In reaction to secular and psychological influences many more traditional Twelve Step members, particularly in AA, begin to make distinctions between “true” and “false” interpretations of the Twelve Steps. The conservatives generally advocate an earlier version of the Twelve Steps, such as that which appears in the Big Book, or one that more closely resembles the practices of the Oxford Group. Conservatives tend to support their views with a depiction of the program as adrift from its spiritual roots.

Shortly after the publication of the Big Book, a third fellowship develops in Cleveland , Ohio . This new fellowship is the first to use the Big Book as a part of their regular practice. The Cleveland groups develop a method of personal sponsorship that involves the sponsor introducing the newcomer to the Twelve Step program by reading through the Big Book together. Cleveland sponsors emphasize the importance of working with other alcoholics. Due to a sudden swell in membership, newcomers are often put to work taking other newcomers through the book before they have even finished the Steps themselves. Due to the same swell in membership, Cleveland ’s Big Book style sponsorship quickly becomes the most common form of AA.

Forty years later, the inheritors of the Big Book sponsorship tradition find themselves a minority perspective within the rapidly growing recovery culture. Generally, Big Book sponsors are unhappy with the prevailing presentation of the Twelve Steps. Some see the recovery culture as:

proliferating victim groups, a sort of endless Oprah Winfrey show that claims the A.A. Twelve Step method as its inspiration, but in which the real meaning of the Twelfth Step is lost amid an incessant whine about the injured self.

A.A. at the Crossroads
Andrew and Thomas Delbanco

These AA’s begin to present their style of sponsorship as the original method and the only one that really works. Some adopt strict definitions of the Big Book process in an attempt to set a boundary between their style of Stepwork and more social or psychological interpretations of the Big Book message.

Gresham’s Law, by Tom Powers, is one of the best expressions of the sentiments of Big Book conservatives. Powers begins his article by dividing AA into three categories:

1. The strong, original way, proved powerfully and reliably effective over forty years.

2. A medium way – not so strong, not so safe, not so sure, not so good, but still effective.

3. a weak way, which turns out to be really no way at all but literally a heresy, a false teaching, a twisting corruption of what the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous clearly stated the program to be.

Gresham ’s Law
Tom Powers

Powers’ first category describes Big Book sponsorship; his third refers to the message of recovery culture.

Another group of conservatives emphasizes the Christian roots of the Twelve Steps, of these, AA historian Dick B., is the best example. Dick B. has written a series of books investigating the “biblical roots” of Alcoholics Anonymous. These books read less like histories than historically based arguments with recovery culture. In his Books, Dick B. makes his purpose clear:

We hope our work will challenge others to look more deeply into the Bible as the standard for truth to which alcoholics were able to look in their search for God, His Will and His Way of Life.

The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous
Dick B.

In Dick B’s opinion, the Twelve Steps are actually a deviation from the original program of the Akronites, which was responsible for all of AA’s early success.

Akron provided a unique atmosphere for developing an effective spiritual solution to alcoholism. Its progenitors all possessed substantial capabilities…in spiritual areas—the Bible, Christian belief systems, and the Oxford Group…and took the time to focus on a spiritual recovery program—one that stressed (1) prayer, (2) Bible study, (3) religious literature, and (4) Quiet Time listening.

The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous
Dick B.

According to Dick B, the religious elements of the Akron program were responsible for Akron ’s success with alcoholics, and the decline of these practices has led to a vastly decreased rate of success in AA. Dick B and many Conservatives like him look to the early days in Akron as a golden age, one which they hope to revive someday.

There is a quip that has made the rounds of A.A. rooms in recent years. It goes like this: Akron is like Bethlehem . Something good happened there a long time ago; and nothing much has happened there since.

The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous
Dick B.

Conservatives are a vocal minority within the Twelve Step fellowships, particularly AA. Often characterized as “Big Book Nazis” or “AA Fundamentalists,” and derided for their sometimes confrontational manner and strict interpretation of program literature, Conservatives tend to be at the center of conflict. Some of this conflict is caused by the conservatives themselves, but much conflict is generated by some basic misunderstandings of the recovery culture at large.

