Monday, December 19, 2011

History of A.A.: Dialogue Between Robin Room and Dick B.

Dear Robin:

Thank you very much for the letter. We welcome courteous communications and try to answer them all.

I am sure you know that, as Dr. Bob pointed out in his last major address in 1948, the early program founded In Akron had no Steps, no Traditions, no drunkalogs, and no meetings as we know them today. They believed, he said, that the answer to their problems was in the Good Book. And the parts they considered absolutely essential were the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. Bill and Bob both said that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount contained the underlying spiritual philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Akron AAs declared themselves to be a Christian Fellowship. These facts have not been challenged. But they certainly have been ignored in the zealous effort to link A.A. with the Oxford Group, without study of what the Oxford Group did, what Sam Shoemaker said, and the tenuous links between that root and what transpired in Akron and Cleveland.

When Dr. Bob continued, in his talk, he turned to the much later Twelve Steps—again, no traditions. He said that he did not write the Twelve Steps and had nothing to do with writing them. He commented, however, that the basic ideas came from their studies and effort in the Bible. See The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous which is a “conference-approved” piece of literature published by A.A.

As I have covered in so many of my recent books and articles, the Christian practices in Akron could be summarized as some 16. The program itself was summarized by Frank Amos in the report, a copy of which is lodged in the Rockefeller Archives in New York. There is no mention in either case of the practices which you are describing. Meetings opened with prayer, reading from the Bible, “old fashioned prayer meetings,” asking God for guidance, taking a newcomer upstairs to pray with two or three others and make a “real surrender” in which he made a decision for Jesus Christ, asked God to take alcohol out of his life, and asked for direction in obeying God’s will.

The Quaker practices which you describe (“sharing” and giving testimony) do not appear to have been involved in the regular Christian fellowship meetings. As a matter of fact, I believe you know that many of the Rockefeller people—who learned of the Akron practices—backed up the statement of Chairman Albert Scott: “Why this is First Century Christianity. What can we do to help?” And, as we have discussed in our conferences, the practices described in Acts 2 and 4 parallel those of the Akron fellowship and thus would support the conclusion that Scott reached. It is to be remembered that early AAs studied the Bible and stressed that study. Thus neither polity nor reformation reared up as having significance in those days.

As to “sharing for witness”—which was an Oxford Group expression of one of the two “sharing” Ideas, the sharing consisted of telling others what God had done for the person giving witness. The process of “Quaker” sharing you describe is not one that has been discovered in any of my extensive Oxford Group research. See Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous and New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.

I am sure you are aware that Dr. Bob was opposed to the adoption of the Twelve Traditions. He gave his assent on his death bed after much pressure from Bill Wilson. I will not comment on the Traditions because they were late-comers and represented something Bill wanted to have appended to post-Big Book practices. Clarence Snyder, the founder of Cleveland A.A., never participated in the reading of the Traditions. He was there when Bill and Bob agreed on them.

As to the “radical” end of the Reformation and “congregational polity,” I leave that to you and your colleagues. In our later years of research in East Dorset, Vermont; St. Johnsbury, Vermont; Manchester, Vermont; Barre, Vermont; and the original—but unpublished—working manuscript of DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, I see nothing about Congregationalism. But we have, in Vermont, seen strong evidence in the form of Creeds, confessions, sermons, Sunday school teachings, and the literature that abounds just what the boyhood training of Bill and Bob from the YMCA, the great evangelists, the temperance speakers, the conversion revivals, the rescue missions, their churches, and the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor looked like in the flesh. See Dick B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous and Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.

Regrettably, all most all of the full, rich, informative history of early A.A. and its roots was simply neither researched nor investigated nor published until we began our work in 1990. However, the door had been opened when Bill himself published Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, and in the 1980’s, A.A. published “DR.BOB” and “Pass It On. On the other hand, the investigations of folks like Cheever, Robertson, Borchert, Mitchel, and the writings of Bill which were unearthed in my visits to Stepping Stones in early 1991, and exemplified by his “autobiography” have come to be part of the picture since then. Those who wrote of our history without going to Akron, without going to East Dorset, without going to St. Johnsbury, without going to Manchester, without interviewing Dr. Bob’s children, without knowing the many Oxford Group people like the Newtons, Garth Lean, and the Shoemaker daughters, left a wide void which has been in process of being filled in recent years. This is, in large part being enriched by the many participants in International Christian Recovery Coalition

I have long advocated the elimination of “moderating,” “censoring,” “excluding,” and building themes on inadequate factual evidence. As you well know, I am sure, the trek takes time, and often years. When Bill Pittman convened the conference of historians at Hazelden many years back, there was hope for a broad-based sharing. It was preceded by the convening of the first historians conference by Charlie Bishop in West Virginia. There has been no similar open collaborative work since that time. Only speculative efforts to introduce new ideas into established, but unknown or uninvestigated history.

I am familiar with your splendid work and treasure the fact that you took the time to write. I believe have sent you communications before. And I hope your gracious letter will be one of many.

God bless,

Richard G. Burns, J.D., CDAAC (pen name Dick B.)

Author, 42 titles & over 750 articles on A.A. History and the Christian Recovery Movement

(808) 874-4876

PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837

Ps 118:17 (NJB):
I shall not die, I shall live to recount the great deeds of Yahweh.

Facebook: DickBmauihistorian

From: Robin G W Room []
Sent: Sunday, December 18, 2011 7:21 PM
Subject: Re: Dick B.'s FYI Messages: The Christian Upbringings of Bill W. and Dr. Bob

Dick --

     When a group of us who were sociologists studied AA in 8 countries (Klaus Mäkelä, Ilkka Arminen, Kim Bloomfield, Irmgard Eisenbach-Stangl, Karin Helmersson Bergmark, Noriko Kurube, Nicoletta Mariolini, Hildigunnur Ólafsdóttir, John H. Peterson, Mary Phillips, Jürgen Rehm, Robin Room, Pia Rosenqvist, Haydée Rosovsky, Kerstin Stenius, Grazyna Świątkiewicz, Bohdan Woronowicz and Antoni Zieliński (1996) Alcoholics Anonymous as a Mutual-Help Movement: A Study in Eight Societies.  Madison and London: University of Wisconsin Press), one aspect which interested us was where the 12 Traditions has come from.  Clearly, AA has what would be called in the sociology of religion "congregational polity", which comes out of the radical end of the Reformation which Congregationalism represents.  So the Congregational aspect to both Bill's and Bob's upbringing is no surprise.

     But it struck me that the tradition of "sharing" and testifying in AA meetings, and the fact that direct comment on another's sharing is discouraged, is more like Quaker practice than practices in other denominations.  Is there anything in the histoiry that you know which would connect the beginnings of AA meeting practice with Quaker antecedents?


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