Alcoholics Anonymous History
By Dick B.
Copyright 2012 Anonymous. All rights resreved
Some of us may ask the question, “What is a Higher Power?” You can hear a variety of answers from the “wisdom of the rooms.” Sometimes the answer is, “Something.” Sometimes, the answer is “Somebody.” Sometimes the answer is “Anything that keeps me from drinking.” Others say “it” is a light bulb, a radiator, a chair, the Big Dipper, a rock, “Her,” a tree, a rainbow, or “nothing at all.” But whatever we hear, such answers sound pretty screwy to some of us. And they are.
However, the more the answers, the more the questions because those phrases don’t answer questions, they just raise the question, “But what is it?”
Historically, the quizzical phrase comes from New Thought writers like Ralph Waldo Trine, William James, the Emanuel Movement people, and Emmet Fox. See Dick B., God and Alcoholism (www.dickb.com/titles.shtml).
But what is it?
Let me tell you how three old timers approached the answer:
One old timer – the oldest – was my friend Jim H. from Maryland. He lived 100 years and got sober just about the same time that Bill Wilson did. In fact, Jim knew Rev. Sam Shoemaker and met Bill Wilson at early Oxford Group meetings. In his nineties, Jim became associated with the phrase “back to basics.” He also came to know me, and he endorsed a number of my books. Jim’s approach was a “takeaway” approach. He said to me and wrote: “If you take God out of the program, you have nothing.”
Another old timer – the long-time archivist at Dr. Bob’s home – is my friend Ray G. Ray takes a large collection of A.A. history materials around the U.S., conducts workshops at conferences, and tells it like it was. Ray’s approach was “identify” it. Ray wrote me for the umpteenth time and said, “My higher power isn’t conference approved; but his Father is!”
A third – an old timer from Oregon whose name is Gene – phoned me to say that he was involved in both A.A. and N.A. and was speaking at a world convention of N.A. He said he was interested in our early A.A. history and my research and wanted to bring his higher power back into the program. He said that Jesus was his higher power, and he knew that the early A.A. program was a Christian program. We got to talking about “singleness of purpose,” about the common features of A.A. and N.A., and about the drift of both away from God. At the end of our conversation, we both agreed that today’s crowds in A.A. and N.A. are really not single anything—not just alcoholics, not just addicts, not much of either if they just stayed sick and didn’t get into a fellowship and focus on getting well. They had all kinds of names for higher power idols like door knobs, light bulbs, and trees. Gene said that he no longer introduced himself in speeches by saying “I’m Gene, and I am an alcoholic” or “I’m Gene, and I am an addict.” Today he introduces himself as follows: “I’m Gene, and I am a responsible member of the program.”
Put together the sage words of the three. The oldest in years just ignored the so-called “higher power” and believed A.A. amounted to nothing if you took God out of it. The next oldest—from Oregon—stopped trying to label things that weren’t meaningful. Thus he just announced himself as a “responsible member of the program.” The third was able to put the humorous touch on absurdity. His statement: “My higher power isn’t Conference-approved, but his Father is.”
In other words, not a one of them tried to put a label on a nonsense god or on an organization that thought you could rely on one. And check out Psalm 115 for an ancient affirmation of that view.
So this little article is addressed to those who are or want to be “a responsible member of the program.” But they don’t go around labeling their fellowship friends. A Jew is a Jew. A Roman Catholic is a Roman Catholic. A Christian is a Christian. A drinker may be an alcoholic, or an addict, or both. Yet these men don’t make much of any of the labels. They busied themselves for years just focusing on helping the alcoholic who still suffers. Hence, they are responsible members.
Let’s take a cue from the three old timers I just quoted.
You can conclude that a responsible member is one who does not seek, or want to, take God out of the program. A responsible member is one who makes it clear that the Creator, his Father, is “conference approved”—certainly not “conference dis-approved.” A responsible member includes anyone who gets well by turning to “the Lord”—as Bill Wilson and Bill Dotson (A.A. Number Three) said they did (Big Book, p. 191). A responsible member might well be the member who would rather focus on what God has done for him once he sought God, rather than sparking a conflict over definitions--who is sick from what, what a “higher power” is or isn’t, and who satisfied the requirements for “membership” and who doesn’t.
One of the reasons I enjoyed and still enjoy the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is that I never tried to substitute a “higher power” for Almighty God. Another is that I never got thrown out when I mentioned God. Another is that I used the same terms for describing God that were used by Dr. Bob, Bill Wilson, and the other pioneers—Creator, Maker, Father, God, Father of lights, Spirit. Another is that I soon gave up thinking I must rebuke or others stop using the phrase “higher power” to describe their “Something,” or “Somebody,” or “not-god” philosophy.
Probably, therefore, I am, like Gene, “a responsible member of the program.” At least I think so, and that is what counts for me.