The conservative movement should be understood in terms of its felt need to preserve a spiritually-centered understanding the Twelve Steps that was all but washed out by social and psychological interpretations of the Steps during the rise of recovery culture. If conservatives are confrontational or strict in their interpretations of the Steps, this should be understood as due to the pressure that comes of holding and trying to propagate a minority point of view.

22 Comments so far
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One of the more fair criticisms of the “Dick B. conservative” writings. However, the commentator misses several important points: (1) A.A. today is a widely diverse fellowship in belief and unbelief. (2) Early Akron A.A. was unquestionably a Christian fellowship–one whose ideas were not derived from the Oxford Group, but rather from the Bible and the Christian Endeavor principles Bob brought with him from Vermont. (3) If golden years means that reliance on God works, right on! If it is a derisive term that chides one for looking to God today, it is miles off base. (4) The Powers views are far far different from those of early A.A. in Akron. (5) Tolerance of diverse views among Christians, non-Christians, and unbelievers should be the foundation-stone of historical discussion. (6) How sad it is that the uninformed continue to ignore the immense impact on early A.A. that the writings and presence of Anne Ripley Smith, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., and the conversion requirement. (7) The idea that the Twelve Steps are involved in an historical discussion ignores the simple fact that there were no steps==none==whatever until 1939. None in A.A. None in the Oxford Group. And none in the Akron Christian Fellowship. Perhaps that will provide food for further interest in our evolving history. And, in closing, if belief in God and acceptane of Christ are a “minority view” in the view of the writer, I’d suggest it’s time to produce proof instead of propagating erroneous characterizations.

Comment by Richard G. Burns, J.D.

“(7) The idea that the Twelve Steps are involved in an historical discussion ignores the simple fact that there were no steps==none==whatever until 1939. None in A.A. None in the Oxford Group. And none in the Akron Christian Fellowship.”

Not true. There was the original six step program derived either from the Oxford Group’s Absolutes or Standards, I’m not sure which.

One of Dr Bob’s sponsees, in his personal story in the back of the book, makes clear reference to the original six-step program, and wished that Dr. Bob’s type of sponsorship was still available at the time of his writing.

Bill W., in many, many writings and recorded talks, clearly states he decided to break up the original six step program into “smaller chunks, so there was nothing the slippery alcoholic could wiggle out of”.

Not trying to start a debate, just making one correction. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know the answer to this one.


Comment by DCW

Dear DCW,
You’ll find the “origin of the 12 steps” in the AA book “Language of the Heart”.
Bill W’s Grapevine writings. The Big Book is a must have. “Language of the Heart” is a should have also. Before my recovery I joined a Christian group very similar to the Oxford Group. I went through a process that involved 6 stages or concepts. It was from the Bible. I found God but not sobriety. Left this group and joined AA. When I first read the 12 steps I realised that I had followed this process but unaware that it was a process or steps. Just matters to be worked through. It was a big surprise to me. It’s a bit like the 6 concepts being a sundial and the 12 steps being a precise Rolex watch. The 12 steps are very precise. Just what the alcoholic needs. I think when the 12 Steps came about there was an inbuilt no getting out clause that even today some sick Alcoholics manage to circumvent. Like 2 steppers and other A’s that try to tailor or embellish the 12 steps to their own personal needs. Stay sick thinking their well, the pass it on. As for Big Book Bashers they use the Big Book as a tool or device to intimidate and control others. The root cause to this is pride and fear. Note that BBB’s have a common likeness, their not backwards at coming forward, especially when attacked. They have a big mouth. They like having a their own group or following. They like to win through intimidation. Their always right.
…Pride! Regards. Ron.

Comment by Ron

The writer who contends the Oxford Group had six steps is not only wrong, but has failed to read A.A. Conference-approved literature confirming that the Group had no steps, not one, not six, not 12.

