Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Critical Look at Cheever's 2 Step AA History Summary

There is need in Alcoholics Anonymous History for this article to be brought up to speed on the real history of Alcoholics Anonymous.
First, the earliest A.A. was set in motion when the first three AAs (Bill W., Dr. Bob, and attorney Bill D.)--all Christians--had reached the bottom of their lives. Before there were any Steps, Traditions, drunkalogs, Big Books, or meetings, each--also very conversant with the Bible--entrusted his life to God's care, got well, and started helping others. The founding of their group A.A. Number One took place in Akron on July 4, 1935.
Second, the next episode is just plain ignored by Susan Cheever's attempt to move on to Tom Powers. However, the second era came from the Christian upbringing of Wilson, Smith, and Dotson. Primarily in the summer of 1935, when Wilson was living with the Smith's in Akron, a precise Christian recovery fellowship program was developed. It consisted of seven points--summarized in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers at page 131. And the participants engaged in sixteem practices--all revolving around the seven points. All involved belief in God, coming to Him through Jesus Christ, daily Bible study, daily prayers, daily reading of Christian literature and devotions, hospitalization, practices that resembled those of First Century Christianity, and working with others. This early Akron program was measured for success in November 1937 by Bill, Bob, and Bob's wife. It showed a 75% success rate amont those who had gone to any lengths to apply the program Akron developed.
Third, only then did Bill Wilson prevail upon Bob and the people in Akron to authorize the writing of a new version of the program--a basic text. However, Wilson left the Akron program in the dust and wrote his new version of Twelve Steps patterned largely on the life-changing program of the Oxford Group as Bill had been coached in it by his friend Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker. Essentially, until four people changed it at the last moment before publishing in 1939. The new version of the program was taken from the theories of Professor William James about the importance of a vital religious experience in curing alcoholism. It was taken from the ideas of Dr. William D. Silkworth who had urged upon Bill the need for seeking the help of Jesus Christ as well as a relationship with Jesus Christ. And also on Silkworth's definitions of alcoholism. And then came the remaining 10 ideas for life-changing that Shoemaker had taught. Twelve new version steps in all.
Fourth, then at the urging of Bill's partner Hank Parkhurst--who soon got drunk--the text of the Steps was completely changed to placate atheists and agnostics and removed Almighty God from the written life-changing process manuscript.
Fourth, with that, Bill languished in deep depression in the 1940's while Dr. Bob and the Akronites went on to help 5000 drunks be cured, largely beginning with a stay in St. Thomas Hospital. Lacking Bill's leadership, the rest of the program floundered in a welter of diverse influences--Father Ed Dowling counseling Bill; Richmond Walker bringing in Oxford Group ideas; Father John Doe developing his own books and radio show with a large following in the Mid-west, and Webster and his little Red Book. There were more, but they certainly didn't resemble the original Akron Christian Fellowship program. In fact, the flock had begun to stray so far that Dr. Bob commissioned four pamphlets that brought the Mid-west back to the original Christian program. Though much changed today, those pamphlets are still on sale and used by the Akron Intergroup Office and the Cleveland Intergroup office.
Fifth, I leave to Susan Cheever how much Tom Powers had to do with the final phase that took place after Dr. Bob and his wife were dead and Wilson had turned to two Roman Catholic Jesuit priests -- Father John Ford and Father Ed Dowling -- for intense editing of Bill's so called "Twelve and Twelve."
It is for present day writers, historians, drunks, addicts, and those of a variety of present-day religious beliefs and also no religious beliefs at all to sort out which program to learn. But if they set out on that task, they should not limit themselves to Cheever's two-note ideas in this article. For actually, it was Cheever who, in her biography of Bill, had spelled out Bill's background of Bible study, memory of his grandfather's conversion and cure of alcoholism, and memory of his father and mother singing and putting Bill in mind of the "Great Father" who stood ready to embrace all.
See Stick with the Winners! and Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous Both will be a major feature of The First International Alcoholics Anonymous History Conference in Portland, Maine, September 6-7, 2013.

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