AA – The term “God of our Understanding”

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, 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved

This article will address three topics: (1) the use of the phrase “God of our understanding” in Alcoholics Anonymous and some historical background relating to it; (2) the number of occurrences of the word “God,” capitalized pronouns referring to the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and biblical and non-biblical descriptions of the Creator of the heavens and the earth, on pages 1-164 of the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (2001)–often called “the Big Book;” and (3) a harmful myth that has been floating around A.A. about the definition of the term “basic text” as it relates to the Big Book.

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.

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 (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957), 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 [in April 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, Ohio (Washingtonville, NY: A.A. Big Book Study Group, 1997), 108; bolding added].

Frank Amos’s 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 (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980). Interestingly, 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 Ignatia, 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 (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975), 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, 1957), 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?”

The paragraph in which the suggestion above occurs was part of a four-paragraph, handwritten section of text that was inserted in the “printer’s manuscript” of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous at the last minute as the Big Book was going to print. 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 suggestion “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” see Appendix 1: “Why Don’t You Choose Your Own Conception of God?” in Dick B. and Ken B., Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous: God’s Role in Recovery Confirmed! (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2012), available in 6″ x 9” format from Amazon.com (http://mcaf.ee/c02zd), in Kindle eBook format from Amazon.com (http://mcaf.ee/3l0e7), and in other eBook formats.

The 29 personal testimonies of early A.A. pioneers contained in the “Personal Stories” section of the 1939 edition of Alcoholics Anonymous spoke 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 up to the time the second edition was published in 1955. [See “Foreword to Second Edition,” Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., xx]. If one wants 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 (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2011) with a 23-page Introduction by Dick B.: http://mcaf.ee/pkj5l

2. Here are some facts about the number of times the word “God,” capitalized pronouns referring to the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and biblical descriptions of the Creator of the heavens and the earth occur 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”) on pages 1-164 of the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous for your review.

3. There is a myth that has been floating around A.A. for a long time that needs to be put to rest. The myth relates to the common/standard/approved answer to the following question:

What is the “basic text” for Alcoholics Anonymous?

I recently asked a medical doctor that question. He was here in Maui spending time with my dad (pen name “Dick B.”—www.DickB.com) and me in order to learn more about A.A. and its history. If I heard my dad correctly, he said that this doctor had three years of sobriety but had been around “the rooms” of A.A. for more than 20 years. His answer to my question was:

The first 164 pages of the Big Book.

[Some people might also include the Preface in the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (“the Big Book”), the four Forewords, the chapter titled “The Doctor’s Opinion,” and/or “Appendix II: Spiritual Experience” in their answer.]

The problem with the claim that “the first 164 pages of the Big Book is ‘the basic text’ of Alcoholics Anonymous” is that it is NOT true. It is a myth!

If one looks up the meanings of the word “text” in a standard, college-level 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

In other words, according to the front cover of the Big Book’s own dust jacket, it is the whole book—from cover to cover—that is “the basic text” for Alcoholics Anonymous!

If that isn’t clear enough, one may go to page xi of the Preface of the fourth edition of the Big Book for clarification:

. . . [T]his book has become the basic text for our Society . . .”

So again, it is the whole book that is “the basic text” for the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The original “Big Book”–i.e., the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (which had a copyright date of April 10, 1939)–was 410 pages. It contained 10 pages of “front matter,” 396 pages of “main text,” and four pages of “back matter.” The chapter titled “The Doctor’s Opinion” was included in the “main text,” and its pages were numbered 1-9. “Chapter One: Bill’s Story” began 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. (The “Personal Stories” section was 215 pages long.) At the end of the book, there was a single appendix about the Alcoholic Foundation, which began on unnumbered page 397 and ended on page 400.

In today’s fourth edition (published in 2001), the “front matter” of the book is 32 pages long and includes “The Doctor’s Opinion.” The “main text” of the book consists of eleven chapters (including “Chapter 1: “Bill’s Story”–which now begins on page one), spread over 164 pages, and the “Personal Stories” section—which now begins on unnumbered page 165 and ends on page 559. The “back matter” of the book consists of seven Appendices (pages 561-73) and a final, unnumbered page titled “A.A. Literature.” It is the whole book—i.e., all of the “front matter,” all of the “main text,” and all of the “back matter” (taken together)—which makes up “the basic text” for the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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 itself says so! Second, because vitally-important testimony illustrating 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 of the Big Book–beginning after page 164 of the fourth edition. For example, 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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