Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA

 Last updated:
July 31, 2013

Alcoholics Anonymous History
The A.A. “higher power” Iceberg.
Steam the Other Way. No Titanic for A.A.

By Dick B.
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved

Academia and a small group of the clergy have been pushing “nonsense gods” ever since A.A.'s Akron Christian Recovery program was founded in June 1935.

What are these “nonsense gods?” They are “higher powers” that are called light bulbs, "Somebody," "Something," a tree, a Coke Bottle, the Big Dipper, the back end of a city bus, a chair, a table, a radiator, Gertrude, Ralph, and any "power greater than yourself."

Rev. Sam Shoemaker, called by Bill W. a "cofounder of A.A.," tried to help AAs and Christians become aware of this idolatry. He decried "absurd modern names for God,"[1] "self-made religion," and "half-baked prayers."[2] Shoemaker made comments along these lines in his talks at the International A.A. Conventions in St. Louis (1955)[3] and Long Beach (1960).[4] You can find his solution in one of his earliest books, Realizing Religion.

In that early book Realizing Religion--introducing many ideas Bill W. was later to incorporate in his Twelve Steps and the language of his Big Book of 1939--Shoemaker made the spiritual battle plain.

He pointed to the need for "finding" God. He discussed becoming "born again." He discussed the "turning point." He discussed the need for a "vital religious experience."[5]

Shoemaker's simple explanation of man's spiritual problem--spiritual misery--certainly didn't point to light bulbs or chairs as a solution. Who would pray to a chair for relief from alcoholism! Who would try to find "power" in Ralph? Who would claim to understand that a "higher power" could be understood and relied upon to produce the miraculous of cure of alcoholism? Who would assert that the A.A. "solution" on page 25 of the Big Book entailed the back end of a city bus entering into your heart in a way that is truly miraculous? Absurdities all!

We now know from Bill W.'s own discussion on pages 166-67 of the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age that this whole shift to a ridiculous "broad highway" for alcoholics and addicts resulted in part from Bill’s having yielded to the irreligious begging of his partner Hank Parkhurst. Although Bill stated that he (Bill W.) “had consistently used the word ‘God’” in “the original draft” of the Twelve Steps, he went on to state that—as a result of the compromise he reached with Hank, Fitz, and Ruth--they removed the word “God” from Step Two and “decided to describe God as a ‘Power greater than ourselves.’” Bill further stated: “In Steps Three and Eleven we inserted the words ‘God as we understood Him.’” Rev. Sam Shoemaker had often used language similar to “a Power greater than ourselves,” and he had used a version of the expression “God as we understood Him” in Children of the Second Birth, and The Way to Find God. But Bill admitted that his changing of the wording of Steps Two, Three, and Eleven from his original, unmodified use of the word “God” to the wording of those Steps as they are found in the first and following editions of the Big Book was done to appease “our atheists and agnostics” (of whom there were practically none in the earliest A.A. days before the Big Book was published in April 1939).

Shoemaker made it clear that God as he (Shoemaker) understood Him was Yahweh (as He calls Himself in the Scriptures)[6]--the Creator,[7] the Maker,[8] and God Almighty[9] (as He is described in the Scriptures). Bill W. stated, in reporting what happened when his hospital room at Towns Hospital “blazed with an indescribably white light” in mid-December 1934:

And then the great thought burst upon me: ‘Bill, you are a free man! This is the God of the Scriptures.’” And then I was filled with a consciousness of a presence. A great peace fell over me, . . .[10]

It was “the God of the Scriptures” to whom Bill W. was referring in 133 occurrences of the word “God” in pages 1-164 of the fourth edition of the Big Book.[11] It was “the God of the Scriptures” to whom Bill was referring in his 81 uses of capitalized pronouns in those same 164 pages.[12] And it was “the God of the Scriptures” to whom Bill was referring in his 12 mentions of the word “Creator” (with a capital “C”),[13] his two mentions of “Maker” (with a capital “M”),[14] and his mentions of “the Father” and of “the Father of Light.”[15] As A.A. cofounder Bill W. put it, for the alcoholic to be delivered from alcoholism—“The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house.”[16] As A.A.’s other cofounder, Dr. Bob, put it in his personal story in the Big Book:

Your Heavenly Father will never let you down![17]

Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, a cofounder of AA, wrote these ideas in Realizing Religion--a decade before there even was an Alcoholics Anonymous. Shoemaker said: (1) Man suffers from spiritual misery. (2) Motor drives will not relieve it. (3) The spiritual misery is man's separation from God who meant man to be His (God's) companion. (4) “What you need is a vital religious experience,” Sam wrote. (5) “You need to find God.” (6) “You need Jesus Christ.”

