did A.A. learn from the Oxford Group and why did they
first step was derived largely from my own physician,
Dr. Silkworth, and my sponsor Ebby and his friend, from
Dr. Jung of Zurich. I refer to the medical hopelessness
of alcoholism - our 'powerlessness' over alcohol.
The rest of the Twelve Steps stem directly from those
Oxford Group teachings that applied specifically to
us. Of course these teachings were nothing new; we might
have obtained them from your own Church. They were,
in effect, an examination of conscience, confession,
restitution, helpfulness to others, and prayer.
I should acknowledge our great debt to the Oxford Group
people. It was fortunate that they laid particular emphasis
on spiritual principles that we needed. But in fairness
it should also be said that many of their attitudes
and practices did not work well at all for us alcoholics.
These were rejected one by one and they caused our later
withdrawal from this society to a fellowship of our
own - today's Alcoholics Anonymous.
Perhaps I should specifically outline why we felt it
necessary to part company with them. To begin with,
the climate of their undertaking was not well suited
to us alcoholics. They were aggressively evangelical.
They sought to re-vitalize the Christian message in
such a way as to "change the world." Most of us alcoholics
had been subjected to pressure of evangelism and we
never liked it. The object of saving the world - when
it was still very much in doubt if we could save ourselves
- seemed better left to other people. By reason of some
of its terminology and by exertion of huge pressure,
the Oxford Group set a moral stride that was too fast,
particularly for our newer alcoholics. They constantly
talked of Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, Absolute
Honesty, and Absolute Love. While sound theology must
always have its absolute values, the Oxford Groups created
the feeling that one should arrive at these destinations
in short order, maybe by next Thursday! Perhaps they
didn't mean to create such an impression but that was
the effect. Sometimes their public "witnessing" was
of such a character to cause us to be shy. They also
believed that by "converting" prominent people to their
beliefs, they would hasten the salvation of many who
were less prominent. This attitude could scarcely appeal
to the average drunk since he was anything but distinguished.
The Oxford Group also had attitudes and practices which
added up to a highly coercive authority. This was exercised
by "teams" of older members. They would gather in meditation
and receive specific guidance for the life conduct of
newcomers. This guidance could cover all possible situations
from the most trivial to the most serious. If the directions
so obtained were not followed, the enforcement machinery
began to operate. It consisted of a sort of coldness
and aloofness which made recalcitrants feel they weren't
wanted. At one time, for example, a "team" got guidance
for me to the effect that I was no longer to work with
alcoholics. This I could not accept.
Another example: When I first contacted the Oxford Groups,
Catholics were permitted to attend their meetings because
they were strictly non-denominational. But after a time
the Catholic Church forbade its members to attend and
the reason for this seemed a good one. Through the Oxford
Group "teams", Catholic Church members were actually
receiving specific guidance for their lives; they were
often infused with the idea that their Church had become
rather horse-and-buggy, and needed to be "changed."
Guidance was frequently given that contributions should
be made to the Oxford Groups. In a way this amounted
to putting Catholics under a separate ecclesiastical
jurisdiction. At this time there were few Catholics
in our alcoholic groups. Obviously we could not approach
any more Catholics under Oxford Group auspices. Therefore
this was another, and the basic reason for the withdrawal
of our alcoholic crowd from the Oxford Groups notwithstanding
our great debt to them. (N.C.C.A. 'Blue Book', Vol.
12, 1960) .
first A.A. group had come into being but we still had
no name. Those were the years of flying blind, those
ensuing two or three years. A slip in those days was
a dreadful calamity. We would look at each other and
wonder who might be next. Failure! Failure! Failure
was our constant companion.
I returned home from Akron now endowed with a more becoming
humility and less preaching and a few people began to
come to us, a few in Cleveland and Akron. I had got
back into business briefly and again Wall Street collapsed
and took me with it as usual. So I set out West to see
if there was something I could do in that country. Dr.
