Critique of Chapter 10 – To Employers

Chapter 10

Rigorous commonsense is by no means obvious to much of the world.  Indeed, commonsense sometimes requires ceaseless vigilance in its defense.

Richard Dawkins

By Paul W.

The prior critiques by Clara M., life-j, and myself have made the case for retiring the Big Book and using it only as a historical document for research purposes. A new, revised and corrected, volume might be useful but only if it is up to date, corrects errors such as those pointed out in the critiques and allows for continued corrections and updates.

Chapter 10 alone makes the case for retiring the current Big Book and, if desired, the issuing of an updated and corrected volume.  As the reader will notice, this critique is very brief. That is because the points made are easily made briefly and a plethora of examples would be tiresome to the reader.

As a document referred to as the “AA Bible”, the Big Book has achieved a near formal sacredness and thus standing as infallible. The multiple Advisory Actions of the General Service Conference establishing and reaffirming the “suggestion” that, except for the personal stories, not one word of the Big Book is to be changed solidified this impression. When the fervent attachment to Bill Wilson’s words by many AA members is added to the General Service Conference actions Bill Wilson’s words gain a status beyond the respect due to them. Rather his writings, specifically in the Big Book, have gained a reverence which has become sacred to far too many within Alcoholics Anonymous. If it can’t be changed (corrected, updated, etc.) it must be infallible. If infallible, it must be correct. Put it all together and the belief that Bill’s words are sacred and infallible is not surprising. This misplaced devotion must be corrected without discrediting the good work of Bill and Doctor Bob.

Chapter 10, “To Employers,” is part of the unchangeable text. Its advice to employers on dealing with alcoholic employees is dangerously out of date and incorrect. Any reasonable up-to-date employer in 2018 who had been given the Big Book as a tool for dealing with alcoholic employees would not only decide that AA knows little about today’s business but would likely assume that AA isn’t well informed about other matters, including alcoholism itself.

Employers of business larger than very small operations more often that not have engaged lawyers and human resource professionals as employees or consulting advisors. Internal or external, lawyers would condemn this text as a blue print for being taken to court. Human resource personnel would echo this and add any number of other objections. If followed, the advice put forth in this chapter could very well lead to catastrophic results for the employee and the employer.

A Few Examples

In the 1930s, there were no professionally run rehabs, ignoring them today is ridiculous. Medicine was not yet modern enough to even seriously consider alcoholism to be an illness rather than a weakness of character. Detoxing a suffering alcoholic in the privacy of one’s home was not only a practice when the Big Book was published but was encouraged. Bill Wilson himself commented, in the Big Book, about keeping some alcohol in the house to help sufferers get through withdrawal. This is so ingrained with some in AA that they complain about it not being a general practice. A reading of the anonymous “White Paper” will disclose such an attitude.

The Bright Spot

Fortunately, there is something refreshing and almost startling about this chapter. While “To Employers” counsel is outdated, this chapter is clearly secular in its language. There is no mention of God, Higher Power, Power Greater than Ourselves, Spiritual, or anything of a religious or supernatural nature here. The author uses “mentally sick” rather than spiritually ill and having a “change of heart” as opposed to a spiritual awakening. Clearly one can write about alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous in a totally secular and thus inadvertently excluding nontheists or people of nontheistic beliefs.

“To Employers” was not written by Bill, he had no experience as an employer and wisely turned to another AA member for this chapter. He turned to Hank P., a businessman.

Hank is one of the nontheists whose influence resulted in lessening or modifying the references to God in the Twelve Steps. While the advice is outdated, Hank proved that it is possible to discuss AA without even mentioning God directly or by any euphemism.

Chapter 10 Hank wrote, “it is best that no one tell him he must abide by its suggestions” which echoed Bill’s words from Chapter 5 where the Steps are introduced thus, “Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery.” (emphasis mine)

Hank also pointed out, “are you not looking for results rather than methods?” With these few words, Hank previewed Bill’s thoughts to be written decades later, giving freedom to practice AA in any manner which works for the alcoholic.

