Alcoholics Anonymous History
Healing the Alcoholic: The Creator, A.A., Believers, and Richard Peabody’s Erroneous, “No-Cure” Hypothesis
© 2012 by Anonymous. All rights reserved
The Original Views and Statements of A.A. Founders and Pioneers about Cure of Alcoholism
Bill Wilson stated plainly enough: “Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people”
Dr. Robert H. Smith (Dr. Bob) stated plainly enough: “But this was a man [Bill Wilson] who had experienced many years of frightful drinking, who had had most all the drunkard’s experiences known to man, but who had been cured by the very means I had been trying to employ, that is to say the spiritual approach.” “One day Dr. Bob said to me, ‘Don’t you think we’d better scare up some drunks to work on?’ He phoned the nurse in charge of admissions at Akron City Hospital and told her how he and another drunk from New York had a cure for alcoholism.”
A.A. Number Three, attorney Bill Dotson, echoed Bill Wilson’s cure statement, and stated very plainly: “That sentence, ‘The Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep telling people about it,’ has been a sort of golden text for the A.A. program and for me.”
Reporting to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., on his investigation of Akron cures, A.A. trustee-to-be Frank Amos set forth these facts: “Dr. Howard S---, general practitioner at Cuyahoga Falls, aged about 35. S---had been an alcoholic and had been cured by Smith and his friends’ activities and the Christian technique prescribed.” “Alcoholics who were reasonably normal mentally and in other ways, and who genuinely wanted to be cured of their alcoholism, were the type with whom they had achieved their great success. On the other hand, alcoholics who were mentally defective, or who were definitely psychopathic, had proven very difficult problems, and so far, the percentage of cures had been very low in these cases.”
The recent biography of Bill Wilson’s physician William D. Silkworth, M.D. shows the heart of early A.A. reliance on God. The author states: “Silkworth has not been given the appropriate credit for his position on a spiritual conversion, particularly as it may relate to true Christian benefits. . . . [I]t was Dr. Silkworth who used the term “The Great Physician” to explain the need in recovery for a relationship with Jesus Christ. . . . In the formation of AA, Wilson initially insisted on references to God and Jesus, as well as the Great Physician. . . . Silkworth, a medical doctor, challenged the alcoholic with a spiritual conversion and a relationship with God as part of a program of recovery. His approach with Bill Wilson was no different.”
Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Believed reliance on the Creator was a Necessity
Bill Wilson: Note these telling statements about Bill Wilson’s decision for Christ and the importance of turning to God for help: (1) During his third visit to Towns Hospital, Bill had a discussion with Dr. Silkworth on the subject of the “Great Physician.” In fact, Bill Wilson himself wrote that he had thought about this discussion before he decided to check himself into Towns for the last time, at the urging of his wife and his brother-in-law. (2) In his autobiography, Wilson wrote: “I remember saying to myself, ‘I’ll do anything, anything at all. If there be a Great Physician, I’ll call on him.” (3) Before his final trip to Towns Hospital, Bill—like his friend Ebby Thacher—had gone to the altar at Calvary Rescue Mission and made a decision for Christ (He said Ebby had told him that he “had done all right and had given my life to God”) and wrote of his later conversion experience at Towns, “For sure I’d been born again.” (4) Then, at Towns Hospital, Bill cried out, “If there be a God, let him show himself.” He wrote: “The effect was instant, electric. Suddenly my room blazed with an indescribably white light. I was seized with an ecstasy beyond description. . . . I became acutely conscious of a presence which seemed like a veritable sea of living spirit. . . This (I thought) must be the great reality. The God of the Preachers. . . . I thanked my God who had given me a glimpse of His absolute Self. . . . this great and sudden gift of grace has always been mine.” (5) Dr. Silkworth informed Bill: “You have had some kind of conversion experience.” (6) Bill commented: “God comes to most men gradually, but His impact on me was sudden and profound.” (7) In a conversion experience seemingly identical to that of Bill’s grandfather Willie in East Dorset, Bill—like his grandfather Willie—was cured and never drank again.
Dr. Bob Smith: Struck with no “white light” conversion experience, Dr. Bob had been converted years before as a youngster in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. To overcome his alcoholism, he joined a tiny group on the carpet of the home of T. Henry Williams in Akron, and prayed for deliverance. The miraculous cure came in the unexpected visit, call, and presence of Bill Wilson at Henrietta Seiberling’s Gate Lodge where the two men met, exchanged stories, and soon were on their way to founding Alcoholics Anonymous in Akron on June 10, 1935. Dr. Bob did not pussyfoot about God or the cure. At City Hospital, newcomer alcoholics were insistently asked the primary question: “Do you believe in God?” And there was only one acceptable answer. Later, they were taken upstairs in a private prayer ceremony where, with several “elders” praying over them, they knelt, made a decision for Christ, asked God to take alcohol out of their life, and prayed for the strength and guidance to live according to cardinal Christian principles. And, of the original pioneers who went to any lengths to establish and maintain their relationship and fellowship with God, fifty percent were permanently cured. Again, Dr. Bob was clear about the reason. He wrote: “Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!”
