hoopla and writing among professionals, historians, and even AAs about the “Washingtonians” than you can about Dr. Bob, Anne Smith, Henrietta Seiberling, T. Henry Williams, and Rev. Sam Shoemaker–A.A.’s real founders. You can find more hoopla and writing by these same people about this same subject than you can about the Bible, Quiet Time, the Pioneers’ devotionals, Sam Shoemaker’s writings, other Christian literature, and Anne Smith’s Journal–the major contributors to A.A. ideas. In a word or two, you need to recognize that the Washingtonians are a flash in the plan when it comes to their relevance to A.A. They were formed in 1840. They were deader than a door nail in 1847. They did not offer the Bible, Quiet Time, the Creator, Jesus Christ, Christian literature, salvation, or religious principles that were the heart of A.A.’s spiritual program. So we will ignore them in this paper!
The Emmanuel Clinic and the Lay Therapy Movement. This was founded by two ministers and a physician in 1906. Its greatest problem is that it was a “psychological” approach to recovery. Worcester and Mc Comb said: “We do not plead for a return to the mere accidents of the early Christian age. . . . Great as is the power of the subconscious,, greater still, we believe, are the powers of reason, emotion, and will. Hence, one of the principal remedies for the nervous maladies of which we are speaking is psychic, moral, and religious re-education. . . . [we] say, ‘God does it in and through the forces of nature.’ The therapeutic procedures of the Emmanuel Movement are those which are used among all scientific workers, such as suggestion, psychic analysis, re-education, work, and rest” See Worcester and Mc Comb, The Christian Religion as a Healing Power, supra, pp. 96, 103, 118. Such talk probably burdened today’s recovery community with many godless ideas about group therapy, individual counseling, self-help support, spirituality, hypnosis, relaxation, and “inspirational” reading. Its popular later book was The Common Sense of Drinking by Richard R. Peabody. And Peabody himself reportedly died intoxicated. It may well have fostered the “no cure” doctrine – once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. And it can hardly said to be based on the power of God. So we will ignore this too.
What Dr. Carl Jung seems to have introduced into Bill Wilson’s recovery thinking
Rowland Hazard’s spiritual experience, better known as a religious conversion: According to Bill Wilson’s early writings I found in Stepping Stones, at Bedford Hills, New York, A.A. really began when Rowland Hazard, once again drunk and despairing, returned to Dr. Carl Jung in Switzerland asking what he could do to whip his alcoholism. Jung replied: “Occasionally, Rowland, alcoholics have recovered through spiritual experiences, better known as religious conversions. . . . I’m talking about the kind of religious experience that reaches into the depths of a man, that changes his whole motivation and outlook and so transforms his life that the impossible becomes possible”
(W. G. Wilson, Reflections, p. 111). Jung told Wilson many years later: “His [Rowland’s] craving for alcohol was the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God. . . . The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is, that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen when you walk on a path which leads to higher understanding” (Dick B., Turning Point, supra, p. 84).
The unconvincing and unsupported claim that Rowland Hazard never visited with, or was told by Dr. Carl Jung that such a conversion was required for cure. Two writers have recently implied that the whole Rowland Hazard story and solution is a hoax (See White, Slaying the Dragon, supra, p. 128). Their so-called “investigations” were scanty and lacking in comprehension and depth as they supposedly looked through Rowland’s papers at the Rhode Island Historical Society and Jung’s records and found no account of the doctor-patient event. To make this allegation stick, however, they would further have to prove that Rowland Hazard, Ebby Thacher, Bill Wilson, Rev. Sam Shoemaker, and Dr. Carl Jung were each and all outspoken liars. And, having “investigated” many of Rowland’s records myself, and having been a trial attorney for many years with lots of experience in digging up evidence, and finding no reason to impeach the testimony of the foregoing accounts by Hazard, Thacher, Wilson, Shoemaker, and Jung, I believe the assertions of White and Wally P., the writers, who appear responsible for them, are totally wrong.
The peculiar and unique meaning of Jung’s “conversion,” “religious,” and “spiritual” experience language. I have personally have little doubt that Dr. Jung told Rowland Hazard that he (Jung) had been unsuccessful in treating, and could not cure Rowland. But what the Bible, theologians, and Christian evangelists mean by the prescribed “religious conversion” is probably not at all a conversion of the type to which Jung referred. First of all, Jung was a physician, not a cleric or theologian. Second, the Bible idea of conversion has to do with rebirth, of being born again of the spirit with the incorruptible seed of Christ, of confessing Jesus as Lord and believing that God raised Jesus from the dead (See John 3:1-17, 14:6; Acts 2:32-40, 4:10-12; Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 1:12-14; Colossians 1:27; 1 Peter 1:18-23). Third, Dr. Leslie Weatherhead analyzed Jung’s ideas as follows: “Jung seeks to lift the patient to a higher plane of living. What he calls “individualization” is an experience close to spiritual conversion. A true conception of both cannot regard either as final. Spiritual conversion is an experience which marks the end of man’s search for the right road, but not the end of his spiritual journey. Individuation, in Jung’s sense, is the wise setting of the house of one’s personality in order, but it is a task at which one is wise to work for the rest of one’s life” (Weatherhead, Psychology, Religion and Healing, supra, p. 287). Jung himself said: “Religious experience is absolute. It is indisputable. You can only say that you never had such an experience, and your opponent will say : “Sorry, I have.” And there your discussion will come to an end. No matter what the world thinks about religious experience, the one who has it possesses the great treasure of a thing that has provided him with a source of life, meaning and beauty and that has given a new splendor to the world and to mankind. He has pistis [believing or faith] and peace. Where is the criterium by which you could say that such a life is not legitimate, that such experience is not valid and that such pistis is a mere illusion? . . . But what is the difference between a real illusion and a healing religious experience? It is merely a difference in words (Jung, Psychology and Religion, pp. 113-114).
Jung’s prescription for, and definition of “religious” or “conversion” experience did not square with the Good Book. In three sentences, we can say: Jung’s definitions may be accurate from a psychologist’s view point. In fact, they represent the often quoted definitions of Professor William James. But they are not speaking of being born from above with the incorruptible seed of Christ. At Calvary Rescue Mission where Bill Wilson said he had been born again; and in Akron, where the A.A. pioneers accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, the folks were not quoting either Carl Jung or William James. They were quoting the Good Book. So was Rev. Sam Shoemaker. And so was Dr. Frank Buchman. Hence, by turning back to William James and Carl Jung, Bill Wilson was led down the merry by-way to “spiritual” experience and “spiritual awakening”–both terms of Oxford Group manufacture–and later to just “personality change” sufficient to overcome alcoholism. None of these has anything to do with what Jesus said was necessary in John 3:1-8 or with the conversation the Apostle Paul had with Jesus Christ on the Road to Damascus.
The Cures AA Pioneers Received Were Not Psychotherapeutic“Personality Changes.” They Were Miracles. They were miracles produced by reliance on Yahweh, the Creator. And Both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith Were Very Clear in Attributing the Early A.A. Miracles to Their Heavenly Father, the Creator
Again, for the documentation, see Dick B. Cured! Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2003).
Now to the job of putting together the actual historical pieces of our pioneer A.A. program which relied for deliverance on the power of the Yahweh, the Creator–their God and mine.
The Spiritual Beginnings of A.A.
The Historical Need
Bill Wilson often said: A.A. was not invented. He added: Each of A.A.’s spiritual principles was borrowed from ancient sources. Regrettably, Bill provided very very few specifics as to the actual sources of the spiritual principles, or just how they reached the A.A. fellowship.
Today, we can supply specific details. They have been gathered over a period of thirteen years from archives, interviews, historians, and the study of much literature. Those who did the A.A. borrowing and fashioning were A.A.’s founders, Bill W. and Dr. Bob. But one historical fact has been commonly lacking in discussions of the contributions of these two men. The Bill W. sources, spiritual infusions, and beliefs were totally different from those that came from Dr. Bob. Bill was a self-proclaimed “conservative atheist,” had never belonged to a church, and had never studied the Bible until after he met Dr. Bob in Akron. Dr. Bob, on the other hand, had been a long-time Christian believer, church member, and Bible student since his youth. Regrettably, almost every A.A. historical account fails to take account of, earmark, and incorporate these differences and their A.A. impact. I sincerely hope you will leave this discussion with the impression that there were not two A.A. founding factions fighting with each other; nor were there two founders disagreeing with each other. There were simply two distinctly different program origins.
Two Distinctly Different Spiritual Roots
One A.A. root might properly be called the “Carl Jung/Sam Shoemaker Source.” It led to the “New York Genesis of A.A.” Its ingredients are well-known and legendary, though inaccurately reported. Unfortunately, the incorrect aspects of the legend have become doctrinal. A.A.’s other root could properly be called the “Bible/Dr. Bob Source.” It led to the “Akron Genesis of A.A..” Unfortunately, the facts about this root have been virtually buried. until our work began thirteen years ago.
The New York Genesis and its Dr. Carl Jung/Rev. Sam Shoemaker Source
We will dwell little on A.A.’s New York beginnings because they have so often been recorded, albeit mis-reported and distorted. To repeat: Bill Wilson, a Brooklyn resident, was a self-proclaimed “conservative atheist.” He was never a church member, and had never “looked in the Bible at all” until he came to Akron in 1935.
The actual Bill Wilson picture as to A.A.’s “New York Genesis” and spiritual beginnings is as follows.
An East Coast businessman named Rowland Hazard sought help for his alcoholism from Dr. Carl Jung in Switzerland. After his Jung treatment which was followed by relapse, Rowland was told by Jung that he had the mind of a chronic alcoholic and would need a conversion experience to overcome his compulsion. Jung defined such conversions as “union with God.” He suggested Rowland seek a religious association.
Rowland therefore joined “A First Century Christian Fellowship” also known as the Oxford Group. Rowland followed its precepts; recovered from alcoholism; helped rescue a New Yorker named Ebby Thacher from alcoholism; taught Ebby the Oxford Group ideas; and later also spent substantial time with Bill Wilson inculcating Wilson with Oxford Group precepts. Ebby Thacher visited and convinced his suffering friend Bill Wilson that he (Ebby) had “got religion,” that “God had done for him what he could not do for himself,” and that he had been to Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Rescue Mission in New York.
A drunken Bill Wilson then went to Shoemaker’s Rescue Mission, made a decision for Christ, believed he had really found something, and checked into Towns Hospital in New York. There Bill heard some key Oxford Group principles during Ebby’s visits to Bill at the hospital. Bill also then had what he often called his “hot flash” conversion experience. On release from Towns Hospital, Bill was totally unsuccessful: (1) In “converting” anyone to his Oxford Group ideas. (2) In getting one single drunk sober that Bill brought to the Wilson home for help. (3) For quite some time, in getting anyone sober in the New York area.
But Bill certainly assimilated some major Oxford Group life-changing principles–seemingly from the beginning of his sobriety in late 1934. These included the Five C’s, the Four Absolutes, Surrender, Restitution, Guidance, Loyalty, Fellowship, and Witnessing. In all, these principles amounted to some twenty-eight Oxford Group ideas that were used to change lives and that impacted on Bill’s idea that a “spiritual” or “conversion” experience could result from their practice. See Dick B. The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works, 2d ed (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1998). He endeavored to carry to drunks his version of that recovery message. Not one recovered. Not during Bill’s first six months of sobriety, nor for several years as to those he and Lois took into their home. In May, 1935, Bill carried his version to Dr. Bob in Akron, Ohio, where an entirely different chain of events had been in progress. See Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1998).
The Akron Genesis and its Bible/Dr. Bob Source
A.A.’s Akron Genesis began with Dr. Bob, his church activities as a youngster, and his excellent Bible and religious training in the North Congregational Church at St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where he and his parents worshipped. Also in Bob’s participation in the Christian Endeavor work in those days. See Dick B., Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998).
Dr. Bob was born and raised in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. His parents were pillars of the North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury. From childhood through high school, Bob each week attended that Congregational church, its Sunday School, evening service, Monday night Christian Endeavor meetings, and sometimes its Wednesday evening prayer meeting. These actions were likely at the insistence of his mother. Yet, Bob continued membership in Christian churches most of his life: St. Johnsbury Congregational in his youth. Possibly St. Luke’s Protestant Episcopal Church. Probably the Church of Our Saviour in Akron, where his kids attended Sunday School. Then Akron’s Westminster Presbyterian Church where Dr. Bob and his wife Anne Smith were charter members from June 3, 1936 to April 3, 1942. Finally, a year before his death, Dr. Bob became a communicant at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Akron. This Episcopal Church was the so-called “Firestone” church of which Dr. Walter Tunks was rector and had so much to do with A.A.’s Akron beginnings.
Dr. Bob specifically told AAs he had nothing to do with writing the Twelve Steps. Nor did he have much to do with the writing of A.A.’s basic text, the “Big Book,” other than to review manuscripts as Bill Wilson passed them to Bob for approval prior to publication in the Spring of 1939. But Dr. Bob did make some very clear statements about the Bible and A.A. And it was from and in Akron where A.A.’s basic biblical ideas were discussed, honed, tried, and then later put into terse and tangible form at Bill Wilson’s hands in A.A.’s “Big Book” and Twelve Steps.