In Conference-approved Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (© 1957) on page 81 Bill wrote, “we must remember that AA’s Steps are suggestions only”. And on page 105, Bill quotes the end of Tradition Three (Long Form), “Any two or three gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that as a group they have no other affiliation” going on to write, “This means that these two or three alcoholics could try for sobriety in any way they liked.  They could disagree with any or all of AA’s principles and still call themselves an AA group.” (emphasis mine)  Since AA’s principles are the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions, and the Twelve Concepts of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson clearly held that an AA group can exist without a god and with revised Steps and still be a part of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Unfortunately, far too many AA members have not read this chapter, even though, when asked if they have read the Big Book, many with raise their hand indicating “yes.”  The same seems to be true of “To Wives.”  Many believe that, with the possible exception of “To Wives” all eleven chapters were written by Bill Wilson.  (As Clara M. explained in her excellent critique of Chapter 8, Lois Wilson did not write that chapter.  Bill would not allow that.)  Fewer yet have read Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age or there would be fewer misunderstandings about personally modifying the Steps.

The takeaway lesson from Chapter 10 should be that it is possible for the lessons of Alcoholics Anonymous to be cast in language open to and acceptable to theists and nontheists alike. The message of AA needs to be logical, internally consistent, in tune with modern knowledge and techniques, and open to all people who are sick and suffering.  Isn’t it about time for Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. to come into the 21st Century?

Paul W has been a member of AA since 1989. He is comfortable as a nontheist and calls himself an atheist. He has spoken at Area functions about the lack of literature for nonbelievers and has been a supporter of recognizing non-theists as full members of AA. Before retirement, he was a consultant with an international professional services firm where he specialized in education and organizational behavior. Paul and his wife live in New Jersey, she a Christian (of her own definition) and he an atheist. They have six children (50% atheists), six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

14 Responses

  1. Peter G. says:

    While there are some useful suggestion and insights in the AA Big Book the recovery process has evolved since 1939. The primary purpose of AA is to stay sober and help others. Books, meetings, and meeting rituals facilitate this basic function. They were never meant to replace it.

    Been attending AA since 1979 and sober since 1980. Back then the AA Big Book was always displayed but seldom discussed or quoted. This began to change in my area about 1990 when the first Big Book meetings started. Then one began to hear about the “Bible”. Have a problem? “Read the Book”.

    Currently in my morning meditation I read “Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life”. Being familiar with the “AA Big Book” I really appreciate some of the wonderful books on recovery written since 1939. It’s been a real inspiration for me to be able to read and discuss some of these books with others at a secular meeting.

  2. Guy H. says:

    The article is exactly right. The Big Book should be retired as an archive version and a new one written leaving out all references to God, higher power and spirituality. And rephrasing all the negative and sexist and anti stuff which found its way into so many paragraphs. But the true-believers will fight it all the way. They think they have found an easier, simpler way. Put your head in the sand. I looked up the least religious countries per populace and China is number one. Sweden, Norway etc. and western Europe come in 2nd. Unfortunately India (with it’s 900,000,000 voters) is a religious cesspool.

  3. Joel D says:

    We have a growing grassroots Secular movement here in NE Ct. There are 2 secular meetings and we are on our way to being acknowledged at the district level through the addition of a Secular AA Committee.

    In my opinion we non-theists either are or are not part of AA. You can’t have it both ways. I would rather remain a part of. At our secular meetings we have often railed against the Big Book, the steps, and most of the rest of it. I agree that the Big Book in particular is dated, pandering, and poorly written. As it is viewed as sacrosanct to many AA members it will never be changed updated, or relegated to a historical footnote. Nor will a new “textbook” or “bible” ever be accepted.

    Rather than point out how we differ from traditional AA we emphasize our similarities and adherence to the Traditions of AA. I often mention that about 35% of the population is non-religious. Thus I may get the truly empathetic wishing to help those who suffer in the void. It also gets the would be evangelists and missionaries thinking of all the souls they can save. A bit disingenuous maybe but I sleep well.

  4. Andy says:

    Agreed, Most AA literature especially the “Big Book” is an embarrassment to any logical and modern thinking human being. Like much religious literature there are a few parables but most of it is outdated crap.

    I think the only way for a new guide book to be implemented is for someone/group to write one and start AA meetings centred around such. This would raise a stink and probably take many decades to become mainstream but I am sure that the impetus exists.