Their Spiritual Solution versus the “Scientific” Surveys: Often a critic (and even one critical of Alcoholics Anonymous) unearths and reveals important ideas that others have ignored. For example, Michael Lemanski wrote:
The American temperance movement and the prohibition period which it helped to bring about had indeed created a vacuum within the medical community as regards addiction treatment. Alcoholics Anonymous came into being at a time when modern methods of medical therapy, clinical psychology, clinical sociology, and professional counseling were virtually nonexistent in the field. AA, through default, filled this near vacuum.
The near vacuum, however, was just that—a near vacuum, not a total vacuum. . . . [T]here were organizations which did deal with alcoholics at the time AA came about: the Salvation Army and the Emanuel Movement.
While it is doubtful that either Bill Wilson or Dr. Bob knew of the Emanuel Movement, they might have been aware of the Salvation Army’s work, so it appears peculiar that they apparently made no attempt to research such approaches. But this only appears to be peculiar. Bill Wilson had quite literally “seen the light.” His vision of recovery from alcoholism embraced one thing and one thing only: religious conversion.
To Wilson, research wasn’t necessary; religion was The Answer. And when one has The Answer, research and questioning are obstacles, not aids. The problem is not finding new, better approaches, but rather putting an end to questions so that The Answer can be adopted without opposition.
To Wilson and Smith, recovery was a matter of faith, not a matter of research and hard evidence. . . . AA’s co-founders viewed hospitals, doctors, and psychiatrists as ineffective in dealing with alcoholism. This seems ironic given that one of them (Smith) was an MD, but he, like Wilson, believed that the only cure for alcoholism was through God; and he used hospitalization of alcoholism patients not for medical treatment, but rather so that they could be isolated and indoctrinated into the Oxford Group Movement/AA beliefs.
Like so many, who today are writing in the medical, psychiatric, psychology, sociology, and counseling arena, Lemanski gave short shrift to God. To talk about God’s help, strength, guidance, and miraculous healings is deemed “unscientific,” incapable of being measured, tested, repeated, and scientifically conducted. So say the atheists, humanists, and unbelieving scientists and researchers. Yet A.A. critic Lemanski touches one area of truth: He quite correctly observes that, in the beginning, Wilson and Smith believed that conversion was the solution to alcoholism. They touted reliance on God. And their spiritual program produced the results that astonished medical and religious figures alike. Perhaps Bill summarized the situation aptly when he wrote:
What is this but a miracle of healing? Yet its elements are simple. Circumstances made him willing to believe. He humbly offered himself to his Maker—then he knew. Even so has God restored us all to our right minds. . . . When we drew near to Him He disclosed Himself to us!
In today’s age of secularism, idolatry, and hostility to religion, the faith cure challenge is having a hard time. This hardly refutes A.A.’s original beliefs and successes; it simply reflects a desire to look to everything, seek everything, and rely on anything, but God.
Not so with Bill Wilson’s psychiatrist at Towns Hospital—William D. Silkworth, M.D.
Silkworth’s biographer Dale Mitchel has recently unearthed the following important facts about Dr. Silkworth, his Christian affiliations, his belief in the healing power of Jesus Christ, and Silkworth’s conveying these ideas to Bill Wilson:
During his third visit to Towns Hospital, Bill had a discussion with Dr. Silkworth on the subject of the “Great Physician” [Jesus Christ]. . . . In fact, Bill himself wrote that he had thought about this discussion before he decided to check himself into Towns for the last time, at the urging of his brother-in-law. . . . Wilson wrote: “Alcoholism took longer to kill, but the result was the same. Yes, if there was any Great Physician that could cure the alcohol sickness, I’d better find him now, at once.
Just prior to his experience with “the veritable sea of living spirit” Wilson often later talked about, he chastised God and said to himself, “I’ll do anything, anything at all. If there be a Great Physician, I’ll call on him!” again referring to his prior discussions with Silkworth. Then, according to Wilson, he cried out, “If there is a God, let him show himself.” What happened next became the turning point in Bill Wilson’s life, and the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous.
It is obvious that in prior visits Silkworth had tried to explain the Great Physician to Bill without success. Eventually, in his own words, Dr. Silkworth told Bill how he had read about the successes of other spiritual transformations.
Silkworth, a medical doctor, challenged the alcoholic with a spiritual conversion and a relationship with God as part of the program of recovery. His approach with Bill Wilson was no different.
