The Term “God of our Understanding” and Some Myths

The Term “God of Our Understanding,”
Occurrences of the Word “God” and Related Words in the Big Book, and
a Big Myth

By Ken B.
© 2012 Anonymous. All rights reserved

Aloha to you from Maui, Hawaii!

Here are some comments on the A.A. history portions of an email message I received recently.

1. The term “God of our understanding” does not occur on pages 1-164 of the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (2001). Please see the attached file “The Term ‘God of Our Understanding’ Is Not in the Big Book or the 12 and 12” for a detailed discussion.

[If you are reading this article on a Dick B. blog or Web site, please contact Ken B. at kcb00799@gmail.com about the availability of this file.]

A.A. cofounder Bill W. decided to write what he described as “the new version of the program, now the ‘Twelve Steps.'” (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 162; bolding added). A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob’s sponsee Clarence S. founded the third A.A. group in the world in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 11, 1939. Clarence’s biographer, Mitchell K., states: “Two years after the publication of the [Big] book [on April 10, 1939], Clarence made a survey of all of the members in Cleveland. He concluded that, by keeping most of the ‘old program,’ including the Four Absolutes and the Bible, ninety-three percent of those surveyed had maintained uninterrupted sobriety.” (Mitchell K., How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, 108; bolding added). Frank Amos’ summary of the seven-point “old program”–which he prepared for John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in February 1938 (the month and year in which Clarence S. got sober in Akron under Dr. Bob)–is quoted on page 131 of DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers. There is no mention in those seven points of “God as we understood Him,” “a Higher Power,” or “a Power greater than ourselves.” Rather, item #2 states:

He must surrender himself absolutely to God, realizing that in himself there is no hope.
Dr. Bob–whom A.A. cofounder Bill W. called “the prince of all twelfth-steppers” because he, accompanied by Sister Ignacia, helped 5,000 alcoholics recover between 1940 and 1950–stated:
I didn’t write the Twelve Steps. I had nothing to do with the writing of them. [The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches: Their Last Major Talks, 14]
In speaking of a very significant “battle over the book,” Bill W. stated:
All this time I had refused to budge on these steps. I would not change a word of the original draft, in which, you will remember, I had consistently used the word “God,” . . . We [i.e., Bill W., Hank P., John Henry Fitzhugh M. (“Fitz”), and Ruth Hock] finally began to talk about the possibility of compromise. Who first suggested the actual compromise words I do not know, . . . 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 still there in our Steps, but He was now expressed in terms that anybody–anybody at all–could accept and try.” [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 166-67; italics in original, bolding added]
Bill W. states the following on page 12 of the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous:
My friend [i.e., Ebby T.] suggested what then seemed a novel idea. He said, “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?”
That paragraph was part of a four-paragraph, handwritten insertion that was made in the “printer’s manuscript” of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. The four handwritten paragraphs were not present in the so-called “Multilith Edition” or “Original Manuscript” of which Bill W. states “four hundred mimeograph copies . . . were made and sent to everyone we could think of . . .” (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 165). For a very extensive analysis of the question “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” see Appendix 1: “Why Don’t You Choose Your Own Conception of God?” in our new title, Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous: God’s Role in Recovery Confirmed! by Dick B. and Ken B., which is now available in 6″ x 9″ format from Amazon.com (http://mcaf.ee/c02zd) and in Kindle eBook format (http://mcaf.ee/3l0e7). It should be available in other eBook formats (e.g., iPad, iPhone, Nook, etc.) from http://www.SmashWords.com (use “Dick B.” as the search term) and other sources within the next few days.

The 29 testimonies by the early A.A. pioneers contained in the “Personal Stories” section of the 1939 edition are talking about the “old,” highly-successful(!) Akron A.A. “Christian fellowship” program which A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob began developing together over the summer of 1935. Bill W.’s “new version of the program” did not exist! 22 of those personal stories in the first edition were not included in the second edition published in 1955. And four more of the original stories were not included in the fourth edition published in 2001. Thus readers of today’s Big Book are receiving very little information about the “old program” for which A.A. claimed a 75% success rate up to the time the first edition was published in April 1939. If you want to see the many testimonies to the roles played by God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible in early A.A.’s astonishing successes among “seemingly-hopeless,” “medically-incurable” alcoholics, check out Alcoholics Anonymous: The Original 1939 Edition with a 23-page Introduction by Dick B.:

