Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA
By Dick B.
The Talent Before You Right Now
Right now, take a look at the speakers, sponsors, and counselors you know or have known in your A.A. or 12 Step Fellowship. I’ve been involved with hundreds of them, and you may have been too.
Many are talented, experienced, and articulate speakers and, in fact, good instructors. They are also caring, loving, giving people. But what are you learning from them today? There are hundreds and hundreds of women and men in the recovery movement who have never studied A.A.’s basic text or learned how to take people through the Twelve Steps in accordance with the instructions.
There are far more who haven’t a clue about A.A.’s history and roots, and haven’t any idea where the recovery program got its ideas. And many of these have never opened an A.A. history book, been to an A.A. history conference, or even cared to learn our history. Why? Generally speaking, it’s because they’ve had no resources to work with or with which they cared to work. Sometimes because they just don’t care.
What are resources are available to those who want to correct the situation? The Big Book contains virtually no history. The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions contain virtually no history. Conference Approved pamphlets by the dozen tell you nothing significant about history. And the two or three significant A.A. history books either omit the details, omit entire segments of history, or focus on what they think AAs should hear, rather than on what actually occurred.
And are treatment programs any different? Ask yourself how much you heard about history in a treatment program or rehab. Are sponsors any different? Ask yourself how much your sponsor talked to you about A.A. history. Are certification courses and facilities teaching history? Ask someone who is certified. Ask them about history, and watch them go blank.
Then there are the “history” books currently proliferating outside the fellowships. Do they talk about God? Do they talk about the Bible? Do they talk about the literature early AAs read? Do they detail the contributions of such major A.A. influences as Anne Ripley Smith and her journal, the books and teachings of Rev. Sam Shoemaker, the life-changing program of the Oxford Group which underlies the Steps, the devotionals which were a major part of Quiet Time, and even the Bible itself? It was quite clear that the Book of James, the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13 were considered absolutely essential to the program; and yet have you ever heard them read, discussed, or studied in your program or by your conferences or by your sponsor or by any counselor you’ve encountered?
Would Talented Speakers and Sponsors Revolt if Challenged?
Dr. Bob never let a pigeon loose from the hospital without asking him if he believed in God. Have you ever put that question to a potential speaker, sponsor, or treatment facilitator? When asked a question about the program, Dr. Bob usually replied: “What does it say in the Good Book?” Have you ever put such a question to those we mention? The Big Book states clearly that “God either is, or He isn’t.” Have you ever asked a speaker or instructor if he agrees? Bill and Bob were speaking at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles before 4500 people. Bill commented on the “religious element” of A.A. and the need for “Divine Aid.” Have you ever inquired about these? The Big Book says a number of times that its stories were written to tell how, from the writer’s own viewpoint and experience, he “established his relationship with God.” Have you ever asked a speaker or instructor to do likewise? At the Shrine Auditorium, the entire audience rose in tribute to Dr. Bob. And he succinctly suggested that all “cultivate the habit of prayer” and “study the Bible.” Have you ever asked your teachers about that one?
We now know that A.A.’s many roots included United Christian Endeavor, the Salvation Army, the Rescue Missions, the Great Evangelists Moody and Sankey and F.B. Meyer and Allen Folger, the Oxford Group, and even the Young Men’s Christian Association. They definitely included the Bible and Bible study. They included the required daily chapel, reading of Scripture, prayers, and sermons at the academies Dr. Bob and Bill attended. They included parental guidance, church services, prayer meetings, Sunday School.
Have you ever asked that these be explained to you?
The roots included Dr. Carl Jung’s views on “conversion”—the very solution Rowland Hazard, Ebby Thacher, and Bill Wilson sought when they were born again. They included Professor William James’s views on the variety of conversion experiences he’d studied. Do your instructors talk about these? Dr. William D. Silkworth told Bill Wilson and Silkworth’s other patients that the Great Physician Jesus Christ could cure them? Have you ever heard that? Have you ever had the Four Absolutes, the Five C’s, Quiet Time, and Conversion explained to you in terms of their A.A. significance? Have you ever learned the books that early AAs read, the devotionals they used, and the contents of Anne Smith’s Journal which was shared with AAs and their family every day? Have you asked about them?
They represent the heart of what Bill codified from the Oxford Group.
What a Speaker Can Be and Do
The A.A. speakers that are entertaining and dynamic attract crowds. How many people have rushed to hear Clancy I., Gene Duffy, June G., Eve, Poor Richard, Geraldine D., Mel B., Joe McQ., Charlie P., Father Martin, and dozens of others—because these men and women are entertaining and dynamic. I’ve heard them all, and I’ve been entertained. They’ve made me laugh, and laughter is either “the best medicine” or a great help. They’ve made me cry, and emotion is part of needed enthusiasm. They’ve made me admire what they’ve done and what they’ve become.