According to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Silkworth had also told another patient named “Charles” that the Great Physician could complete this healing. He said of Jesus, “He wants everything you’ve got, he wants all of you. Then He gives the healing. . . . His name is Jesus Christ and he keeps office in the New Testament and is available whenever you need him.
Silkworth’s biographer wrote:
Silkworth has not been given the appropriate credit for his position on a spiritual conversion, particularly as it may relate to true Christian benefits. Several sources, including Norman Vincent Peale in his book The Positive Power of Jesus Christ, agree that it was Dr. Silkworth who used the term “The Great Physician” to explain the need in recovery for a relationship with Jesus Christ. . . . In the formation of A.A., Wilson initially insisted on references to God and Jesus, as well as the Great Physician.
In Dick B., Real Twelve Step Fellowship History (http://dickb.com/realhistory.shtml), I have summarized the early Akron A.A. requirement of a “real surrender” ceremony that confirmed acceptance of Jesus Christ as a required and essential part of the Akron recovery program:
In order to belong to the Akron fellowship, newcomers had to make a “real surrender.” This was akin to the altar call at rescue missions or the confession of Christ with other believers in churches [and revival gatherings], except that it was a very small, private ceremony which took place upstairs and away from the regular meeting. Four A.A. old-timers (Ed Andy from Lorain, Ohio; J.D. Holmes from Indiana; Clarence Snyder from Cleveland; and Larry Bauer in Akron) have all independently verified orally and in writing that the Akron surrenders required acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Those conversions took place at the regular Wednesday meeting upstairs in the manner described in James 5:15-16. Kneeling, with “elders” at his side, the newcomer accepted Christ and, with the prayer partners, asked God to take alcohol out of his life and to help, guide, and strengthen him to live by cardinal Christian teachings such as those in the Oxford Group’s Four Absolutes—Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, and Love.
The Variety, Diversity, Multiplicity, and Frequency of Testimonies to God’s Cure of Alcoholism
The Naysayers Should Be Few: I receive on the average of 100 communications each day from those seeking relief or who have achieved relief of their alcoholism. Among every hundred, there are one or more complaints by present-day fellowship people who seem determined to “prove” that they are permanently sick. They use terms like “only a daily reprieve;” “in recovery;” “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic;” and “there is no cure.” Importantly, they have swallowed whole hog the idea that God Almighty couldn’t possibly have cured, never has cured, and certainly never will cure an alcoholic. You can point out the hundreds and hundreds of testimonies by alcoholics, including the first three—Bill W., Dr. Bob, and Bill D.—that they were cured of alcoholism by the power of God. But they’ll respond almost at once that the Big Book says, in one place, that they can’t be cured. In so doing, they ignore the rest of the language in the Big Book that says they can. They even ignore the change in language of the Steps from “God can and will” to “God could and would if He were sought.” For some reason, they ignore the fact that the capitalized word “God”, including capitalized pronouns and Biblical descriptions of Him such as Creator, Maker, Father of lights, Father, and Spirit show the point that Bill Wilson originally intended to make. Perhaps most important of all, they just haven’t heard about the real success rates, original program, and astonishing miracles that freed the pioneers from their “terrible disease,” as Bill Wilson described it. Now we could end it there, and say that AAs disagree.
Religious leaders and clergy views on healing alcoholics by the power of God:
Rev. Francis W. McPeek, Lecture 26, “The Role of Religious Bodies in the Treatment of Inebriety in the United States”:
This has been a brief and highly selective survey of a century’s efforts among religious people to bring the healing power of God into the lives of those who suffer from inebriety. Certain things may be held as conclusive. Towering above them all is this indisputable fact: It is faith in the living God which has accounted for more recoveries from the disease than all the other therapeutic agencies put together.
Rev. Otis R. Rice, Ph.D., Lecture 28, “Pastoral Counseling of Inebriates”:
It is from the fact that one is a miserable sinner, and the acceptance of the fact that by God’s promise one can become His son, that cures are made and that lives are made worth while.
Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., Healing Life’s Hidden Addictions:
The only effective healing I know is the healing that takes place at the “core” of our being. Join me as we rediscover the truthfulness of Isaiah’s prophecy: that Christ “took our sicknesses, and bore our diseases,” so that we could go free (Mt 8:17 LB).
Dr. Jack Van Impe with Roger F. Campbell, Alcohol: The Beloved Enemy:
The list of former drinkers who have become total abstainers through responding to God’s love is long. Names known to thousands—like Mel Trotter, Billy Sunday, and Oscar Van Impe (my own father)—come quickly to mind, but a great company of others have also testified to never drinking another drop of booze after receiving Christ as Savior.