Comment by aahistorian

No one in this discussion has asserted that the Oxford Group had six steps. What was written here is that AA’s original six step programs, plural (they were not identical in NY and Akron, nor even locked down within either of those two places) were derived in part from Oxford Group principles.

Let’s refrain from knocking down straw men.

The important thing for me here is this: the truth has no parent. It neither knows nor cares where it’s found. The principles of recovery are older than AA, older than the medical model, older than modern psychology, older than Christianity itself.

Humility, honesty, love, service, fellowship, inspiration, truth–no one can lay claim to having discovered or first applied these agents to healing hearts and minds.

Dick B. is making the mistake of concluding that since the early pioneers in Akron believed Jesus was curing them, that this is in fact what was happening.

The only way to test that theory would be to ask a group of secular alcoholics to practice the same kind of humility and honesty, self-searching, restitution and service, and ethical living that those men in Akron pursued through their Christianity, and then to compare recovery rates.

The specifics of ethical living described and practiced by some followers of Christ are not detailed in AA literature, for good reason. AA is not a religion. It’s spiritual kindergarten. But continued education–somewhere, somehow–in these principles, which are not unique to Christianity by any means… this appears to be critical for the recovery of many alcoholics.

I have made the analogy before. Men who drank willow bark tea, because they believed the God of Headaches lived in willow trees, would find their headaches well treated. And that doesn’t prove that the God of Headaches lives in willow trees. And demonstrating, in the manner of Dick B., that it was historically true that these men did believe the God of Headaches lived in willow trees–this would not, of course, prove that He did either.

There’s aspirin in willow bark.

And there’s healing in humility, honesty, self-searching, restitution, service, and heartfelt dedication to an inspiring source of truth. Why you apply these principles–as long as you do it with passion and conviction and determination–is about as relevant as why you take your medicine.

If you take the medicine, it works. Reality could care less what you believe. Reality knows nothing except what you do.

Best regards,
Frank in LA

Comment by Frank M.

Well, now, I’ve been called a Big Book Nazi. AA has steps, traditions and rules through a conference that represents today’s AA members. If it’s morphed – for better or worse – then returning to ways other than what it is now necessitates forming a new entity.

Comment by Dave S.

Labeling A.A. Christians as “conservatives” or others as “liberals” or still others as a “majority” does great harm to the principles of love and tolerance that underlie the A.A. Fellowship. If Christians in A.A. today are a “minority” or are “conservatives,” then at least we can say there are hundreds of thousands of them. But counting noses was never a condition for belonging to early A.A. or to today’s A.A. Folks came and come not because of “majority” or “minority” views. They come because they are hurting. They receive love and help no matter which side of the aisle they come from. The real point is that early AAs were Christians but that Christianity was discarded as a “requirement” for membership as early as 1939. Nobody threw Christians out. Nor can they. But the Fellowship welcomed atheists and agnostics–as well as those of many faiths. In no sense were Christians suddenly stricken from the records or counted as a “minority.” Christians were and are free to be members. They are free to express their views. They are standing on the same ground the founders did. And others can listen, or claim to be a “majority,” or try to silence folks who hold different views. But the bottom line is that A.A. is for those who are hurting and determined to get sober. The Big Book is filled with statements that God will help them, if they want His help and seek Him. And if Christians choose to tell that as part of their success story, good for them–and let the others listen, be tolerant, and serve–not label people. Dick B.

Comment by Dick B.

Conservative: disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc, or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.

The label conservative is not perjorative, but merely descriptive. If it compromises the principles of love and tolerance then that is in the eye of the beholder. The author was not casting aspersions at Christians, he was merely noting that many 12 Steppers are concerned to note preserve and follow the Steps as they were originally laid out. Many also take a keen interest in the Christian roots of the movement. Such people, like myself, often had a terrible time at recovery until they were brought through the Big Book.

I’m as liberal as they come politically, but I proudly were the mantle of conservative when it comes the 12 Steps!

Comment by Piers

The question really at hand here is “why does AA work?”

Let me offer this analogy to the discussion.

