my way to a favorite bar, I sometimes passed a church
sign whose blazing neon letters proclaimed: "JESUS
message annoyed me because I thought it was in poor
taste and tended to intrude on my privacy. I resented
the zeal of those who would erect such a sign. I agreed
that the world needed saving, but it would be saved
by tolerant, broadminded people like myself, not by
religious zealots. I hurried on towards neon signs that
seemed more inviting and to companions who did not threaten
my way of thinking.
was in the late 1940s. By April 1950 my reasonable way
of thinking had landed me in a state hospital as an
alcoholic patient. It hit me, then, that there were
some problems which individuals could not solve by intelligent
reasoning or personal determination. One of them was
alcoholism, and a mere glance about the hospital ward
told me that there were other more sinister human problems.
In short, I needed saving---from myself. At the same
time, I realized that I had no answers for the others
in the hospital, the victims of terrible mental and
my answer came via AA. Its principles and practices
have carried me over some very rough spots in the years
since 1950. In its way, curiously enough, AA has been
a form of personal salvation like that offered by the
old time religionists who proclaimed that "Jesus
Saves." It has neither altar call nor sawdust trail,
but some of its best ideas appear to have come from
the teachings of Jesus. In fact, some of AA’s
most novel and radical ideas are not new or different
at all; they are just new and different in our time.
Here are a few of them that first saw the light of day
in the sayings of Jesus:
all accounts, the principle of anonymity came to AA
in a gradual way, and was discovered almost by chance.
There were members who didn’t want their association
with the fellowship to be known, so the pioneers instituted
a policy of discreet silence. The AA founders also worried
about what would happen if a well-publicized member
slipped, so anonymity was also an attractive way to
protect the society from unfavorable publicity. Then
the AA book was published under the title "Alcoholics
Anonymous," chosen because its authors had no bylines.
The name caught on for the society and has become so
identified with the ideal of mutual help in problem-solving
that other societies have adopted the "anonymous"
anonymity also has a deep spiritual purpose. It is the
spiritual purpose that Jesus must have had in mind when
he warned against doing good for public praise: "Take
heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen
of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father
which is in heaven. When thou doest alms, do not sound
a trumpet before thee…That thine alms may be in
secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself
shall reward thee openly."
of AA’s startling ideas has been the tradition
that "our leaders are but trusted servants, they
do not govern." In a world that writhes with power
struggles, AA has been almost unique in putting a severe
limitation on the authority, tenure, and prestige of
its leaders. And for good reason. Power struggles, by
their very nature, generate the bitterness and resentment
that would destroy our effectiveness in carrying the
message. We cannot afford the strife that seems to be
second nature to many organizations.
did AA get this radical idea about limiting the power
of leaders? It may have been inspired, in part, by Jesus’
instructions to his own disciples: "Ye know that
the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them,
and they that are great exercise authority upon them…But
it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be
chief among you, let him be your servant."
Rather Than Promotion
is nothing short of miraculous that AA settled upon
a policy of "attraction rather than promotion"
quite soon after its origin. The very first AA member
was a stockbroker skilled in the arts of salesmanship
and persuasion, while others who soon followed him into
AA were advertising men and business promoters of all
types. What convinced those promoter types that something
besides the established ways of publicizing and advancing
an enterprise was needed for AA? If promotion is good
for business, why isn’t it good for AA?
reason for rejecting promotion is that we have nothing
to sell. Another reason may be in the ethics of the
thing:; promotion would be bad for us in the same way
that it’s deemed to be bad for certain professional
people.** But the best reason for putting aside promotion
may be that it’s simply inferior to attraction,
which is more appropriate for a spiritual fellowship.
the time this was written, professionals have begun
to advertise, making the comparison expressed here somewhat
out of date!
is also more lasting, because it tends to work on real
feelings of the heart rather than surface desires. Heavy
promotion might cause us to buy a certain automobile,
but it would never keep many of us in AA for long.
form of reaching others was called "letting your
light shine" in the sayings of Jesus: "Let
your light so shine before men, that they may see your
good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
The same thought is evident in the writing of Emerson
and others: we attract people by what we are and not
necessarily by what we say or do. If we are sincere
and unselfish, people intuitively understand this and
seek us out for help, but if we are hypocritical and
self-seeking they will turn away. It is always the quality
of AA that counts, never the quantity of publicity that
happens to be coming our way.
Principles Before Personalities
of the characteristics attributed to alcohol is that
"it’s no respecter of persons." Oddly
enough, this same attribute is often applied to God;
again and again, we hear that "He is no respecter
of persons." Both sayings are true for the same
reason: "Principles are no respecters of persons
and always take precedence over personalities."
alcoholic in his cups does not understand this truth.