Pastor Henry W. Wright, A More Excellent Way:
It is not that God cannot heal you, or that He doesn’t want to. The problem is that man does not understand disease. . . . My investigation over the years from the Scriptures, practical discernment, and review of scientific and medical evidence, has unearthed many spiritual roots and blocks to healing. . . . The very same principles that you can apply in your life to move the hand of God to sustain you, to heal you, and to deliver you—if you start applying them now in your life (even if you don’t have a disease)—may keep you from getting that disease in your lifetime. . . . God and I have taken the word incurable and done this to it: When you say you are incurable, you have made the devil greater than God. As a minister, I cannot bring myself to say that. I believe all things are possible. . . . I consider all healing of spiritually rooted disease to be a factor of sanctification. I believe that all disease that has a spiritual result is a lack of sanctification in our lives as men and women of God. I believe all healing of disease and/or prevention is the process of being re-sanctified. . . . The 8 R’s to Freedom: Pathway to Wholeness and Freedom—Recognize, Responsibility, Repent, Renounce, Remove, Resist, Rejoice, Restore (help someone else get free).
Rev. John Osteen, L.L.D., D.D., How to flow in the Super Supernatural:
So I rented an auditorium and decided to have a meeting. I had lots of enthusiasm. Hundreds of people came. I told them that I had a Baptist background, but now I was filled with the Holy Ghost. . . . I told them I had the power to cast out devils, lay hands on the sick and see them healed (See Mark 16:17-18). I told them that they would see miracles in Jesus’ name. People lined up for prayer. There was such a long line. I was amazed! I was astonished! People had believed the Word of God that I had preached! . . . . In that meeting, we saw miracles of God, such mighty demonstrations of salvation, divine healing and deliverance. It was a marvelous thing to behold as Jesus met the needs of the people.
Rev. Howard Clinebell, Ph. D., Understanding and Counseling Persons with Alcohol, Drug, and Behavioral Addictions:
There is no area of human suffering in which healthy religion has given a more convincing demonstrating of its healing, growth-nurturing power than in problems of addiction. For much of the twentieth century it has been recognized that authentic spirituality offers hopeful resources for dealing with addictions. In his classic sermons on temperance published in 1827, Lyman Beecher made it clear that some sort of religious experience was the best hope for the alcoholic. . . . I invite you to let your mind and spirit be lifted by these other hopeful developments in the addiction pandemic scene: . . . . The awareness that the century-spanning, healing wisdom of our Hebrew and Christian traditions are priceless resources for preventing and healing addictions today. Many centuries before Christ lived, the Hebrew psalmist expressed feelings with which many recovering addicts can identify: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:2-5).
For the many others in the religious field who share the view that alcoholism can be cured by the power of God, see the following authors and titles detailed in my specified books, which contain complete bibliographical information on the subjects, authors, and materials included:
Dick B., God and Alcoholism: Our Growing Opportunity in the 21st Century (http://dickb.com/Godandalcoholism.shtml)—as to: (1) The Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, (2) ordained Baptist pastor Jerry G. Dunn, (3) Episcopal layman James Moore Hickson, (4) Evangelist Ethel R. Willitts, (5) Glenn Clark, (4) Mary Baker Eddy, (5) Emmet Fox, (6) Frank Laubach, (7) Charles Laymon, (8) E.W. Kenyon, (9) Martin M. Davis, (10) Loren Cunningham, (11) Edward E. Decker, Jr.
Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why (http://dickb.com/alcoholismcured.shtml)--as to (1) Dr. Herbert Lockyer and All the Miracles of the Bible: The Supernatural in Scripture Its Scope and Significance, (2) Morton T. Kelsey, Psychology, Medicine & Christian Healing, (3) George Gordon Dawson, Healing: Pagan and Christian, (4) Alan Richardson, The Miracle Stories of the Gospels, (5) Elwood Worcester and Samuel McComb, The Christian Religion as a Healing Power, (6) G. R. H. Shafto, The Wonders of the Kingdom: A Study of the Miracles of Jesus, (7) Pearcy Dearmer, Body and Soul: An Enquiry into the Effects of Religion , Health, with a Description of Christian Works of Healing From the New Testament to the Present Day, (8) Leslie D. Weatherhead, Psychology, Religion and Healing, (9) Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, (10) E. R. Micklem, Miracles & The New Psychology: A Study in the Healing Miracles of the New Testament, (11) New Bible Dictionary, (12) John G. Lake, The Complete Collection of His Teachings. (13) F. W. Puller, The Anointing of the Sick in Scripture and Tradition, with some Considerations on the Numbering of the Sacraments, (14) Evelyn Frost, Christian Healing: A Consideration of the Place of Spiritual Healing in the Church Today in Light of the Doctrine and Practice of the Ante Nicene Church (15) Roberts Lairdon, God’s Generals: Why They Succeeded and Why They Failed, (16) A. J. Pridie, The Church’s Ministry of Healing, (17) T. L. Osborn, Healing the Sick, (18) Smith Wigglesworth, Smith Wigglesworth on Healing, (19) Jim Wilson, Healing Through the Power of Christ, (20) Novel Hayes, The Healing Handbook.
