Short of a Game Changer – Appendix II

Hail Mary Pass

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.

6 Responses

  1. Tim C says:

    I have always read Appendix II as a game changer myself. Thanks for developing this theme. Unfortunately, AA literature and records of talks are full of Bill W and others saying one thing in one place and the opposite elsewhere.

    Personally, I’d like it if AA moved Appendix II to the front section of the book with forwards. That way people would read it at the beginning, not as an after thought.

  2. Wayne M says:

    Great article. However, the “most signifigant” game changer in football? Not sure about that. The so called Immaculate Reception (how ironic!!) by Franco Harris might be more so.

    • bob k says:

      I predict that Tim Tebow will set new heights as to what will be regarded as ‘miraculous’ in the years to come. Changing Gatorade into Red Bull, walking on the waterboy – all are in the offing. Possibly even a virgin birth.
      BTW, let’s have more of this “Bob K.” guy, he’s freakin’ brilliant !

  3. Brent P. says:

    Some questionable comparisons here.
    If you got sober in AA, then AA is and was the “game changer”. Doug Flutie’s “hail Mary” pass is one among far too many to count and is rarely cited as the most significant “game changer” among knowledgeable football fans. You might recall the Joe Montana to Dwight Clark pass in the 1982 NFC Championship game between the 49er’s and the Cowboys. But that’s just a quibble.
    In the spirit of “free thinking”, I don’t find much of that in your article or on this site in general. What gets promoted, alluded to or implied is an agenda. It’s clear and, in my humble opinion, ought not be clouded by pretense. Defining the problem as one between believers and non is to miss the point entirely and create a holy war.
    What I’d like to believe is really being lobbied for here is a reconsideration of AA’s literature and its biased interpretation of how alcoholics get sober in AA. We’re long overdue for that. Free thinking or not, most sober alcoholics have a hard time explaining how and why they got sober exactly when they did. For many it’s all too easy to attribute it to divine intervention. Especially when they are abetted in that interpretation by a program that has decided to ignore relatively new information that explains the neurological processes that override the addict’s cognitive functions; processes that command him to keep drinking or using when it is well understood that to continue is to invite ruin.
    But that has nothing to do with agnosticism or faith, it has to do with science and a growing body of empirical knowledge about addiction.
    The division(s) that exists in AA should have nothing to do with a person’s faith or lack of it. It should be that we are able to revise our thinking on something when presented with valid, new information. That is the definition of “free thinking” and it certainly allows for all manner of game changers.
    AA already, in its appendix, acknowledges that “education” is the real spiritual game changer. It is from that point that a legitimate discussion on the relevance of AA’s literature and it’s interpretations of recovery should begin.
    To return to the Flutie analogy. While it may appear that one pass changed the outcome of that game, it would have meant squat if there weren’t already 41 points on the board.
    Mysticism and spirituality have their place in our lives. And seeking some reconciliation with the great mysteries – the unknown – is frequently a worthy enterprise. But that is a personal journey. Understanding alcoholism and effectively treating it is a collective effort. Finding ways to come together on that seems to make ever greater sense than cultivating a single point of division.

    • bob k says:

      Thanks for the comments, Brent. In retrospect, I fully acknowledge that “One of the most famous single plays….” would have been a more judicious choice of words. In my defence, the italicized comments including “perhaps the most significant ‘game changer’ to date in football history” are from our editor who knows a great deal more about exigesis and eisegesis than “buttonhooks” or “going deep.”

      Of course, the piece has nothing to do with football, other than as a mere analogy. I think that we are very much in agreement that IT IS about our literature. Appendix II, while helpful to many, does not change the fact that our main text is for many, a prayer book that is frozen in 1939. For some like me, AA has in fact been a “game-changer” but for so many others, the religiosity of the literature and our meeting practices has proved insurmountable.

      Respecting the term “freethinker,” I accept Oxford’s “a person who rejects dogma or authority, especially in religious belief,” or Webster’s “one that forms opinions on the basis of reason independently of authority.” I’m sorry if that’s not what you see “on this site in general,” as those things are PRECISELY what I find here!

  4. Chuck T. says:

    I bought the Big Book after my second meeting and read most of it that night. Afraid of the “god stuff” I followed the asterisk. It relieved some of the fear. The Spenser quote turned out to be useful too. Still is.
    That night’s speaker had walked us down the difficult road to a God of his very own that his sponsor helped him navigate. That removed more of the fear. Not long after I heard his sponsors story of his difficult path to a God he came to understand. His was more terrifying than Marvin’s and Marv’s was more terrifying than mine.
    Marvin is still with us with well over forty years. His sponsor died with forty-three. Of the two young women who sold me the book, one died sober at four years and the Marilyn and I are members of the class of ’72. Spoke to her on the phone last night. Still going strong.

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