http://mcaf.ee/pkj5l

2. Here are some facts about the word “God,” capitalized pronouns, and biblical descriptions as they are used of the Creator of the heavens and the earth on pages 1-164 of the fourth edition of the Big Book:
• The word “God” occurs 135 times on pages 1-164. [This figure includes related word-forms, including “God-consciousness” (p. 13), “God’s” (pp. 24, 25, etc.), “God-sufficiency” (p. 52), “God-given” (p. 69), and “God-conscious” (p. 85).] If one chooses to omit/disqualify “for God’s sake” (p. 24) and “the God of reason” (p. 54), that would leave 133 occurrences of the word “God” which fairly clearly refer to the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
• Capitalized pronouns referring to the Creator of the heavens and the earth (i.e., God) occur 81 times on pages 1-164; i.e., “He,” “His,” “Him,” “Thou,” “Thy,” and “Thee.”
• Biblical descriptions of the Creator of the heavens and the earth (i.e., God), other than the word “God,” occur 16 times; i.e., “Creator,” “Maker,” “the Father,” and “the Father of Light.”
So there are 232 occurrences of the word “God” and related words on pages 1-164 of the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (or 230, see above). I have attached three documents providing all of the actual occurrences of the words and phrases just discussed. In addition, I have attached a document containing the 41 occurrences of non-biblical descriptions of the Creator of the heavens and the earth (i.e., “God”) for your review.
[If you are reading this article on a Dick B. blog or Web site, please contact Ken B. at kcb00799@gmail.com about the availability of this file.]

3. There is a myth that has been floating around A.A. for a long time that needs to be put to rest:
The “first 164 pages,” “The Doctor’s Opinion,” and “Appendix II: Spiritual Experience” are the “basic text” of the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous.
That statement is NOT true. If one looks up the meaning of the word “text” in the dictionary, most of the questions would be answered. But for the purpose of exploding this myth, one only needs to look at the front cover of the dust jacket of the hardback fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. The front cover states:
Alcoholics Anonymous: This is the Fourth Edition of the Big Book, the Basic Text for Alcoholics Anonymous
If that isn’t clear enough, one may go to page xi of the Preface for clarification:
[Paragraph two:] “. . .[T]his book has become the basic text for our Society . . .”

The original “Big Book”–i.e., the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous published on April 10, 1939–was 410 pages. It contained 10 pages of “front matter” and 400 pages of “main text.” (At that time, the chapter titled “The Doctor’s Opinion” was included in the “main text,” and its pages were numbered 1-9, with “Chapter One: Bill’s Story” beginning on page 10. Chapter 11, “A Vision for You,” ended on page 179. The “Personal Stories” section–containing 29 personal testimonies from early A.A. pioneers for whom A.A. claimed a 75% success rate among those “who really tried” and “thoroughly followed our path”–began on unnumbered page 181 (with Dr. Bob’s personal story beginning on page 183) and ended on page 396. It was 215 pages long. At the end of the book, there was an Appendix about the Alcoholic Foundation.

In today’s fourth edition (2001), the “front matter” is 32 pages long and includes “The Doctor’s Opinion.” Chapter 1: “Bill’s Story,” now begins on page one, and the first eleven chapters of the book end on page 164. The “Personal Stories” section now begins on unnumbered page 165 and ends on page 559. Pages 561-73 consist of seven Appendices.

Why are these details important? First and foremost, because the whole book, Alcoholics Anonymous, is the “basic text” for the Alcoholics Anonymous Society, and the Big Book says so! Second, because vitally-important testimony to the roles played by God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible in early A.A.’s astonishing successes are contained in the “Personal Stories” section beginning after page 164. Have you seen the last line of Dr. Bob’s personal story?
Your Heavenly Father will never let you down! [p. 181]
Have you seen this statement by A.A. cofounder Bill W.?
“Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.” [p. 191]
Have you seen this statement by A.A. Number 3, Bill D.?
Bill [W.] was very, very grateful that he had been released from this terrible thing, and he had given God the credit for having done it, and he’s so grateful about it he wants to tell other people about it. That sentence, “The Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep telling people about it,” has been a sort of a golden text for the A.A. program and for me.
Enjoy!

In GOD’s love,

Ken B.

PS: Please check out the International Christian Recovery Coalition. It is FREE to become a “Participant”: http://www.ChristianRecoveryCoalition.com. And please check out the “Christian Recovery Radio with Dick B.” show, the “Russell S. Talks,” and other Christian Recovery resources available at: http://www.ChristianRecoveryRadio.com.

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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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