Dr. Bob said A.A.’s basic ideas came from the Bible. Both Dr. Bob and Bill often stated that Jesus’s sermon on the mount contained the underlying spiritual philosophy of A.A. Bob often read Bible passages in the sermon (which is found in Matthew Chapters Five, Six, and Seven). Bob specifically pointed out that the A.A. slogans “First Things First” and “Easy Does It” were taken respectively from Matthew 6:33 and 6:34. Furthermore, when someone asked Dr. Bob a question about the A.A. program, his usual response was: “What does it say in the Good Book?” He declared that A.A. pioneers were “convinced that the answer to their problems was in the Good Book.” He added: “To some of us older ones, the parts we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the 13th chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James.” In fact, James was so popular with the pioneers that, according to Bill Wilson, many favored calling the A.A. fellowship “The James Club.”
The Biblical emphasis in A.A.’s “Akron Group No. One” involved much much more. The pioneer meetings opened with Christian prayer. As mentioned, they were “old fashioned prayer meetings.” Bible devotionals such as The Upper Room, My Utmost for His Highest, and The Runner’s Bible were regular fare. Also in individual Quiet Times, and Quiet Times with Anne Smith each morning at the Smith home. Quiet Time itself had distinct Biblical roots. See Dick B., Good Morning!: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and Early A.A., 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998). Scripture was regularly read at all meetings. Scripture, both from devotionals and from actual reading of the Good Book, was often the fountainhead for topics discussed at pioneer meetings. Bible study itself was stressed. Dr. Bob called every meeting of early A.A. a “Christian Fellowship;” and early A.A. was in fact an integral part of “A First Century Christian Fellowship.” Also, as will be detailed later, every single Twelve Step idea can be traced to specific Bible verses and segments. Furthermore, “Surrenders” were required in early Akron A.A. These meant accepting on one’s knees Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Older members then prayed with newcomers in the manner specified in James 5:16. See Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible, 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1997); The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, supra; DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, supra; That Amazing Grace: The Role of Clarence and Grace S. in Alcoholics Anonymous (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1986).
And how did all these Christian and Bible-oriented principles and practices wind up in A.A.? Certainly not from, nor properly described as through, Bill Wilson. They were the daily grist of the Akron experimental work to deliver drunks. Program ideas with which Dr. Bob had been familiar since his Vermont days.
That introduces a final point. One that really marks the beginning of the Akron Genesis. Its details were only recently unearthed in the author’s research. It has to do with Christian Endeavor, the Christian church movement for youth to which Dr. Bob belonged as a youngster. And that movement, its practices, and principles can be seen as having great impact on many of the basic and unique aspects of Akron A.A.. These aspects differed from the Oxford Group approaches and principles with which Bill Wilson had been indoctrinated on the East Coast. They did not involve the Four Absolutes, nor the 5 C’s, nor Restitution, nor Guidance as such, nor the Surrenders, nor the house-parties, nor the teams, and other distinctly Oxford Group ideas with which Bob and Bill were both familiar from their respective Oxford Group connections.
Akron A.A.’s prayer meetings, Bible study, devotional literature, religious discussions, confession of Christ, emphasis on church affiliation, and Christian outreach were a distinct characteristic of the Akron program. They were not emphasized in New York. They showed the influence that Christian Endeavor on Dr. Bob. See Dick B., The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7th ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1998, pp. 13-17); Cured!: Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2003); Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998); Amos R. Wells, Expert Endeavor: A Text-bok of Christian Endeavor Methods and Principles (Boston: United Society of Christian Endeavor, 1911); Francis E. Clark. Christian Endeavor in All Lands. (N.p.: The United Society of Christian Endeavor, 1906); Memoirs of Many Men in Many Lands: An Autobiography (Boston: United Society of Christian Endeavor, 1922); James DeForest Murch, Successful C.E. Prayer-Meetings (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company, 1930)..
Christian Endeavor was a movement formed in Williston Congregational Church in Portland, Maine on February 2, 1881. It was designed to meet the need of the church for training young Christians. Activities included the weekly young people’s prayer meeting. Each member promised to attend and take some part. A Bible verse or a sentence of prayer answered the individual’s obligation of “taking some part aside from singing.” In addition to prayer meetings, there were social gatherings, missionary committees, music and floral committees, and committees to visit the sick and poor and welcome strangers. The organization endeavored to be self-governing and self-propagating. It spread to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Then to numerous U.S. churches, to Hawaii, China, and many parts of the world. In a few years, nearly 25,000 young people journeyed across the United States to attend a convention in San Francisco.
Rev. Francis E. Clark, Founder of the Christian Endeavor Movement, said the roots of the Christian Endeavor tree were: (1) Confession of Christ. (2) Service for Christ. (3) Fellowship with Christ’s people. (4) And Loyalty to Christ’s Church. As to the Confession of Christ, Clark said: “Confession of Christ is absolutely necessary in the Christian Endeavor Society. . . . Every week comes the prayer meeting in which every member who fulfills his vow must take some part. . . . The true Christian Endeavorer. . . .does take part to show that he is a Christian, to confess his love for the Lord. . . . The covenant pledge. . . secures familiarity with the Word of God by promoting Bible-reading and study in preparation for every meeting.
Rev. F. B. Meyer, who later was to have a substantial influence on the Oxford Group and on early A.A. ideas and was president of the British Christian Endeavor Union, said Christian Endeavor stood for five great principles: (1) Personal devotion to the divine Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. (2) The covenant obligation embodied in our pledge. (3) Constant religious training for all kinds of service. (4) Strenuous loyalty to the local church and denomination with which each society is connected. (5) Interdenominational spiritual fellowship.
The C.E. founder, Rev. Francis Clark, summarized the C.E. covenant as follows: “Trusting in the Lord Jesus for strength, I promise him that I will strive to do whatever He would like to have me do; that I will pray and read the Bible every day; and that, just so far as I know how, I will endeavor to lead a Christian life. I will be present at every meeting of the society, unless prevented by some reason which I can conscientiously give to my Saviour, and will take part in the meeting, either by prayer, testimony, or a Bible verse. As an active member of this society, I promise to be faithful to my own church, and to do all I can to uphold its works and membership.”
Amos R. Wells, Editorial Secretary of the United Society of Christian Endeavor, asked: (1) What are the results we may gain from the prayer meeting? They are five: original thought on religious subjects; open committal to the cause of Christ; the helpful expression of Christian thought and experience; the cultivation of the spirit of worship through public prayer and singing; the guidance of others along these lines of service and life. (2) How can we get original thought on the prayer-meeting topics? Only by study of the Bible, followed by meditation. First, the Endeavorer should read the Bible passage; then he should read some good commentary upon it; then he should take the subject with him into his daily life. (3) Are we to read Bible verses and other quotations? Yes, all we please, if we will make them the original expression of our own lives by thinking about them, and adding to them something, if only a sentence, to show that we have made them our own.
If you read A.A.’s DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, as well as my own titles on early A.A., you will see unique Christian Endeavor parallels and practices in what was called the Akron “Program.” In fact, if you read the personal stories of the pioneers in the First Edition of A.A.’s Big Book, you will see the practices in action. To be sure, the Akron pioneers often called themselves the alcoholic squad of the Oxford Group (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, supra, p. 117). They also called themselves a “Christian fellowship” (DR. BOB, supra, p. 118) as well as the “Alcoholic Group of Akron, Ohio” (DR. BOB, supra, p. 128). But their unique meeting structure was not like that of most Oxford Group meetings or “house parties.” In fact, they were also called a “clandestine” or secret lodge of that Group (DR. BOB, supra, p. 121). Moreover, the Akron practices were not familiar to eastern Oxford Grouper Bill Wilson when he came to Akron. This, in part, because Akron meetings resembled Christian Endeavor meetings in a number of ways: As stated, the Akron A.A. meetings were called “old fashioned prayer meetings” and “Christian Fellowships.” Group study of the Bible, meditation. reading of Bible literature, and discussion of topics from the Bible as they impacted on the member’s life all contained ingredients different from those at Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary House. So too Akron’s mandatory surrender to Jesus Christ, self-support and self-propagation credo, emphasis on alignment with some church, fellowship with like-minded believers, service, and witness.
These Akron elements caused it to be described as first century Christianity such as that found in the Book of Acts (DR. BOB, supra, pp.129-31, 135-36); and these elements were the heart of Akron A.A.
Most assuredly, common spillovers from Oxford Group life-changing techniques were present in both New York and Akron A.A. beginnings. But the Akron Genesis was unquestionably biblical.
Melding the Roots was solely a Bill Wilson Project
In the midst of substantial controversy, Bill Wilson obtained a split vote in Akron that authorized him to write a basic text describing the practices and program pioneer AAs had taken to achieve their astonishing successes, which were said to be seventy-five percent.
In fashioning the basic text, Bill took some simple medical facts about alcoholism and the alcoholic that he had learned from his own physician Dr. William D. Silkworth. Also, he added substantial practical treatment ideas, probably from Richard R. Peabody’s book, The Common Sense of Drinking (Atlantic Monthly Press Book, 1933). He mentioned neither the Bible nor Jesus Christ in connection with the program, but he adopted much from the Akron surrenders. From the Oxford Group, Wilson codified in A.A. the Oxford Group life-changing techniques. To this mix, he added (using Oxford Group terms like spiritual experience and later spiritual awakening) his own “religious” experience, calling them all the process of finding or rediscovering of God. See Alcoholics Anonymous, 1st ed., 1939. Unfortunately, Bill left to others, if anyone, the unearthing of source details. The digging–certainly mine–goes on to this day. See: Dick B., Dr. Bob and His Library; Good Morning: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation and Early A.A.; The Good Book and The Big Book; The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous; New Light on Alcoholism; Turning Point; The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous; and Bill Pittman and Dick B.,Courage to Change The Christian Roots of the Twelve-Step Movement.
The Real Program of Early A.A.
We want to cover three features of the actual program before we hear from Smitty (Dr. Bob’s son) about living with his Dad: (1) A brief overview of exactly what the pioneers did as they fashioned their program in Akron between June 10, 1935 and the publication of the Big Book in the Spring of 1939. (2) A summary by Frank Amos of the results of his thorough investigation of the Akron successes, his report to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and what that actual program was. (3) A synopsis of the six basic Biblical sources of that program.
An Overview of What They Did in Akron
Hospitalization for about seven days: Only a Bible in the room, medications, daily visits and lengthy talks by Dr. Bob, visits by recovered pioneers, belief in God, surrender to Christ, and prayer. Then release.
Recovery in the homes: (1) Daily get-togethers, (2) Bible study and reading, (3) Individual quiet times, (4) Quiet Times in the morning with Anne Smith, discussions with Bob and Henrietta and Anne, (5) the regular Wednesday meeting, with “real” surrenders upstairs (James 5:15-16: Elders and prayer), acceptance of Jesus Christ, asking God to take alcohol out of their lives, and asking Him to help them abide by the Four Absolutes. (6) Some individual Oxford Group elements such as Inventory, Confession, Conviction, and Restitution. (7) Visiting newcomers at the hospital. (8) Church attendance by most. (9) Social and family fellowship.
Regular Wednesday Meetings: Prayer, Scripture, Group Prayer and Guidance, Discussion, Surrender, appeal for helping newcomers, Lord’s Prayer, socializing, and exchange of literature. No drunkalogs. No steps. No Big Book. Just Bible and devotionals like the Upper Room
Quiet Time (with Anne, with Group, or individual): Based on having accepted Jesus Christ; Bible reading; prayer and seeking guidance; use of devotionals; use of Anne Smith’s Journal; reading of Christian literature.
If you read the statements of Bill and Bob together at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1943. There were some 4500 present. Bill spoke about Divine Aid, the religious element, and prayer. Dr. Bob spoke about cultivating the habit of prayer and reading the Bible. Both men were warmly received.
The Frank Amos Reports in 1938
“All considered practically incurable by physicians.” They had “been reformed and so far have remained teetotalers.” Stories were remarkably alike in “the technique used and the system followed.” Mr. Amos described their seven-point “Program” as follows:
[Abstinence] An alcoholic must realize that he is an alcoholic, incurable from a medical viewpoint, and that he must never again drink anything with alcohol in it.
[Absolute reliance on the Creator] He must surrender himself absolutely to God, realizing that in himself there is no hope.
[Removal of sins from his life] Not only must he want to stop drinking permanently, he must remove from his life other sins such as hatred, adultery, and others which frequently accompany alcoholism. Unless he will do this absolutely, Smith and his associates refuse to work with him.
[Daily Quiet Time with Bible study and prayer] He must have devotions every morning–a “quiet time” of prayer and some reading from the Bible and other religious literature. Unless this is faithfully followed, there is grave danger of backsliding.
[Helping other alcoholics] He must be willing to help other alcoholics get straightened out. This throws up a protective barrier and strengthens his own willpower and convictions.
[Fellowship] It is important, but not vital, that he meet frequently with other reformed alcoholics and form both a social and a religious comradeship.
[Religious affiliation] Important, but not vital, that he attend some religious service at least once weekly.
See Dick B. God and Alcoholism: Our Growing Opportunity in the 21st Century (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2002); DR. BOB, supra, p. 131.
The Major Spiritual Roots of the Program
Dr. Bob said quite plainly that A.A.’s basic ideas came from the Bible. Bill said the Steps came primarily from the Oxford Group principles as taught by Reverend Sam. Shoemaker of New York. The Oxford Group said plainly that its principles were the principles of the Bible. Both Dr. Bob and Bill said that Jesus’s sermon on the mount (Matthew 5, 6, 7) contained the underlying A.A. philosophy. The six major spiritual roots of Alcoholics Anonymous are Biblical in origin and form.
