The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The Twelve Steps of AA

Dick B.
Copyright 2012 Anonymous. All rights reserved

This article is written to show how one who believes in God, and certainly one who has come to Him through Jesus Christ, can look at “old school” A.A.—the original A.A. Christian Fellowship program. Then learn the origins and intended purposes of that pioneer program. And then, apply the original old school ideas in taking and understanding the directions in the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous. At that point, the believer can prayerfully, effectively, and appropriately utilize the book’s directions for taking the Twelve Steps of A.A.

To that end, Dick B. and Ken B. have just published their latest title, Stick with the Winners: How to Conduct More Effective 12-Step Recovery Meetings Using Conference-Approved Literature (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2012). This guide can really show the newcomer or the sponsor how to find and learn how a believer can pick up his or her history tools, Bible tools, and Big Book instructions and follow the path the Big Book originally intended.

But we begin this explanation by showing you some of the present-day problems encountered by those who believe in God and perhaps are Christians as well. And showing why they seem to be confronted with several daunting preliminary obstacles that arose because of the changes in A.A. since its founding in 1935.

The Problem: How Can I “Take” and “Understand” the Twelve Steps of A.A.?

Problem 1:

When I [Dick B.] walked into A.A. on April 23, 1986 (two days sober and beginning to detox), I was told to get a Big Book and a Sponsor and “take” the Twelve Steps of A.A. as quickly as possible. And I did. Thinking that this was the start of a great new life.

Yet, after suffering three grand mal seizures in a matter of days, I was trundled into a treatment program from the ICU. I was handed a Big Book plus a 12 x 12, and a Twenty Four Hour “meditation” book. No instructions or teachers telling me what to do with them. And—heeding the advice of my sponsor–I read the Big Book, and nothing in the 12 x 12 or Twenty Four Hour book. Where, I thought, did the other two books fit in my new found solution of relying on God and following the instructions for taking the Steps per instructions from the Big Book?
Problem 2: On leaving the treatment facility, I was told by my sponsor not to read anything but the Big Book—not even the Bible. And he suggested I go to a Step Study meeting every week. I did this for several months thereafter suffering more and more from anxiety, confusion, forgetfulness, and terror. But I don’t recall ever hearing anything but drunkalogs. Nor did I hear any instructive material on taking the Steps. And I now know that neither my sponsor nor his sponsor had any adequate idea as to how to follow the steps or any idea as to how important it was for me to get into the Bible and turn to God for help as soon as possible. The anxiety, confusion, forgetfulness, and terror continued until I finally checked into the VA psych ward in San Francisco.

Problem 3: Years after that—and after I had studied the Bible; turned to God for guidance, forgiveness, and healing; and overcome the tribulations of the mental ward, imprisonment, and a host of financial and domestic problems—I believed I still had no significant idea as to how the Steps were to be taken or as to how I should be instructing my many new sponsees concerning them. And I therefore regularly went to Joe and Charlie Big Book Seminars in September each year and got a solid handle on the relation of the Big Book to the Twelve Steps of A.A. And they made clear that the Big Book provided three vital suggestions:

a) The Foreword to the First Edition said: “To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book. For them, we hope these pages will prove so convincing that no further authentication will be necessary.” (4th ed., xiii)

b) If you are an alcoholic who wants to get over it, you may already be asking—“What do I have to do?” It is the purpose of this book to answer such questions specifically. We shall tell you what we have done. (4th ed., 20)

c) Further on, clear-cut directions are given showing how we recovered. (4th ed., 29).

I put my shoulder to the task of absorbing the “precise,” “specific” “clear-cut directions” on taking the Steps. Yet I found the directions inadequate in the book itself, and also in certain respects in the comments at the seminars.

Meanwhile, at three years of sobriety, I had neither heard nor been shown anything of significance about the history of A.A. itself, the original A.A. program, the changes the Big Book made in that program, nor the role that God and His Son and the Bible had played in A.A.’s founding and successes. And that gap did not change until a newcomer (now dead of alcoholism) asked me if I knew A.A. came from the Bible—after which I immediately set out on the quest for facts that has kept me busy for the last 23 years.

Then came a somewhat different challenge. The Big Book said: “Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power? Well, that’s exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem. . . . And it means, of course, that we are going to talk about God.” (4th ed. 45). So now it seemed there were two main purposes for the book: (1) Finding and following the specific directions. (2) “Finding a power greater than myself” which power it claimed was God.

Problem 4: The foregoing seemed to point me to the directions on pages 58-59: “Remember that we deal with alcohol—cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power—that One is God. May you find Him now!” Find Him? I already believed in Him! The Big Book had said “God either is, or He isn’t.” Yet it began to talk about finding a God who was not lost by a newcomer who was not lost in his belief in God. Where was this new course to lead? Was it to God? Or was it to some “power greater than myself” – which also seemed to include the phrase “higher power?”

Problem 5: Page 29 states: “Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God.” Did this not conflict with the later comment that the individual needed to “find” God when many—particularly those in the Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship”—were often those who believed in God and had come to Him through Jesus Christ?

