Sunday, May 27, 2012

Surviving the Christian Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous

I never had the slightest idea when I entered the rooms of A.A. that I would encounter such volumes of hatred. Hatred of Christians. Hatred of the Bible. Hatred of those who are "Evangelicals." Hatred of those who, like the courts, recognize that A.A. is religious - not "spiritual" (whatever the latter means). How can a sick drunk survive that? In fact, how did I--a very sick drunk--survive that?

As a very very sick man of 60 years of age, I came into the rooms and was hugged, given phone numbers, invited to "come with us, go where we go, do what we do, and get what we've got." Later, I was to see that the 10th Step instructions talked about a code of "love and tolerance." Still later, I was to read that Dr. Bob had said that the steps, simmered to their essence, were simply about "love and service." Still later, I learned that though Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob certainly had different views about God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible, both had a Christian upbringing. Both had studied the Bible. Both had become or were Christians. Both had turned to Amighty God for deliverance. All called early A.A. a "Christian Fellowship." So did the Rockefeller people who investigated A.A. and concluded: "Why this is First Century Christianity at work."

But as I began traveling around the U.S. speaking, interviewing, and researching, I encountered an entirely different picture. In more than one room, a speaker has been interrupted if he mentioned God, Jesus Christ, or the Bible. In more than one Central Office, a group has been denied a "listing" because some self-appointed governor said, "You can't study the Bible" or "You can't study Emmet Fox," or "You can't talk about Jesus' Sermon on the Mount." And bristling letters fromn a few A.A. cops, on A.A. stationary, began issuing from Central Offices and GSO to the same effect.

Almost always, the nonsense blockades were phrased as if A.A. had a Gestapo and the Traditions were a Mein Kampf dictated by Wilson. Or, despite the fact that there was no "General Service Conference" to approve or disapprove anything until 15 years after A.A.'s founding; and that there never was such a thing as "Conference-Disapproved" literature, these true straw man pillars seemed to form the foundation for intimidation, insult, rudeness, authoritationism, and everything but the freedom of drunks to focus on getting sober and relying on the power of God, as the early AAs did.

How do you survive this today? Well, how did I survive it for 26 continuous years and still wind up liking A.A., speaking at A.A. meetings and conferences, working with newcomers to this day, and devoting 22 plus years to unearthing and reporting the history of Alcoholics Anonmous--warts and all. I believe it is because I hardly expected great courtesy or kindness or love or forgiveness from a band of former drunks, derelicts, foul-mouthed friends, thieves, druggies, and drug dealers--let alone proper speech amidst the foul language and focus on sex at the local level. I didn't expect these things, probably because I had long before seen the dark side in the Army, in the courts, in my college fraternity, and amongst the lawyers with whom I contested. If you want to hear about sex and foul language, just join the Armed Forces. And drink as well.

Yet. What a refreshing thing to enter a fellowship--sicker than a dog. What a refreshing thing to answer to no authority. What a refreshing thing to see the words God, Creator, Maker, Heavenly Father, Father of Lights splattered all over the Big Book some 400 times in one form or pronoun or another. What a refreshing thing to find so many caring people who had overcome the humps but still helped others over them. What a refreshing thing not to be judged for my sins past or my sickness present. What a refreshing thing to find how much fun we AAs had at outings in Yosemite Valley, the Russian River, the Redwoods, the amusement parks, the dances, the barbeques, the movies, the comedy shows, the musical events, the conferences, the speakers, and the mirth.

I know why I survived. I loved AA and gave it all I had. I loved God and tried to give Him all I had. I loved helping others and never stopped doing that. I loved the idea of cleaning house, the idea of amends, the idea of daily cleanup and daily prayer. And once I learned the history of A.A., I saw that the early AAs all believed in God, accepted Jesus Christ, studied the Bible, prayed together, broke bread together, socialized together, had quiet time together, converted others together, and devoted lots and lots of time to helping others - together. What the bleeding deacons did in the rooms was really none of my business unless I was looking for a scrap or taking them too seriously or forgetting that when they pointed one finger at me, there were three fingers pointing back at them.

That's why I survived.

And when naysayers call someone an "evangelist," or call A.A. "spiritual but not religious," or talk about their "higher power as a doorknob or chair," or denounce someone for mentioning God or Jesus or the Bible, I just look at the history (44 books and 1000 articles later) and - one by one - try to tell others the best of A.A. Because A.A. was best for me 26 years ago. And nothing and nobody can stop me from doing what I've done from the beginning--trusting God, cleaning house, and working with others. One good reason is because that's exactly what Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, and A.A. Number Three Bill Dotson did - for the rest of their lives. Not too shabby for a bunch of former drunken sots.

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