Saturday, December 17, 2011

The History of Alcoholics Anonymous: The Compromise on "God"

The Compromise on “God”

Dick B.

(from Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 166-67)

Just before the manuscript was finished an event of great significance for our future took place. At the time it looked like just another battle over the book. The scene was Henry's office in Newark, where most of the writing had been done. Present were Fitz, Henry, our grand little secretary Ruth, and myself. We were still arguing about the Twelve Steps. All this time I had refused to budge on these steps. I would not change a word of the original draft, in which, you will remember, I had consistently used the word "God," and in one place the expression "on our knees" was used. Praying to God on one's knees was still a big affront to Henry. He argued, he begged, he threatened. He quoted Jimmy to back him up. He was positive we would scare off alcoholics by the thousands when they read those Twelve Steps. Little by little both Fitz and Ruth came to see merit in his contentions. Though at first I would have none of it, we finally began to talk about the possibility of compromise. Who first suggested the actual compromise words I do not know, but they are words well known throughout the length and breadth of A.A. today: In Step Two we decided to describe God as a "Power greater than ourselves." In Steps Three and Eleven we inserted the words "God as we understood Him." From Step Seven we deleted the expression "on our knees." And, as a lead-in sentence to all the steps we wrote these words: “Here are the steps we took which are suggested as a Program of Recovery.” A.A.'s Twelve Steps were to be suggestions only.

            Such were the final concessions to those of little or no faith; this was the great contribution of our atheists and agnostics. They had widened our gateway so that all who suffer might pass through, regardless of their belief or lack of belief.

            God was certainly there in our Steps, but He was now expressed in terms that anybody—anybody at all—could accept and try.[1] [italics in original]

Note: Research has shown that Bill Wilson retained the word "God" in the Big Book over 400 times. Sometimes using pronouns like Him, His, He. Many times using biblical descriptions of God like Creator, Maker, God, Father, Heavenly Father, Father of Lights, God of our Fathers. This is one reason why the compromise described above does not shove Christians out of A.A., the A.A. fellowship, or the A.A. program. The compromise simply later invited the membership of A.A. to include Hindus, Budhhists, Native Americans who believed in the idea of a spirit, atheists, agnostics, unbelievers, and those who believed in nothing at all. It also later invited members to invent their own deities as "higher powers." Higher powers that have been called a tree, a chair, a radiator, Gertrude, the group, Something, Somebody, Santa Claus, the Big Dipper, a rock, a door knob, and a light bulb. There are many more, and they are described in Dick B., God and Alcoholism

[1]     Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A. (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957), 166-67.

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