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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: See! A.A. really is a religion after all The Higher Power didn’t seem to want to cooperate. Nor did the drunks.
Author: Fraser Trevor
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Cover of Varieties of Religious Experience The recent decision by a California Court awarding $1 in damages to a prisoner who had been ...
Cover of "Varieties of Religious Experien...
Cover of Varieties of Religious Experience
The recent decision by a California Court awarding $1 in damages to a prisoner who had been caused to attend A. A. meetings, in violation of his constitutional right to “freedom of religion,” has caused many critics to cry: “See! A.A. really is a religion after all!”

The assertion is, that by calling A.A. a religion, A.A’s teachings are thereby shown to be false and that A.A. should be abandoned by all right thinking people. The attempts of those who try to defend A.A. fall short because most of the A.As. who try to answer the criticism also seem to accept the idea that being “religious” is the kiss of death. This implies that they think that the secular or “scientific” approach is correct.

Trying to be scientific about to alcoholism is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. But that’s OK. A.A. isn’t trying to be scientific. In any large A. A. meeting there are atheists, agnostics, spiritual A. As, and people who are deeply religious. Most of each group, believers and unbelievers, will stay sober - but some get drunk again. Sobriety seems to require something other than the “correct” belief.

The answer to this is that those who are able to remain sober are the members who are able to behave as though they believed. They are able to live their lives on the basis that it really does matter whether they tell the truth or not, whether or not they hurt others, and whether or not they are being selfish.

Control is an Illusion

To do this it is first necessary for them to let go of the illusion that they are in control of their drinking. Experience is about the only thing that will show that the belief in the ability of our kind of drinker to control their drinking is an illusion. Unfortunately, some people die in the effort to maintain the illusion of control.

The admission that things are out of control leaves a pretty grim outlook for the future. There is a frantic search for a way out, leading to A.A. which is telling them to stop fighting the booze and just give up! They think that if they give up, they will drink themselves to death. But A.A. is saying, trust the process, let go! If they can take the leap of faith, and give up, nothing much happens - except - they just don’t drink!

Up to this point, nothing has been required except a belief that A.A. works. As they progress, for many members there will be a problem: A.A. is saying that the primary source of power to sober up drunks is some unexplained agency that links all human beings together and looks after their common and individual welfare. How did A.A. arrive at this conclusion?

A. A, had it’s beginning in a mystical experience. Bill W., recovering from what was to be his last drunk, had an experience of a change of consciousness that caused him to feel that he was in the presence of something that was changing him and solving his drinking problem. The next day he found descriptions of others who had similar experiences in the book “Varieties of Religious Experience” by William James.

Helping Others

Various attempts have been made to explain away Bill’s experience by saying that it was due to the medications he had been given to help detox him or he just had a hallucination. Regardless of the efforts to dismiss whatever happened to him, the following are the results. He was changed. He never drank again. He spent the rest of his life helping others to find what was given to him. He built a fellowship which would continue to help millions of drunks.

Pretty good for a hallucination during the DTs, huh?

The second man to get sober was Dr. Bob S. He was a member of a Christian action group which had failed to get him sober, but when Bill explained the idea of drunks needing and helping each other he finally sobered up. He never drank again. He spent the rest of his life helping others to find what was given him.

This happened in 1935 and the early group of drunks tried to sober up by being a part of Dr. Bob’s Christian group. For many reasons, this didn’t work out so Bill in New York and Bob in Ohio severed all relations with religion and they were just bunches of nameless drunks. They soon called themselves “Alcoholics Anonymous.”

One of the reasons why the Christian drunk recovery groups didn’t work out was the appearance on the scene of some angry atheists who got sober and wouldn’t have anything to do with the God stuff. They stayed sober and wouldn’t go away, so Bill and the boys came up with “God, as you understand Him.”

Higher Power

National publicity and a book describing how to get sober led to rapid growth of the new fellowship to the amazement of everybody. The success of amateurs in the alcoholism field caused embarrassment to the religious and scientific professionals. They tried to copy the methods of A. A. to sober up drunks without success.

The main problem was the idea of a “Higher Power.” One group tried to leave a “Higher Power” out of it’s copy and the other tried to using the “Higher Power” to benefit their institution. The Higher Power didn’t seem to want to cooperate. Nor did the drunks.