Bob and I of course had been corresponding but it wasn't
until one late fall afternoon in 1937 that I reached
his house and sat in his living room. I can recall the
scene as though it were yesterday and we got out a pencil
and paper and we began to put down the names of those
people in Akron, New York and that little sprinkling
in Cleveland who had been dry a while and despite the
large number of failures it finally burst upon us that
forty people had got a real release and had significant
dry time behind them. I shall never forget that great
and humbling hour of realization. Bob and I saw for
the first time that a new light had begun to shine down
upon us alcoholics, had begun to shine upon the children
of the night.
That realization brought an immense responsibility.
Naturally, we thought at once, how shall what we forty
know be carried to the millions who don't know? Within
gunshot of this house there must be others like us who
are thoroughly bothered by this obsession. How shall
they know? How is this going to be transmitted?
Up to this time as you must be aware, A.A. was utterly
simple. It filled the full measure of simplicity as
is since demanded by a lot of people. I guess we old
timers all have a nostalgia about those halcyon days
of simplicity when thank God there were no founders
and no money and there were no meeting places, just
parlors. Annie and Lois baking cakes and making coffee
for those drunks in the living room. We didn't even
have a name! We just called ourselves a bunch of drunks
trying to get sober. We were more anonymous than we
are now. Yes, it was all very simple. But, here was
a new realization, what was the responsibility of the
forty men to those who did not know?
Well, I have been in the world of business, a rather
hectic world of business, the world of Wall Street.
I suspect that I was a good deal of a promoter and a
bit of a salesman, rather better than I am here today.
So I began to think in business man's terms. We had
discovered that the hospitals did not want us drinkers
because, we were poor payers and never got well. So,
why shouldn't we have our own hospitals and I envisioned
a great chain of drunk tanks and hospitals spreading
across the land. Probably, I could sell stocks in those
and we could damn well eat as well as save drunks.
Then too, Dr. Bob and I recalled that it had been a
very tedious and slow business to sober up forty people,
it had taken about three years and in those days we
old timers had the vainglory to suppose that nobody
else could really do this job but us. So we naturally
thought in terms of having alcoholic missionaries, no
disparagement to missionaries to be sure. In other words,
people would be grubstaked for a year or two, moved
to Chicago, St. Louis, Frisco and so on and start little
centers and meanwhile we would be financing this string
of drunk tanks and began to suck them into these places.
Yes, we would need missionaries and hospitals! Then
came one reflection that did make some sense.
It seemed very clear that what we had already found
out should be put on paper. We needed a book, so Dr.
Bob called a meeting for the very next night and in
that little meeting of a dozen and a half, a historic
decision was taken which deeply affected our destiny.
It was in the living room of a nonalcoholic friend who
let us come there because his living room was bigger
than the Smith's parlor and he loved us. I too, remember
that day as if it were yesterday.
So, Smithy and I explained this new obligation which
depended on us forty. How are we to carry this message
to the ones who do not know? I began to wind up my promotion
talk about the hospitals and the missionaries and the
book and I saw their faces fall and straight away that
meeting divided into three significant parts. There
was the promoter section of which I was definitely one.
There was the section that was indifferent and there
was what you might call the orthodox section.
The orthodox section was very vocal and it said with
good reason, "Look! Put us into business and we are
lost. This works because it is simple, because everybody
works at it, because nobody makes anything out of it
and because no one has any axe to grind except his sobriety
and the other guy's. If you publish a book we will have
infinite quarrels about the damn thing. It will get
us into business and the clinker of the orthodox section
was that our Lord, Himself, had no book.
Well, it was impressive and events proved that the orthodox
people were practically right, but, thank God, not fully
right. Then there were the indifferent ones who thought,
well, if Smitty and Bill think we ought to do these
things, well, its all right with us. So the indifferent
ones, plus the promoters out voted the orthodoxy and
said "If you want to do these things Bill, you go back
to New York where there is a lot of dough and you get
the money and then we'll see."
Well, by this time I'm higher than a kite you know.
Promoters can stay high on something besides alcohol.
I was already taking about the greatest medical development,
greatest spiritual development, greatest social development
of all time. Think of it, forty drunks. (Chicago, Ill.,