Dick B., The James Club and The Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials (http://dickb.com/JamesClub.shtml)--as to: (1) James 5:16, (2) F. W. Puller, Anointing of the Sick, (3) J. R. Pridie, The Church’s Ministry of Healing, (4) the followers of Clarence and Grace Snyder in A.A.
Dick B., The First Nationwide Alcoholics Anonymous History Conference (http://dickb.com/1stAAHistConf.shtml)--as to: (1) Reports by AAs of cures, (2) Miraculous healings long before Christ, (3) Miracles in the Gospels, (4) Miracles in the Book of Acts in Apostolic times. (5) Accomplishments of miracles by early Christians after apostolic times and in early centuries, (6) Healing ministry by individuals from 1091 forward to the late 1800’s, (7) The hypothesis that the First Century ended miracles, and the lack of Biblical authority for the proposition. (8) The successes of the Christian Missions and Evangelists—Jerry McAuley, Samuel Hadley, Hadley’s son, the Salvation Army, the Keswick Colony of Mercy, reports by James Moore Hickson, Ethel R. Willits, John Millard, Evelyn Frost, William Temple, Leslie D. Weatherhead, (9) The many titles on healing and prayer that were studied and circulated by Dr. Bob among the A.A. pioneers—Glenn Clark, Starr Daily, Lewis L. Dunnington, Mary Baker Eddy, Charles and Cora Fillmore, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Emmet Fox, Gerald Heard, E. Stanley Jones, Frank Laubach, Charles Laymon, Rufus Mosley, 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.
Dick B., Cured, Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts (http://dickb.com/cured.shtml)--as to the complete story and references to specific hundreds and hundreds of alcoholics who were cured by the power of God and said so.
Dick B., Making Known the Biblical History and Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous: A Sixteen-Year Research, Writing, Publishing, and Fact-Dissemination Project (http://dickb.com/makingknown.shtml) –as to a complete bibliography of the hundreds of books and other materials collected by Dick B., most of which have been donated to the Griffith Library at the Wilson House in East Dorset, Vermont; some of which have been lodged in the new Dr. Bob Core Library at the North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, Vermont; some of which have been lodged at Dr. Bob’s last church St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Akron; and all of the Rev. Sam Shoemaker books and papers have been lodged in Shoemaker’s Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh.
Dick B., Dr. Bob and His Library: A Major A.A. Spiritual Source (http://dickb.com/drbob.shtml) –as to the larger number of prayer, healing, devotional, and Christian materials found by Dick B. among those circulated by Dr. Bob among early AAs and their families, some of which were donated by Dr. Bob’s son to Dr. Bob’s Home in Akron, some of which were sold by Dr. Bob’s daughter to Brown University; and others have been mentioned in various memoranda, A.A. books, and other sources.
Snippets from some hands-on people in the alcoholism field who stand for God’s cures
Thomas E. Powers, Invitation to a Great Experiment: Exploring the Possibility That God Can Be Known:
I was doing very well in the advertising business. But at the same time I was suffering from a mentally and physically crippling illness which the doctors at last pronounced incurable. . . . Much against the grain of my whole outlook at that time, I was persuaded to seek help in the area of “spiritual experience.” . . . It worked. The disease was arrested and eventually relieved. . . . Just on the basis of facts in which I was profoundly involved, I had to drop my prejudices against God and the great cultural and psychological traditions ascending to God. There is no possibility of describing either the joy or the difficulties that came into my life when I saw that God is real and when and when I began to come into actual touch with that Reality.
John Burns et. al., The Answer To Addiction: The Path to Recovery from Alcohol Drug Food & Sexual Dependencies:
Let there be no ambiguity as to what is being said here. The Answer to addiction—that which cures the disease and releases the prisoner where nothing else can—is the grace of God. It is the truth of God, the power of God, the Spirit of God. If you want a one-word equivalent, the Answer is God. . . . not the God of sectarians and the bigots, not the God of the academically certified, not the God of the philosophers or of the wise but the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob—very God of the very God pouring himself unmistakably into human affairs, God as living, communicable, holy power, intervening in a specific manner, with specific principles and a specific teaching, to provide a specific way of life as a solution of a specific human problem which was going beyond all bounds, e.g. the problem of addiction.
The question has long been debated whether the freedom from alcohol addiction which occurs for example in Alcoholics Anonymous is really a cure, since the person must abstain from alcohol in order to maintain his recovery, and whether such an event had not better be called an “arrest” of the disease. The view of your present authors is that cure is a perfectly good word for what happens to anyone who is successful in A.A. If a man who once had stomach ulcers is now totally free of them, and free from all signs and symptoms of them, but has to abstain from pepper and vinegar in order to stay well, we say that that man has been cured of his stomach ulcers, and that the recovered alcohol addict is in exactly the same case.
