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23, 1939 Cleveland Plain Dealer
Alcoholics Anonymous Makes
Its Stand Here
ELRICK B. DAVIS
a previous installment, Mr. Davis outlined the plan of Alcoholics
Anonymous, an organization of former drinkers who have found
a solution to liquor in association for mutual aid. This
is the second of a series.
There is no blinking the fact that Alcoholics Anonymous,
the amazing society of ex-drunks who have cured each other
of an incurable disease, is religious. Its members have
cured each other frankly with the help of God. Every cured
member of the Cleveland Fellowship of the society, like
every cured member of the other chapters now established
in Akron, New York, and elsewhere in the country, is cured
with the admission that he submitted his plight wholeheartedly
to a Power Greater than Himself.
He has admitted his conviction that science cannot cure
him, that he cannot control his pathological craving for
alcohol himself, and that he cannot be cured by the prayers,
threats, or pleas of his family, employers, or friends.
His cure is a religious experience. He had to have God's
aid. He had to submit to a spiritual housecleaning.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a completely informal society, wholly
latitudinarian in every respect but one. It prescribes a
simple spiritual discipline, which must be followed rigidly
every day. The discipline is fully explained in a book published
by the society.
That is what makes the notion of the cure hard for the usual
alcoholic to take, at first glance, no matter how complete
his despair. He wants to join no cult. He has lost faith,
if he ever had it, in the power of religion to help him.
But each of the cures accomplished by Alcoholics Anonymous
is a spiritual awakening. The ex-drunk has adopted what
the society calls "a spiritual way of life."
How, then, does Alcoholics Anonymous differ from the other
great religious movements which have changed social history
in America? Wherein does the yielding to God that saves
a member of this society from his fatal disease, differ
from that which brought the Great Awakening that Jonathan
Edwards preached, or the New Light revival of a century
ago, or the flowering of Christian Science, or the campmeeting
evangelism of the old Kentucky-Ohio frontier, or the Oxford
Group successes nowadays?
Every member of Alcoholics Anonymous may define God to suit
himself. God to him may be the Christian God defined by
the Thomism of the Roman Catholic Church. Or the stern Father
of the Calvinist. Or the Great Manitou of the American Indian.
Or the Implicit Good assumed in the logical morality of
Confucius. Or Allah, or Buddha, or the Jehovah of the Jews.
Or Christ the Scientist. Or no more than the Kindly Spirit
implicitly assumed in the "atheism" of a Col.
If the alcoholic who comes to the fellowship for help believes
in God, in the specific way of any religion or sect, the
job of cure is easier. But if all that the pathological
drunk can do is to say, with honesty, in his heart: "Supreme
Something, I am done for without more-than-human help,"
that is enough for Alcoholics Anonymous to work on. The
noble prayers, the great literatures, and the time-proved
disciplines of the established religions are a great help.
But as far as the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is
concerned, a pathological drunk can call God "It"
if he wants to, and is willing to accept Its aid. If he'll
do that, he can be cured.
Poll of "incurable" alcoholics who now, cured,
are members of the Cleveland Fellowship of the society,
shows that this has made literally life-saving religious
experience possible to men and women who, otherwise, could
not have accepted spiritual help. Poll shows also that collectively
their religious experience has covered every variety known
to religious psychology. Some have had an experience as
blindingly bright as that which struck down Saul on the
road to Damascus. Some are not even yet intellectually convinced
except to the degree that they see that living their lives
on a spiritual basis has cured them of a fatal disease.
Drunk for years because they couldn't help it, now it never
occurs to them to want a drink. Whatever accounts for that,
they are willing to call "God."
Some find more help in formal religion than do others. A
good many of the Akron chapter find help in the practices
of the Oxford Group. The Cleveland chapter includes a number
of Catholics and several Jews, and at least one man to whom
"God" is "Nature." Some practice family
devotions. Some simply cogitate about "It" in
the silence of their minds. But that the Great Healer cured
them with only the help of their fellow ex-drunks, they
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