He grovels before certain people, tries to grind certain
others in the dust, plots vengeance against those who
have harmed him, and makes pitiful attempts to love
and to reward the few who approve of him. He tends to
react to others rather than to respond to them in accordance
with certain principles in his own life. Thus, it is
all right in this distorted way of thinking to behave
badly towards some people because they "deserve"
it, and it is all right to cheat some individuals and
to steal from others.
are not the only people who fail to place principles
before personalities, and the problem must have been
rampant in Jesus’ day. Hence the following saying,
one of the great utterances of all time: "Ye have
heard that it hath been said, ‘Thou shalt love
thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. ‘ "
I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse
you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them
which despitefully use you and persecute you."
ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven:
for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the
good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?
Do not even the publicans the same?"
if ye salute your brethern only, what do ye more than
others? Do not even the publicans so?"
ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in
heaven is perfect."
should be obvious that the principles of Jesus which
have been stated in one form or another in the AA Traditions
directly concern the ordering of the society
of Alcoholics Anonymous, whereas the AA Twelve Steps
directly apply to the individual. The Twelve
Steps are indeed the vital organs of AA, but the Traditions
are the bones or framework without which the Steps would
cease to function.
Confession, and Restitution
also contributed ideas to AA’s Twelve Steps, though
these principles for personal recovery depended on AA’s
founding members for their present form. It is not true,
as some AA members believe, that the Twelve Steps can
be related to similar passages in the Holy Bible. With
one or two exceptions, such passages are not to be found.
But it certainly is true that the ideas of the
Twelve Steps and certain thoughts in specific scriptures
can be paralleled.
idea of taking personal inventory can be discerned in
Jesus’ emphasis on "cleaning the inside of
the cup" and his statement that it is what comes
out of the mouth (and the heart) that defiles a man.
He also warned against taking the other person’s
inventory: "Judge not that ye be not judged…And
why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s
eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own
or AA’s Fifth Step, comes from the Book of James,
which is sometimes called the "Little Sermon on
the Mount" and closely approximates, in tone at
least, the teachings directly attributable to Jesus:
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray for
one another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent
prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
AA’s Ninth and Tenth Steps, is to be found in
Jesus’ teachings on being reconciled with one’s
brother before bringing gifts to the altar. There is
also the idea of agreeing quickly with an adversary
and being willing to forgive an endless number of times.
Lord’s Prayer and the Slogans
Lord’s Prayer, repeated at the close of AA meetings
the world over, comes to us from the Sermon on the Mount,
while the AA slogans may also have a New Testament origin:
Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan
in the Bible can we find the First and Twelfth Steps
of AA? There are remote parallels in several places,
but it seems to me that the parables of The Prodigal
Son and The Good Samaritan convey the intent of these
steps as much as anything does. I suspect that The Prodigal
Son really covers the initial three steps of the program
and, in its entirety, symbolizes the Fatherhood of God.
The story of The Good Samaritan is our Twelfth Step,
and it represents the Brotherhood of Man.
alcoholic appears in both parables. As the prodigal
son, he takes his God-given inheritance of good health
and natural talents to a far country, there to squander
them in the frantic pursuit of pleasure. Finally he
comes to ruin and rejection among the swine, far from
his father, far from God. He recognizes his mistakes
and realizes that he would be better off back in his
father's house (the Second Step), and so he decides
to return to his father on whatever terms his father
will give him (takes the Third Step). The rest of the
story, with its celebration and feast on fatted calf,
is well known.
alcoholic is also the man who takes a journey from Jerusalem
to Jericho, in the parable of The Good Samaritan. The
road between those two cities is downhill all the way,
so the symbolism is clear: the man is doing something
wrong and is on the skids. Along the way, he runs into
thieves who strip him of his belongings and leave him
half dead in a ditch. A priest and a Levite pass on
the other side, too busy to bothered with one who may
have brought most of his trouble on himself.
are hopeless until that great Twelfth Stepper, the Good
Samaritan, arrives on the scene and takes charge. He
takes the victim to a hostelry, and dresses his wounds
with oil and wine. Since oil and wine often represent
God’s Love and Life in the Bible, we can conclude
that something of great spiritual importance is taught
here. It is this: if we love our fellow man and pour
our own lives into helping him in his hour of distress,
we are doing the work of Eternal Love and Eternal Life.
Faith without works is dead, it passes by on the other
side of the road. But the most ordinary man, if he is
willing to serve, can put into practice God’s
healing Love and Life. Come to think of it, maybe the
Good Samaritan is also the alcoholic, and he helped
because he too had once been half-dead in a ditch.
my way to an AA meeting, I sometimes see signs whose
letters proclaim: "JESUS SAVES." I have no
quarrel with such signs now, for I believe that Jesus
bequeathed to the ages a saving truth that is with us
today in AA. It is as if he stood as a silent partner
in the historic meeting of Bill W. and Dr. Bob in 1935.
It is as if he sat in on every AA meeting. It is almost
as if Jesus himself came again among winebibbers to
give them the new wine that does not perish.
Return to index of articles written by Mel B. that were
published in The AA Grapevine, our meeting in print.
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Other books written by Mel B.