The Bible. See Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible. Over and over the Bible was stressed as the basic source of our ideas: The focus of reading was the Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians 13, and the Book of James. See the detailed review of these three segments in Dick B., Why Early A.A. Succeeded (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2001). In addition, plenty was taught about the Ten Commandments, Jesus’s Two Great Commandments, the need for a new birth by receiving from above God’s spirit in Christ, prayer, healing, repentance, guidance, forgiveness, and so on.
Quiet Time. The born-again newcomer was to grow in knowledge, principles, and practices from the Bible. He was to study the Bible. He was to cultivate the habit of prayer. He was to seek guidance from Yahweh, the Creator. He was advised to read religious books and use daily devotionals. This was done individually, with Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne, and at meetings. See Dick B., Good Morning!, supra; Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939, supra.
Anne Smith’s Journal. The most-forgotten and ignored source of A.A. ideas. Anne says it all. She was “it” as far as recording the real early A.A. program ideas in detail. She wrote them down in organized fashion in 64 pages from 1933 to 1939. And she shared abundantly from that journal with AAs and their families. See Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939, supra.
The teachings of Reverend Sam Shoemaker. Bill attributed practically all the Steps and ideas to Sam and called him a co-founder of A.A. Bill even asked Sam to write the Twelve Steps. Sam reviewed Bill’s first Big Book manuscripts before they were published. And Sam’s words, language, and ideas can be found in the Steps and in the Big Book. See Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999).
The life-changing program of the Oxford Group. No matter how hard he tried to distance himself and AA from the Oxford Group, the simple fact is that Bill’s whole program is Oxford Group in character, principles, and practices. Bill worked closely with Sam Shoemaker. While Dr. Bob really had little to do with Shoemaker, he and Anne, Henrietta, and the Williams couple were thorough readers of Oxford Group literature and were thoroughly conversant with its ideas. See Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous, supra; By the Power of God, supra..
The books early AAs read for spiritual growth. The pioneers in Akron were readers. They were spurred on by Dr. Bob, Anne, and Henrietta. They read the Bible. The read the devotionals – The Runner’s Bible, The Upper Room, My Utmost for His Highest. They read commentaries like As a Man Thinketh, The Greatest Thing in the World, Fox’s The Sermon on the Mount, and books by the great religious leaders and writers – Glenn Clark, E. Stanley Jones, Oswald Chambers, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Norman Vincent Peale, Henry Drummond, and many many others. They read the Shoemaker books and the Oxford Group books, of which there were more than 500 in all. You could see references in the Cleveland Central Bulletin, in the AA Grapevine, and in the Akron AA pamphlets. See Dick B., The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7th ed., supra; Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed., supra; and Making Known the Biblical Roots of Early A.A.., supra.
Other sources, though unusual in content and character, came from new thought writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Phineas P. Quimby, Mary Baker Eddy, Ralph Waldo Trine, James Allen, Emmet Fox, Charles Fillmore, Horatio W. Dresser, F. L. Rawson, Thomas Troward, and William James. And almost all of these quoted Scripture at some length. See Dick B., Cured!, supra; God and Alcoholism, supra, pp. 77-118; and Making Known the Biblical Roots of A.A., supra.
The Materials from the Bible That Dr. Bob Considered
[Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), the Book of James, 1 Corinthians 13]
“Dr. Bob, another founder of A.A., also addressed the Shrine assembly [along with Bill W.] As he was introduced, the audience rose to its feet in tribute. The fame of Dr. Bob is great in A.A. In soft, confident and unhurried words he too [along with Bill W.] reiterated the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. . . He particularly recommended reading the Bible” (The Tidings, Friday, March 26, 1943, p. 47).
Many of the Bible’s Books, Parts, and Verses
Need Specific Mention Also!
A.A.’s Bible roots are as numerous and varied as the A.A. sources that used them. If you start with the Bible devotionals in wide use by A.A.’s old-timers, you’ll see lots of mention of all the Bible verses, chapters, and books we’ll discuss in the various parts of this presentation. Key among the devotionals were The Upper Room, The Runner ‘s Bible, Daily Strength for Daily Needs, and My Utmost For His Highest. These books and pamphlets covered many verses and segments of the Bible other than the Sermon on the Mount, the Book of James, and 1 Corinthians 13. Many of these other verses and segments were studied by, and important to, A.A.’s pioneers. You can find them mentioned almost anywhere you start.
If you start with the books Dr. Bob’s wife Anne recommended and shared from her journal with early AAs and their families, you will find Anne recommending the Book of Acts, Psalms, Proverbs, the Gospels, and other specific sections. She also recommended Fosdick’s book on The Meaning of Prayer, which is filled with Bible references pertaining to prayer. She recommended several books on the life of Jesus Christ which also are filled with Bible references. She recommended life-changing books by Sam Shoemaker and others. These titles spell out appropriate Bible sources for the very spiritual ideas Rev. Shoemaker was teaching early AAs. So too with the Glenn Clark books and E. Stanley Jones books.
If you start with some of the books Dr. Bob recommended, you’ll be looking at The Greatest Thing in the World by Drummond, which discusses 1 Corinthians 13. You’ll look at several commentaries about Matthew chapters 5-7 (the sermon on the mount delivered by Jesus). These include books by Oswald Chambers, Glenn Clark, E. Stanley Jones, Emmet Fox, Robert E. Speer, Emmet Fox, and others. Most of those authors discuss almost every single verse in the sermon. Though there is no commentary on the Book of James, The Runner’s Bible (which Dr. Bob widely recommended) discusses many parts of James–the book Anne frequently read to Bob and Bill at the Smith home in the summer of 1935. The many books by Rev. Sam Shoemaker, Oxford Group writers, new thought writers, and others such as Toyohiko Kagawa and Glenn Clark all became rich sources for the simple ideas AAs extracted from the Good Book and incorporated into their spiritual program of recovery. That program, of course, involved intensive work with newcomers, prayer, Bible study, and daily fellowship with like-minded believers.
The Special Role of the Books of
Matthew, James, and 1 Corinthians
The focus here will be on the three portions of the Bible which Dr. Bob said he and the early A.A. pioneers considered “absolutely essential.” Pointing directly to the roles of the three segments are the following pioneer comments about Matthew chapters 5-7, the Book of James, and 1 Corinthians 13:
When we started in on Bill D. [who was A.A. Number Three], we had no Twelve Steps [said Dr. Bob]. But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book. To some of us older ones, the parts that we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James (The Co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical sketches Their last major talks,1972, 1975, pp. 9-10).
[Dr. Bob said, in Youngstown, Ohio:] Members of Alcoholics Anonymous begin the day with a prayer for strength and a short period of Bible reading. They find the basic messages they need in the Sermon on the Mount, in Corinthians and the Book of James (Wally P., But for the Grace of God, p. 45).
[Dr. Bob’s son “Smitty” recently recalled:] Before there was a Big Book—in the period of “flying blind,” God’s Big Book was the reference used in our home. The summer of 1935, when Bill lived with us, Dr. Bob had read the Bible completely three times. And the references that seemed consistent with the program goals were the Sermon on the Mount, I Corinthians 13, and the Book of James (Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book, p. ix).
[An early pamphlet commissioned by Dr. Bob stated:] There is the Bible that you haven’t opened for years. Get acquainted with it. Read it with an open mind. You will find things that will amaze you. You will be convinced that certain passages were written with you in mind. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew V, VI, and VII). Read St. Paul’s inspired essay on love (I Corinthians XIII). Read the Book of James. Read the Twenty-third and Ninety-first Psalms. These readings are brief but so important (A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous, rev ed., AA of Akron, 1989, p. 8).
[Bill Wilson said of his stay with Dr. Bob and Anne for three months in 1935:] Each morning there was devotion. After the long silence Anne [Dr. Bob’s wife] would read out of the Good Book. James was our favorite (RHS. New York: The AA Grapevine, Inc., 1951, p. 5).
The definition of love in Corinthians also played a great part in our discussions (Kurtz, Not-God. Hazelden, 1991, p. 320, n. 11).
The Sermon on the Mount [Matthew chapters 5-7] contains the underlying spiritual philosophy of A.A. [said both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob] (Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible, p. 4).
The key Bible segments, then–considered absolutely essential in putting together A.A.’s spiritual program of recovery–were the Sermon, James, and 1 Corinthians 13.
And there seems little doubt that any purportedly accurate, comprehensive, and fair study of A.A. history, A.A. principles, A.A. literature, and the A.A. fellowship requires a knowledge of what the early AAs took from the three key Bible sources. Those three segments of Biblical materials clearly influenced or found their way into the Big Book and the Twelve Steps. And those Bible segments are of such historical significance that they justify the following, separate, item-by-item review.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)
This discussion will not deal with a particular book or commentary on Matthew chapters 5-7. It will focus on the Sermon on the Mount itself; for this Sermon, which Jesus delivered, was not the property of some present-day commentator or writer. The fact that Dr. Bob read the Matthew chapters themselves, as well as many interpretations of them, verifies the A.A. belief that the Sermon was one of the principles comprising “the common property of mankind,” which Bill Wilson said the AAs had borrowed. And here are some major points that appear to have found their way from the Sermon into the basic ideas of the Big Book. The points were, of course, in the sermon itself. In addition, the pioneers read many books and articles on and about the sermon which are thoroughly documented in the author’s title, The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible. Those items further illustrate some of the points made in the sermon and that might have found their way into A.A.
The Lord’s Prayer—Matthew 6:9-13
Oxford Group meetings closed with the Lord’s Prayer in New York and in Akron. In early A.A., they also closed meetings with the Lord’s Prayer. Moreover, the author has attended at least two thousand A.A. meetings, and almost every one has closed with the Lord’s Prayer. At the 1990 International A.A. Conference in Seattle, which was a first for this author, some 50,000 members of Alcoholics Anonymous joined in closing their meetings with the Lord’s Prayer. The question here concerns what parts, if any, of the Lord’s Prayer found their way into the Big Book, Twelve Steps, A.A. Slogans, and the A.A. fellowship; and we hasten to remind the reader that the prayer is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Here are the verses of the Lord’s Prayer (King James Version) as found in Matt. 6:9-13. Jesus instructed the Judaeans, “After this manner therefore pray ye”:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Dr. Bob studied specific commentaries on the Sermon by Oswald Chambers, Glenn Clark, Emmet Fox, and E. Stanley Jones. And these writers extracted a good many teachings, prayer guides, and theological ideas from Lord’s Prayer verses in the Sermon. But there are a few concepts and phrases in the Lord’s Prayer itself which either epitomize A.A. thinking or can be found in its language—whether the A.A. traces came from the Lord’s Prayer or from other portions of the Bible. For example, the Big Book uses the word “Father” when referring to the Creator Yahweh, our God; and the context shows that this usage and name came from the Bible. The Oxford Group also used the term “Father,” among other names, when referring to God. The concept and expression of God as “Father” is not confined to the Sermon on the Mount. It can be found in many other parts of the New Testament. But AAs have given the “Our Father” prayer a special place in their meetings. Thus the Lord’s Prayer seems the likely source of their use of the word “Father.”
The phrase “Thy will be done” is directly quoted, or is the specific subject of reference, in the Big Book several times (Big Book, 4th ed., pp. 63, 67, 76, 85, 88). It underlies A.A.’s contrast between “self-will” and “God’s will.” The Oxford Group stressed, as do A.A.’s Third and Seventh Step prayers, that there must be a decision to do God’s will and surrender to His will. These ideas were also symbolized in the A.A. prayer’s “Thy will be done.”
Finally, “Forgive us our debts” or “trespasses” certainly states that God can and will “forgive”; and these concepts can be found in the Big Book, whether they came from the Lord’s Prayer or from other important Biblical sources such as the Book of James.
The Full “Sermon on the Mount”: Matthew Chapters 5-7
Dr. Bob studied, and circulated among early AAs, an E. Stanley Jones book, The Christ of the Mount (Nashville: Abingdon, 1931; Festival ed., 1985, pp. 36-37) which outlined the Sermon’s contents in this fashion:
2. The goal of life: To be perfect or complete as the Father in heaven is perfect or complete (5:48); with twenty-seven marks of this perfect life (5:1-47).
[Jones wrote of these verses:] The perfect life consists in being poor in spirit, in mourning, in being meek, in hungering and thirsting after righteousness, in being merciful, pure in heart, in being a peacemaker, persecuted for righteousness sake and yet rejoicing and being exceeding glad, in being the salt of the earth, the light of the world, having a righteousness that exceeds, in being devoid of anger with the brother, using no contemptuous words, allowing no one to hold anything against one, having the spirit of quick agreement, no inward lustful thinking, relentless against anything that offends against the highest, right relations in the home life, truth in speech and attitude, turning the other cheek, giving the cloak also, going the second mile, giving to those who ask and from those who would borrow turning not away, loving even one’s enemies, praying for those that persecute (pp. 50-51).
2. A diagnosis of the reason why men do not reach or move on to that goal: Divided personality (6:1-6; 7:1-6).
3. The Divine offer of an adequate moral and spiritual re-enforcement so that men can move on to that goal: The Holy Spirit to them that ask him (7:7-11).
4. After making the Divine offer he gathers up and emphasizes in two sentences our part in reaching that goal. Toward others we are to do unto others as we would that they should do unto us (7:12); toward ourselves—we are to lose ourselves by entering the straight gate (7:13).
5. The test of whether we are moving on to that goal, or whether this Divine Life is operative within us: By their fruits (7:15-23).
6. The survival value of this new life and the lack of survival value of life lived in any other way: The house founded on rock and the house founded on sand (7:24-27).
