Mr. X and Alcoholics Anonymous
by Rev. Dilworth Lupton
was a sermon preached on November 26, 1939 by Dilworth Lupton
at the First Unitarian Church (Universalist - Unitarian), Euclid
at East 82nd Street, Cleveland, Ohio.
X was Clarence H. Snyder. This was one of the first pamphlets
concerning A.A. and was used by A.A. members in Cleveland in the
late 1930's and early 1940's.
Mr. X and Alcoholics Anonymous
friend, Mr. X, is a young man with a family. For five years, to
use his own words, Mr. X did not "draw a sober breath." His over-patient
wife was about to sue him for divorce. Now for over two years,
he has not had a single drink. He maintains that his "cure" is
due to the efforts of a group of "ex-drunks" (their own term)
who call themselves Alcoholics Anonymous.
have had several opportunities to meet members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Not long ago I accepted an invitation from Mr. X to attend one
of their meetings, held in a private home. They are simple affairs:
First a brief prayer, then four or five give public testimony
to their experiences, refreshments are served, and there is general
fellowship. They call themselves religious, but I find no sign
of excessive piety, sensationalism, or fanaticism. Furthermore
they have a sense of humor, somewhat of a rarity in religious
circles. They are not trying to make other people or the country
into "dries." They merely say, "We are the type that can't take
it, and we have found a way of leaving it alone."
my own home recently nine members of this group submitted themselves
to questions for four hours from a prominent physician and a psychiatrist.
Both were impressed by the trim appearance, sincerity, manliness
of the ex-victims, and by the seeming efficacy of their methods.
As the physician said to me privately, "These boys have got something!"
God someone is throwing light on the problem of the chronic alcoholic,
a problem that has perplexed men for centuries. There may be a
million victims in the United States. Chronic alcoholism is not
a vice but a disease. Its victims know that the habit is exceedingly
harmful - as one of them graphically expressed it to me, "I was
staring into a pine box" - but they are driven toward drink by
an uncontrollable desire, by what psychologists call a compulsive
abstinence appears the only way out, but except in rare cases
that has been impossible of attainment. Religion, psychiatry,
and medicine have been tried, but with only sporadic success.
The members of Alcoholics Anonymous, however, appear to have found
an answer, for they claim that at least fifty per cent of those
they interest have stopped drinking completely.
conversations with my friend, Mr. X, and with members of the Cleveland
group, I am convinced that this success comes through the application
of four religious principles that are as old as the Ten Commandments.
1. The principle of spiritual
X, who had been drinking excessively for years, found that he
couldn't summon enough will power to stop even for a single day.
Finally in desperation he consented to a week of hospital treatment.
During this time he received frequent visits from members of Alcoholics
Anonymous. They told him that he must stop trying to use his will
and trust in a Power greater than himself. Such trust had saved
them from the abyss and could save him. Believe or perish! Mr.
X chose to believe. Within a few days he lost all desire for alcohol.
in God seems to be the heart of the whole movement. Religion must
be more than a mere set of beliefs; it must be a profound inner
experience, faith in a Presence to which one may go for strength
in time of weakness.
fact is made quite clear in the book ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, which
gives the philosophy behind the movement and also the testimony
of thirty of those who have benefited. Although written by laymen
it contains more psychological and religious common-sense than
one often reads in volumes by religious professionals. The book
is free from cant, from archaic phraseology. It gives with skill
and intelligence an inside view of the alcohol problem and the
technique through which these men have found their freedom.
will let "Bill," one of the contributors to ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS,
describe his own experience. He had been drinking in his kitchen
- there was enough gin in the house to carry him through that
night and the next day. An old friend came to see him. They had
often been drunk together, but now he refused to drink! He had
"got religion." He talked for hours...it all seemed impossible,
and yet there he was, sober. But let me quote from the book:
God had done for him what he
could not do for himself. His human will had failed. Doctors had
pronounced him incurable. Society was about to lock him up. Like
myself, he had admitted complete defeat. Then he had, in effect,
been raised from the dead, suddenly taken from the scrap heap
to a level of life better than the best he had ever known!
Had this power originated in
him? Obviously it had not. There had been no more power in him
than there was in me at that moment, and this was none at all.
That floored me. It began to
look as though religious people were right after all. Here was
something at work in a human heart which had done the impossible.
My ideas about miracles were drastically revised right then. Never
mind the musty past; here sat a miracle directly across the kitchen
table. He shouted great tidings.*
*Alcoholics Anonymous (New York,
AAWS, Inc., 1976), p. 11
hard is it for us moderns to concede - much less express it as
our deep conviction - that our inner lives ultimately are dependent
upon a power-not-ourselves. Such an attitude seems weak and cowardly.