If you think the god of headaches lives in willow trees, you might try to access that power by drinking a tea made from its bark. You headache goes away. You urge others to try the tea, and their headaches go away too.

Does this prove your theory about the god of headaches? If you demonstrate that historically the first men to brew willow tree bark believed this idea, does that prove the theory?

Of course not. Thorough investigation would eventually show you that there was something in the bark. We call it aspirin today.

The belief that surrendering one’s life to the God of the bible, or to his Son, or to the Spirit of the Universe can treat alcoholism is in fact a poorly tested theory, given that the program of AA involves so many practical actions too, and always has.

I suspect those actions are actually the aspirin here. And they can be describes as follows:

*Surrendering to the truth of your disease.

*Turning the decision to get loaded or not over to a reliable source of truth, something other than your own unguided thoughts and feelings of the moment.

*Applying that same principle (of surrendering to the truth) to the rest of your well-examined life.

*Practicing forgiveness and repairing the damage you’ve done.

*Maintaining contact with and a humble relationship to a reliable source of truth.

*Finding meaning and purpose in life through helping others with your experience.

Since before the big book was even published, members of AA like James Burwell have been finding sources of direction and truth other than a personal God, or any god or supernatural power at all.

That reality–that these principles work as long as your source of truth is inspirational and reliable and you surrender to it–has saved my life. And I will pass this understanding on to anyone who needs it.

Best Regards,
Frank M.

Comment by Frank M.

The problem with DCW and his comments is t hat he may have answers. But not facts. Dr. Bob said there were no Steps. Pass It On says the Oxford Group had no six steps or any steps. Bill Wilson said there were six “word of mouth” ideas of considerable variation and with no common agreement. And if you know what Ebby really told Bill, you will see on the current Bill’s story a layout of more than six ideas. And what Ebby really told Bill is lodged in the manuscripts at Stepping Stones that I saw and reported out. No debate at all. Later Bill chose to talk about the six “steps” and six word of mouth ideas interchangeably. But I have pointed out the difference in wording right in Conference-approved literature.

Comment by Richard G Burns

Here’s Frank M.’s latest. Not a word about step study, Big Book, or history, just the following:

Dick B. is making the mistake of concluding that since the early pioneers in Akron believed Jesus was curing them, that this is in fact what was happening.

Whoever Frank M. is, I would suggest he start with page 191 of the 4th edition of the Big Book. He won’t find Dick B., but he will find Bill Wilson and A.A. Number 3 stating that the Lord had cured them. QED

Comment by Dick B.

And so Bill Wilson and Bob Smith and Bob Dotson all believed that the God of Headaches lived in willow trees–so to speak. Which does not prove He does. For they all did much else to effect the cure they experienced.

If an adherent of Islam asks that the Prophet intercede for him with Allah to cure his alcoholism, and subsequently he recovers, is that proof that Mohammed is truly God’s Prophet? Or could something else be at work there? Is that man’s believing that Mohammed cured him inarguable proof that Mohammed in fact cured him?

Of course not. Despite the fact that many, many Muslim alcoholics have done exactly this, and have recovered.

We have our experiences, and we have our understandings of them, of what caused them, and those are not the same thing. In the latter instance we can be wrong, and we frequently are. We are human and fallible.

Bill Wilson, delirious with DT’s, high on belladonna, had an experience in Town’s Hospital. And he had an understanding of what caused that experience. And in the latter, he could well have been mistaken.

But his experience changed him. And that’s all that it needed to do. It convinced him that he had a purpose in life, a very grand Purpose, which belief I imagine suited Bill’s personality quite well. He could not drink and also serve that purpose. And I suspect that this, as much as anything else, formed the foundation of his lasting sobriety–but in that I’m doing little more than speculating.

Bill also believed that he was channelling the ghost of a dead Benedictine monk named Boniface for parts of the 12 and 12. Should we say that because he believed this, it also must be true? After all, it’s written in a book, just like his other beliefs!

Best regards,
Frank M.

