By Dick B.
The other evening, I picked up an A.A. “Conference Approved” pamphlet at a meeting I attend quite often. The pamphlet bore the date, February, 1998. It was titled “The Twelve Steps Illustrated.”
Step 3 quoted the language of our Step Three. It had a picture of a man at the helm of a boat with his hands on the wheel. It said, “I let a Higher Power take over.” Step 7 correctly quoted the language of our Step Seven. It had a picture of a man with some chain that appeared to have been broken. It said, “I ask a Higher Power to help me be free.” Step 11 correctly quoted the language of our Step Eleven. It had a picture of a man at the helm again, with a searchlight beam shining on what might have been a compass. It said, “I ask a Higher Power for help to live the right way.”
The foregoing were the only words and illustrations on the pages. And let’s take a closer look. In each, there was a reference to “a” higher power. In each, the phrase higher power had been capitalized to read “Higher Power.” And we might ask, why the phrase “higher power” was substituted for reference to God. We might ask why the reference was to “a” higher power, thus implying there was a choice, rather than one God, one Heavenly Father, one Maker, one Creator of the heavens and the earth. We might also ask why the first letter in each of the words was capitalized so that the phrase read “Higher Power,” implying some A.A. conferred special divinity or special status or special “god.”
If you know your A.A. history, you know that the Steps do not now and never did have the phrase “higher power” in them. You know that the First Edition of the Big Book did not capitalize the first letter in both words. And you know that the Big Book text to this very day only refers to “higher power” twice. Both times, the reference and the context are to God–the same God that the Big Book called “Creator,” “Maker,” “Father,” “Spirit,” and “Father of lights.” All terms that refer to the God of the Bible. All terms that refer to the Big Book’s urging that there is ONE that has all power, that this ONE is God, and an imperative wish that the newcomer “find Him [the same ONE God, ONE Creator, ONE Maker] now!
We are never going to see a reversal of this trend, this literature, or this new god of one’s choosing which is “a” “Higher Power.”At best, I wanted to know where it came from because it certainly wasn’t from the Bible or early A.A.’s writings, sources, or roots. The pioneers never invented a new “god” or new “gods.” As far as I can tell, the origins of this strange new deity may be in the writings of (1) Ralph Waldo Trine (See In Tune with the Infinite), (2) Professor William James–James having some other strange names for this “higher power,” names that were hardly biblical (See Varieties of Religious Experience), and (3) Victor Kitchen’s I was a Pagan. It is only fair also to take a look at the reference in Romans to “higher powers” (which has nothing to do with Almighty God, nor with some new god or gods, nor with anything other than civil authority (Romans)
What we can do is get to the definitions which early AAs understood when they employed the words found in their Big Book and Twelve Steps.