But we go even farther; we suspect that faith in a spiritual Presence
outside ourselves is absurd.
absurd? Our bodies are dependent ultimately upon the physical
cosmos, upon air and sunlight, and upon this strange planet that
bears us up. Why is it absurd then, to think of our spiritual
selves - our souls, psyches, call them what you will - as being
dependent upon a spiritual cosmos? Is it not absurd, rather to
conceive that the material side of us is part of a material universe,
but that our nature is isolated, alone, independent? Is not such
an attitude a kind of megalomania?
any rate these ex-alcoholics declare that only when they recognized
their spiritual dependence was their obsession broken.
2. The principle of universality
our great museums one usually finds paintings covering several
ages of art, often brought together from widely separated localities
- the primitive, medieval and modern periods; products of French,
American, English, and Dutch masters; treasures from China, Japan,
and India. Yet as one looks at these productions he instinctively
feels that a universal beauty runs through them all. Beauty knows
no particular age or school. Beauty is never exclusive and provincial;
it is inclusive and universal.
too, in the field of religion. We are beginning to recognize the
substantial unity of all religious faiths. Back of all religions
is religion itself. Religion appears in differing types, but they
are all expressions of one great impulse to live nobly and to
adore the highest.
universality of religion is recognized by the Alcoholics Anonymous.
Their meetings are attended by Catholics, Protestants, Jews, near-agnostics,
and near-atheists. There is the utmost tolerance. It seems of
no concern to the group with what religious bodies non-church-going
members eventually identify themselves; indeed there is no pressure
to join any church whatever. What particularly impresses me is
the fact that each individual can conceive of the Power-not-himself
in whatever terms he pleases.
- the writer already quoted in ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS - makes this
tolerance clear when he further narrates his conversation with
his ex-alcoholic friend:
My friend suggested what then
seemed a novel idea. He said, 'Why don't you choose your own
conception of God?'
That statement hit me hard. It
melted the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived
and shivered many years. I stood in the sunlight at last.
It was only a matter of
being willing to believe in a power greater than myself. Nothing
more was required of me to make my beginning. I saw that growth
could start from that point. Upon a foundation of complete willingness
I might build what I saw in my friend. Would I have it? Of course
*Alcoholics Anonymous (New York,
AAWS, Inc., 1976), p. 12
these laymen in Alcoholics Anonymous are laying foundations for
a new universal movement in religion. Surely the conventional
conceptions of religion have been too narrow. Religion, itself,
is far bigger and broader than we thought. It is something we
can no more capture through rigid dogmas than we can squeeze all
the sunshine in the world through one window.
3. The principle of mutual
again the case of Mr. X. When he was being hospitalized eighteen
laymen visitors called on him within the brief space of five days.
These men were willing to give their valuable time in trying to
help a man they had never seen before. To Mr. X they related their
own dramatic experiences in being saved from slavery to alcohol,
and offered their assistance. Upon leaving the hospital Mr. X
began attending the weekly meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. (editor's
note- these were actually meetings of the Oxford Group as Alcoholics
Anonymous was not officially named in 1938)
long he was following the example of the men who had so generously
given him of their help. From what I know of the practices of
these members of Alcoholics Anonymous, I feel quite confident
that Mr. X this very day is using virtually every hour of his
spare time to assist other victims in getting on their feet.
he said to me recently, "Only an alcoholic can help an alcoholic.
If a victim of chronic alcoholism goes to a doctor, psychiatrist,
or a minister, he feels the listener cannot possibly understand
what it means to be afflicted with a compulsion psychosis. But
when he talks with an ex-alcoholic, who has probably been in a
worse fix than himself and has found the way out, he immediately
gains a confidence in himself that he hasn't had in years. He
says to himself in substance, 'If this fellow has been saved from
disaster I can be too'."
weekly meetings of the Alcoholics Anonymous operate on this same
principal of mutual aid. The ex-victims bolster up each other's
morale through comradeship. Like ship-wrecked sailors on a raft
headed for the shore, the bond that holds them together is the
same that they have escaped from a common peril. Upon each newcomer
is impressed the necessity of helping other alcoholics obtain
the freedom he has attained. They believe they gain strength from
expenditure - not expenditure of money, of which most of them
have but little, but of themselves. Said one of them to me, "What
I have is no good unless I give it away." There are no dues, no
fees, just the sheer pleasure and, in this case, moral profit,
that comes from helping the other fellow. This mutual aid acts
as a sort of endless chain. Mr. A, Mr. B, and Mr. C help Mr. X
out of the frightful mess hi is in; then Mr. X turns around and
helps Mr. Y and Mr. Z. These in turn help other victims.
