A.A. Author and Historian Dick B. on What a “higher power” isn’t!

Higher Power

By Dick B.
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved

Some of us spend a lot of time asking the question “What is a Higher Power?” Sometimes, the answer is, “Something.” Sometimes, the answer is “Somebody.” Sometimes, the answer is “Anything that keeps me from drinking.” Others say “it” is a light bulb, a radiator, a chair, the A.A. Group, 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 certainly are.

However, the more the answers, the more the questions, because those “light bulb” and “Big Dipper” phrases don’t answer questions, they just raise the question, “What is it?”

Historically, the “higher power” phrase comes from New Thought writers like Ralph Waldo Trine, William James, the Emanuel Movement people, including, perhaps, Bill W.’s friend Victor Kitchen. See Dick B., God and Alcoholism: Our Growing Opportunity in the 21st Century, 2002, pp. 89-101, ISBN 1885803346 (http://dickb.com/Godandalcoholism.shtml); Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes, 1997, pp. 1-10, 163-172, ISBN 1885803079 (http://dickb.com/Turning.shtml).

But what is it?

Dr. Bob’s wife Anne Ripley Smith simply called the nonsense names a “funk hole” See Dick B. Anne Smith’s Journal 1933-1939: A.A.’s Principles of Success, 3rd ed., 1998, pp. 91. 119-120, ISBN 1885803249 (http://dickb.com/annesm.shtml)

Let me tell you how three old timers approach the answer to what a “Higher Power” isn’t:

One old timer–the oldest–was my friend Jim H. from Maryland. He lived 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 later years, Jim came to know me and endorsed a number of my books. Jim’s answer to the “higher power” nonsense involved s a “take-away” approach. He said to me and wrote: “If you take God out of the program, you have nothing.”

Another old timer–the 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 to the nonsense phrase was to “identify” the “highest power.” Ray frequently said: “My higher power isn’t conference approved; but his Father is!”

A third–an old timer from Oregon whose name is Gene–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 in 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. 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 believers, not just unbelievers, but in fact not much of any of these if they just stayed sick and didn’t get into a fellowship and didn’t 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.” And want so to identify themselves. Who is 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. It’s neither his privilege nor his right.

A responsible member who is a Christian is one who makes it clear that the Creator, his Father, is “Conference-approved”—certainly not “Conference dis-approved.” He knows that most “Conference-approved” literature refers to God, establishing a relationship with God, the Bible, biblical phrases, and the early A.A. Christian Fellowship.

A responsible member may certainly be a person 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). He was not required to turn to “the Lord”, and his A.A. forbears were either; but he has that privilege and right.

A responsible member is one who would rather focus on what God has done for him once he sought God, than on sparking conflicts over definitions about who is sick from what, about what the nature of a “higher power” is, about what “it” is or isn’t, about what the meaning of “is” is, and/or about who satisfies 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 any kind of “higher power” for Almighty God. Another is that I never got thrown out when I mentioned God. Or even when I mentioned the Bible. Another is that I used the same terms to describe Almighty God that were used by Dr. Bob, Bill Wilson, and the other pioneers—Creator, Maker, Father, God, Father of lights, Heavenly Father, and Spirit. Another is that I soon gave up thinking I could expect others to 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. My job is to be of maximum service to God and to carry the message to those still suffering from alcoholism. That’s our primary purpose, and it works!

dickb@dickb.com, 808 874 4876

Gloria Deo

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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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