The Further Burial of Akron Program Ideas
in the Words of Bill’s New Twelve Steps
By Dick B.
© 2015 Anonymous. All rights reserved
This is not a Twelve Step or a Big Book study. My title Twelve Steps for You covers the diverse origins of each of the Twelve Steps, examining each, step by step. The Big Book has been extensively studied and well-reviewed by such venerable AAs as Joe McQ. and Charlie P. in their Seminars, tapes, and books. What’s been missing is an understanding of the fact that Bill Wilson was commissioned to write a basic text conveying the program details that were so successful in Akron by 1938. Instead, Wilson and his partner Hank Parkhurst, formed a corporation, drew up a stock prospectus, outlined a completely new and different recovery procedure, and sold the ultimate product as “the steps we took.” This despite the fact that there were no steps, that the predecessor Oxford Group had no steps, and that no steps were ever taken by anyone in early 1939—the date the Big Book was published.
As a starting point, we can look at Bill’s six word-of-mouth steps and the variant presentations of them. But it is important to highlight the things in the ultimate draft of Twelve Steps that completely changed A.A.’s ideas on what it took to recover. The draft threw Dr. Jung’s “conversion” into a barrel and reworded it a “spiritual experience.” Here are the highlights (See ‘Pass It On,’ 198-99):
· The idea that AAs were somehow “powerless” replaced the original concept that they were simply “licked.” Powerless led more neatly to Bill’s “Power.” Being licked had been a prelude to a cry to God for help out of the mire.
· The idea that AAs “came to believe” replaced the original concept that they either believed or they didn’t. And “Power greater than themselves” replaced the word “God” to appease two or three atheists and fit the step into Bill’s “Power” progression.
· The Third Step redefined “sin,” characterized it as “self-centeredness,” and put a spin on the surrender as being a surrender of self instead of a surrender to God—the kind of surrender involved in a real conversion.
· The Fourth through Seventh Steps involved action to eliminate offensive manifestations of self, rather than adopting the Biblical solution of receiving the spirit of God, walking by the Spirit, and disdaining walk by the flesh. Note the significance of this change in terms of the “cure” concept. “Self” can’t be eliminated; hence never “cured.” Walking in obedience to God’s will is always possible and an attainable condition to cure.
· The restitution aspects of the Eighth and Ninth steps retained the Biblical ideas of agreeing with our adversary quickly, righting wrongs through restoration or reconciliation, and cleansing hands as suggested in James 4:7-10.
· The Tenth and Eleventh Steps shifted attention from a daily walk with the Creator to a daily effort to eliminate self-centeredness plus newly minted defects of character—resentment, self-seeking, dishonesty, and fear. They ignored the Four Absolute standards of Jesus that were so important to AAs and used in Akron—unselfishness, purity, honesty, love.
· The Twelfth Step twisted “conversion” to “spiritual experience” which later add-on provided no way to a new man, a new power of the Holy Spirit, and a new relationship with God. Quite frankly, no more dramatic shift in emphasis from God to self can be found elsewhere in the action steps. The Twelfth Step emphasized an experience allegedly produced by action instead of a new creature, in Christ, produced by the Creator in the miracle a new birth. Its message therefore shifted to some undefined experience resulting from the steps taken, rather than a demonstration of what God does for man that man cannot do for himself. It spoke of principles but simply left them unspecified even though, in early A.A., the principles were taken from the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Book of James, and 1 Corinthians 13, and other parts of the Bible.
As Bill’s Depressions Progressed, Diversionary Programs Multiplied
Clarence Snyder and Cleveland A.A. Perhaps it all started constructively in May, 1939 when Clarence Snyder took the Bible, the Oxford Group Four Absolutes, the Big Book, and the Twelve Steps to Cleveland and made hay with the old and the new, retaining strong ties to both. Cleveland’s groups grew from one to thirty in a year. The success rate soared to 93%. And Clarence developed guides to taking the steps and sponsorship. [See Three Clarence Snyder Sponsee Old-timers and Their Wives: Our A.A. Legacy to the Faith Community: A Twelve-Step Guide for Those Who Want to Believe, comp. & ed. by Dick B. (Winter Park, FL: Came to Believe Publications, 2005).]
Dr, Bob, Sister Ignatia, and St. Thomas Hospital: In 1940, Akron began to be focused on hospitalization and Twelfth-stepping as part of the work by Dr. Bob and Sister Ignatia at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron. This work retained the important hospitalization of old. But Sister Ignatia added some new approaches, and both Dr. Bob and Anne Smith were moving toward their declining years in energy and effort. The Ignatia story is well covered in Mary C. Darrah. Sister Ignatia: Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1992; and, while it cannot be said that the A.A. program thereby changed, it does seem that a stint with Bob, Ignatia, and St. Thomas might have inclined St. Thomas patients to believe they had completed their rehabilitation even though Akron Group Number One was still meeting, and Dr. Bob was still active.