And early Akron AAs responded to these ideas.

There were no “higher powers.” The “higher powers” were the product of people like Emmet Fox who claimed the doctrine of salvation in the Bible was bogus. In those early years, only a few people like William James, Ralph Waldo Trine, Fox, and Victor Kitchen--who talked "new thought" language--were introducing the idea of a "higher power"--a phrase  that will not be found in the Bible which early Akron AAs stressed.

Now, an American researcher and a British clergyman are holding a “higher power conference” to find out the various ways in which this weird phrase is understood. The answer? It is a diversion. It is idolatrous, And it is impotent. It surely is not understood because it's nonsense!

                                                                        Gloria Deo

[1] Excerpt from Sam Shoemaker’s talk at the International A.A. Convention in Long Beach in 1960 in Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., Pittsburgh ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999), 332.

[2] For “half-baked prayers,” see Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 265.

[3] A transcript of Sam Shoemaker’s talk at the International A.A. Convention in St. Louis in 1955 is found in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957, 1985), 261-70.

[4] For some excerpts of Sam Shoemaker’s talk at the International A.A. Convention in Long Beach in 1960, see Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism, 330-35.

[5] See Dick B., Turning Point:

[6] See, for example, the following verses in Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible (EB):

                “. . . Yahweh . . . This is my name to times age-abiding, . . .” (Exod 3:15)

                “. . . my name Yahweh . . .” (Exod 6:3)

                “I am Yahweh, that is my name, . . .” (Isa 42:8)

                “. . . my name is Yahweh.” (Jer 16:21)

                “. . . Yahweh is his name.” (Exod 15:3)

                “. . . Yahweh is his name.” (Jer 33:2)

                “. . . Yahweh is his name.” (Amos 5:8)

                “. . . Yahweh is his name.” (Amos 9:6)

[7] See, for example, the following verses:

                “. . . Yahweh, the Creator of the ends of the earth, . . .” (Isa 40:28 EB)

                “I am Yahweh, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your king.” [Isa 43:15 The Jerusalem Bible (JB)]

[8] See, for example, the following verses:

            “. . . Let us kneel before Yahweh our maker; For he is our God, . . .” (Ps 95:6-7 EB)

            “The rich and the poor, meet together, the maker of them all, is Yahweh.” (Prov 22:2 EB)

“At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel.” (Isa 17:7 KJV)

“That thou hast forgotten Yahweh thy maker, Who stretched out the heavens And founded the earth? . . .” (Isa 51:13 EB)

[9] See, for example, the following verses:

                “And God Almighty bless thee, . . .” (Gen 28:3 KJV)

                “And God said unto him, I [am] God Almighty: . . .” (Gen 35:11 KJV)

                “And God Almighty give you mercy . . . (Gen 43:14 KJV)

“And God spake unto Moses,—and said unto him, I, am Yahweh: I appeared, therefore, unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as GOD Almighty,—although, by my name Yahweh, was I not made known to them;” (Exod 6:2-3 EB)

[10] See The Language of the Heart: Bill W.’s Grapevine Writings (New York: The AA Grapevine, Inc., 1988), 284.

[11] For this count of the occurrences of the word “God” in the fourth edition of the Big Book, and for the counts of the capitalized pronouns and of the biblical descriptions of God, see: “Occurrences of the Word ‘God’ and Related Words on Pages 1-164 in Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (n.p.: n.p., December 17, 2013)

[12] I.e.: “He,” “His,” “Him,” “Thou,” “Thy,” and “Thee.”

[13] See pp. 13, 25, 28, 56, 68, 72, 75, 76, 80, 83, 158, and 161 of Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 2001.

[14] See pp. 57 and 63 of Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 2001.

[15] See page 62 and 14, respectively, of Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 2001.

[16] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 98.

[17] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 181.


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