Alcoholics Anonymous History
By Dick B.
Copyright 2012 Anonymous. All rights reserved
Some of us spend a lot of time asking the question “What is a Higher Power?” Sometimes the answer we hear is: “Something.” Sometimes, the answer is “Somebody.” Sometimes the answer is “Anything that keeps me from drinking.” Others are saying more and more often, “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 nonsense words and phrases like “Something” and “light bulb” don’t answer questions. They just raise the reasonable question, “But what is it?” [this “higher power” thing]
Historically, the phrase comes from New Thought writers like Ralph Waldo Trine, William James, the Emanuel Movement people, and Emmet Fox. More recently from writers like Glenn C. who claim they have an answer.
But what is it? What is this thing? What is the answer?
Let me tell you how three old timers approach the answer:
One old timer – the oldest – was my friend Jim H. from Maryland. He made it to 100 years old 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 just 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 – just 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. He is a statewide prison chaplain leader. 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 just Christians, not just atheists, and often not much of either if they just stayed sick and didn’t get into a fellowship and focus on getting well. 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.”
So this little article is addressed to those who are or want to be “a responsible member of the program.” Who is such a responsible member?
Let’s take a cue from the three old timers I just quoted.
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 is one who would rather focus on what God has done for him once he has 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, A.A. Number Three, and the other pioneers. Those terms, repeated frequently in A.A. literature, were Creator, Maker, Father, God, Father of lights, Spirit, Heavenly Father. Another reason for still enjoying A.A. is that I soon gave up thinking I could demand that others stop using the phrase “higher power” to describe their “Something,” or “Somebody,” or “not-god” philosophy. And I am, like Gene, “a responsible member of the program.” At least I think so, and that is what counts for me