Matthew Chapter 5
1. The Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are found in Matt. 5:3-11. The word “beatitudes” refers to the first word “Blessed” in each of these verses. Merriam Webster’s says “blessed” means “enjoying the bliss of heaven.” The word in the Greek New Testament from which “blessed” was translated means, “happy,” according Biblical scholar Ethelbert Bullinger. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words explains the word “Blessed” as follows: “In the beatitudes the Lord indicates not only the characters that are blessed, but the nature of that which is the highest good.” Dr. Bob’s wife Anne Smith described the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount as “the Christ-like virtues to be cultivated” (Dick B., Anne Smith ‘s Journal, p. 135).
The beatitude verses can be found at the very beginning of Jesus’s sermon and read as follows:
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matt. 5:1-12)
Italicized below are Webster’s definitions for the key words in each “beatitude” verse, with quotes also from the King James Version, which was the version Dr. Bob and early AAs most used. As the verses appear in the King James, they state: “Blessed” are:
· the poor (humble) in spirit [renouncing themselves, wrote E. Stanley Jones]: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v. 3) ;
· they that mourn (feel or express grief or sorrow): for they shall be comforted (v. 4);
· the meek (enduring injury with patience and without resentment); for they shall inherit the earth (v. 5);
· they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness (acting in accord with divine or moral law): for they shall be filled (v. 6);
· the merciful (compassionate): for they shall obtain mercy (v. 7);
· the pure (spotless, stainless) in heart [has a passion for righteousness and a compassion for men–seeks law and shows love, wrote Jones]: for they shall see God (v. 8);
· the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God (v. 9);
· they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v. 10);
· ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake (end or purpose): for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (v. 11).
Did Dr. Bob, Anne, Bill, or Henrietta Seiberling study and draw specifically on these beatitude verses as they put together A.A.’s recovery program? The author can neither provide nor document an answer. But there are some ideas common to A.A.’s spiritual principles in the beatitudes as you see them expressed above. These are: (1) Humility–overcoming self; (2) Comfort for the suffering; (3) Patience and tolerance to the end of eliminating resentment; (4) Harmonizing one’s actions with God’s will; (5) Compassion, which Webster defines as “sympathetic consciousness of others distress together with a desire to alleviate;” (6) “Cleaning house”–which means seeking obedience to God and, based on the principles of love, straightening out harms caused by disobedience; (7) Making peace; (8) Standing for and acting upon spiritual principles, whatever the cost, because they are God’s principles. The foregoing are Twelve Step ideas that can be found in the Beatitudes; and A.A. founders probably saw them there as well, and they can most certainly be found in the Big Book–humility, comforting others, patience and tolerance, “Thy will be done,” compassion, amends, peacemaking, acting on the “cardinal principles of Jesus Christ” as virtues to be cultivated.
2. Letting your light shine. Matt. 5:13-16 suggest glorifying your Heavenly Father by letting others see your good works. That is, “Letting your light shine” does not mean glorifying yourself, but rather glorifying God by letting others see your spiritual walk in action—see the immediate results of surrender to the Master. These ideas may be reflected in the Big Book’s statement: “Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God. . . .” (p. 77).
3. Obeying the Ten Commandments. In Matt. 5:17-21, Jesus reiterates the importance of obeying the law and the prophets, specifically referring to Exod. 20:13 (Thou shalt not kill), but obviously referring to the other important commandments such as having no other god but Yahweh (Exod. 20:2-3), worshiping no other god (Exod. 20:4-5), eschewing adultery (Exod. 20:14), not stealing (Exod. 20:15), and so on. And even though some of these commandments may have fallen between the cracks in today’s A.A., they very clearly governed the moral standards of early A.A. that Dr. Bob and the Akron AAs embraced. The Ten Commandments were part of early A.A. pamphlets and literature, and (for example) Dr. Bob and the Akron AAs would have nothing to do with a man who was committing adultery.
4. The Law of Love in action. In Matt. 5:17-47, Jesus confirms that the Law of Love fulfills the Old Testament Law. He rejects anger without cause, unresolved wrongs to a brother, quibbling with an adversary, lust and impurity, adultery, retaliation, and hatred of an enemy. The author’s title The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous covers many of these ideas as roots of A.A. principles. And the foregoing verses in Matthew may very well have influenced A.A. language about: (1) Overcoming resentments [“. . .I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. . .]; (2) Making restitution [“Therefore if thou bring thy gift before the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift”]; (3) Avoidance of retaliation for wrongdoing by others [“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”]; and (4) Making peace with our enemies [“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you. Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”]
Matthew Chapter 6
1. Anonymity. Matt. 6:1-8, 16-18 (urging almsgiving “in secret,” praying “in secret,” fasting “in secret,” and avoiding “vain repetitions,” and hypocrisy) very possibly played a role in the development of A.A.’s spiritual principle of anonymity. Jesus said, “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” and “thy Father, which seeth in secret. shall reward thee openly.” The vain practices which Jesus condemned were focused on one’s inflating the ego and focus on self-centeredness–something A.A. disdains. Early Oxford Group and A.A. literature often spoke of “God-sufficiency” versus “self-sufficiency,” and “God-centeredness” versus “self-centeredness” and “ego-centricity.” We have located no direct tie between the teachings of Jesus on anonymity and A.A.’s traditions on this “spiritual” principle. But the concepts are parallel; and The Runner’s Bible and other A.A. biblical sources that AAs studied do discuss their significance at some length.
2. Forgiveness. Matt. 6:14-15 refer to forgiving men their trespasses; and Emmet Fox’s forceful writing about these verses may well have influenced the A.A. amends process. Fox said:
The forgiveness of sins is the central problem of life. . . . It is, of course, rooted in selfishness. . . . We must positively and definitely extend forgiveness to everyone to whom it is possible that we can owe forgiveness, namely, to anyone who we think can have injured us in any way. . . When you hold resentment against anyone, you are bound to that person by a cosmic link, a real, tough metal chain. You are tied by a cosmic tie to the thing that you hate. The one person perhaps in the whole world whom you most dislike is the very one to whom you are attaching yourself by a hook that is stronger than steel (Fox, The Sermon on the Mount, pp. 183-88).
There is no assurance that Fox’s writing on this sermon forgiveness point specifically influenced the Big Book’s emphasis on forgiveness. To be sure, at least two A.A. history writers have claimed that Fox’s writings did influence Bill Wilson. However, other books that were read by early AAs–books by such authors as Henry Drummond, Glenn Clark, E. Stanley Jones, and Harry Emerson Fosdick–used language similar to that used by Fox in his discussion of forgiveness of enemies. And Jesus’ sermon on the mount is not the only place in the New Testament where forgiveness is stressed. Thus, after, and even though, Christ had accomplished remission of past sins of believers, Paul wrote:
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye (Col. 3:13)
See also the following verse, a favorite often quoted and used by Henrietta Seiberling–a well known early A.A. teacher who was often thought of as an A.A. founder:
If a man say I love God, and hateth his brother. he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4:20)
In any event, the Big Book, Third Edition, states at page 77:
The question of how to approach the man we hated will arise. It may be he has done us more harm than we have done him and, though we may have acquired a better attitude toward him, we are still not too keen about admitting our faults. Nevertheless, with a person we dislike, we take the bit in our teeth. It is harder to go to an enemy than to a friend, but we find it more beneficial to us. We go to him in a helpful and forgiving spirit, confessing our former ill feeling and expressing our regret. Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue. Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past (italics added).
3. “The sunlight of the Spirit?” Speaking of the futility and unhappiness in a life which includes deep resentment, the Big Book states: “when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit.” One often hears this “sunlight” expression quoted in A.A. meetings. Yet its origins seem unreported and undocumented. Anne Smith referred frequently in her journal to the verses in 1 John which had to do with fellowship with God and walking in the light as God is light. So did A.A.’s Oxford Group sources. And the following are the most frequently quoted verses from 1 John having to do with God as “light” and the importance of walking in the light (rather than walking in darkness) in order to have fellowship with Him:
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:3-7).
Though this particular discussion is concerned with the Sermon on the Mount, we have mentioned also the foregoing verses from 1 John 1:3-7 (having to do with walking in God’s light as against opposed to walking in darkness). For very possibly those ideas in 1 John, together with the following verses in the Sermon, may have given rise to Bill’s references to the alcoholic’s being blocked from the “sunlight of the Spirit” when he or she dwells in such dark realms as excessive anger. Matt. 6:22-24 (in the Sermon) state:
The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other: or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
4. Seek ye first the kingdom of God. Matt. 6:24-34 seem to have had tremendous influence on A.A. The substance of these verses is that man will be taken care of when he seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Verse 33 says:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things [food. clothing, and shelter] shall be added unto you.
Dr. Bob specifically explained the origin of our A.A. slogans “Easy Does It” and “First Things First.” (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, pp 135, 144). When he was asked the meaning of “First Things First,” Dr. Bob replied. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” He told his sponsee Clarence S. that “First Things First” came from Matt. 6:33 in the sermon on the mount. And this verse was widely quoted in the books that Dr. Bob and the Akron AAs read and recommended (Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book, p. 125, n.119; That Amazing Grace, pp. 30, 38).
On page 60, the Big Book states the A.A. solution for relief from alcoholism: “God could and would if He were sought.” This concept of “seeking” results by reliance on God instead of reliance on self is a bedrock idea in the Big Book (see Third Edition, pp. 11, 14, 25, 28, 43, 52-53, 57, 62). In view of Dr. Bob’s explanations as to the origin of “First Things First,” the Big Book’s emphasis on “seeking” very likely came from the “seeking the kingdom of God first” idea in Matt. 6:33.
According to Dr. Bob, the slogans “Easy Does It” and “One day at a time” came from the next verse–Matthew 6:34. See Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book, pp. 87-88, and other citations therein.
Matthew Chapter 7
1. Taking your own inventory. Much of A.A.’s Fourth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Step actions involve looking for your own part, for your own fault in troublesome matters. This self-examination process (as part of the house-cleaning and life-changing process in the Steps) was expected to result in that which, in Appendix II of the Third Edition of the Big Book, became described as “the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism” (Big Book, p. 569). Matt. 7:3-5 states:
And why beholdest thou the mote [speck] that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam [log] that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull the mote [speck] out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam [log] is in thine own eye.
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam [log] out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote [speck] out of thy brother’s eye.
These verses from Matthew were frequently cited by A.A.’s spiritual sources as the Biblical foundation for self-examination and thus finding one’s own part, one’s own erroneous conduct, in a relationship problem.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you;
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
Our part [in the crisis of self-surrender] is to ask, to seek, to knock. His [God’s] part is to answer, to come, to open (Shoemaker, Realizing Religion, p. 32).
The Runner’s Bible (one of the most important of the early A.A. Bible devotionals) has an entire chapter titled, “Ask and Ye shall receive.” Another favored devotional among the A.A. pioneers was My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. Chambers says, about the foregoing verses beginning with Matt. 7:7:
The illustration of prayer that Our Lord uses here is that of a good child asking for a good thing. . . . It is no use praying unless we are living as children of God. Then, Jesus says: “Everyone that asketh receiveth.”
The foregoing verses, and relevant comments by A.A. sources, underline the importance of becoming a child of God, establishing a harmonious relationship with Him, and then expecting good results from the Creator, Yahweh, our God–“Providence” from Him as our Heavenly Father. Given the emphasis in early A.A. on the Sermon, those verses from Matt. 7 very probably influenced the following similar ideas expressed as follows in the Big Book’s Third Edition and Fourth Edition:
If what we have learned and felt and seen means anything at all, it means that all of us, whatever our race, creed, or color are the children of a living Creator with whom we may form a relationship upon simple and understandable terms as soon as we are willing and honest enough to try (p. 28).
God will constantly disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got. See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others. This is the Great Fact for us (p. 164, italics added).
In this same vein. Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne, wrote, in the spiritual journal she shared with early AAs and their families:
We can’t give away what we haven’t got. We must have a genuine contact with God in our present experience. Not an experience of the past, but an experience in the present—actual, genuine (Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal, p. 121).
3. Do unto others. The so-called “Golden Rule” cannot, as such, be readily identified in A.A.’s Big Book though it certainly is a much-quoted portion of the sermon on the mount which Bill and Dr. Bob said underlies A.A.’s philosophy. The relevant verse is Matt. 7:12:
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
Perhaps the following two Big Book segments bespeak that philosophy as Bill may have seen it:
We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people. We have listed the people we have hurt by our conduct, and are willing to straighten out the past if we can (p. 70).
Then you will know what it means to give of yourself that others may survive and rediscover life. You will learn the full meaning of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (p. 153).
4. He that doeth the will of my Father. There are several key verses in the sermon on the mount which could have caused Bob and Bill to say that Matthew Chapters Five to Seven contained A.A.’s underlying philosophy. The verses are in the Lords Prayer itself (Matt. 6:9-13), the so-called Golden Rule quoted above (Matt. 7:12), and the phrase “Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:10). In addition to these three roots, however, I believe that the major spiritual principle borrowed by the founders from the sermon on the mount—can be found in Matt. 7:21:
Not every one that saith unto me. Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Bill Wilson said clearly in the Big Book and in his other writings that the key to success in A.A. is doing the will of the Father–the Father Who is the subject of the Lord’s Prayer, Almighty God Whose will was to be done, and the Creator upon whom early AAs relied. Note that Wilson wrote:
I was to sit quietly when in doubt, asking only for direction and strength to meet my problems as He would have me (Bill’s Story, Big Book, 4th ed., p. 13).
He humbly offered himself to his Maker—then he knew (Big Book, 4th ed., p. 57).
. . . praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out (Step Eleven, Big Book, 4th ed., p. 59).
May I do Thy will always (portion of “Third Step Prayer,” Big Book, 4th ed., p. 63)!
Thy will be done (Big Book, 4th ed, pp. 67, 88).
Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen (portion of “Seventh Step Prayer,” Big Book, 4th ed., p. 76).
There is God, our Father, who very simply says, ‘I am waiting for you to do my will’ (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 105).
The Book of James
Of probably even greater importance (than the Sermon) in the day-by-day thinking of early A.A. was the Book of James. It was much studied by A.A.’s co-founders. Quotes and ideas from the Apostle James can be found throughout the Big Book and in A.A. literature. The Book of James was considered so important that many favored calling the A.A. fellowship the “James Club” (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 71; Pass It On, p. 147). And even the most fundamental phrases in A.A., such as “It Works” and Bill Wilson’s own “Works Publishing Company” (which published the First Edition of the Big Book), probably have their origin in the “Faith without works is dead” phrases in the Book of James (See: Nell Wing, Grateful to Have Been There, pp. 70-71).
Let’s therefore review the Book of James, chapter by chapter. As we do so, we will point to traces of that book which we believe can be found in, or probably influenced the text of, the Big Book. At the outset, we would report that as our research into the Biblical roots of A.A. has progressed, so has our understanding of some root sources that previously went unnoticed.
For example, some time back, Dr. Bob’s son, Robert R. Smith, told the author by phone that his father had placed great stake in The Runner’s Bible. We had encountered difficulty locating a copy. And we were still looking for some commentary on the Book of James similar to the many on the sermon on the mount (by Oswald Chambers, Glenn Clark, Emmet Fox, and E. Stanley Jones) and on 1 Corinthians 13 (by Henry Drummond, for example). And Dr. Bob extensively studied and circulated most of these among the Pioneers. We believed such above-mentioned commentaries probably impacted upon the thinking of Dr. Bob, Anne, Henrietta, and the early AAs just as the actual Bible verses in Matthew chapters 5-7 and 1 Corinthians 13 have.
But we could find no similar commentary that the pioneers used with the Book of James, despite A.A.’s specific emphasis on James. Finally, as we studied the spiritual literature early AAs read, we noticed in The Runner’s Bible the frequency with which all the books and chapters that Dr. Bob called “absolutely essential” (Matthew chapters 5-7, 1 Corinthians 13, and James) were there mentioned. We particularly noticed the frequency with which The Runner’s Bible mentioned and discussed verses from the Book of James. Hence our reader will find many references to The Runner’s Bible in the footnotes of our title The Good Book and The Big Book; for we believe that the little “Runner’s” devotional book may have provided Dr. Bob, Anne Smith, and perhaps even Bill Wilson, with much of the fodder that caused them to focus on James and conclude that James was their “favorite” book of the Bible.
In a phone conversation with the author in 1995, from his home in Texas, Dr. Bob’s son stated he felt it would be almost impossible for him, at this late date, to confirm that The Runner’s Bible was the source of either A.A.’s or its founders’ emphasis on James or other parts of the Bible. But he pointed out that the little Biblical devotional book was used by those who wanted a quick and easy source for Biblical ideas in which they were interested. Perhaps, then, that book became a reference source for Dr. Bob, Anne, and even Bill Wilson when they were studying the pertinent Biblical ideas they extracted from 1 Corinthians 13, the Sermon on the Mount, and particularly James. Now let’s look at the chapters in James–one by one.
James Chapter 1
1. Patience. Chapter One is not the only chapter in the Book of James which mentions patience. Nor is it the only portion of the Bible that stresses patience. But we’ve noted that James was a favored Biblical source in early A.A., and James 1:3-4 do state:
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
Patience certainly wound up as one of the most frequently mentioned spiritual principles in the Big Book (pp. 67, 70, 83, 111, 118, 163).
2. Asking wisdom of God with unwavering believing. James 1:5-8 state:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways Asking for God’s direction and strength and receiving “Guidance” from Him, are major themes in both the Old and New Testaments. They were important Oxford Group ideas as well. We therefore discussed them at length in our titles on the Oxford Group and on Anne Smith’s spiritual journal. Certainly the Big Book, including the Eleventh Step itself, is filled with such Guidance concepts (3rd ed., pp.13, 46, 49, 62-63, 69-70, 76, 79-80, 83, 84-88, 100, 117, 120, 124, 158, 164).
3. Resisting temptation. It should surprise no one that AAs of yesteryear and of today are interested in resisting temptation, and having the power to do that—the power of God. James 1:12-16 state:
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to those that love him.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.
Then when lust bath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
Do not err, my beloved brethren.
[My personal view is that the foregoing verses offer much insight for the cure of alcoholism and other life-controlling afflictions. Man is to resist the devil–says James in a later verse. Man is to endure temptation when he is tried. When he is tempted, he cannot blame the temptation on God–who cannot be tempted and does not tempt. He can be tempted by being drawn away of his own lust and enticed. James 3:15-16 speaks of a “wisdom [that] descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, and devilish.”
And, says James, when the enticement results in lustful [and excessive] thoughts and behavior [such as getting drunk and drunkenness], it can and should be recognized as sin, and sin as the producer of death. For the real alcoholic, the devilish thoughts must be expelled. The prescription is not merely to abstain from drinking and go to 12 Step meetings. The enjoined error occurs when the man fails to submit to God, resist the devil, humble himself in the sight of God, and appropriately believe to be lifted up and out by his Creator. 2 Corinthians 10:5 calls for casting down human reasoning and “every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
We are the ones to control the thoughts. 1 Corinthians 10:13 points out: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
To be “cured,” I believe, we need to recognize that temptation to disobey God is common, that thoughts about letting the temptation make a nest in our mind and motivate must be cast out. They need to be resisted. They need to be expelled. And we need to believe what God says–we are submit ourselves to God; resist the devil; and be assured that the devil will flee, that God will lift us up, and that we can escape and bear the temptation with the help of our faithful Creator.]
4. Every good and perfect gift comes from God, the Father of lights. James 1:17 states:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Bill seemed to be referring to this verse when he wrote on page 14 of Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed.:
I must turn in all things to the Father of Light [sic] who presides over us all. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 1st ed., has “the Father of Lights,” p. 23.]
Bill made the same reference to God, the Father of lights, who presides over us all, in Appendix I of Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed.:
This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all (p. 566).
The “Him” who presides over us all was, of course, James 1:17’s “Father of lights”– the Creator Yahweh, our Almighty God.
5. Let every man be slow to speak, slow to wrath. James 1:19-20 state:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
The same verse is quoted in The Runner’s Bible and seems quite relevant to the Big Book’s injunction, “If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. . . . God save me from being angry” (Fourth Edition, pp. 66-67).
6. Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. James 1:21-22 state:
Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
I think St. James’ meaning is made much clearer in Dr. Moffatt’s translation, “Act on the Word, instead of merely listening to it.” Try it out in experiment, and prove it by its results— otherwise you only fool yourself into believing that you have the heart of religion when you haven’t (Shoemaker, The Gospel According to You, pp. 44-55).
In the same chapter, Shoemaker also pointed out that prayer is often more a struggle to find God than the enjoyment of Him and cooperation with His will. He added that “God is and is a Rewarder of them that seek Him.” (See The Gospel According to You, p. 47; and Heb. 11:6).
We cannot find specific or similar language to that of James 1:21-22 in the Big Book; but A.A. declares over and over that A.A. is a program of action, that probably no human power can relieve a person of his alcoholism, and “That God could and would if He were sought” (p. 60). A.A.’s program emphasizes action in the experiment of faith it adopted from John 7:17—seeking God by following the path that leads to a relationship with God. James 1:22 enjoins doing God’s will as expressed in His Word—not merely listening to it. James was an Akron favorite. Shoemaker was a Wilson favorite. “Faith without works” was a Big Book favorite; and it therefore seems quite reasonable to believe and possible that A.A.’s emphasis on action might well have derived in part from James 1:21-22.
7. Pure religion and undefiled before God . . . to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. James 1:27 states:
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
At the very least, this verse bespeaks unselfishness and helpfulness to others which were cardinal A.A. principles–particularly the principles embodied in Step Twelve. In fact, that’s the point made in one of early A.A.’s pamphlets:
And all we need to do in the St. James passage is to substitute the word “Alcoholic” for “Fatherless and Widows” and we have Step Twelve (Spiritual Milestones, AA of Akron, pp. 12-13).
Chapter Two of the Book of James may have made two direct and major contributions to the language of the Big Book and also to A.A.’s philosophy. Those two contributions were “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “Faith without works is dead.”
1. Love thy neighbor as thyself. James 2:8 states:
If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well.
This commandment to “Love thy neighbor” exists in other parts of both the Old and New Testaments. Thus, when the Big Book incorporated this phrase, there is no assurance that the quote is from James rather than from another Bible verse to the same effect (e.g., Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14). But the Big Book certainly does state:
Then you will know what it means to give of yourself that others may survive and rediscover life. You will learn the full meaning of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (p. 153).
The Book of James is very probably the specific source of this Biblical quote since Dr. Bob, early AAs, and Bill Wilson himself spoke with such frequency about “love” and tolerance as the code of A.A. and the Book of James as their favorite book.
2. Faith without works is dead. Said to be the favorite verse of Anne Smith and perhaps the origin of many expressions in A.A. concerning “works,” this sentence, or variations of it, appears several times in Chapter Two of the Book of James. For example, James 2:20 states:
But wilt thou know, 0 vain man, that faith without works is dead?
“Faith without works” as a phrase, and as an A.A. “action” concept, is quoted or referred to many times in the Big Book (4th ed., pp. 14-15, 76, 88, 93, 97). A.A.’s original Oxford Group connection also put emphasis on these James verses, using them in connection with the importance of witnessing.
3. Helping Others. It hardly requires citation or documentation to state that A.A.’s cardinal objective is to help others. And this service concept is underlined in Chapter 2 of James, beginning with verses 1 to 7. James 2:15-16 state this principle very well:
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so, faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
And every alcoholic who has helped one of his miserable, suffering, destitute brothers in need will instantly relate to those verses and hence to the importance of James to the early AAs.
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law [Whatever one may find in today’s A.A., he will find language about and references to the Ten Commandments with great frequency in early A.A. The Frank Amos report of 1938, quoted in this talk, is a good example.]
1. Taming the tongue. In his Farewell Address to A.A., Dr. Bob said:
Let us also remember to guard that erring member the tongue, and if we must use it, let’s use it with kindness and consideration and tolerance (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 338).
A major portion of James chapter 3 is devoted to the trouble that can be caused by an untamed tongue. Following are a few verses emphasizing the point
Even so the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things.
Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be (James 3:5, 6, 8, 10)
These verses are not quoted in the Big Book. But Anne Smith referred to them frequently in her journal, as did other A.A. roots sources (Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal, pp. 28, 44, 76, 77; Holm, The Runner’s Bible, p. 68). But, in paraphrasing those verses, Dr. Bob seemed to be speaking of the necessity for tolerance, courtesy, consideration, and kindness in our speech and actions. James makes clear that good conversation should be a focus—conversation, we believe, that is laced with consideration, kindness, and tolerance (See James 3:13). And these latter principles are very much in evidence in the Big Book (4th ed., pp. 67, 69-70, 83-84, 97, 118, 125, 135).
2. Avoidance of envy, strife, and lying. James 3:14-16 proclaim that a heart filled with envy, strife, and lies has not received that kind of “wisdom” from God, but rather from devilish sources. The verses state:
But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts; glory not, and lie not against the truth.
This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
“Envy” is not as much decried in the Big Book as jealousy; but a more modern translation of these King James verses equates “envy” with “jealousy” (The Revised English Bible, New Testament, p, 208). And the Big Book most assuredly condemns jealously (4th ed., pp. 37, 69, 82, 100, 119, 145, 161). In fact, the Big Book states as to jealousy and envy:
Keep it always in sight that we are dealing with that most terrible human emotion—jealousy (p. 82).
The greatest enemies of us alcoholics are resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration, and fear (p. 145).
After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol. Besides, we have stopped fighting anybody or anything. We have to (p. 103)!
James 3:17-18 talk much about making peace and the fruit of righteousness being sown in peace of them that make peace.
As seen in the quote from James 3:14, lying and dishonesty are also declared to be devilish; and one should note and compare the Big Book’s frequent emphasis on grasping and developing a manner of living which “demands rigorous honesty” (p. 58). As to all the verses in James 3:14-16, however, there is little certainty that these particular verses were an exclusive or even major source for the Big Books condemnation of envy, jealousy, strife, and dishonesty because all these traits are stated to be objectionable by many other parts of the Bible.
James Chapter 4:
1. Asking amiss for selfish ends. A.A.’s writings have much to say about overcoming selfishness and self-centeredness. But the following in James 4:3 particularly eschews selfishness in prayer:
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
Several Christian A.A. sources that were favorites of Dr. Bob’s discuss this verse at length. And the Big Book authors may therefore have borrowed from James 4:3, in this statement:
We ask especially for freedom from self-will, and are careful to make no request for ourselves only. We may ask for ourselves, however, if others will be helped. We are careful never to pray for our own selfish ends. Many of us have wasted a lot of time doing that and it doesn’t work (Big Book, 4th ed., p. 87).
