By Bob K.
Possibly the most famous single play in the history of American football took place in 1984, and involved a player who would later star for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League. Boston College trailed rival Miami 45 – 41, with only seconds remaining. In one final, frantic attempt to escape defeat, quarterback Doug Flutie tossed a high pass into the end zone from about mid-field. Such an effort rarely succeeds, in part because the opposition knows exactly what is coming. This sort of desperate, last ditch play has acquired the name “Hail Mary” pass, presumably as, while the ball hovers in the air, there is time for a very quick prayer to the “Lord of the Heavens,” his “Son,” or in this case the “Baby Momma.”
Mr. Flutie’s pass was caught by the intended receiver, and his team scored a 47-45 win. This single play was a “game changer,” in the parlance of sport – it reversed the game’s outcome.
It seems that Bill Wilson was trying to produce a “game changer” of sorts with Appendix II “Spiritual Experience,” which was added to the Big Book at the time of its second printing, in 1941. To that point, the diligent efforts of the early “freethinkers” had been unable to stem the “religious” tide of proselytizing believers, managing only the very small concessions of a “as we understood Him” here, and a “Power greater than” there. The liberalism of “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” is countermanded by a textbook which describes the “party-line” conception in great detail.
Without the “Spiritual Experience” Appendix, AA’s “ugly ducklings” would have had to hang their hats on page 47 of the Big Book: “When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book.” Of course, this is fraught with numerous perils. The very same paragraph describes the likely “progression” yet to come – “Afterward, we found ourselves accepting many things which then seemed entirely out of reach… we had to begin somewhere. So we used our own conception, however limited it was.”
A central theme, a “core belief,” as expressed in our book, is that human power has always failed us, and will inevitably continue to do so. What is needed is for the alcohol problem to be “taken away.” “What is this but a miracle of healing? …He humbly offered himself to his Maker – then he knew. Even so has God restored us to our right minds… When we drew near to Him He disclosed Himself to us.” The supposed broad-mindedness of “your own conception of God” clearly doesn’t extend to “your own conception” of which letters to capitalize, and vanishes within a few pages – the conception having served its purpose as “training wheels” to steady the bike until real riding skills are acquired.
The tenor of the “Spiritual Experience” Appendix is dramatically different – “…the PERSONALITY CHANGE (capitals mine) sufficient to overcome alcoholism has manifested itself among us in many different forms.” Putting the majority of these experiences in the category of an “educational variety,” seeing the essential change as “a profound alteration in his reaction to life,” allows one to view the entire recovery process as a matter of psychology. Jim Burwell, Hank Parkhurst and others lobbied hard for the entire book to be written from such a perspective.
The excellent Robert Thomsen biography, “Bill W.,” tells us of the New York version of 1930’s AA:
There were agnostics in the Tuesday night group, and several hardcore atheists who objected to any mention of God. On many evenings Bill had to remember his first meeting with Ebby. He’d been told to ask for help from anything he believed in. These men, he could see, believed in each other and the strength of the group. At some time each of them had been totally unable to stop drinking on his own, yet when two of them had worked at it together, somehow they had become more powerful and they had been finally able to stop. This then, whatever it was that occurred between them was what they could accept as a power greater than themselves.
In this light, the seeming back-sliding of, “that such a change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone” is easily answered by the secularist – “Yes, by myself I am without power, but together we are strong.” The caveman needs not God to conquer the sabre-toothed tiger, but he does need other cavemen. Throughout the pages of “Alcoholics Anonymous,” the real meaning of “a Power greater than ourselves” is blatantly evident, no decoder ring is required. Yet in Appendix II, only “our more religious members” refer to the “awareness of a Power greater than ourselves” as “God-consciousness.” In this addendum, the term “spiritual” is taken to the widest possible range of meaning, granting acceptance to a much more “materialist” view of the process. In effect, there are viable choices in one’s conception of “how it works.”
Unfortunately, although the “Spiritual Experience” Appendix has been vital in assisting so many of us in navigating to sobriety via some clever seamanship, the Appendix does not fall into the category of a game changer. Doug Flutie’s last second completion to Gerard Phelan would be totally without notoriety, were there a single change in the circumstances – Miami having such a lead as to be out of reach. The touchdown changed who won and thus was the “game changer” part. The “Spiritual Experience” Appendix, our “Hail Agnostics” pass play, doesn’t change the game, but it is nice to at least be in the game, even if barely showing on the scoreboard.
Thanks for reading this article. And, uh, oh yeah, right. “Please stand. We will now close with the Lord’s Prayer.”
The picture that accompanies this post is an actual photo of Doug Flutie’s 1984 pass to Gerard Phelan – perhaps the most significant “game changer” to date in football history.