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NOVEMBER 9, 1957
WITH THE PROBLEM OF THE DRINKER
ANONYMOUS COMES OF AGE
BRIEF HISTORY OF A.A.
the first four years of its existence the membership of
Alcoholics Anonymous totaled only one hundred persons. Today
the membership is over 200,000 in 7,000 groups in 70 countries
and U.S. possessions. The present volume, most of which
has been written (anonymously, of course) by the surviving
co-founder of A. A., is the fascinating story of the beginnings
and the development of this unique organization. No other
movement or method has been so successful in the large-scale
recovery of alcoholics.
author, Bill W., begins with an account of the Twentieth
Anniversary Convention of A.A. at St. Louis, and uses the
proceedings there as a starting point for a series of flashbacks
which reveal the principal events in the early days of the
movement. A. A. originally had a close connection with the
Oxford Groups and was influenced in some of its terminology,
ideas and methods by that movement. Fortunately for Catholics,
however, it completely divorced itself from that movement
at an early date in its history, and never incorporated
into its program any of those theological ideas or practices
which made the Oxford Group movement unacceptable to Catholics.
first part of the book ends with an account of how the old-timers
in A. A., on July 3, 1955, turned over the affairs of the
organization to the fellowship itself, as represented by
its General Service conference. "There our fellowship
declared itself come to the age of full responsibility,
and there it received from its founders and old-timers permanent
keeping of its three great legacies of Recovery, Unity and
Legacy of Recovery is embodied in the Twelve Steps, the
heart of "the program." The Legacy of Unity is
embodied in the Twelve Traditions, which are the fruit of
A. A. experience in the days of its mushroom growth. These
traditions are meant to safeguard the unity of the fellowship
with a minimum of organization and an absolute minimum of
anything like formal authority or government. The Third
Legacy, of Service, is essentially derived from the Steps
and Traditions, especially the Twelfth Step; "Having
had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps,
we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice
these principles in all our affairs" but the Third
Legacy is administered, as it were, by the elected representatives
who constitute the General Service Conference. This is not
a governing body -- there is none in A.A. It exists merely
to provide the services which are obviously required if
the message of Recovery is to be spread around the world.
renunciation of formal authority over its members goes so
far that it does not even claim the right to determine who
are or who are not members. There are sanctions, of course.
First, the most powerful one of John Barleycorn himself,
who may well condemn to death those who do not live by the
Steps and Traditions and who thus relapse. There is also
the sanction of public opinion within the fellowship, which
may bear heavily on those who do not conform to some important
traditions, e.g., that of anonymity at the public level.
It remains to be seen whether in the course of time such
vague and indeterminate sanctions will continue to be both
effective in maintaining some basic unity in the organization,
and just to the individual members, who are frequently assured,
on being received into the groups, that 'there are no rules
and no musts in A. A."
the co-founder, explains the three legacies in three talks
which in substance were delivered by him at the St. Louis
convention; they continue the narration of A. A.'s history
and growth. This method of grouping past events around the
ideas of Recovery, Unity and Service, though it forsakes
chronological order, is a very effective method of imparting
instruction and maintaining interest at the same time. It
would be confusing were it not for an excellent chronological
table provided at the beginning of the book. In the last
pages there are included some of the talks given by friends
of A. A. at the St. Louis convention. One chapter is entitled
'Medicine Looks at A. A.," and another "Religion
Looks at A.A."
A. emphatically repudiates the idea that it is a religious
sect or movement, or that it advocates any system of theological
doctrine. Except for the simple idea that the alcoholic
should acknowledge a Higher Power, "God, as we understood
Him," and should ask for God's help, A. A. steers clear
of any further theological involvement. An important declaration
is made on p. 232 by Bill W. "Speaking for Dr. Bob
(the other co-founder) and myself I would like to say that
there has never been the slightest intent, on his part or
mine, of trying to found a new religious denomination. Dr.
Bob held certain religious convictions, and so do I. This
is, of course, the personal privilege of every A. A. member.
Nothing, however, would be so unfortunate for A. A.'s future
as an attempt to incorporate any of our personal theological
views into A. A.'s teaching, practice or traditions. Were
Dr. Bob still with us, I am positive he would agree that
we could never be too emphatic about this matter."
will find in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions nothing
contrary to Catholic ascetical and theological teaching.
In fact the vast majority of Catholics who sober up in A.
A. become better Catholics in the process.
only the members of A. A. will enjoy this well-written and
absorbing account. Anyone who is interested in seeing what
can happen when men and women with a common problem love
and help one another should read it. The paradox of victory
through defeat comes to life here.