Comment by Frank M.

I would also like to apologize to all and any who have found my posts here to be off-topic. To me, what we believe now about the Steps, what the founders believed, and what those Steps may actually be accomplishing and how–all of this forms an important part of step-study and of our history.

That’s my best understanding, and I may very well be quite wrong. I have been before and will be again.

Best regards,
Frank M.

Comment by Frank M.

And when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
Thank God.

Comment by aahistorian

From the article here that we are commenting upon:

“According to Dick B, the religious elements of the Akron program were responsible for Akron’s success with alcoholics, and the decline of these practices has led to a vastly decreased rate of success in AA. Dick B and many Conservatives like him look to the early days in Akron as a golden age, one which they hope to revive someday.

There is a quip that has made the rounds of A.A. rooms in recent years. It goes like this: Akron is like Bethlehem . Something good happened there a long time ago; and nothing much has happened there since.

The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous
Dick B.”

Just so we’re clear then. The idea that the religious, and let’s not mince words, the Christian, elements of early Akron AA were responsible for its success–this IS one of the main points in the article we are discussing here, yes? And the corollary idea that moving away from embracing these religious elements is the explanation for a purported decrease in AA success. This is also at issue, yes? This is what this whole article is about.

It is only these ideas, central to the topic of this article, The Conservatives, that I have been addressing. And my position is that these ideas represent both faulty logic and bad science. And I feel obligated to speak up when I encounter them, because my own recovery in AA was only made possible through a very different approach to our program.

I owe my life to the principles of surrender, honesty, humility, assisted self-assessment, justice, constancy, service, love, obedience to truth–and all the other virtues and tools I learned in AA. These things are available to any alcoholic who wants to practice them for ANY reason, be he Christian, Jew, Muslim, Wiccan, Deist, Pantheist, atheist, agnostic, etc.

To say that these principles are unique to a particular religious or supernatural understanding of the world (or of why AA works) is exactly the conservative position under discussion in this article. It is a wrong-headed idea, and not useful. And very few who subscribe to that view can admit that. Promptly or otherwise.

Fortunately, growth in our understanding of what we’re doing and why, and how it is effective, and how it could be more so doesn’t depend upon them. It depends only upon our willingness to remain teachable. And upon the successful treatment of the co-addiction that nearly all of us come into the rooms suffering from.

The addiction to certainty.

Best regards,
Frank M.

Comment by Frank M.

Now the chips are on the table. “These “things” are available to any alcoholic who wants to practice them for ANY reason – be he Christian, Jew, Muslim, Wiccan, Deist, Pantheist, atheist, agnostic, “etc.”” So?

That’s as true as can be. Today! Once Bill and the committee of four opened up the broad highway, the path became an open road. A road that, for many, has started with Santa Claus, light bulbs, trees, the Big Dipper, and even Ralph–the last being the most absurd of the nonsensical gods that popped up regularly in the Friday Night Beginner’s Meetings in Larkspur.

That doesn’t make that path effective, successful, or acceptable to those of any one of the foregoing categories. If love and tolerance is part of the A.A. code (and it is), it’s time to stop attacking by using personal names. It’s time to recognize that you either like A.A. as it is and pursue sobriety, fellowship, and helping others according to your own point of view and in your own language or you spend time engen dering resentments against those who express their point of view. See page 29 of t he 4th edition of the Big Book. See also Matthew 7:1-5 — quoted by Dr. Bob’s wife.

Akron A.A. was a Christian Fellowship. Dr. Bob said so. It said so. It required belief in God and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And Bill Wilson and Bill Dotson both said that the “Lord” had cured them.That was Akron A.A.

It is not A.A. or the Big Book or the Twelve Steps today. As a very sick alcoholic, I did not come to A.A. to debate Wiccans or Muslims or pantheists. I found there is one of those right here on Maui–an AA–and he directly rendered assistance to me and the newcomer I was helping. That’s A.A.

