A.A. History Background: “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?”

Aloha to you, Rick, from Maui, Hawaii!

Thank you for writing to my dad (Dick B.–www.DickB.com) about the origin of “God as we understood Him” and about the question “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” attributed to Bill W.’s “spiritual sponsor,” Ebby T. on page 12 of chapter one, “Bill’s Story,” in the fourth edition (2001) of Alcoholics Anonymous (“the Big Book).”

1. My dad and I thoroughly discussed how the question “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” found its way into the first edition (April 1939) of the Big Book in a 20+-page appendix (“Appendix One”–pages 43-64) in one of our most recent books titled Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous: God’s Role in Recovery Confirmed!–available from Amazon.com and other outlets in 6″ x 9″ and Kindle (and other eBook formats):
http://mcaf.ee/y9tr4
That appendix is, to our knowledge, the most extensive discussion of the question available in print, on the Internet, or otherwise.

2. Briefly:
• The question attributed to Ebby on page 12 of the fourth edition of the Big Book is foreign to the language of both Bill W. and Ebby T. as found in the earliest draft manuscripts of the Big Book Dick B. inspected and copied (with permission) at Stepping Stones (Bill W. and Lois W.’s home in New York);
• As you may know, the chapters of the Big Book were thoroughly reviewed by the first A.A. group (Akron) and by the second A.A.. group (New York) before they were included in the first edition (April 1939) of the Big Book.
• After “the story section of the book” and “the text of the book” were “complete in the latter part of January, 1939” [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 164], “[f]our hundred mimeograph copies of the book were made and sent to everyone we could think of who might be concerned with the problem of alcoholism.” [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 165]. Bill W. explained that this “book” was actually “a prepublication copy of the text and some of the stories” [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 165]. This document–better known today as “the Multilith Edition” or “the Original Manuscript”–was completely-typewritten. You may see a retyped version of the so-called “Original Manuscript” here: http://www.silkworth.net/originalmanuscript/originalmanuscript.html. The four paragraphs found on page 12 of the fourth edition which begin with the words “Despite the living example of my friend . . . and end with the words “Would I have it? Of course I would!” were not in the so-called “Original Manuscript.” The question “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” is found in those four paragraphs which were not present in the so-called “Original Manuscript.”
• Next, although Bill W. “had consistently used the word ‘God'” in “the original draft” of the Twelve Steps (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 166), a group of four people–Fitz, Henry P., A.A.’s first secretary Ruth Hock, and Bill W.–decided on “compromise words” for several of the Twelve Steps: “In Step Two we decided to describe God as a ‘Power greater than ourselves.’ In Steps Three and Eleven we inserted the words ‘God as we understood Him.’ . . . Such were the final concessions to those of little or no faith; this was the great contribution of our atheists and agnostics. . . . God was certainly there in our Steps, but He was now expressed in terms that anybody . . . could accept and try.” (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 167).
• After “great numbers of the 400 mimeographs which had been sent out had been returned” and “many helpful suggestions had been made [by the reviewers who had returned their mimeograph copies]” (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 167), “the printer’s copy of the book” was prepared. “We selected one of the mimeographs, and in Henry’s clear handwriting all the corrections were transferred to it. There were few large changes . . .” [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 169]. In what seemed to be, by far, the largest “correction” transferred, four handwritten paragraphs were added beginning on the reverse side of the typed title page and continuing onto a page inserted between the title page and the typed Foreword. And a handwritten “Inst>#1” was added in the margin of the otherwise typewritten document just slightly below the sentence now found on page 12 of the fourth edition: “His roots grasped a new soil.” [See: The Book That Started It All: The Original Working Manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2010): http://mcaf.ee/x32yb%5D
• Consider these two points: (a) It was only after the “committee of four”–Fitz, Henry P., Ruth Hock, and Bill W.–had made “the final concessions to those of little or no faith” (i.e., the “atheists and agnostics”), and had changed Bill W.’s original use of the unmodified word “God” in Steps Two, Three, and Eleven, that the four handwritten paragraphs were added at the very last minute to “the printer’s copy of the book.” And it was those four paragraphs that contained, not only the question “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?”, but also the four non-biblical descriptions of God also found on page 12 in the fourth edition of the Big Book; i.e.: “Creative Intelligence,” “Universal Mind,” “Spirit of Nature,” and “a Czar of the Heavens.” And (b) there is no indication in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age–or in any other A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature of which I am aware–that anyone other than the “committee of four, take two”–i.e., Henry, Ruth, Dorothy S. of Cleveland, and Bill W. (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 170)–got to review the last-minute insertion of those handwritten paragraphs. Not the Akron group, not the New York group, and not the 400 recipients of “the prepublication copy of the book” (i.e., the “Multilith Edition”; also known as the “Original Manuscript.”) But those four paragraphs ended up in the Big Book in April 1939, nonetheless.
Thank you so much for writing to Dick B.

Dick B.’s son, Ken

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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. www.dickb.com
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