The Major Problem Yet to Be Unfurled: Just before the Big Book went to print, changes were made in its manuscripts that would certainly leave any thinking Christian in A.A. baffled! Between 1935 and 1939, when the Big Book was finally printed, it appeared to leave the reader with a number of inconsistent and conflicting options: (1) “Find” God. (2) “Find God “as we understood Him.” (3) Find something called a “higher power” (4) Find “whatever God the reader thought there was.” (5) Move forward on an existing belief in God—Creator, Maker, Heavenly Father, and Father of Light. (6) Buy into the idea that the “God of the Scriptures” had actually been removed from view and replaced with the bogus idea—contrary to the language of Hebrews 11:6—that the reader could “choose his own conception of a god.” (7) Worse, that he could just declare himself an atheist or agnostic and believe in nothing at all. And that latter course has surprisingly been adopted in A.A. literature today. And the Big Book as changed seemed to leave the reader a new choice—choose “God” or “a” god or what one writer claims is “not-god-ness” or what the latest A.A. conference-approved literature claims—“something” or “someone” you need not believe in at all!

At which point, one could ask, “Where is the Creator in all of this?” “Where is the “Heavenly Father” that Dr. Bob said would never let you down? (p. 181). What about the “precise, “specific,” “directions” for establishing a relationship with God?

The major problem—the major change—did not really come to light until one inquiring A.A. paid almost one million dollars at an auction to get the manuscript that contained a major change of such huge proportions that it influences AAs, their literature, and how one is to “recover” by following Twelve Steps that lead to “no god?”

Preliminarily, and by contrast, we would point to Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, pages 156-57. There Bill Wilson wrote that before the major last minute changes in the language of the Big Book, he had consistently used the unqualified word “God.” But the million dollar printer’s manuscript shows the blockade that confronted him at that last minute. It was two-fold:

(1) At the beginning of the manuscript, someone had penciled in at the beginning a totally new kind of reference to “a” god. In the hand of an unknown writer, the following was inserted and underlined: “Why dt you choose your own conc of God” See The Book That Started It All: The Original Working Manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2010), pp. 23-24. This was fleshed out later to say: “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God.”

(2) On pages 58 and 59 of The Original Working Manuscript, the great new compromise language had been added. And it is Bill’s later Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age that made clear that the compromise language had been used to placate atheists and agnostics after persistent arguments and threats by Bill Wilson’s partner Henry Parkhurst. The changes were that, in Step Two, the Word “God” had been deleted. And the words, “Power greater than ourselves,” had been substituted . In Steps Three and Eleven, the phrases “as we understood him” (no capitalization of “Him”) had been added to the unqualified word “God.”

Can a Christian or Any Other Reader “Take” the Twelve Steps with These Problems?

They not only can. They do!

But what they may “find” is anything from Almighty God to nothing at all. And the question remains, “What can the tens of thousands of 12 Step Christians do in the face of the problems?”

Frequently, many AAs substitute nonsense gods, higher powers, some idolatrous door knob or light bulb, or just plain nonsense for God. This amends out the “God of the Scriptures” which Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob had originally and consistently described. The Cofounders had consistently called Him “Creator, Maker, Heavenly Father, Father, God of our fathers, Spirit, Father of Lights, God, Him, His, He, Himself.” And the coexistence of bogus gods and idolatry certainly does not block out God. The contrast is well stated in Psalm 115: the idols can do nothing. God can!

How Can a Christian or Other Reader “Understand” the 12 Step Process in the face of such nonsense language and dramatic changes?

There are many approaches. And here are a few:

Some Christians have said “. . . we discover our personal, loving and forgiving Higher Power—Jesus Christ, the one and only true Higher Power.” Celebrate Recovery Bible: New International Version PurposeDriven (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2007), viii-ix, xx, 1347, 1627, 1631, 1634, 1639, 1664, 1668.

Other Christians have stuck primarily with biblical language concerning God—Almighty God, “Jehovah” [sic], Creator. The Life Recovery Bible: The Living Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992)

Some interchangeably refer to Jesus or God as a “Higher Power.” Recovery Devotional Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 67, 419, 905, 1154, 1157, 1181, 1354, 1404.

One Christian Bible speaks of “looking to the Judeo-Christian God as our higher Power.” Serenity: A Companion for Twelve Step Recovery (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990), 30.

Two writers about A.A. history take a radically different view of God as they have attempted to define him or characterize him in Alcoholics Anonymous. They express that viewpoint in several different ways:

(1) “Within Alcoholics Anonymous, they learn that they can reclaim “God” calling that “higher power” anything that they want. . .” Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection: Modern Wisdom from Classic Stories (NY: Bantam Books, 1992), 108.

(2) In the same book, the following appears at page 208: “The most basic understanding of the concept “Higher Power” within Alcoholics Anonymous is that it is that which keeps me sober.”

In another earlier title, one of the authors makes these assertions:

(3) “All right, then, the first steps in sobriety did not require classic belief in a traditional “God”’ but they did require that the alcoholic accept his not-god-ness by acknowledging some “Power greater” than himself. The A.A. group itself, clearly, was such a “Higher Power.” Ernest Kurtz, NOT-GOD: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1979), 206.

