Alcoholics Anonymous and God
Usually alcoholics are gun shy of religion.
This article was written by Rev. Little. The original is quite lengthy and parts were not necessary for my purpose so I excluded them, but none of the Reverend’s words have been changed. All scriptures were added by me and any comments are in green. If you want to read the entire article you can go here.
In January 1940, Rev. George A. Little, D.D., then a fifty-six year old Minister of The United Church of Canada in Toronto, Ontario, happened to read a review of the book Alcoholics Anonymous written by Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick.
Alcoholics Anonymous, which now has 1,700 groups with 70,000 members and influence far beyond its membership, is a spiritual movement, a faith cure for alcoholism. Men and women find that they have been trying to live without God, and then they discover how to live with God.
Alcoholics Anonymous has greatly increased since the time of this writing. As of 2013, in the United States there are approximately: 59,321 Groups and 1,295,656 Members; in Canada: 5,093 Groups and 93,071 Members; Outside of the U.S. and Canada: 48,726 Groups and 705,902 Members.
That gives a different set to the sails. Or, as one expressed it, the roots of his mind reached down and grasped a new soil. It is a leap of faith to be able to believe that there is a God personal to oneself.
The distinctive novelty is that each alcoholic is allowed to choose his own concept of God. There is full liberty of belief and no end to the varieties of belief. Therein Alcoholics Anonymous differs from the churches that require belief in certain sets of dogma.
An alcoholic refuses to accept these ready-made: he wants to make his own. In A.A. he is encouraged to do so, with this rider, that he obey the Higher Power, as he understands it.
That is intriguing. That places the responsibility on the alcoholic. He is on trial, not an organization, a book, a creed, or a sacrament. Can he act according to his own faith?
Every person has some belief, more or less vague, in a creative, life-giving force, a universal mind or oversoul. Alcoholics Anonymous begins by thinking of this as a Power rather than a Person.
Surrender to the Higher Power is not difficult for alcoholics, because for years they have surrendered to a lower power.
In time, however, there are craving and compulsion, memory blanks, shakes, sweats, headaches, and hangovers. One man after a bout felt as though he had seven skulls. In devotion to this autocratic tyrant alcoholics will surrender thought, time, money, health, friends, and vocation.
To surrender to the Higher Power involves no more exacting a demand than the surrender they have made to alcohol.
Experienced A.A. practitioners, while admitting that they are only amateur psychologists, are wise enough not to begin by demanding beliefs. They work on thoughts, desires, attitudes, relationships, purposes, and habits.
They are agreed that the root trouble is in the thinking, not the drinking. At one meeting of a rather intellectual group the drink problem was not directly mentioned.
The program of recovery is absorbed rather than learned, caught rather than taught.
One helpful approach is to think of God as the truth-making Power. The typical alcoholic insists on making his own interpretation of the universe and he anticipates the Day of Judgment by pronouncing condemnation on all and sundry.
His dislikes are stronger than his likes. Criticism is his mental habit rather than appreciation. It is an initial step in humility to admit that truth is ordained of God.
Mathematicians did not decree the multiplication table, nor musicians the octave, astronomers the calendar, orators the alphabet, mariners the magnetic compass.
When truth is accepted as from God, intellectual conceit begins to vanish. The alcoholic learns to work with the laws of God instead of against them.
Curiously enough the mind starts to discover new truth and to act upon it until every day becomes a voyage of discovery into the many-sided truths of God. Mind and mortality thus have a constant interplay.
In simple, even primitive fashion, members of Alcoholics Anonymous come to think of the Higher Power as the Hero of Eternity. Long before we were born the Higher Power was governing and ordaining: long after we are gone that same Power will be ruling and overruling.
The personality change can be sudden, unexpected, and involuntary.
A well-seasoned drinker, after two months of sobriety, was asked to speak at a meeting. He answered that as yet he had nothing to say. “Then just say that you have nothing to say,” he was told.
When called to speak he announced that for the sake of politeness he could not refuse but “actually I have nothing to say, for nothing has happened to me.” Then he paused. After a somewhat painful silence he said quietly, “Something has happened to me,” and sat down.
Two months later an old friend asked what had happened. He replied: “As I was saying I had nothing to say, suddenly I knew that at long last I had surrendered to goodness. All my life I had been debating and holding back. I have been different ever since and I have not the slightest desire for a drink.”
Without conscious effort his personality has been unified. Rehabilitation may follow a Christian pattern.
One man after thirty years of hard drinking made an inventory of what hard drink had cost him. He became convinced he was a fool, and he did not like being a fool. In his own words this is his story:
“I decided to investigate religion. I read what the Apostles had to say about Jesus Christ. Christ came into my life and liquor stayed out. Nothing goes out until something else comes in.”
The spiritual aspect of the program is by no means camouflaged but it is not made too obvious at first. The Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, sometimes described as the A.A. bible, has three hundred references to the Higher Power.
One member spent a Christmas Day counting them. Six of the Twelve Steps refer to God. The official magazine, The Grapevine, unhesitatingly refers to the Higher Power as God. With increasing frequency at group meetings older members say quite openly that they are staying sober only with the help of God.
Surprising coincidences happen and the explanation naively offered is “Somebody Upstairs.” The intimacy does not come from irreverence but from trust. However slight and vague the faith at first, progress is steadily made toward a more mature and adult thought of God.
“Being confident of this very thing that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6).
In social life an alcoholic is regarded as a misfit. Medicine looks upon him as a non-cooperative patient, very often poor paying. The law deals with him as a criminal and sends him to jail.