2. Humility. The Book of James has no corner on the Biblical injunction to be humble. But the importance of James, and the remarks of Reverend Sam Shoemaker (quoted under Item 3 immediately below) suggest that the following verses from James may have been a source of the Big Book’s frequent mention of humility. James 4:7, 10 state:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
The Big Book’s Fourth Edition is filled with exhortations to be humble, with stress on humbling one’s self before God, and with suggestions for humbly asking His help. Examples include:
There I humbly offered myself to God, as I understood Him, to do with me as He would (p. 13).
He humbly offered himself to his Maker—then he knew (p. 57).
Just to the extent that we do as we think He would have us, and humbly rely on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity (p. 68).
We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day “Thy will be done” (pp. 87-88).
Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house.
And, in language closely paralleling that in James 4:8, the Big Book says further that one can establish conscious companionship with God by simply, honestly, and humbly seeking and drawing near to Him:
He has come to all who have honestly sought Him. When we drew near to Him He disclosed Himself to us (page 57)!
In Step Seven, the Big Book relates “cleaning house” of one’s character defects to “humbly asking” God to remove them. The foregoing verses in James, which speak of drawing near to God, cleansing our hearts, humbling ourselves in His sight, and then being “lifted” up by God, appear to have been directly involved in framing the Big Book’s Seventh Step language. In fact, many years after the Big Book was written, Sam Shoemaker thus clarified his understanding of the Seventh Step, in a 1964 issue of the AA Grapevine:
Sins get entangled deep within us, as some roots of a tree, and do not easily come loose. We need help, grace, the lift of a kind of divine derrick (Shoemaker, “Those Twelve Steps as I Understand Them” ; Volume II, Best of the Grapevine, p. 130).
Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.
There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
We discussed the Fourth Step idea of taking your own inventory in connection with the relevant verses in the Sermon on the Mount–which were often quoted by Oxford Group people and by Anne Smith (See Matt. 7:1-5). But the Big Book also speaks of: (1) looking “for our own mistakes,” (2) asking “Where were we to blame,” and (3) realizing, “The inventory was ours, not the other man’s.” Considering the importance to AAs of the Book of James and its insights, the foregoing James verses probably also had an impact on the A.A. idea of avoiding judgment of another and focusing on an examination of one’s own conduct when it comes to wrongdoing.
James Chapter 5
1. Patience. We discussed A.A.’s “patience principle” as having probably derived from James, Chapter One. As we said, however, important stress on patience can be found in James 5:7, 8, 10, 11.
Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned; behold, the judge standeth before the door.
A major portion of the Big Book’s Fourth Step discussion is devoted to resentment, about which page 64 says:
Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease.
The Big Book then suggests putting resentments on paper—making a “grudge list” (pp. 64-65). Oxford Group spokesman Ebenezer Macmillan wrote at length in his title Seeking and Finding about eliminating resentments, hatred, or the “grudge” that “blocks God out effectively.” Rev. Sam Shoemaker also specified “grudges” as one of the “sins” to be examined in an inventory of self (Shoemaker, Twice-Born Ministers, p. 182). Since the Big Book lists resentments or
“grudges” as one of the four major “character defects” which block us from God, it quite possible that the “grudge” language in the Big Book was influenced by James, and perhaps specifically by James 5:9.
3. Asking God’s forgiveness for sins. We repeat James 5:15, which was partially quoted above. The entire verse says:
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
The Big Book says this about asking God’s forgiveness when we fall short:
If we are sorry for what we have done, and have the honest desire to let God take us to better things, we believe we will be forgiven and will have learned our lesson (4th ed, p. 70).
When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. . . . After making our review, we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken (4th ed., p. 86).
The foregoing Big Book quotes show that, even after their initial surrender, wrongdoers may still, in A.A.’s view, seek and receive God’s forgiveness for shortcomings indulged after the initial surrender. Here again, James has no corner on the statement that God makes it possible, through forgiveness, for a believer to regain fellowship with Him. The following in 1 John 1:9 may also have been a source of such Big Book ideas:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
See also our discussion of forgiveness in connection with the Sermon on the Mount. It is fair to say, however, that the Book of James, 1 John, or Matthew could each, or all, have been the basis for the Big Book forgiveness concept.
4. Confess your sins one to another. It has often been noted that both the Oxford Group concept of sharing by confession and Step Five in the Big Book were derived from James 5:16:
Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed.
5. Effectual, fervent prayer works. James 5:16 states:
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Step Eleven suggests prayer and meditation. We shouldn’t be shy on this matter of prayer. Better men than we are using it constantly. It works, if we have the proper attitude and work at it.
James 5:16 could well have been a major basis for the Big Book comments on the effectiveness of prayer.
6. Anointing with oil and effecting healing through prayer by elders. See James 5:13-16.
One A.A. writer, who was sponsored by Clarence Snyder, has repeatedly suggested that in their “surrenders,” early AAs almost literally followed the foregoing verses from James. Others, who also were sponsored by Clarence Snyder, have said this contention is in error. But several comments should be made about this procedure. First, there seems little confirmation that Dr. Bob, T. Henry Williams, and the Akron pioneers took the newcomer “upstairs,” had him “surrender” to Christ, anointed him with oil, and prayed for him. Second, many of the elements of the James verses were followed. Third, in his later years, Clarence Snyder founded and conducted retreats for AAs and their families which are still being held. At these retreats, there is a “prayer and praise” session where there is anointing with oil and prayer for those in need. The sessions follow the close of the retreat itself. Finally, we make particular mention of these points because so many of the healing practices of the Christian church throughout later centuries did rely on the words of St. James and did heal with the laying on of hands and anointing with oil. These points are amply covered by the citation in our healing section. They are important because the convictions about “healing” and “cure” were so evident and strong in early A.A.; and the return of healing emphasis–whatever the technique or Biblical authority–is urgently needed in today’s Twelve Step programs.
1 Corinthians 13
1 Corinthians 13 is often called the Bible’s “love” chapter because it focuses on the importance of love in the Christian’s life. In the King James Version, the word “charity” is used in the verses which are speaking of “love;” but the underlying Greek word is agap_ which is more properly translated “love.”
And the most frequently quoted characteristics of love are contained in the following verses from the King James Version of the Bible (which is the version the A.A. pioneers used):
Charity [love] suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth (1 Cor. 13:4-6).
The New International Version, which is much in use today, renders 1 Cor. 13:4-6:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
One of the most popular books in early A.A. was Professor Henry Drummond’s study of 1 Corinthians 13. The title of his book, The Greatest Thing in the World, was taken from the last verse of 1 Corinthians chapter 13, which reads:
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity (1 Cor. 13:13).
Drummond’s book was part of Dr. Bob’s library, and a copy was still found in, and owned by, Dr. Bob’s family when the author interviewed Dr. Bob’s son and daughter several years ago. In much earlier years, A.A. Old-timer Bob E. had sent a memo to Bill Wilson’s wife, Lois, in which Bob E. listed The Greatest Thing in the World as one of three books Dr. Bob regularly provided to alcoholics with whom he worked. In fact, Dr. Bob’s enthusiasm for Drummond’s book is dramatized by the following remarks by a former wife of A.A. old-timer Clarence S. Clarence’s former wife, Dorothy S. M., said:
Once, when I was working on a woman in Cleveland, I called and asked him [Dr. Bob], “What do I do for somebody who is going into D.T.’s?” He told me to give her the medication, and he said, “ When she comes out of it and she decides she wants to be a different woman, get her Drummond’s ‘The Greatest Thing in the World.’ Tell her to read it through every day for 30 days, and she’ll be a different woman” (See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 310).
Henry Drummond himself had made a similar suggestion half a century earlier, at the close of the lecture in which he delivered his ‘greatest thing in the world’ address–the address which was later published in Drummond’s best-seller. Drummond said:
Now I have all but finished. How many of you will join me in reading this chapter [1 Corinthians 13] once a week for the next three months? A man did that once and it changed his whole life. Will you do it? It is for the greatest thing in the world. You might begin by reading it every day, especially the verses which describe the perfect character. “Love suffereth long, and is kind; loveth envieth not; love vaunteth not itself.” Get these ingredients into your life (See Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World. p. 53).
The important influence on A.A. that came from 1 Corinthians 13 can be seen in Drummond’s own simplified description of love’s ingredients. Drummond listed nine ingredients of “love” as he saw love specifically defined in that portion of that chapter of the Bible (See Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World, pp. 26-27). And we here set out those nine love ingredients with references to correlative Bible verses and correlative A.A. language:
Drummond’s A.A. Big Book
Explanation Authorized KJV NIV Version 4th ed. Examples
1. Patience “Charity suffereth long.” “Love is patient” pp. 67, 70, 83, 111, 163
2. Kindness “and is kind.” “love is kind” pp. 67, 82, 83, 86
3. Generosity “charity envieth not.” “It does not envy” pp. 145, cf. 82
4. Humility “charity vaunteth not itself “it does not boast, pp. 13, 57, 68, 87-88
“is not puffed up.” “it is not proud”
5. Courtesy “Doth not behave itself unseemly” “It is not rude” p. 69
6. Unselfishness “seeketh not her own.” “It is not self-seeking” pp. xxv, 93, 127
7. Good Temper “is not easily provoked” “it is not easily angered pp. 19, 67, 70, 83-84, 125, 118
8. Guilelessness “thinketh no evil” “it keeps no record pp. 19, 67, 70, 83-84, 118, 125
9. Sincerity “Rejoiceth not in iniquity” “does not delight in evil pp. xiv, xxvii, 13, 26, 28, 32, 44,
“but rejoiceth in the truth” “but rejoices with pp. 47, 55, 57-58, 63-65, 67, 70,
the truth” 73, 117, 140, 145
Dr. Bob said that A.A.’s Twelve Steps, when simmered down to the last, quite simply resolved themselves into the words “love” and “service” (See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 338). He presented God to the old-timers as a God of love who was interested in their individual lives. (DR. BOB, supra, p. 110). Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne, frequently quoted love verses in 1 John 4:8; 4:16–“God is love” (DR. BOB supra, pp. 116-17). Furthermore both Anne and her husband Dr. Bob studied Toyohiko Kagawa’s book, Love: The Law of Life. In that book, the author Kagawa devoted an entire chapter to 1 Corinthians 13, not only to the Corinthians chapter, but also to Drummond’s analysis of that chapter in Drummond’s The Greatest Thing in the World. Hence there was much emphasis among the A.A. pioneers on the “spiritual” principle of love as it is defined in the Bible. In fact, the Big Book itself talks repeatedly of that principle of love (Big Book, 4th ed., pp. 83-84, 86, 118, 122, 153).
Love, then–the love of God–was a much cherished principle in early A.A. The AAs needed it, wanted it, studied it, and sought to know it. Despite “higher power” divergences in current A.A. writings and meeting talk, the love of God is still a vital component of A.A. thinking and speech. Even Bill Wilson inserted the phrase “a loving God” in A.A.’s Traditions. And I well remember my good friend Seymour W., a Jew, who tried each morning to comfort his many friends in the fellowship. The telephone on Seymour’s “God” line would ring for many about 6:00 A.M. The message to the bedraggled A.A. was “God loves you.” And Seymour would hang up. It was a coveted privilege to be on Seymour’s “God-loves-you” list. What a way to start the day in early sobriety!
Further illustrating the great store placed on God’s love and on the Corinthians love principle by A.A. pioneers is their frequent rendition of Jesus Christ’s message in Mark 12:30-31. These Gospel verses deal with what Jesus called the two great commandments:
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
The foregoing verses, from the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament, were cited for the standard of “Absolute Love,” as it was discussed in AA of Akron’s A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous (one of the four pamphlets commissioned by Dr. Bob for use among early AAs). The Old Testament also contained the very same commandments to which Jesus referred, underlining the importance of love of God and of neighbor in all the commandments of the Bible:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might (Deut. 6:4-5).
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord (Lev. 19:18).
A.A. literature contains no specifics on, or detailing of, the impact of, 1 Corinthians 13 on A.A. But this cherished “essential,” as Dr. Bob put it, deserves to be revived, promulgated, and applied today. The particulars can be seen by reading 1 Corinthians 13 itself; by noting the frequent mention of “Love” in the Big Book; by studying the reading and remarks of Dr. Bob and Anne; by remembering Bill Wilson’s specific mention of Corinthians; and by the repeated mention of 1 Corinthians 13 in A.A.’s religious sources. The nine love “ingredients,” as they were summarized by Henry Drummond, permeate A.A.’s basic text and can fairly be proclaimed to be among those “principles to be practiced” at the level of A.A.’s Twelfth Step. Regrettably, Wilson just plain ignored all the “principles” in his Twelfth Step chapter.
The fundamental principle is, of course, love. The component “ingredients” or “virtues” involved in such love are: patience; tolerance; kindness; humility; honesty; unselfishness; consideration for others; and the avoidance of anger, jealousy, envy, pride, and wrongdoing.
As previously covered, almost every one of these virtues can be found as well in Jesus’ sermon on the mount and in the Book of James. The principles are defined in the sermon on the mount in specific terms that elaborate upon what constitutes doing the will of God in the love category. And, in James, from the standpoint of action and service to God and service to others through reliance upon God.
These were also the very the principles of love and service of which Dr. Bob spoke in his farewell address and defined as the essence of A.A.’s spiritual program of recovery.
Rev. Sam Shoemaker, an A.A. “Co-Founder” and Spiritual Source
An Introduction to Sam Shoemaker and A.A.
