The “higher power” Iceberg. Steam the Other Way. No Titanic for A.A.

The A.A. “higher power” Iceberg. Steam the Other Way. No Titanic for A.A.

By Dick B.
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved

Academia and a small group of the clergy have been pushing “nonsense gods” ever since A.A.’s Akron Christian Recovery program was founded in June 1935.

What are these “nonsense gods?” They are “higher powers” that are called light bulbs, “Somebody,” “Something,” a tree, a Coke Bottle, the Big Dipper, the back end of a city bus, a chair, a table, a radiator, Gertrude, Ralph, and any “power greater than yourself.”

Rev. Sam Shoemaker, called by Bill W. a “cofounder of A.A.,” tried to help AAs and Christians become aware of this idolatry. He decried “absurd modern names for God,” “self-made religion,” and “half-baked prayers.” Shoemaker made comments along these lines in his talks at the International A.A. Conventions in St. Louis (1955) and Long Beach (1960). You can find his solution in one of his earliest books, Realizing Religion.

In that early book Realizing Religion–introducing many ideas Bill W. was later to incorporate in his Twelve Steps and the language of his Big Book of 1939–Shoemaker made the spiritual battle plain.

He pointed to the need for “finding” God. He discussed becoming “born again.” He discussed the “turning point.” He discussed the need for a “vital religious experience.”

Shoemaker’s simple explanation of man’s spiritual problem–spiritual misery–certainly didn’t point to light bulbs or chairs as a solution. Who would pray to a chair for relief from alcoholism! Who would try to find “power” in Ralph? Who would claim to understand that a “higher power” could be understood and relied upon to produce the miraculous of cure of alcoholism? Who would assert that the A.A. “solution” on page 25 of the Big Book entailed the back end of a city bus entering into your heart in a way that is truly miraculous? Absurdities all!

We now know from Bill W.’s own discussion on pages 166-67 of the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age that this whole shift to a ridiculous “broad highway” for alcoholics and addicts resulted in part from Bill’s having yielded to the irreligious begging of his partner Hank Parkhurst. Although Bill stated that he (Bill W.) “had consistently used the word ‘God’” in “the original draft” of the Twelve Steps, he went on to state that—as a result of the compromise he reached with Hank, Fitz, and Ruth–they removed the word “God” from Step Two and “decided to describe God as a ‘Power greater than ourselves.’” Bill further stated: “In Steps Three and Eleven we inserted the words ‘God as we understood Him.’” Rev. Sam Shoemaker had often used language similar to “a Power greater than ourselves,” and he had used a version of the expression “God as we understood Him” in Children of the Second Birth, and The Way to Find God. But Bill admitted that his changing of the wording of Steps Two, Three, and Eleven from his original, unmodified use of the word “God” to the wording of those Steps as they are found in the first and following editions of the Big Book was done to appease “our atheists and agnostics” (of whom there were practically none in the earliest A.A. days before the Big Book was published in April 1939).

Shoemaker made it clear that God as he (Shoemaker) understood Him was Yahweh (as He calls Himself in the Scriptures) –the Creator, the Maker, and God Almighty (as He is described in the Scriptures). Bill W. stated, in reporting what happened when his hospital room at Towns Hospital “blazed with an indescribably white light” in mid-December 1934:

And then the great thought burst upon me: ‘Bill, you are a free man! This is the God of the Scriptures.’” And then I was filled with a consciousness of a presence. A great peace fell over me, . . .

It was “the God of the Scriptures” to whom Bill W. was referring in 133 occurrences of the word “God” in pages 1-164 of the fourth edition of the Big Book. It was “the God of the Scriptures” to whom Bill was referring in his 81 uses of capitalized pronouns in those same 164 pages. And it was “the God of the Scriptures” to whom Bill was referring in his 12 mentions of the word “Creator” (with a capital “C”), his two mentions of “Maker” (with a capital “M”), and his mentions of “the Father” and of “the Father of Light.” As A.A. cofounder Bill W. put it, for the alcoholic to be delivered from alcoholism—“The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house.” As A.A.’s other cofounder, Dr. Bob, put it in his personal story in the Big Book:

Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!

Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, a cofounder of AA, wrote these ideas in Realizing Religion–a decade before there even was an Alcoholics Anonymous. Shoemaker said: (1) Man suffers from spiritual misery. (2) Motor drives will not relieve it. (3) The spiritual misery is man’s separation from God who meant man to be His (God’s) companion. (4) “What you need is a vital religious experience,” Sam wrote. (5) “You need to find God.” (6) “You need Jesus Christ.”

And early Akron AAs responded to these ideas.

There were no “higher powers.” The “higher powers” were the product of people like Emmet Fox who claimed the doctrine of salvation in the Bible was bogus. In those early years, only a few people like William James, Ralph Waldo Trine, Fox, and Victor Kitchen–who talked “new thought” language–were introducing the idea of a “higher power”–a phrase that will not be found in the Bible which early Akron AAs stressed.

Now, an American researcher and a British clergyman are holding a “higher power conference” to find out the various ways in which this weird phrase is understood. The answer? It is a diversion. It is idolatrous, And it is impotent. It surely is not understood because it’s nonsense!

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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