A.A. worked! Forty pioneers–real alcoholics all–had recovered from their medically incurable malady of alcoholism. They had used no Steps because there were no Steps. Their parent group–the Oxford Group–had helped alcoholics with no steps, no "six" steps, and certainly no Twelve Steps. In the words of A.A.’s own literature:
(1) "They [the forty pioneers] had the Bible, and they had the precepts of the Oxford Group" (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980, p. 96).
(2) "We already had the basic ideas, though not in terse and tangible form. We got them. . . as a result of our study of the Good Book," said Dr. Bob (DR. BOB, supra, p. 97).
(3) "Dr. Bob, noting that there were no Twelve Steps at the time. . . said they were convinced that the answer to their problems was in the Good Book. ‘To some of us older ones, the parts we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5-7], the 13th chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James,’ he said" (DR. BOB, supra, p. 96).
(4) . . . "the Book of James was a favorite with early A.A.’s [said Bill Wilson]–so much so that "The James Club" was favored by some as a name for the fellowship" (DR. BOB, supra, p. 71).
(5) [As to the Oxford Group influence] "Emphasis was placed on prayer and on seeking guidance from God in all matters. The movement also relied on study of the Scriptures and developed some of its own literature as well. At the core of the program were the ‘four absolutes’: absolute honesty, absolute unselfishness, absolute purity, and absolute love" (DR. BOB, supra, p. 54).
(6) "We had much prayer together in those days and began quietly to read Scripture and discuss a practical approach to its application in our lives" (DR. BOB, supra, p. 111).
(7) In November of 1937, Bill Wilson was in Akron. "Bill’s writings record the day he sat in the living room with Doc, counting recoveries. ‘A hard core of very grim, last-gasp cases had by then been sober a couple of years,’ he said. ‘All told, we figured that upwards of 40 alcoholics were staying bone dry’" (DR. BOB, supra, p. 123).
(8) Meeting at T. Henry Williams’s house in Akron, the alcoholics had a "long, hard-fought session. But together Bill and Bob persuaded a bare majority of 18 A.A.’s gathered at T. Henry’s. . ." to accept Bill’s package and allow Bill to write a book of experiences that would carry the message of recovery to other cities and other countries (DR. BOB, supra, pp. 123-24).
(9) Investigating the Akron "Program" in some depth, Frank Amos–later an A.A. trustee–reported to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., on the program’s details (DR. BOB, supra, p. 131-36).
With such a backdrop of recoveries and a developed "Program" that had worked for forty tough, "medically incurable" cases, Bill began writing his Big Book. He was fashioning a "how it worked" program from the Akron success with the Bible and the precepts of the Oxford Group. Certainly not supported by his own failures on the New York scene (See Dick B., Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Roots and Successes, pp. 109-16). There was not one warped or distorted word, in Wilson’s earliest drafts, about a "higher power," a "power greater than ourselves," or "God as we understood Him." Not when he first started, that is. There was God! Creator. Maker. Spirit. Father. Yahweh–Who had been the subject of Bill’s three months of Bible study with the Smiths at their home in Akron in the summer of 1935. Then things began to change–even as the drafts changed and were re-oriented by Bill. And Yahweh–Whose name was holy and not to be profaned–began to get new names and attributes affixed.
And, over sixty-five years later, here is what others have said Bill meant to say about this program that worked and the Creator upon whom its adherents had placed their reliance.
Terence T. Gorski:
[Step Two.] There is something more powerful than I that can help me to stop drinking. I can’t, but somebody else can (Terrence T. Gorski. Understanding The Twelve Steps: A Guide for Counselors, Therapists, and Recovering People (Missouri: Herald House/Independence Press, 1989, p. 75).
In Step Two we develop a sense of faith that there is someone or something bigger and more powerful than we are. There is someone or something out there that knows more about addiction and about recovery than I do. There is someone out there that has the answer, someone who can tell me what to do to recover from my alcoholism. A "power greater" implies that this "something" is greater than we are. There are some people who claim that a Higher Power can be anything, even a Coke bottle. I personally have trouble with that (Gorski, Understanding, supra, p. 95).
Marianne W. Gilliam:
A.A. correctly anticipated the problems they would encounter in placing reliance upon a Higher Power and so decreed that a Higher Power could be anything we interpret it to be, even a tree. However, the focus was still on something outside ourselves. But I was starting to discover that in order to find our own inner power we needed to find that personal aspect of God WITHIN us. . . . I believe we have God’s energy manifesting in us every day of our lives (Marianne W. Gilliam. How Alcoholics Anonymous Failed Me: My Personal Journey to Sobriety Through Self-Empowerment. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1998, p. 45).