Bill Wilson often said: Reverend Samuel Shoemaker was a wellspring of the principles and attitudes that came to full flower in A.A.’s Twelve Steps for Recovery; that Sam’s early teachings did much to inspire him and Dr. Bob; and, that from Shoemaker, he and Dr. Bob in the beginning absorbed most of the Twelve Step principles. Then, at A.A.’s 1955 International Convention, Bill declared that early A.A. got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others directly from Sam Shoemaker. Later, Bill added that early AAs learned about moral inventory, amends for harm done, turning their wills and lives over to God, meditation and prayer “and all the rest of it” straight from the Oxford Group as it was “then led in America” by Dr. Shoemaker. Finally, Bill wrote to Sam himself in 1963: “The Twelve Steps of A.A. simply represented an attempt to state in more detail, breadth, and depth, what we had been taught–primarily by you” and said:“Without this, there could have been nothing–nothing at all.” Bill then added Sam Shoemaker’s name to his list of “co-founders” of A.A.
There is much more. Sam was the Episcopal Rector at Calvary Church in New York, the church which operated Calvary Rescue Mission where both Bill Wilson and his “sponsor” Ebby Thacher made their decisions for Christ. Ebby’s Oxford Group mentors Rowland Hazard and Shep Cornell were much involved with Sam’s Calvary Church at that time. When Bill emerged from Towns Hospital in late 1934, Sam immediately asked Bill to help Professor Frederick E. Breithut with his drinking problem. In March, 1935, Bill, as godfather, sponsored the baptism of Breithut by Sam Shoemaker. Ebby himself became a communicant at Calvary Church. And the relationship of Bill and his early friends with Sam, and with Oxford Group meetings at Calvary House and Oxford Group meetings and houseparties led by Shoemaker was close and continuous. In the mid to late 1930’s, Bill spent many hours closeted with Sam in Sam’s book-lined study at Calvary House, discussing the spiritual ideas which were soon to characterize A.A.
Even more important are these facts: Bill actually asked Sam Shoemaker to write the Twelve Steps; but Sam declined, saying the Steps should be written by an alcoholic, namely, Bill. Then, when Bill had completed the Big Book manuscript, he circulated it to Sam for review prior to publication. Also, Sam’s reach into early A.A. actually extended much farther than New York. For Dr. Bob’s pastor in Ohio wrote to Sam advising him of the progress with alcoholics in Akron as a result of Bill’s stay with Dr. Bob and his wife at their home during the summer of 1935–the period when A.A. was founded.
But much concerning Sam Shoemaker and A.A. has taken back stage. A.A. and A.A. historians have simply ignored specifics that Sam contributed to A.A.’s Step, Big Book, and Fellowship ideas. Unless we learn those details, we will be without access to, or understanding of fundamental spiritual principles AAs borrowed from Shoemaker. One example is “finding God”–a challenge that has been distorted through lack of knowledge of its Shoemaker source.
Basic Shoemaker Contributions
You cannot fairly appraise Sam Shoemaker’s legacy to A.A. without knowing the depth and breadth of what Sam had to offer. Sam wrote over thirty books, at least half of which were circulating (before A.A.’s 12 Steps and Big Book were published in 1939) and being circulated in New York, Akron, and the Oxford Group.
Sam was also a prolific writer of sermons, pamphlets, and articles for the Calvary Evangel, his parish newsletter. The sermons and articles included his 1935 piece on “The Way to Find God.” Also, his pamphlet on “A First Century Christian Fellowship” (the name by which the Oxford Group was known during A.A.’s formative years, and a name which Dr. Bob used to characterize Akron A.A. itself. Sam also wrote “Three Levels of Life,” and “What if I Had but One Sermon to Preach” (two pamphlets which were tucked into the back of Anne Smith’s Journal). Sam’s booklet “One Boy’s Influence” was quoted in Anne Smith’s Journal. Six other Shoemaker books are known for sure to have been owned, and read by, Dr. Bob and his wife Anne Smith. In all, therefore, Sam’s ideas reached A.A. through his books, his pamphlets; his published sermons; his Evangel articles; his personal conversations with Bill; his influence on Bill’s mentors Reverend Irving Harris, Julia Harris, Rowland Hazard, Shep Cornell, Hanford Twitchell, Victor Kitchen, and others; and Sam’s actual conduct of, and leadership in, the very first alcoholic meetings on the East Coast. Meetings which were actually Oxford Group assemblages. Sam’s ideas were also passed down the shoot via Calvary Rescue Mission, where Bill first went for help and where he later went to find and help other drunks.
Sam Shoemaker ideas can be found in the very language of the Twelve Steps. They can be found almost verbatim in the Big Book. They are part of A.A. fellowship jargon. And they were later reiterated and explained when Shoemaker addressed A.A. International Conventions in St. Louis and subsequently at Long Beach. Also in the articles he wrote for A.A.’s Grapevine. Also when he wrote about A.A., as he frequently did, in his own books and pamphlets. Recall too that Sam’s colleagues described him as a “Bible Christian.” His books, sermons, and articles were permeated with references to the very Bible verses and chapters that became the foundation of A.A.’s own basic ideas. Principles that were studied in, and borrowed from, the Bible itself by A.A.’s Akron pioneers. Additional Shoemaker input came from Sam’s frequent references to the writings of Professor William James, whom Bill Wilson was later to call a “founder” of A.A. and from whose Varieties of Religious Experiences, Bill obtained important religious principles. Furthermore, Sam was an outspoken advocate of Quiet Time, Bible study, prayer, and the use of devotionals; and these practices became part and parcel of early A.A. meetings, group quiet times, and personal prayer life.
Shoemaker/Wilson correspondence located at the Episcopal Church Archives in Austin, Texas also demonstrates the degree to which Wilson confided in Sam from the beginning of their friendship. The correspondence dealt with Roman Catholic influences and activities in A.A., with Oxford Group ideas, with Bill’s ventures into spiritualism and LSD, and with Bill’s ideas about A.A. itself.
Specific Shoemaker Ideas in A.A.
Every AA who stays in our fellowship long enough to be exposed to its Big Book, its Twelve Steps, and its meeting buzzwords will readily recognize thoughts that seem to have come directly from the books and other writings of Sam Shoemaker.
These include: (1) Self-surrender. (2) Self is not God. (3) God either is, or He isn’t. (4) “Turning point.” (5) Conversion. (6) Prayer. (7) Fellowship. (8) Willingness. (9) Self-examination. (10) Confession of faults to God, self, and another. (11) Amends. (12) “Thy will be done.” (13) Spiritual Experience. (14) Spiritual Awakening. (15) The unmanageable life. (16) Power greater than ourselves. (17) God as you understand Him. (18) The “Four Absolutes”– honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love. (19) Guidance of God. (20) “Faith without works is dead.” (21) “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (22) Clear references to Almighty God (using Bible terms) as our “Creator,” “Maker,” “Father,” “Spirit,” “God of our fathers,” and “Father of Lights.” (23) The Lord’s Prayer. (24) Jesus’s “sermon on the mount.” (25) Self-centeredness. (26) Fear. (27) Grudges. (28) Quiet Time. (29) Reliance on God. (30) Relationship with God. (31) “Giving it away to keep it.” (32) “News, not views.” (33) God has a plan. (34) Seeking God first. (35) Belief in God. (36) Born again. (37) Marvel at what God has done for you. (38) Let go! (39) Abandon yourself to Him [God]. (40) “Not my will but Thine be done.” And many others.
You can find, in my title New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A. a list of 149 Shoemaker expressions that very closely parallel A.A. language. Many more can be found in specific quotations from Shoemaker’s books, books which have been fully reviewed in my New Light work on Shoemaker.
Shoemaker and our Twelve Steps
Make no mistake. Whatever Bill Wilson may have said or implied from time to time, Sam Shoemaker was not the only source of A.A.’s spiritual ideas. Wilson often steered his applause in Sam’s direction in an effort to avoid Roman Catholic and other objections to the Oxford Group from which A.A.’s ideas also came and of which early A.A. was a part. Moreover, Bill never mentioned A.A. specifics from Dr. Bob, Anne Smith, the Bible, Quiet Time, God’s direct guidance or Christian literature that was daily fare in early A.A.
Remember also! Dr. Bob said he did not write the Twelve Steps and had nothing to do with writing them. Those Steps represented Bill’s personal interpretation of the spiritual program that had been in progress since 1935. Dr. Bob emphasized, on more than one occasion, that A.A.’s basic ideas had come from study of the Bible. Dr. Bob studied the Bible. Daily, for three months, Anne Smith read the Bible to Bill and Bob. Bob read the Bible to AAs. He quoted the Bible to AAs. He gave them Bible literature. And he frequently stressed Bible study, stating that the Book of James, 1 Corinthians 13, and Jesus’s sermon on the mount (Matthew 5 to 7) were considered absolutely essential in the early spiritual recovery program. Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob both said that the sermon on the mount contained the underlying philosophy of A.A.
Nonetheless, Sam’s own imprint is on the Steps. Every one of them. His imprint was on the presentation of Oxford Group ideas that Ebby Thacher made to Bill Wilson in Towns Hospital. And we will briefly take a look at just where Shoemaker’s language parallels the language of the Twelve Steps. In fact, our third chapter in “New Light on Alcoholism” provides further details and complete documentation.
Step One: Shoemaker spoke of the gap between man and God which man is powerless to bridge, man having lost the power to deal with sin for himself. As to the unmanageable life, Sam referred to the prayer in the Oxford Group so often described in “Victor’s Story” and quoted by Anne Smith in her journal: “God manage me, because I can’t manage myself.”
Step Two: Sam spelled out the need for a power greater than ourselves. He quoted Hebrews 11:6 for the proposition that God is. He declared: God is God, and self is not God; and that man must so believe. Sam urged seeking God first, from Matthew 6:33. He espoused the “experiment of faith” by which man believes that God is; seeks God first in his actions, and then knows God by doing God’s will, and seeing that God provides the needed power. For this idea, Sam frequently cited John 7:17.
Step Three: Sam taught about the crisis of self-surrender as the turning point for a religious life, quoting William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience. Sam said it involved being born again; and declared that man must make a decision to renounce sins, accept Jesus Christ as Saviour; and begin Christian life in earnest. Sam illustrated a surrender with language similar to that in A.A.: namely, a “decision to cast my will and my life on God.” Many times, Sam said one need only surrender as much of himself as he understands to as much of God as he understands. A clear precursor of A.A.’s “God as we understood Him”–which has unfortunately been misunderstood and has been attributed to other sources.
Step Four: Sam wrote of self-examination to find where one’s life fell short of the Four Absolute Standards of Jesus: honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love. One was to write down exactly where he had “fallen short.” There was a “moral obligation” to face these facts, recognize these as blocks to God, and be “ruthlessly, realistically honest.”
Step Five: Shoemaker taught of honesty with self and honesty with God, quoted James 5:16 for the importance of confession to others, and stressed the need for detailed sharing of secrets.
Step Six: Though the fact of Bill’s borrowing of this “conviction” step from the Oxford Group 5 C’s seems to have been overlooked, Shoemaker taught often about the need for man’s conviction that he has been miserable, has (by his sins) become estranged from God, and needs to come back to God in honest penitence. Sam urged willingness to ask God exactly where one is failing and then to admit that sin.
Step Seven: Sam clarified this as the “conversion” step of the 5 C’s. It meant a new birth, he said. It meant humility. It meant, for Shoemaker, the assumption upon ourselves of God’s will for us and the opening of ourselves to receiving the “grace of God which alone converts.” It meant “drawing near and putting ourselves in position to be converted. . . utter dedication to the will of God.” Shoemaker often defined “sin” as that which blocks us from God and from others.” So, originally, did Big Book language. And each of the foregoing life-changing steps hangs on early A.A.’s definition of sin and the “removal” process of examining for sin, confessing sin, becoming convicted of sin, and becoming converted through surrendering it. The conversion experience, according to Shoemaker and early A.A. established or enabled rediscovery of a “relationship with God” and initiated the new life that developed from the relationship with God which conversion opened. Since both the Sixth and Seventh Steps were new to A.A. thinking and added something to the original “surrenders” to Jesus Christ, these Steps cannot easily be understood all without seeing them in terms of the complete surrender, the new relationship, the new birth, and giving the sins to God, as Shoemaker saw the process and as Bill attempted to write it into the recovery path.
Step Eight: Wilson added this step to the Oxford Group’s “restitution” idea. Bill also incorporated the Shoemaker talk of “willingness” to ask God’s help in removing the blocks, being convicted of the need for restitution, and then being sent “to someone with restoration and apology.”
Step Nine: Sam said the last stand of self is pride. There can be no talk of humility, he said, until pride licks the dust, and one then acts to make full restoration and restitution for wrongs done. As AAs in Akron did, Sam also quoted from the sermon on the mount those verses enjoining the bringing of a gift to the altar without first being reconciled to one’s brother (Matthew 5:22-24). Restitution was not merely a good deed to be done. It was a command of God from the Bible that wrongs be righted as part of the practicing the principle of love. If one understands Shoemaker, one can understand the absurdity of some present-day AAs’ guilt-ridden suggestions about writing a letter to a dead person or volunteering help for the down-trodden or making a substitutionary gift to some worthy cause. Sam taught that the required amends were not about works. They were about love!
Step Ten: This step concerned daily surrender and the Oxford Group idea of “continuance.” Sam taught it was necessary to continue self-examination, confession, conviction, the seeking of God’s help, and the prompt making of amends. This continued action was to follow the new relationship with God and others that resulted from removal of the sin problem in the earlier steps.