Jared C. Lobdell, This Strange Illness: Alcoholism and Bill W.:
The early A.A. meetings were conceived of as meetings for worship, not entirely unlike meetings at the Calvary Mission, or at Jerry McAuley’s Mission fifty or sixty years before. It must be made clear that none of this means that a member of Alcoholics Anonymous must accept this theology in order to benefit from the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. There is anecdotal evidence that members have selected as their “Higher Power” a doorknob (because it opened the door to sobriety?), a dead chicken, a tree, their sponsors (we’ll get to what that means later on), and more reasonably, I would think—the A.A. group. One member with more than twenty years’ sobriety is reported to have spoken of his “Higher Power” as Charley. Substitutions of this sort for God (except the substitution of a believing group) are, of course, theological nonsense—or are they?
But the model presented here makes theological sense of what goes on—especially both the liturgical and the ritual reading (they are not the same)—in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, as well (I think) as making sense of the program generally. And since the cofounders (and their colleagues) believed that belief in God was a necessary ground for the program—in fact, that God was a necessary ground for the program—and that the Twelve Steps were spiritual exercises, an acceptable theology (beyond a kind of “not-God” psychology) would seem to be a good idea.
Joan Hunter, Overcoming Betrayal in Your Life: Healing the Heart:
By morning he seemed to forget everything; and I wasn’t about to start a conversation about what had happened the night before. Fear and frustration had me cornered. Then, we got saved, he got healed, and we made a total commitment to God. I was ecstatic. He stopped drinking and God worked through him in marvelous ways.
Dwight Anderson with Page Cooper, The Other Side of the Bottle:
Sam Leake, the one-man Alcoholics Anonymous was, before his “conversion” one of the most conspicuous of San Francisco’s public figures. . . When disintegration set it, he fought it with his usual intensity; he tried will power, pledges, religion, hypnotism, everything he heard of, but still he kept on drinking, until he looked like an old man, stooped, his legs shriveled to poles, his eyes half blind. Then something happened to Sam Leake. At the moment when he was ripe for a conversion he fell into the hands of a sympathetic Christian Science practitioner, who was able to penetrate his wall of isolation. She did not induce him to sign a pledge, but she promised him that he would be free of his liquor habit as well as the sedatives he was taking in abnormal quantities to sleep. “Leave him alone,” she said to his urgent friends, “I do not care if he swims home in whisky every night. He will be free.” One morning, after he had gone to sleep on his bedtime quart of whisky, he raised his hand to ring for the usual cocktail when he suddenly realized that he had no desire for whiskey. . . . “I am through with alcohol forever,” he told his family. . . I couldn’t touch a drop of whisky if I tried.” . . . . But make no mistake,” he said, “the battle was not won by superb will power of Sam Leake. I didn’t leave drunkenness; drunkenness left me.” So Sam Leake was “cured,” as flamboyantly as he was wrecked, but the cure stuck. . . but from that day he began to work with alcoholics on his own. . . . Sam believed that there was nothing one could do for an alcoholic until he was ripe, until he hit the depths and said, “For God’s sake, help me.” Then it was “as simple as falling off a log.” In the summer of 1913 Sam Leake wrote his story for the San Francisco Bulletin. He had set up an office and was devoting himself to lay therapy for alcoholics.
The Curious Change from Cure to No-Cure
Before A.A. began, alcoholics were pronounced to be “medically incurable.” The reason is not hard to figure out. Medicine wasn’t curing alcoholics. Nor was psychiatry. Nor were the lay therapists. At least, in no appreciable number, compared to the millions who suffer.
Then alcoholics who joined Alcoholics Anonymous, who went to any lengths to follow the path laid out by the Akron pioneers, were cured. Cured by the power of God. Their founders said so. They said so. The proposed cover for their new book announced their pathway to a cure. Magazine and newspaper articles announced the cure. Alcoholics across the country, by the hundreds, were cured and telling news reporters they were cured. And their spiritual mentors had no problem explaining the reason why. In fact, a verse from the Bible was commonly quoted as the formula involved:
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 (Hebrews 11:6, KJV).
Translated, Pascal had written God either is, or He isn’t. Rev. Sam Shoemaker wrote to the same effect. And Bill Wilson incorporated the statement in his Big Book. So the problem was not the existence or non-existence of God. It was not about belief or unbelief. It was not even whether God “could or would” heal the alcoholic. Bill Wilson said that he did!
So, alcoholism was curable, could be cured, and had been cured—by the power of God.