I did not come at a time when A.A. was a Christian Fellowship. But I believe in God, accept Jesus as my Lord, and study the Bible. I have now found, through 22 plus years of research, that early Akron AAs did the same thing. I began discovering that some three and a half years after I got sober.

If someone doesn’t like the facts of Alcoholics Anonymous History or wants to throw stones at any who do, I like to ask: How does your name-calling and dislike help the newcomer who still suffers? Better still, how does it glorify and serve God?
I see Bob, Bill W., and Bill D. applying those two tests with success. And none is alive today. Let the dead bury their dead.
But there is no need to resurrect them as pantheists or “Deists.”

I’m alive at 87 today. I’ve been continuously sober for over 26 years. And I never stop thanking God that A.A. was tthere for me when I needed it, and that God was able to help (as He did) once I sought Him. See Hebrews 11:6.

Comment by Richard G Burns

First, Bill opened the door to atheists and agnostics in the Big Book changes of 1939. But Bill didn’t erase history. He didn’t alter his mention of the Creator, Heavenly Father, Maker, God, Father of Lights–all biblical expressions–more than 400 times. Nonetheless, as Clarence Snyder pointed out, next came the nonsense gods–higher powers, light bulbs, trees, Santa Claus, rocks and rills. Strangely, this idolatry persists in some meas ure today. But it is neither reasonable, nor governing. It’s just drunks and professionals avoiding mention of the Bible, Jesus Christ, and God. But now, a new writer has entered the scene – promoting the “god of headaches.” I trust it will take far less time for admirers of the Creator, of light bulbs, and of higher powers to dispose of this corruption. I find no light bulbs in the Big Book or in the Bible. I find no “god of headaches” in the Big Book or in the Bible. But, today’s permissive A.A. places no censorship on someone who wants a powerful headache and to pass it on for others to suffer. Or even a brilliant light bulb. I prefer to stick to the documented history; and when someone discusses what are believed to be historical facts, there is no better starting point for A.A. History than A.A. history. Documented. Evidenced. Ignored. Refuted. or Corrupted. Then let the reader go to the source and make up his or her own mind.

Comment by dickb

No one is promoting the God of Headaches as having ontological being, Dick. Odd that you can’t see that. It’s just an analogy intended to demonstrate how ascribing the cause of a particular phenomenon to an agency may be a very human thing to do, but doesn’t constitute evidence of said agency’s existence or causative status.

You have some theories about why AA’s general approach works, sir. They’re not particularly sound, though. The fact of many secular AA’s over the decades (real alcoholics by the proof of their histories) using naturalistic sources of strength, inspiration, and guidance to power the 12 Steps, and getting well as a result speaks very loudly against what you argue for. That only God can serve this function.

Fortunately, our founders recognized that they knew but a little and left the way open, not locked down with dogma and doctrine. Time and experience have demonstrated that non-theistic spirituality works quite as well as the God concept in 12-Step recovery.

This is a blessing, as it allows more alcoholics to share our basic approach, which is medical/psychological/transformational, not religious.

Medical: We learn why we haven’t been able to moderate, and what the consequences are for continuing down that road. Which leads us to…

Psychological: we decide to turn the choice to drink or not over to a steadier guide than our own individual twisted thinking. But we still have to address what the drinking did not fix. Which leads us to…

Transformational: with help we take action to become men and women who neither need nor desire escape from our lives through alcohol.

God can help with that last part. So can many other things, including the love and fine examples of our fellows. There’s no need to feel threatened by this reality. Is it, in fact, something to celebrate.

Best regards,
Frank M.

Comment by Frank M.

I love this breakdown of medical, psychological and transformational – I agree wholeheartedly with an open minded approach to recovery.

In my opinion fundamentalist viewpoints are deadends because at heart they are based on fear – of not knowing the answers, of not having any clear one-directional guidelines – fundamentalists basically suffer from a lack of faith.

The 12 step programme is open ended as it is a set of principles we put into our lives – it can be as narrow or broad as the minds that assess and utilise it.

Comment by Rick Henshaw

I really like the way this guy Frank M. writes. I would like to read more of his thoughts. Does anybody have links or contact info?