Enter four new influences. Their respective works are covered elsewhere, but each brought substantial changes to A.A. itself:
(1) Father Ed Dowling, S.J., entered the scene in late 1940; he communicated with Bill for the next twenty years. Their subject matter: Bill’s “second conversion” when he did a “fifth step” with Dowling, Dowling’s view of the significance of the Exercises of St. Ignatius, and a steady flow of letters. [See Robert Fitzgerald. The Soul of Sponsorship: The Friendship of Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J., and Bill Wilson in Letters (Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 1995).] But, by 1942, Bill had gone into a deep, severe, almost immobilizing thirteen year depression. And still other leaders and programs were, for whatever reason, attempting to fill the gap.
(2) Richmond Walker had a spotty past as a recycled drunk. He gained an interest in the Oxford Group and its literature as early as 1934. He joined the Oxford Group in 1939 to get sober, but didn’t succeed for much over two years. But he gained extensive knowledge of Oxford Group ideas In May of 1942, he entered A.A. and was involved in three very influential literary works. He worked with a devotional titled God Calling, which had been edited by Oxford Group writer A.A. Russell. In 1945, a Massachusetts A.A group published Walker’s For Drunks Only which was filled with Oxford Group ideas, A.A. principles, and sobriety suggestions. He offered it to A.A. for publication and was declined. In 1948, Walker worked with God Calling and converted it to a recovery devotional that has sold in the millions, though also declined by A.A. itself. That devotional is titled Twenty-Four Hours Book.
(3) Father Ralph Pfau: Ralph was the first Roman Catholic priest to get sober in Alcoholics Anonymous (he came in on November 10, 1943), and under the pen name which he chose to use, Father John Doe, he wrote his 14 Golden Books back in the 1940’s and 50’s and early 60’s. They are still being read and used by A.A.’s today: Spiritual Side (1947), Tolerance (1948), Attitudes (1949), and others. They were coming out once a year at the beginning. Then Pfau changed his writing and published three much longer books, including Sobriety and Beyond (1955).
(4) Ed Webster: In 1946, in Minneapolis, Ed Webster published The Little Red Book under the sponsorship of the A.A. Nicollet Group. Its title was "An Interpretation of the Twelve Steps." Ed had the help and support of Dr. Bob, who gave numerous suggestions for wording various passages. Ed also wrote Stools and Bottles (1955), Barroom Reveries (1958) and Our Devilish Alcoholic Personalities (in 1970, just a year before his death).
Bill’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: When Bill finally pulled out of his depression, Anne Smith was dead, Dr. Bob was dead, the reigns of A.A. were becoming the property of New York, and Bill had set about writing a whole new program in his book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. It was heavily edited by two Roman Catholic Jesuit priests who purportedly sought to eliminate Oxford Group thoughts from its content. Bill also introduced a second edition of the basic text and adopted “spiritual awakening” as the target of the steps—leaving conversion, religious experience, and spiritual experience in the dust bin. He completely replaced “conversion” with a psychological conclusion that, for most AAs, a mere personality change sufficient to overcome the “disease” of alcoholism was all that was required for recovery.
Finally, recovery centers and literature substantially pre-empted doctrinal literature publication and distribution. But, as all the foregoing developments occurred, the A.A. success rates became observably more and more dismal—dropping from its original rate of at least 75% to about 5%. And these changes—one and all—provide solid reasons for returning to, re-examining, and learning early ideas and history.
AA OF AKRON rides again
through its four later pamphlets commissioned by Dr. Bob
I don’t think anything surprised me more as an AA from the West Coast than finding the four AA OF AKRON pamphlets on sale at the Akron A.A. Intergroup Office--pamphlets originally commissioned by Dr. Bob. They had apparently been around for years. They were filled with the kind of Akron A.A. I’ve described above. They quoted the Bible, recommended prayer, discussed the importance of God, and did so in the context of the Twelve Steps. Yet how in the world did these gems come into being when their contents were virtually unknown where I came from? They seemed at first to be the product or property of some “clandestine A.A.” until I learned what I know today—that they closely resembled the Frank Amos summary of early A.A.
I can’t say and do not know how much research has been done on their origins. But this much has been suggested. Dr. Bob felt that the program in the Big Book was not easy for “blue collar” AAs to deal with. He asked Evan W. to prepare some practical guides. And four emerged. For those who have become acquainted with early A.A. in Akron, there’s not a surprise in them even though two of the four I own were republished, respectively in 1989 and 1993, while the other two bear were republished in October, 1997.