It seemed that the “Higher Power” was not behaving in the manner that everyone expected it to behave. The “Higher Power” seem to care what it was called. As A.A. spread all over the world, A.A. members in the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Moslem, Shinto, Taoist and other religions were getting sober. Even the unbelievers could get sober if they had certain attitudes.

Since A.A. was worked out by trial and error it kept ideas that seemed to work and dropped ideas that didn’t work. Several important discoveries were made, the need to be as honest as possible seemed to be essential. It also became apparent that selfishness, egotism and the misuse of self-will were key factors.

Willpower Does Not Work

An alcoholic is in trouble on two or more levels. First, there is a permanent physical difference in the way alcoholic’s body and mind reacts to alcohol. And second, something in the alcoholics unconscious mind will block any attempt to stop drinking.

If you got the giant hives and nearly died every time you ate shellfish, then you would just stop eating shellfish. This would be a very simple solution to your problem. But, this kind of a solution does not seem to work for the alcoholic because their willpower does not function when they try to stop the drinking.

What is needed is a reliable substitute for willpower, and this is where the idea of a “Higher Power” comes in. When the trouble is bad enough and the alcoholic “hits bottom” and they stop trying to control things, they recognize that without some kind of intervention all will be lost, they frantically begin to look outside of themselves for help.

The religious alcoholics seek God, the spiritual look to a Higher Power, the agnostic to “God, if you exist,” and the atheist turns to A.A., the Group or a sponsor for “whatever makes A. A. work.” Then, if the Ego of the alcoholic has been stopped, the “Higher Power” is permitted to act to stop the drinking. There is a deep mystery at the core of A.A. and no final explanation can be given. The best that can be done is to try to give a description of our experiences.

No Free Lunch

In the beginning the sobriety is a gift, freely given. But, there is no free lunch. It turns out that in order to stay sober there must be at least the intention to live life on a different basis than was done previously. This includes being more honest, making efforts not to hurt others, and trying to be less selfish.

There are those who do not feel any responsibility to anyone or anything except themselves. They will have trouble staying sober regardless of what they believe.

It may not be possible for a human being to know precisely the nature of the agency that we refer to as a “Higher Power.” But for the purposes of a drunk trying to get sober or trying to stay sober, “Higher” seems to be the correct way to think and feel about their attitude toward the Power they are asking to help.

This can become a real problem. Alcoholics tend to be defiant and grandiose, most have an inflated Ego and some still have the omnipotent Ego of “His Majesty, the Baby” left over from their infancy. At any rate, the alcoholic Ego tends to reject the idea that anything could be “Higher” than it’s own self. Actually this is the fundamental spiritual problem of everyone.

This is the basis of most atheist’s belief, there just isn’t room for two at the top. So they loudly deny the existence of any kind of a “Higher Power.” However, if they accept that something can stop the drinking that they couldn’t stop and agree to try to play by the rules that they don’t yet understand, then they can get sober.

Out of Control Ego

There are other ways to avoid the problem. Many who profess to believe have created for themselves the conception of “ My Higher Power.” This created entity is tame, can be deceived, is expected to answer prayers and fulfill wishes, and make no demands except that it “be believed in” for which it is profoundly grateful.

It almost seems that somehow the labels, “believer” and “unbeliever,” have gotten mixed up. What one says about their belief does not determine who will stay sober or who will get drunk again. It is the out of control Ego that can cut a person off from the source of help or any kind of contact with the “Higher Power.”

The Ego is a built-in part of us, it arises from the sense of the Self, the “I” in us that experiences awareness. Our spiritual task is to control the childish Ego and to help it grow up emotionally and spiritually.

Mankind has struggled with this problem for many thousands of years. While the specifics of belief may differ, the fundamental teachings of all the world’s great religions are the same. They all have a version of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” They all teach honesty, the value of love over hate, do not take what isn’t given, and do no harm to others. Kindness and compassion are universally taught.

We should not reject the experience recorded in the great works of spiritual literature. People have been aware of and in contact with the “Higher Power,” that we seem to think that we discovered, since the beginnings of recorded history. We have much that we can learn, if we will.
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