Step Eleven: Sam wrote eloquently about Quiet Time, Bible study, prayer, and “meditation” (listening for God’s guidance). Sam urged daily contact with God for guidance, forgiveness, strength, and spiritual growth. So does A.A.’s Big Book. Quiet Time was a “must” in early A.A. And Shoemaker defined every aspect of Quiet Time from the necessity for a new birth to a new willingness to study, pray, listen, and read rather than to speak first and lead with the chin.
Step Twelve: This step comprehends: (1) A spiritual awakening, the exact meaning of which Shoemaker spelled out in his books and in his talks to AAs. He said it required conversion, prayer, fellowship, and witness. (2) A message about what God has accomplished for us, a phrase which Shoemaker himself used, saying, in several ways: “You have to give Christianity away to keep it.”(3) Practicing the new way of living in harmony with God’s will and in love toward others, an idea easily recognized from Sam’s teachings that a spiritual awakening comes from conversion, that the gospel message concerns God’s grace and power, and that the principles to be practiced are defined in the Bible. Accordingly, our Twelfth Step language, without Sam, has become ill-defined and illusory. For A.A. Big Book students know that none of the three 12 Step ideas is set forth or explained in the chapter of the Big Book dealing with the Twelfth Step. To be frank, A.A. left Christianity in the dust. In so doing, AAs lost an understanding of what Sam Shoemaker taught and Dr. Bob emphasized: Conversion, the gospel message, and love and service were defined in the Book of Acts, the Four Absolutes, 1 Corinthians 13, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Book of James, and other specific parts of the Bible.
What the Creator Did and Can Do for Our Fellowship
Who Is God, As He Was Spoken of by Early AAs
“And it means, of course, that we are going to talk about God.” Big Book, 4th ed., p. 45.
The “God” of early A.A. was unquestionably “God” as named, defined, described in the Good Book. And Wilson and Smith used precise terms to make that clear. The Word God with a capital “G” is used over 200 times in the Big Book. Descriptions of God: Creator, Maker, Almighty, Spirit, Father of lights, Heavenly Father. God is a title, not a name. God Himself gave us His name Yahweh for all time. Ex 3:15 And God also said to Moses, ‘You are to say to the sons of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name for all time; by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.’ -New Jerusalem Bible
There are endless descriptions of Him in the Good Book. These are also used in the Big Book. And they were used frequently by Bill Wilson: “God of our fathers” and Love, Spirit, Power, Grace, Mercy, Light
• Substitutionary language that Wilson inserted in his Big Book manuscripts in 1939 – While still, quite clearly, referring to Yahweh, the Creator named in the Bible.
“God as we understood Him” – directly from frequent teachings of Sam Shoemaker and the Oxford Group – two examples in Shoemaker’s Children of the Second Birth.
Similarly, they spoke of “God as you know Him” – not as you manufactured Him
See Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933 – 1939, supra.
“Power greater than ourselves” – directly from language of Shoemaker and Oxford Group
See Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous, supra; New Light on Alcoholism, supra.
Even “higher power” as originally used in Big Book on page 43 and 100. The other words on pages 45 and 100 make it very clear that the Creator was the subject of reference.
And even the “new thought” perpetrators such as Ralph Waldo Trine, Emanuel leaders, and William James, as well as Glenn Clark, Mary Baker Eddy and Charles Fillmore were–with the exception of James–writing about the Bible and the Creator. See Dick B., God and Alcoholism, supra.
In the days before Wilson’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions was written, Lois Wilson wrote in her diaries about God and what He had done for Bill Wilson.
Anne Smith’s Journal was replete with references to the Bible and to God.
• The Goofy gods – I call them the “nonsense” gods – of recovery that are absurd, useless, and meaningless to a sound mind and to a real desire for recovery
Lightbulb, Santa Claus, Big Dipper, “Good Orderly Direction,” AA Group, chair, table,
doorknob, Someone, Something, “It,” not-god, nothing at all, all are “certified” “higher powers” in today’s recovery writing. See Dick B., The Golden Text of A.A.: God, the Pioneers, and Real Spirituality (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999).
What is the “alcoholism” of which the Big Book speaks in the “abc’s”
• We alcoholics know what it is: We drink too much. We get in trouble. We repeat the self-destructive behavior to the point of insanity, imprisonment, and death (Big Book, p. 44). And we frequently rationalize the disasters by denying them, or by blaming them on someone or something else, or by flippant statements such as “I don’t care” or “I’ll never do that again.”
• Science, medicine, and religion becloud our understanding as drunks: Words and phrases such as allergy and obsession; genetic; behavior disorder; nutritional imbalance; neurological problem; sin do not communicate well to someone lying in a puddle of his own urine on the sidewalk.
• “Alcoholism” is “allegedly” incurable. “Once an alcoholic always an alcoholic.” Translated, it could as well be, “Once a leper always a leper.” And Bill Wilson very probably coined the phrase from the language of therapist Richard R. Peabody, who apparently died drunk and–according to Wilson–proved that alcoholism was “uncurable.” Absurd! And particularly lacking in integrity since neither was a religious leader nor a physician nor in possession of any credentials. One analyst said: The fact that several of the Peabody method’s major practitioners – apparently including the founder – were not able to maintain their sobriety, however, does not bode well for other patients (source, p. 32).
• Bill Wilson owned a copy of Peabody’s book, which contains this inscription: “Dr. Peabody was as far as is known the first authority to state, “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic,” and he proved it by returning to drinking and by dying of alcoholism – proving to us that the condition is uncurable” (source, p. 4).
AAs and physicians had long acknowledged–before the founding of A.A.–that alcoholism was “medically” incurable. And the idea that “real” alcoholics were 100% hopeless without divine help was the core idea that sent them to God. (Read the talk by Bill and Bob in Los Angeles in March, 1943).
Peabody’s The Common Sense of Drinking was written in 1931; copies were read and owned by both founders; and its language is so similar to much in the Big Book that it very possibly produced much of the A.A. fellowship’s “incurable alcoholism” legend; the fallacious ideas about “recovery,” “powerlessness,” willpower, and certainly the notion that a mere undefined “surrender” itself constitutes a “cure.”These were doctrines Wilson inserted or modified in his Big Book. Note that Peabody declared:
“This man, after thirty-six years of living and approximately sixteen of drinking, has definitely proved to his own conviction that he cannot use alcohol without abusing it, and that by his own efforts he is equally powerless to stop his indulgence” (p. 37).
“Surrendering – that is, being cured. . .” (p. 77)
“reconstruct his mental processes so that it due time he will no longer want to drink. This is what I mean by the necessary “surrender” (p. 80)
“He must have as his goal. . . the complete renunciation of the use of alcohol as a beverage in any quantity, however small, for all time” (p. 81)
“Suffice it to say, once a drunkard always a drunkard–or a teetotaler! A fairly exhaustive inquiry has elicited no exceptions to this rule” (p. 82)
“He can never again drink anything containing alcohol without the ultimate results being disasterous” (p. 96)
“Halfway measures are of no avail” (p. 99)
“An alcoholic should always realize that he himself does the actual work which produces the cure. . . . We give them the desire to be cured, but it is they themselves who work the cure” (p. 99)
The stuff lacks credibility; and it lacks the religious element that highlighted the A.A. approach. Surrender became self-will. Cure became mere surrender. Faith in God became fear. Adjustment of thinking was substituted for God’s power. And so on. And many years later, DR. BOB and The Good Oldtimers officially chimed in with Wilson, embraced the tune, and denied cure:
It might also be noted that many terms now considered by A.A.’s to be misleading were then used, not only by non-A.A.’s discussing the movement, but sometimes by members themselves: “cure,” “ex-alcoholic,” “reformed alcoholic.” (p. 136).
What is the certainty of cure?
• Founders and Pioneers all said they’d found a cure and that they were cured.
• They called their cure a miracle.
• The definitions of cure and miracle mean exactly that – cure, and miracle
• They did not mean that A.A. Pioneers had accomplished that cure by making goals, by working to produce the cure, by relaxation, by hypnotism, by psychoanalysis, by therapy, or by any other human means–including their own. The founders and pioneers meant that the Creator had wrought a miraculous cure – not merely produced fearful teetotalers.
• Who flipped the switch? Who proved there was no cure? Who made it a doctrine that God is “powerless” over alcoholism, cannot cure it, and cannot perform a miracle – a miracle that we all have observed, whether we experienced it or simply observed it.
Yahweh our God, the Creator, has cured, can cure, and does cure alcoholism
• A.A.’s Big Book flatly declared: “But there is One Who has all power–that One is God. May you find Him now!” (Big Book, 4th ed., p. 59)
In his first book, Sam Shoemaker spoke of the “turning point” where one has a vital religious experience, finds God, and needs Jesus Christ. He and Wilson both adopted William James’s concept that “self-surrender” is the turning point and can be equated with “conversion.” Whatever the reasoning, both Wilson and Shoemaker were proposing that there needed to be a “crisis of self-surrender” and that this was the path to finding God and establishing a needed “relationship with God” (e.g., Big Book, 4th ed., p. 29).
However, the path encountered a blockade and consequent detour. There was a dispute over God. Lois Wilson purported to define it: “There was too much God.” in the Steps.
Not, said she, that there was no God; or that God was not-god; but that there was “too much” God.
I wonder how much is too much and what the Bible has to say about the subject.
• Wilson invented a “powerless” to “power” theology that constituted self-made religion, generated absurd names for God, and encouraged half-baked prayers that Shoemaker himself warned against in his talks to AAs themselves.
The next step from Wilson’s “powerless” beginning was to say there was need to find “a” power; next opening the door to human definition of that “power;” then seeing atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and critics “limiting” that power because of those who failed; next relating relapses to an “allergy” instead of human failure and temptation; and then championing missions, hospitals, treatment, and therapy–anything but the power of Almighty God and access to God through Jesus Christ. Finally, came the inevitable dogma of Lois’s universalism. And what a thesis for book sales, large royalties, big and mobile memberships, and ineffective results. The theology accepts atheists and agnostics and unbelievers so the “power” and the “cure” will be available to anyone anywhere.
Yet I find a very different set of early A.A.’s real views. Views that differ markedly from universalism, powerlessness, Godlessness. I believe it is fair to say the pioneers believed: We are not powerless. We have a “power shortage.” All–total–power is available through the Creator, our God. Yes, we are licked. Licked largely through the temptation aptly described in the first chapter of James. But we do not lack will power. We just lack sane thinking, obedience to God, Godly behavior, and companions who are believers. But, thanks be to God, we are no longer drunks or real alcoholics. We haven’t achieved this on our own. We haven’t achieved it merely with the help of other people–whether religious, medical, or drunks. We don’t claim that any “human” power provided the cure. That could and did change when we established a relationship with God, asked Him to take alcohol out of our lives, and diligently tried to follow His plan and obey His Word..
• Yahweh’s hallmark is healing, forgiveness, and accomplishing the “impossible.”
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies.
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. . . . For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
The A.A. Way: Medicine defining the problem; Religion defining the solution; Almighty God enabling the miracle – a healing and cure. Drunks carrying the message. Give each the credit. That, I believe, was the A.A. way. It was the way utilized in Akron’s program. It was the way, Bill Wilson attempted to describe in his Big Book. It was the end sought when Bill penned his twelve “steps” to a relationship with the Creator. And, as they all saw it, it was a way paved for them by the guidance of the Good Book. The suggestion:
• Recognize the problem – excessive drinking, boozing out of control – “I can’t.”
• Recognize the human limitations – “They can’t.”
• Seek Divine Aid – “God can.” And He either is or He isn’t. Hebrews 11:6 tells us:
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
• Establish your relationship and fellowship with, and rely on, the Creator
• The ingredients of the early A.A. approach and the remnants today:
Abstinence and its implications (Big Book, 4th ed., p. 43).
Trusting God for help, rather than our finite selves (Big Book, 4th ed., pp. 68, 98)
Study Who He is and what He can do – through Bible, prayer, guidance, books.
Study What He expects of us – Commandments, Thy will be done. Be ye doers of the word, not hearers only, as the Book of James declares.
Obeying God through obeying His commands – “Clean house” (Big Book, 4th ed., p. 98)
Love, serve, follow His plan, terminate sin (Big Book, 4th ed., pp. 76-77).
Go and Tell: “God has done for me what I could not do for myself” (Big Book, id., p. 11).
• As to liquor, the pledges to stop drinking; the laws to prohibit drinking; the route to jail for drinking to excess.
• Secular Recovery – Rational Recovery, Jack Trimpey, Therapy
• Christian Groups – Alcoholics for Christ, Alcoholics Victorious, Overcomers Outreach, Overcomers, Celebrate Recovery
• Christian Alternatives – Teen Challenge, Salvation Army, Youth With A Mission
• Treatment Programs, rehabs, therapeutic communities
The AA Position as to Reliance on Yahweh, the Creator
• The founders and pioneers all relied upon Him
• Our Big Book, even with substitutionary and unusual names, relies upon Him.
• Our Big Book has always favored religious affiliation.
• We have no monopoly on God
• A.A. had and thinks it has no intention of founding a new religion
• A.A. wasn’t and isn’t sectarian or denominational – “rabbi, minister, and priest”©
• No exclusion of anyone – so any belief or non-belief system can be used by members
• No sanctions for divergent beliefs
• Hottentots, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, and agnostics can do their own thing
• Dr. Bob laid it on the line on p. 181: “Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!”
Today, each one of us is privileged to have a choice. You can ask God for help. He can and will provide it if sought. It’s your recovery – not one for someone else, not one to be measured by how many can obtain it, not to be squared with each and every religious and theological belief and unbelief in the world. It’s for you. It’s hard work. And it is worth everything. God Bless you all.