Then came a curious change. Bill Wilson and his wife Lois Wilson had both read The Common Sense of Drinking, written by a lay therapist Richard Rogers Peabody. Peabody had his book published by Little Brown in 1931. Reportedly, he was the first to state there was no cure for alcoholism. Peabody had been a student in the Emanuel Movement, named for Boston’s Emmanuel Church where clergy and lay practitioners reported success in treating alcoholics. Peabody treated alcoholics though he was neither a medical professional nor a psychologist. Most who have investigated his life believe that alcoholism led to his own early death at the age of 44. According to one scholar, Peabody “did not attempt to imitate the particular techniques of a psychiatrist, but he systematically eliminated from his terminology and concepts anything that hinted of the church and ‘feather-decorated, painted medicine men.’” Peabody used several important ideas he had learned—surrender, relaxation, suggestion and catharsis.” The scholar said “a few [of his patients] remained abstinent and professionally active in the field of alcoholism. Others who failed at the Peabody method were known to have joined A.A. in its early years. . . . The fact that several of the Peabody method’s major practitioners—apparently including the founder [Peabody] were not able to maintain their sobriety, however, does not bode well for other patients with whom contact was lost. . . . Writing in 1930, Peabody had abandoned the spiritual language and concepts altogether. . . . Peabody and his coworkers apparently did not share Baylor’s personal success at remaining sober. A common opinion is that Peabody died intoxicated, although the evidence is not conclusive. Samuel Crocker, who had once shared an office with Peabody, told Faye R. that he was intoxicated at the time of his death. According to the scholar “The personal copy of Peabody’s book belonging to Bill Wilson (one of the founders of A.A.) now in the A.A. Archives, contains the following 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.”
And so, stemming from that flimsy “proof” that alcoholism is uncurable, Wilson apparently contradicted his own story that the Lord had cured him, and inserted in his 1939 Big Book that there is no cure for alcoholism. Repeating Peabody’s words, he wrote “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” And the fate of today’s A.A. alcoholic was sealed. He had gone from medically incurable to cured by the power of God and then to incurable—as established by the lay therapist who had disdain for God, focused on relaxation therapy, and then—by most accounts—died drunk.
The result? A good example of how far today’s publishing arm has taken the reformation can be found in this language:
A Newcomer asks:
Is A.A. a religious organization? No. Nor is it allied with any religious organization. . . . There’s a lot of talk about God, though, isn’t there? The majority of A.A. members believe that we have found the solution to our drinking problem, not through individual willpower, but through a power greater than ourselves. However, everyone defines this power as he or she wishes. Many people call it God, others think it is the A.A. group, still others don’t believe in it at all. There is room in A.A. for people of all shades of belief and nonbelief.
This is AA. . . An Introduction to the AA Recovery Program:
Alcoholism—an illness. Today we are willing to accept the idea that, as far as we are concerned, alcoholism is an illness which can never be “cured,” but which, like some other illnesses, can be arrested. . . . So far as we know, there can never be any turning back to “normal” social drinking. “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic” is a simple fact we have to live with.”. . . . ‘Twelve Steps’ . . . . We discovered that a key factor in this progress seemed to be humility, coupled with reliance upon a Power greater than ourselves. While some members prefer to call this Power “God,” we were told that this was purely a matter of personal interpretation; we could conceive of the Power in any terms we thought fit.
So, Where Do You Stand!
A.A.’s venerable Clarence H. Snyder was well-known for his statement:
If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for almost anything.
Here’s a statement of where I stand:
I believe in God.
I believe anyone in A.A. can believe in God.
I believe God can cure an alcoholic of his “illness.”
I believe that, in today’s A.A., members can believe or not believe in God, pray or not pray, become children of the one true living Creator by handing their lives over to Christ or not, obey God’s commandments and change their lives to conform to His will or not, grow in fellowship with Him or not, and carry a message to the newcomer that God has done for the messenger what he could not do for himself or not
I choose to use the language of A.A.’s founders: Your Heavenly Father will never let you down! God can and will relieve you of your alcoholism if you seek Him diligently. I have the duty and privilege of helping any still suffering alcoholic to establish a relationship with God if he wishes to do so.
I cannot imagine ever carrying a message that there is no cure for alcoholism, that a newcomer can somehow be healed by a chicken or a chair or Charley, or that the courts are uninformed when they continue to rule that A.A. is a religion—the kind of religion is of no matter at all until and unless A.A. just eliminates God from its permissible program.
I find great wisdom for myself in the statement of James Houck of Maryland who was, at the time of his recent demise, about 100 years old and the AA with the longest period of sobriety (since 1934). Jim wrote, as he endorsed one of my books: “If you take God out of A.A., you have nothing.”
And that’s where I choose to stand.
So, where do you stand!
Dick B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837;
808 874 4876;
 Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 191.
 Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 180.
 RHS: Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous our beloved DR. BOB (NY: The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., 1951, 1979), 6.
 Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191.
 DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980), 129.
 DR. BOB, 135.
 Dale Mitchel, Silkworth The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks: The Biography of William Duncan Silkworth, M.D. (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2002), 50.
 Mitchel, Silkworth, 44. For an extended description of the events, see Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2007)
 Bill W. My First Forty Years: An Autobiography By the Cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000), 145.
 Bill W., My First Forty Years, 137; Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.,
 Bill W., My First Forty Years, 147; Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.,
 Bill W., My First Forty Years, 145-46.
 Bill W., My First Forty Years, 148.
 Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 14.
 Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.,
 For more information, see Dick B. and Ken B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book As a Youngster in Vermont (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2008): http://dickb.com/drbobofaa.shtml. See particularly Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 181.
 Michael Lemanski, A History of Addiction & Recovery in the United States (Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2001), 53-54.
 Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 57.
 Dale Mitchel, Silkworth The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks: The Biography of William Duncan Silkworth, M.D. (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2002), 44.
 Mitchel, Silkworth, 47.
 Mitchel, Silkworth, 49.
 Mitchel, Silkworth, 50.
 Mitchel, Silkworth, 50-51.
 According to the documented testimony of four different early A.A. pioneers mentioned in footnotes 25 and 26,, Dr. Bob and the Akron AAs specifically required every new member to make a “real surrender” in which the newcomer accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour,
 Mitchel, Silkworth, 50. For even more details, see Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W. http://www.dickb.com/conversion.shtml
 See Dick B. Real Twelve Step Fellowship History: The Old School A.A. You May Not Know, Training the Trainers (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006), 9. For specific quotes by Ed Andy, Larry Bauer, and Clarence Snyder, see Dick B., The Golden Text of A.A.: God, the Pioneers, and Real Spirituality (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999), 31-32 (http://dickb.com/goldentext.shtml).
 Rev. Francis W. McPeek, Executive Director, Department of Social Welfare, Federation of Churches, Washington, D.C., Alcohol, Science and Society: Twenty-nine Lectures with Discussion as given at the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies (New Haven: Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1945), 417.
 Rev. Otis R. Rice, Ph.D., Religious Director, St. Luke’s Hospital, New York, Alcohol, Science and Society, 446,
 Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Psychology and professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, Healing Life’s Hidden Addictions: Overcoming the Closet Compulsions that Waste Your Time and Control Your Life (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 1990), xiv.
 Jack Van Impe with Roger F. Campbell, Alcohol: The Beloved Enemy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980), 142. Dr. Van Impe is founder and president of Jack Van Impe Ministries.
 Pastor Henry W. Wright, Senior Pastor of Pleasant Valley Church, Inc., A More Excellent Way Be in Health: Spiritual Roots of Disease and Pathways to Wholeness (Thomaston, GA: Pleasant Valley Publications, 2005), 10-11, 115.
 Rev. John Osteen, L.L.D., D.D., founder of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, How to flow in the Super, Supernatural (Houston, TX: Lakewood Church, 1972), 44-45.
 Rev. Howard J. Clinebell, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Claremont School of Theology, Former Professor of Pastoral Psychology and Counseling, Claremont Graduate University, Understanding and Counseling Persons with Alcohol, Drug and Behavioral Addictions; Counseling for Recovery and Prevention Using Psychology and Religion, rev. and enl. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 23, 461-62.
 Thomas E. Powers, Invitation to a Great Experiment: Exploring the Possibility that God Can Be Known (East Ridge, NY: AAA Books, 1986), 2-3.
 John Burns and three other recovered addicts, The Answer to Addiction The Pathway to Recovery from Alcohol Drug Food & Sexual Dependencies, New. Exp. ed. (NY: Crossroad, 1990), 10-11.
 Burns, The Answer to Addiction, 321.
 Jared C. Lobdell, Ph.D., This Strange Illness: Alcoholism and Bill W. (NY: Aldine De Gruyter, 2004), 230.
 Lobdell, This Strange Illness, 237.
 Joan Hunter, Overcoming Betrayal in Your Life: Healing the Heart (New Kensignton, PA: Whitaker House, 2007), 165.
 Dwight Anderson with Page Cooper, The Other Side of the Bottle (NY: A.A. Wyn, Inc., 1950). 159-61. Dwight Anderson got sober at the Payne Whitney Clinic of New York Hospital and later went on to become Director of Public Relations for the Medical Society of New York.
 Possibly the best information on Peabody will be found in Katherine McCarthy, Early Alcoholism Treatment: The Emmanuel Movement and Richard Peabody. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Vol. 45, No.1. 1984. There are other scholarly reviews of the Peabody work in Clinebell, Understanding and Counseling; and Lobdell, This Strange Illness.
 A Newcomer Asks (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980).
 This is A.A. . . An Introduction to the A.A. Recovery Program (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World