"Bill" writes in ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS:
My wife and I abandoned ourselves
with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution
of their problems. It was fortunate, for my old business associates
remained skeptical for a year and a half, during which I found
little work. I was not too well at the time, and was plagued by
waves of self-pity and resentment. This sometimes nearly drove
me back to drink. I soon found that when all other measures failed,
work with another alcoholic would save the day. Many times I have
gone to my old hospital in despair. On talking to a man there,
I would be amazingly uplifted and set on my feet. It is a design
for living that works in rough going.*
(New York, AAWS, Inc., 1976), p. 15
4. The principle of transformation
the last half century many able psychologists have turned the
searchlight of their investigations on "religious experience."
It seems quite clear from these studies that religion consists
not primarily in the intellectual acceptance of certain beliefs.
It involves even more the transformation of human character. Such
transformations have taken place not only in the lives of saints
and religious leaders, but in the souls of multitudes of common
folk as well. It is a scientific fact that through religious faith
people are sometimes suddenly, and sometimes gradually aroused
to a new set of interests, are raised from lower to higher levels
of existence. Life and its duties take on new meaning, and selfishness
(half-conscious often) is displaced by the conscious desire to
help other people.
any human being needs such a transformation, it is the chronic
alcoholic. He may not be at the point where he is willing to admit
that, but his family and friends are! Alcoholism is a sickness,
to be sure, but it is unlike any other malady in certain fundamental
aspects. Compare for example, the case of the alcoholic with that
of a tubercular patient. Everybody is sorry for the "T.B." and
wants to help. He is surrounded by friendliness and love. But
in all likelihood, the alcoholic has made a perfect hell of his
home and has destroyed his friendships one by one. He has drawn
to himself not compassion and love, but misunderstanding, resentment,
seems to be every evidence that the Alcoholics Anonymous group
has been amazingly successful in bringing about religious transformation.
Note how a doctor describes the effect of this technique on one
of his patients:
He had lost everything worth
while in his life and was only living, one might say, to drink.
He frankly admitted and believed that for him there was no hope.
Following the elimination of alcohol, there was found to be no
permanent brain injury. He accepted the plan outlined in this
book (ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS). One year later he called to see me,
and I experienced a very strange sensation. I knew this man by
name, and partly recognized his features, but there all resemblance
ended. From a trembling, despairing, nervous wreck, had emerged
a man brimming over with self-reliance and contentment. I talked
with him for some time, but was not able to bring myself to feel
that I had known him before. To me he was a stranger, and so he
left me. More than three years have now passed with no return
"The Doctor's Opinion" (New York, AAWS,
Inc., 1976), p. xxix
member of this movement declares that since he has come to believe
in a Power-greater-than-himself a revolutionary change has taken
place in his life; even his acquaintances note a marked change.
He has radically altered his attitudes and outlooks, his habits
of thought. In the face of despair and impending collapse, he
has gained a new sense of direction, new power.
have seen these things with my own eyes. They are convincing,
final word to the members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Go back to
your synagogues and churches; they need you and you need them.
Preserve your principle of Universality, your faith that all religion
is one. Never allow yourselves to be absorbed by any single church
or sect. Keep your movement what you call it now, a "layman's
outfit." Avoid over-organization for religious organizations always
tend to follow the letter rather than the spirit, finally crushing
the spirit. Remember that early Christianity was promoted not
by highly involved organization, but by the contagion of souls
fired with enthusiasm for their cause. And keep your sense of
humor! So far you do not seem afflicted with the curse of over-seriousness.
doctors and psychiatrists I would say; Be skeptical, investigate
this movement with an open mind. If you become convinced of their
sincerity and the efficacy of their methods, give these men your
approval and open support.
ANONYMOUS ought to have a wide reading by the general public.
For one thing the public ought to learn first hand that the chronic
alcoholic is suffering not from a vice, but from a disease; that
it is impossible for him to "drink like a gentleman." Moderation
for him is out of the question. For him there is no such thing
as the single drink. It is one taste, and then the deluge.
every victim of alcoholism and every friend of victims ought to
buy or borrow and read this book, then seek to get in touch with
some member of the movement. The writer of this article will be
glad to furnish addresses of the Cleveland leaders. Or communicate
with Alcoholics Anonymous, Box 658, Church Street Annex, New York