AA’S STEP TWO: CHRISTIAN ADAPTATION: To experience Jesus as personal and available (Saul Selby. Twelve Step Christianity: The Christian Roots and Application of the Twelve Steps. MN: Hazelden Foundation, 2001, p. 25).
Martin and Deidre Bobgan:
The "Power greater than ourselves" can be anybody or anything that seems greater than the person who takes Step Two. It can be a familiar spirit., such as Carl Jung’s Philemon. It could be any deity of Hindu-ism, Buddhism, Greek mythology, or New Age channeled entities. It could be one’s own so-called higher self. It could even be the devil himself. The extreme naivete of Christians comes through when they confidently assert that their higher Power is Jesus Christ. Since when did Jesus align Himself with false gods? Since when has He been willing to join the Pantheon or the array of Hindu deities. Jesus is not an option of one among many. He is the Only Son, the Only Savior, and the Only Way (Martin and Deidre Bobgan. 12 Steps To Destruction: Codependency Recovery Heresies. California: East Gate Publishers, 1991, p. 115).
The reading of the sacred text [A.A.’s Big Book] is also a part of every meeting. The Oxford Group, being "more spiritual than religious," but still (in Christian countries) acknowledging it Christian roots, used the Bible for readings. Alcoholics Anonymous, being "spiritual, not religious," doesn’t use the Bible at all; rather it uses another sacred text, the inspired Word of God as expressed through Bill Wilson, the Big Book. . . .Unlike the Oxford Group, which claimed salvation and redemption by Jesus through the Oxford Group, AA proclaims "recovery" by one’s "Higher Power" through the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Ken Ragge. The Real AA: Behind the Myth of 12-Step Recovery. AZ: Sharp Press, 1998, pp. 82-83).
Step Two, to the uninitiated, appears to be mostly about finding faith in God. While there may be some truth in this, working this Step is more a matter of defining God in AA’s image (Ragge,The Real AA, supra, p. 117).
William L. Playfair, M.D.
They [the Twelve Steps] do not derive exclusively or even primarily from truths or concepts found in either the Old or New Testament. One cannot find anything even remotely similar to the Twelve Steps in the writings of ancient or modern Christian theologians. The secular nature of the Twelve Steps is, in fact, freely admitted by A.A. groups. Al-Anon, for instance, plainly asserts: The Twelve Steps . . . although spiritually oriented, are not based on a specific religious discipline. They embrace not only the philosophies of the Judeo-Christian faiths and the many religions of the East, but nonreligious, ethical and moral thought as well. . . As a matter of fact, AA’s Twelve Steps are more akin to the Bahai faith than to Biblical Christianity (William L. Playfair. The Useful Lie. Illinois: Crossway Books, 1991, p. 87).
This any power of AA and the recovery industry is really just that–any power, imagined or real. Continuing its message to the clergy, AA concedes that: Some members of the clergy may be shocked to learn that an agnostic or an atheist may join the Fellowship, or to hear an AA [member] say: "I can’t accept that ‘God concept’; I put my faith in the AA group; that’s my higher power, and it keeps me sober." The idea of the AA group as the Higher Power or god of an AA member should not be shrugged off as hypothetical or even all that exceptional. Recovery industry literature is replete with testimonials of this kind (Playfair, The Useful Lie, supra, p. 91).
Jan R. Wilson and Judith A. Wilson:
There are many different ideas of a Higher Power. The chapter on Step Two in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions describes several types of experiences with God before getting into a recovery program. Some are what one might call a traditional idea of God and some are very nontraditional. All that seems to be required is that the Higher Power be someone or something that you can relate to that is more powerful than your addiction. . . . Some people have such negative reactions to the traditional ideas that for a while they have to think of "GOD" as Good Orderly Direction, from wherever it comes. Some even say their Higher Power was just a Group Of Drunks (Jan R. Wilson and Judith A. Wilson. Addictionary: A Primer of Recovery Terms and Concepts from Abstinence to Withdrawal. New York: A Fireside/Parkside Recovery Book, 1992, pp. 181-82).
Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham:
The use of the phrase Higher Power–his, hers, yours, or mine–rather than the word God, reminds members of A.A.’s tolerance of individual differences in religious belief and spiritual inclination. The most basic understanding of the concept "Higher Power" within Alcoholics Anonymous is that which keeps me sober. In a sense, this is to out-James William James; it is the ultimate pragmatic concept of God. For alcoholics who have tried and failed time after time to stay sober by themselves, for alcoholics who have tried and failed after using any one of innumerable techniques, that which finally does keep one sober becomes "God." (Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham. The Spirituality of Imperfection: Modern Wisdom From Classic Stories. New York: Bantam Books, 1992, p. 208).