Saturday, July 14, 2007

Faith within A.A. Blog

This first faith in aablog should have a broader title. That title might be called Faith Within A.A. The reason is that I am one of those people who is not troubled by the supposed conflict between AAs today and the Christian Fellowship that was the A.A. of the pioneer founders of A.A. The reason is that I have devoted 18 years of research and now 31 published titles, 170 articles, and many audio blogs to unearthing and publicizing the early A.A. history. Why? Because I am a Christian and discovered piece by piece A.A.'s diverse "religious" roots and also its roots in the Bible. I learned that I could remain confused about the difference between God and some nonsense "higher power," between religion and and illusory "spirituality," and between going to meetings and coming to God through Jesus Christ. I learned too that there are really two different A.A.'s as well as two different streams that ultimately led to the one program that was not written or published until 1939 - four years after the founding. This has caused many an AA, Twelve Step adherent, therapist, counselor, historian, and treatment program to opt for the 1939 program as embodied in A.A.'s Big Book. The problem is that it was early A.A. that had the documented 75% to 93% success rate among seemingly hopeless medically incurable real alcoholics who gave the program their best shot. They claimed cure. They claimed and relied upon the power of Yahweh our Creator. And, for the most part, they insisted on acceptance of Christ. In quick summary: One root was United Christian Endeavor and the North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury, Vermong. It was from this backdrop, that A.A.'s Akron co-founder got his Christian baptism, his focus on prayer, his reliance on the Creator, the importance of the Quiet Hour, the vital necessity for Bible study, and the principles of conversion, love, and service. These ideas formed the basic principles and practices of the only A.A. in existence in 1935--Akron Group Number One. This group was called a Christian Fellowship, had a five point mandatory program of abstinence; reliance on the Creator and acceptance of Christ; obedience to the Word of God through walking in love and eliminating sin; growing in fellowship with the Father, His son and other believers through Bible study, prayer, and guidance; and intense work helping other alcoholics to get straightened out. There were additional practices such as morning quiet time, religious companionship, church attendance, and hospitalization which were optional. And the program was completed in 1938 and summarized by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s agent Frank Amos. We have the reports, and A.A. published them in part in its DR. BOB and The Good Oldtimers. By 1937, they were able to count 40 pioneers who had worked their program--50% had been continuously sober for up to two years; 25% had relapsed but returned to go forward; and 25% were "showing improvement." The program could be described also in this fashion: It took place largely in the homes, and once a week in an "Oxford Group" meeting which was far from resemblance to the existing program of Frank Buchman and Sam Shoemaker. Some Oxford Group ideas were followed as part of the Christian life-changing ideas of the four absolutes, the inventory and confession, conviction of the need for change, and making restitution. The ideas can appropriately be described in a broad sense as being taken from religion, medicine, and the experience of one alcoholic working with a newcomer. With the success under their belts, the tiny group commissioned co-founder Bill Wilson to write a book that would enable the message to be carried widely to help people in many places. With that we turn to the second, totally different root. It could said to have begun when businessman Rowland Hazard (a real alcoholic) sought psychiatric help from the famed Dr. Carl Gustav Jung. Jung imparted to Hazard the theory that Hazard had the mind of a chronic alcoholic and could probably be cured by conversion. Jung was familiar with the many accounts by famed American psychology professor William James of Harvard who had reported on the many conversion cures most of which had taken place in gospel/rescue missions. Wilson himself had heard temperance and revival meetings and sermons about conversion and alcoholic and had seen his own alcoholic grandfather Willie Wilson's miraculous healing on Mount Aeolus in Vermont after which Willie proclaimed he had been saved and never touched a drop of booze thereafter until the day of his death. Hazard's story, coupled with Hazard's involvement with the Oxford Group, was passed along to another real alcoholic Ebby Thacher. Thacher heard the conversion theory; he had read the James accounts; and he was lodged in the Calvary Rescue Mission in New York City. There Thacher was converted and healing by acceptance of Jesus Christ at the altar call. Thacher passed along to a still drunken Bill Wilson the details. Wilson had been hospitalized at Towns Hospital several times and been told by his own psychiatrist William D. Silkworth, M.D., that Jesus Christ could cure him, specifically "The Great Physician."