Comment by montereypeninsulafreethinker


AA Agnostica has been kind enough to publish some of my essays. Overall, the non-theist in recovery may find some great resources there.

Warm regards,
Frank M.

Comment by Frank M.

A personal view of recovery process and the Big Book

I find it interesting on reading the history of AA to reflect that people were getting sober before the Big Book was written and Bill tried to document the process of change, i.e. admit there is a problem and that for psychological (mental/emotional/spiritual) reasons a person is often powerless to change on their own without outside help of some kind (the group support, outside counselling, sponsorship and/or “God” – then the steps to reveal the inner defects of character, patterns of thinking, emotions that keep us stuck in the same behaviours, responses to life, etc., the release that comes from an awareness that we can change if we work at it – then 10-11-12, continuing the process and attempting to help others with “like” minds (or emotional difficulties).

I think that the Big Book is not meant to be an end in itself but is a guide (P164 – our book is meant to be suggestive only, we know but little. God will constantly reveal . . .)

I think Bill continued his personal journey and wrote the 12 and 12 to expand on the steps in a more psychotherapeutic way as well as to introduce the 12 traditions. Bill had realised that he could not just “hand over” but had to do more work of a psychotherapeutic nature to address his own defects which kept arising.

Those that only focus on the Big Book or on the earlier versions of the steps that were edited and changed by the “group conscience” are refusing to see that AA is ever evolving and will need to continue to change as new information, or clearer thinking comes about over time. Joe and Charlie and their ilk, even though they did some good things with step four inventory sheets have made a huge mistake in going back to earlier version of the steps and putting the “set of directions”, “musts” etc., back into the public arena as these were taken out and “suggested programme” was put in so as to enable as many rebellious alcoholics as possible into the rooms. Through their behaviour these step guru’s are damaging Unity in AA by attempting to be “right”.

I think I would have belonged to the New York group of AA, never the Akron group which according to the history time line was more Oxford Group and Bible/God oriented. I think the Cleveland Group (which started after the Big Book was written) inadvertently in attempting to deal with the large influx of new members by “taking people through the Big Book and Steps and then having those people take still others through the process” have taken an incorrect path in that they have used the book as the letter of the law rather than following the spirit of the law that the Big Book and other literature are meant to be a guide to. In other words each person needs to come to their own spiritual awakening and own path by whatever route their own life takes them, rather than a prescribed set of “rules”. Funnily they have made the process “sponsor and big book directed” rather than God or spiritually directed. I believe that because of their deep seated fear of not knowing all the answers they centre on a “directed” process rather than having faith that God/the universe will show each person the way.

The Akron/Cleveland groupies do not realise that their “Big Book/Sponsor/God-directed programme” is actually more man-made and fear driven than an “open programme” which allows for all the other literature, the 12 and 12, and even outside psychological counselling or religious/ministerial counselling (in fact anything that produces internal growth and wholeness in a person).

Psychology has moved on from “instincts” yet this was the term originally coined and in use at the time the big book was written for the inner drives of any human being. For instance, as you would know Maslow calls them the hierarchy of needs of a human being, starting with the basics for safety, food and shelter and moving up to self-actualisation. To me the steps are a means of unpacking the dysfunctional ways I have developed through my life of getting my “needs” met so that I can move more toward “self-actualisation” and a happy and healthy life of meaningful relationship with myself and others and the natural universe/God – I can put this into any psychological “model”.

I also believe that the fundamentalists lack faith and live in fear – they forget the God they speak of is Love, whether personified in Christ, the Buddha, etc., and that Love is Kind, Love is Gentle, Love is Caring, Love is Accepting, etc., and that to live tune with God is to practice these things – which I do miserably but with Hope given by the phrase – “we are not saints . . . we practice these principles in all our affairs” – practice makes perfect – so I cannot ever completely DO the steps, I practice the principles embodied in them.


Rick H
Eastwood Recovery Group

Comment by Rick Henshaw

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