(4) In this same book, the following appears at page 50: “The fundamental first message of Alcoholics Anonymous, proclaimed by the very presence of a former compulsive drunk standing sober ran: “Something saves.” “Salvation” as the message remained. Yet A.A.’s total omission of ‘Jesus,’ its toning down of even ‘God’ to a ‘Higher Power’ which could be the group itself. . . were profound changes.”

Rejecting early A.A.’s early requirement of a belief in God—not “a” god. God—and rejecting early A.A.’s documented requirement that every member become a born again Christian, many aberrations appeared in ensuing years. In my title Dick B., God and Alcoholism: Our Growing Opportunity in the 21st Century (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 2002), I reviewed the scores of ridiculous ways in which professionals, treatment programs, academics, clergy, and 12 Step people have used, described, explained, or criticized the expressions “higher power,” “power greater than ourselves,” and “God as we understood Him.”

Beginning in God and Alcoholism with Chapter 4, page 77, “The Nonsense “gods” of Recovery,” these strange new “gods” are described as Allah, Confucius, Prime Cause, the A.A. group, “Good Orderly Direction,” “Group of Drunks,” tables, bulldozers, radiators, goddesses, “Something,” the Big Dipper, Santa Claus, Ralph, a stone, a rock, “any god you want,” “yourself as not-god,” light bulb, door knob, the “Man Upstairs,” and Gertrude. These are a few I have personally heard used at a treatment program or conferences or in an A.A. meeting.

There are many other names which A.A. cofounder Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. described as “absurd names for God.” The following are covered in God and Alcoholism from the beginning of Chapter 4 to the end.Thus writers have described from their own viewpoint and/or research the following, among many: (1) “him, her, it,” (2) “Supreme Soul” (Trine), (3) “higher powers,” (James), (4) “Lightbulb” (Snyder), (5) “Infinite Spirit” (Worcester, McComb, Coriat), (6) “some Higher Power” (Kitchen), (7) “Higher Power—God” (Peale), (8) Tree (Gilliam), (9) “someone or something out there,” Coke bottle (Gorski), (10) AA (“a new found Providence”) (Chafetz and Demone), (11) “a familiar spirit,” “any deity of Hindu-ism, Buddhism, Greek mythology, or New Age channeled entities” (Bobgans), (12) “Buddha, Nature, Mighty Mouse,” “Allah, Creative Life Source, Energy” (Kavanaugh), (13) “you are not God—then you are free to think of God in any way that you please” (Ketcham), (14) “defining God in A.A.’s image” (Ragge), (15) “any power, imagined or real” (Playfair), (16) “someone or something that you can relate to that is more powerful than your addiction,” “Good Orderly Direction,” “Group of Drunks” (the Wilsons), (17) “that which keeps me sober” (Kurtz and Ketcham), (18) “the Christianity of alcoholics is not the Christianity of most other American Christians. Alcoholics have a non-Christian view of God” (Gorsuch).

Bill W., Dr. Bob, and A.A. Number Three All Originally Spoke of God

Many of my titles have taken great pains to list “God” as He is named or described in the Scriptures and similarly described in A.A.’s Big Book and other A.A. literature. These clear biblical usages include God, Creator, Maker, Spirit, Father, Heavenly Father, Father of Lights, Almighty God, Him, He, His, Himself, God of the preachers, God of the Scriptures, “God is love,” and the “living God,” See Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible, Bridge Builders ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1997), 46-92.

A.A.’s Own Literature Shows that the Early Recovery Program Began with the Bible and God

Examine, please A.A.’s General Service Conference-approved pamphlet P-53 (titled The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks). Dr. Bob states in the transcript of his last major address in 1948 that, in the beginning: (1) They had no Twelve Steps and no Traditions. (2) They believed the answers to their problems were in the Good Book (the Holy Bible). (3) That he did not write the Twelve Steps and had nothing to do with the writing of them, but that their basic ideas came from the time and effort and study of the Bible that began in the summer of 1935 when Bill W. was living in the Smith home in Akron.

As stated, in his Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, Bill W. declared that the original Big Book manuscript consistently referred only to God—and not to the substitute words that were inserted in last minute changes just before the Big Book went to press. And all three cofounders referred at the beginning to God—not “a” God, God!

Since the Twelve Suggested Steps of Recovery are pointed at “Finding” God and conclude that “God could and would” relieve alcoholics of their alcoholism “if sought,” any member of Alcoholics Anonymous today—Christian or otherwise–can “take” and “understand” the Twelve Steps and rely completely on the power of God, the Creator—Almighty God if and when he or she learns and applies the old school beginning Christian A.A. Fellowship program founded in 1935.

Gloria Deo


About mauihistorian

Uses pen name Dick B.: Writer, Historian, Retired attorney, Bible student, CDAAC, and active and recovered A.A. member with over 25 years of continuous sobriety. Published 42 titles and over 650 articles on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Christian Recovery Movement.
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