Wilson also went to the altar at the Rescue Mission, made a decision for Christ, wrote that he had been born again, proceeded drunk to his final hospitalization at Towns Hospital. There he decided to call on "The Great Physician" for help. Wilson had his own conversion experience much like the one his grandfather had experienced. Wilson asked his doctor and wife if he had been healed; and both declared he had a genuine conversion. Wilson then spent most of a day devouring the William James book and concluded that he Bill had indeed experienced a genuine conversion. He never drank again. Wilson affiliated himself with the Oxford Group and its leaders, picked up on their "carrying the message" theory of personal work, and raced from Oxford Group meetings to the Rescue Mission to Towns Hospital seeking out drunks and preaching to them that "the Lord had cured him (me, he said) of this terrible disease, and that he just had to keep on telling people." His success was nil, probably because most didn't want to hear his preaching or believe him. He even endeavored to pass along Oxford Group life-changing ideas but to no avail. And then came Bill's visit to Akron where Bill and Dr. Bob worked through the summer of 1935 to develop a program based largely on the Bible and incorporating the simple principles Dr. Bob had learned in his youth. And then came phase three. Bill was authorized to write a book about the program. But he didn't. Knowing far more about the Oxford Group and its leaders Frank Buchman and Rev. Sam Shoemaker, Bill wrote his "Big Book" basic text which really codified Oxford Group principles--some twenty-eight in number. He summarized the program in Twelve Steps, whose language came largely from the teachings of Rev. Sam Shoemaker. And the program did not at all resemble the Akron program because it discarded conversion as the solution; it adopted a vague "higher power" idea; it eliminated Bible study, Jesus Christ, morning quiet time, religious comradeship, specific references to the Creator in the Steps, and even ignored Sam Shoemaker's definition of the spiritual awakening which Wilson said was needed for cure. Shoemaker had taught that a spiritual awakening involved Conversion, Prayer, Fellowship, and Witness; yet all specific reference to these was omitted while at the same time adopting Shoemaker's language. In addition, the Big Book and Steps drew on medical theories of Dr. Silkworth while omitting Silkworth's views on cure by the Great Physician. It adopted an "alcoholism-can't-be-cured" thesis of a lay therapist named Peabody who himself died drunk. It added some metaphysical phrases from New Thought writers. It adopted phrases from the William James book such as "surrender," "higher power," and the like but omitted conversion and cure. Wilson threw out the materials he had learned and used from the rescue missions and Salvation Army. And most were made happy by being allowed to include personal stories of how they had established their relationship with God.
Today, A.A. is still a religion, albeit a self-defined one. It is certainly not a Christian fellowship. It welcomes people of all faiths, no faith, diverse faiths, and rank atheists. Its support structure is extremely valuable and much to be envied and utilized. Its availability and freedom from cost is appealing. And its avowed purpose of helping the newcomer who still suffers offers real hope and assistance to those in despair. But what of faith withing A.A.?
It is here that A.A. falls short is is plummeting fast. Yet there are tens of thousands of us in A.A. and Twelve Step Fellowships who are Christians, who believe in God and the integrity of the Bible, and who rely on fellowship with the Father and His son for healing, forgiveness, and guidance. Despite this, many people of faith (specifically Christians) feel intimidated, unwelcome, and heretical in the view of AAs simply because they have faith. I believe that this faith within A.A. needs to be buttressed by a knowledge of its history, its real early successes and principles, and universal tolerance, love, and service.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that the "disese THEORY" came from Bills ASS DOCTOR.! You also forget to mention that allthough he may have quit drinking he couldnt keep his dick in his pants.Um now what was that about...THOU SHALL NOT...That alone brings his alledged conversion into question.