Psychiatry diagnoses him as a mental case and confines him in an institution. The church tells him that he is a sinner and must repent. His family has convinced him that he is hopeless.
Against this background of despair, Alcoholics Anonymous comes along telling him that GOD is in him that God can be in him as much as God can be anywhere, that if God is not in him then GOD is not everywhere and so cannot be God.
By the witness of another alcoholic, now sober, the life is breathed into his soul. Without soul and spirit the body is only an empty shell. A few even go so far as to say that God himself may draw upon vital strength and increase of being from their fidelity.
If so, they, each one of them, may be important in the whole scheme of things. A surrendered life, they hold, can be of use to God.
Will power is discounted in A.A. “Use your will power” has been useless advice to them. They have the will but not the power. They do not have the won’t power, let alone will power.
Promises, pledges, prayers have not availed. Then they are told how to replace their puny wills by the will of God. The unit actually begins to lean on the strength of the All.
Men and women who have repeatedly had medical care, been sent to mental hospitals and sanitariums, been given conditioned reflex treatment, gone to alcoholic farms, or taken Reeley Cured, ask why these so often fail and Alcoholics Anonymous is having increasing success.
One answer is that these treatments (for which we are thankful; they are much better than none) were only body cures; and in some degree fear was the motive for reform. They were also very expensive.
Alcoholics Anonymous is cheap: there are no membership dues or entrance fees. Instead of a receding memory, A.A. is a growing experience of fact, fellowship and faith. It is enlarged opportunity and cumulative happiness.
The old has gone, the new has come and keeps coming. The unhappy past is forgotten in happiness and hope. “He who rises quickly and continues his race is as if he has never fallen.” There are great days ahead.
Paul describes the problem that mankind has, including the Alcoholic:
Having the understanding of darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;
Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
But ye have not so learned Christ;
If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts (Eph 4:18-22).
Lie not one another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him (Col 3:9-10).
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Cor 5:17).
The movement is strictly nondenominational. Catholics, Protestants, and Jews work together as brothers, though very few Jews are alcoholics. No effort is made to win others to any particular faith.
The organization seeks to be inclusive rather than exclusive. No one is barred by age, sex, race, or creed. The one condition is the sincere desire to stop drinking. Nearly every club has one or two evangelical atheists.
How is it that denominational differences can be so completely submerged? One reason is that no one is asked to give up anything but is urged to use what he already has.
The church will be wise not to try to control or guide this movement but to learn from it.
The churches may learn something from the flexibility of A.A. organization, the power of fellowship, the possibility of lay evangelism, the transforming power of truth, the influence of common interest groups and the originality of nontechnical language and non-dogmatic theology.
This movement is of the people, by the people, for the people. But the new wine cannot be put into old bottles. It must find its own carriers.
Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and he wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved (Matt 9:17).
In ancient times goatskins were used to hold wine. As the fresh grape juice fermented, the wine would expand and the new wineskin would stretch. But a used skin, already stretched would break. Jesus brings a newness that cannot be confined within the old forms.
In my opinion, Alcoholics Anonymous is a great program. There is one thing they say that I disagree with: according to their understanding I am an Alcoholic, I say I “was” a problem drinker, not an Alcoholic.
To me an Alcoholic has a physical need/drive/addiction to alcohol, like a drug addict or a cigarette smoker. The body cannot function without it.
Or in some cases, psychological, and that is basically what A.A. is saying, but their concept of a psychological problem basically includes anyone that drinks. The basic theory is that in time all drinkers will become an Alcoholic.
I never had that “need”. I drank only to celebrate something or because I was bored. When I had a problem I would not drink over it, I would solve it and then celebrate my victory.
I never drank alone, what fun is that? If I drank alone then no one could see what an ass I could be when drunk.
I say I was a Problem Drinker because once I started I usually drank until I was broke, the bar closed or I was in jail.
Alcoholics Anonymous teaches that you cannot be a “Recovered Alcoholic”, you will always be a “Recovering Alcoholic.” And I agree with them, “if” you agree with their psychological concept.
I have found the cure, without looking for it, which is Jesus Christ. Not just a god, but “The” God.
The Alcoholic has only one of two choices to live a decent life: 1) live by the Alcoholics Anonymous concept or 2) walk with Jesus.
A “Recovering Alcoholic” will always have the desire to drink, it will always be on their mind, even after 20 years of not drinking, and the idea is still embedded within their mind. Only through their own will not to drink can they live a normal life.
Yet, how can that be normal when they consistently have to fight against themselves? And how long can they continue the fight? As Jesus said:
“…if a kingdom be divided against himself, that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.
No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house (Mk 3:24-27).
Jesus Christ is the strong man of my house and nobody or anything can bind Him.
I don’t like Lima beans, they literally make me gag, so I don’t eat them. That is the same with me and alcohol now. I don’t have to remind myself that I can’t drink like normal people, it’s just something I don’t want anymore.
My past drug usage (mainly cocaine) is the same. I had enjoyed the high of cocaine, I even loved watching and feeling the needle go into my arm to the point that I was addicted to the needle.
I did not remove the desire to drink or shoot dope, the Strong Man of my house did that for me. And, not only did He do it for free, I didn’t even ask Him to do so.
Many say that God won’t do anything if you don’t ask Him to do it, and that is true. When I put my full trust in Jesus Christ, asking Him into my heart, He began the cleanup and as the scripture I quoted above says:
“Being confident of this very thing that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6).
If you are with Jesus He will change your heart, not your personality, but your heart and life is fantastic. Without Him…
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing (Jn 15:5).