  5. Phil E. says:

    Yep. Tried detoxing a fellow, according to guidance from the BB, about 30 years ago with a pint of whiskey. We were way down in the NC countryside. Gave him a shot, put him to bed. Ten minutes later, he needed another shot. Five minutes after that , he needed another shot. When I denied him, he went back into his bedroom for a moment, then came out with an old single shot 12 gauge, pointed at my stomach, and said to me, “give me that d—-d pint”. I gave him the rest of the pint, and hit the door. Chapter Ten, indeed.

  6. John M. says:

    Thanks, Paul, for your very interesting article and also to Bob K. for indicating that there is some debate still around Hank P.’s involvement in Chapter 10.

    I happen to be one of the secular folks who likes the Big Book and the 12 & 12 and think that, though flawed in a number of ways, there are some really fine insights and formulations in both texts that encapsulate quite a few very sound recovery principles.

    However, I also look at these two AA texts as performing the function of any good originative texts — stimulating, inspiring, provoking, engendering, etc. other texts that correct or add to or flush out further meanings or interpretations, and in providing additional information that inevitably expands on any text’s initial raison d’être.

    AA’s secular movement does precisely this as is evidenced by Paul’s arguments above and in his call for newer, more contemporary recovery texts.

  7. Arlene J says:

    Personally I feel Bill wrote all but the first step to justify his cheating on Lois.

    If looks could kill when I share this I’d be dead.

    Never believed in god. Sober since May 9, 1969.

  8. John S. says:

    At my home group, the Big Book is irrelevant. It not only doesn’t speak to the actual experience of secular people, but it doesn’t speak to people of this century and that’s because it wasn’t intended for us. It was written by people born in the 19th Century and to be read by people in the early 20th Century.

    There is value in it as a historical document but that’s it. Unfortunately, the widespread belief in the AA Fellowship is that this book is our program and is not to be changed. Fine, don’t change it but write something new!

  9. Ernie B. says:

    It’s time to stop pulling punches and acknowledge that the big book is a piece of crap. It is TERRIBLY written; probably the best example of turgid prose I can think of. I am baffled by people’s idolization of Bill Wilson, he was a raging religious bigot, was unapologetically ignorant and not particularly smart. This weekend CNN reports that there are now more nonreligious people than either Catholics or Evangelicals. AA is well on the road to irrelevance. It’s no wonder that AA’s success rate is only 5-10%.

    • Melinda says:

      One might ask, then, what you are doing here?

      • Ernie Barany says:

        Figuring that out.

      • Mike O says:

        One might ask, then, why do care Melinda? People come here to this site from a lot of backgrounds and for a lot of different reasons. Many of us here may well be on our way out of AA altogether and this is a step along that path. If we stay sober and continue to move forward with our lives that’s okay too. AA deserves to be deconstructed and challenged just like any other sacred cow, especially when it hasn’t proved itself as much as it often claims it does.

  10. bob k says:

    Within the AA history community, the authorship of Chapter 10 is an unresolved issue. There is no answer agreed on by all. I side with those who see Bill as the author. The secularity may stem from an effort by Bill to sound like Hank. Hank was an “ideas guy,” and a delegator. I don’t see him taking on a tedious task outside his comfort zone.

    It’s credible to me that Bill said to Hank: “Give me some notes, and I’ll write it up.” The same guy who penned TO WIVES while pretending to be a woman, would not be restrained by ethical concerns from authoring TO EMPLOYERS. The book was Bill’s project, Bill’s baby. He wanted things the way he wanted them. He even wrote the full DOCTOR’S OPINION, save the initial brief quotation.

    I’m not a prayer guy, at all, but there’s some merit in the philosophy of the Serenity Prayer. A thing that I am certain of is that AA won’t be revising or replacing its principal text within my lifetime. That’s a thing I cannot change. The fundamentalist wing is far greater than the secular element of Alcoholics Anonymous, and they’ve done a tremendous job of lobbying the center that the book should not be revised.

    Fortunately, in the modern world of easy self-publishing, we can pursue other avenues with less frustrating outcomes.

  11. Lance B says:

    Interesting. I had often heard it said around AA rooms that chapter 10 was written by Hank, I’d never really noticed that the chapter is written without the usual references to a higher power. Thanks for pointing that out.

    The chapter to wives, I believe I read in the book “Lois Remembers” that she was offended that Bill did not ask her to write it which led me to assume Bill had.

    Thanks for pointing out a couple of my incorrect assumptions, Paul. And thank you writing this valuable article for publication.

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