Treat yourself to this A.A. program material. Program principles and practices that were not written by Bill W., that square with the A.A. that Frank Amos summarized, that frequently quote the Bible—just as Dr. Bob did, and that I described in detail above. And let’s look at the general ideas in each of the pamphlets, one by one:
Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous
At the outset, this pamphlet asks and answers the following:
But, asks the alcoholic, where can I find a simple, step-by-step religious guide? The Ten Commandments give us a set of Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots; the Twelve Steps of AA give us a program of dynamic action; but what about a spiritual guide? Of course the answer is that by following the Ten Commandments and Twelve Steps to the letter we automatically lead a spiritual life, whether or not we recognize it.
Then the pamphlet says: “Here, however, is a set of suggestions, couched in the simplest of language:
1 – Eliminate sin from our lives.
2 – Develop humility
3 – Constantly pray to God for guidance.
4 – Practice charity.
5 – Meditate frequently on our newly found blessings, giving honest thanks for them.
6 – Take God into our confidence in all our acts.
7 – Seek the companionship of others who are seeking a spiritual
And the explanatory discussions of these seven points frequently mention God, Christianity, the Bible, and prayer. The pamphlet gives several illustrations of how men have found God. It concludes with the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.
A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous.
This guide picks up the trail where Spiritual Milestones left off. It addresses the newcomer, hospitalization, sponsors, visiting the hospital, and what the newcomer must do on his discharge. He is told to read the Bible and give particular attention to the Sermon on the Mount, Book of James, 1 Corinthians 13, and the Twenty-third and Ninety-first Psalms. The guide suggests a prayer life for each and every day. Then it describes the thrill of helping someone else. Citing Matthew 6:34 of the Sermon on the Mount, it suggests day by day time progress and acquiring health “one day at a time.” It quotes Step Twelve as a “Spiritual Experience,” not the “Awakening” Bill was soon to substitute as the result of taking the steps.
Second Reader for Alcoholics Anonymous
Its primary topic is, WHAT IS THERE IN AA FOR ME BESIDES SOBRIETY. And the article discusses four items: “Work, Play, Love, and Religion”—substituting A.A. for the latter. It contends that the good active AA is practicing Christianity whether he knows it or not. It devotes a paragraph to the Bible accounts that children loved for years: The Lord’s Prayer, David and Goliath and Samson, Adam and Eve in the Garden, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan. And it lays out some very practical and purposeful ways of sharing a story in A.A. meetings.
A Guide to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
With this fourth pamphlet, Akron AA completes the circuit of A.A. activity. It offers the following as a simplified, condensed form of the complete program:
· We honestly admitted we were powerless over alcohol and sincerely wanted to do something about it. In other words, we admitted we were whipped and had a genuine desire to QUIT FOR GOOD.
· We asked and received help from a power greater than ourselves and another human. (NOTE: In almost all cases that power is called God. It is, however, God as WE UNDERSTAND HIM. . . .)
· We cleaned up our lives, paid our debts, righted wrongs.
· We carried our new way of life to others desperately in need of it.
The pamphlet discusses each of the Twelve Steps individually. It concludes with these rules for living.
· Remember that you an alcoholic, and but one drink away from drunkenness again.
· Remember that you are completely dependent on God as you understand Him.
· Remember to keep your thinking straight.
· Remember that a wrong act will play on your mind until you either do something to rectify it or get drunk.
· Remember that defects will creep into your life if given half a chance.
· Remember that if only through gratitude, we must help others in order to help ourselves.
Is It Any Wonder!
Just look at the road traveled in A.A. between 1935 and 1955. Just look at how the early Akron A.A. precepts perished a little more along each step of the road. And then ask if it’s any wonder that today’s people don’t even know their history, and perhaps don’t even want to know it.
But our educational target is the child of God in A.A.—the Christian, the believer, if you wish—who is awash in authoritative talk about spirituality, higher powers, powerlessness, personality changes, and experiences. It is he who needs to be reached with the simplicity of the early Christian Fellowship program. He has as much at stake in that program as any other person in A.A. It concerns his life, his freedom, and his happiness which were spiraling down the tube in his drinking years. And he has as much need and right as any person in A.A. to know that his own beliefs—when used to deliver him from the power of darkness—were the very beliefs that delivered early AAs from the curse of alcoholism. It was alcohol that was the enemy and the key. And the early pioneers found out how to defeat that enemy and turn the lock with the help of Almighty God.