But how many times have you or I heard them talk about the early A.A. fellowship?
Can they? Could they? Will they? Would you have the courage to ask them?
We’re big in A.A. about “love and service.” We even insist that our “leaders” are but trusted servants. And in fact, all speakers, sponsors, and counselors are “but trusted servants.” And what do trusted servants do? I’d like to think they do the service that is suggested. But nobody tells these speakers what to say, nor the “staff” at World Services, nor the editors of the AA Grapevine—at least not you or me. Why? The servants are beyond the reach of the masters, and their instructors are long dead and gone. They are peopled or persuaded by professionals, by universalists, by revisionists, and by timid unbelievers. The servants dote on pleasing everyone. Thus if they write a piece of literature like a daily reflection, they’d rather get 365 views, one for each day, than to select from the hundreds of pieces of literature which were part and parcel of early A.A. and its successful techniques.
How Long Will You Wait?
We’ve reached the point in Twelve Step history where there are few, if any, who ever met, talked to, or learned directly from Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob, Anne Smith, Henrietta Seiberling, Sam Shoemaker, Dr. Silkworth, or even A.A. Number Three—Bill Dotson. Hence speakers cannot speak from experience about these people. But they can learn!
Speakers can, could, and would (if asked) spend the same amount of time looking into A.A. history resources that Joe and Charlie spent in studying the Big Book so that they could explain it and teach it to our members all over the world. But finally, even these servants hung up their jock straps as they played “the last quarter of the game,” as Charlie put it to me.
Instead of bemoaning the absence of “old timers” or “elder statesmen” or “people who knew or were sponsored by Bob or Clarence Snyder” or those even archivists who have studied and know the archives, why not bring up a new crop?
Would you rather listen to Eli Whitney tell you how he invented the cotton gin, or would you find it more instructive if a football star told you how he helped win the Super Bowl?
Look at the Early Teachers
Our founders were humble. Our founders were students. Our founders were ever on a quest to learn more. Our founders believed in God. Our founders read the Bible. Our founders read all kinds of religious literature. Our founders put their learning to use in directly working to help others with what they had found. Dr. Bob read the Bible three times to refresh his memory before helping others with Bible materials. Anne Smith was in the trenches, reading her Bible, suggesting literature, and teaching from her journal. So was Henrietta Seiberling. So were Mr. and Mrs. T. Henry Williams. And so was Bill until he got hung up with depressions shortly after he published the Big Book. Sam Shoemaker never stopped writing, preaching, and teaching. And these, plus Dr. Silkworth, were the people who handed us the most information.
And What About You!
Are you willing to look for speakers, sponsors, and programs which will provide a full platter of information? Are you willing to read whatever you need to read to learn what you’ve been missing? Are you willing to organize meetings, seminars, and conferences that will tell others our history? Are you willing to pass along what you learn? Are you willing to stand up and be counted when someone asks if you believe in God, if you believe in the importance of the Bible to AAs, if Jesus Christ has any place in your heart, and if you attend a church or Bible fellowship or Christian study group?
Are you willing to be a student, a researcher, a learner, a speaker, a teacher, an organizer, and a supporter of the quest to learn the truth and carry it to others in order to help them recover, get well, and be cured?
Would you rather promote and pass on information about the program Frank Amos described when he told of the five-point program in Akron that had produced such astonishing results? It’s all plainly there for you to see in A.A.’s own DR. BOB and the Oldtimers on page 131.You don’t even have to go to the bookstore or library. Surprise! You can study the Book of James, the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13 by buying a used Bible and reading it. You don’t even have to go to church or to your rabbi, minister, or priest. Although it could help!
If you don’t want to be one who does or leads, are you willing to support those who do? Do you realize that in the World Services offices of A.A. itself there are scrap books that contain hundreds of newspaper clippings and articles that tell of the cures early AAs claimed they had received at the hands of their Creator. Have you thought of ordering, reading, or donating one where it will actually help someone?
And, if you found great joy, at learning what the Big Book was all about and how to take the Twelve Steps properly, are you willing to start or join a group that does this and studies history as well?
The Bottom Line
Have you helped a drunk today? Do you belong to a group that really carries out its primary purpose of helping the alcoholic who still suffers? Do you vote with your feet when you hear a speaker, a sponsor, or a counselor who talks about “higher powers,” about “spirituality,” about meetings, about how much he drank, about how much trouble he had, and yet who never mentions whether or not he established a relationship with God and has had something more than a dry drunk in his life?
Think about it. Think how much you can help others if you are able to tell them what God has done for you, what God did for the pioneers, and how they learned about Him from the Good Book!
Dick B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; email@example.com; 808 874 4876