Why is the Big Book Sacred?

Sacred: Connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose or deserving veneration.

Cui Bono (to whom is it a benefit?)

By Paul W.

Prelude

The Big Book, which is  the basis of AA’s program, is considered sacrosanct by corporate Alcoholics Anonymous and almost universally by AA members. The very thought of making any modification to the book is unimaginable to AA organizationally and to its members.

Consequently, the “official” AA program continues to rely on the divine, the sacred, the religious. The word “God”, or another version of “Him”, is found 281 times in the first 164 pages of the Big Book. The divine is addressed directly as “God” in four of the 12 steps and indirectly in two, as “Power” and “Him.”

Further, group prayers, led by “officials” are routine – at meetings of every level, from individual groups, to districts, areas, and AA World Service conventions and General Assembly Conferences.

The “insistence” on God-laced recovery and steps and the plethora of prayers in functions of Alcoholics Anonymous clearly excludes non-theists and supports the argument that AA is religious.

How would Bill Wilson react to all this? And, why is this focus on the divine and prayer the case? Cui Bono? This paper focuses on who benefits from the status quo. Who benefits from keeping the Big Book the Bible of Alcoholics Anonymous?

Introduction

Imagine this: Three books exist. All are by one author and generally about the same subject. The first was written during the author’s senior year in a university. Fifteen-years later, after continued education and experience with the subject, the author has a second book published; on the same subject. After three more years, a third book, on the same subject, by the same author and the same publisher, is made available for sale. All three books were peer-reviewed and legally protected.

If you were interested in the subject-matter of these publications, which would you expect to be most informative and useful? If you could reference only one of the three, which would you select? I submit that it is clearly the most recent volume, the one based on more research and experience of the author.

The first two would be of historical and academic interest, but are likely to contain information which has become out-of-date and even to have been discovered as incorrect. For most, the latest book would be the clear choice.

This paper’s focus is about three actual books. All written by William (Bill) Wilson, all published, and distributed by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

The Books

In order of publication the books are:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (1939)
  • Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (1954), and
  • Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (1957)

All three address the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, particularly the Twelve Steps. All three have copyright protection. And all are approved by AA’s General Service Conference.

The official AA endorsement of the first two is further attested to by AA General Service Conference Advisory Actions. These “Actions” protect the books from change; the original wording must stand “as is.” Errors, if any, are therefore not to be corrected. Outdated language, which may not be understandable in current times or now has completely different meanings than originally, are not to be changed. All this in respect and reverence for “Bill’s words.” That is, William (Bill) Wilson’s words are “final” and effectively sacred, by official decree of AA’s “ruling body,” in practice, if not by intent.

Their Distribution

The readership and popularity of these books is evidenced by how many are distributed in one year.

The annual distribution information is taken from recent report of the General Service Conference Annual Meeting. While distribution does not necessarily equal readership, it is a reasonable indicator thereof.

An interesting choice of a title, “Comes of Age” after years of experience with millions of alcoholics. The AA Service Manual chapter on the General Service Representative (GSR) lists one of the duties of a GSR is to be familiar with this publication.

About the Three

The popular Alcoholics Anonymous (aka “Big Book”) out-sells the other two. It is known as AA’s “Bible.”

Many AA members attend “Big Book Workshops” where this publication is studied as vigilantly as the Christian Bible, the Jewish Torah, and the Muslim Quran are studied by those associated with the particular religion. The Big Book is quoted by many, as an authoritative source of the “correct” way to sobriety. In some situations, if something is not “covered in” the Big Book, it is not the “AA way” and not the correct way to sobriety. Members who are able to quote the Big Book are often known as AA gurus or “Big Book Thumpers.” For those members, the Big Book is the “final word.” No counter arguments are considered, no other sources are allowed.

As for Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions; there are also many meetings devoted to the formal and informal study of AA’s Steps as elaborated upon therein. Generally, those “Step Groups” focus on Bill Wilson’s essays on the Steps. The Traditions, when addressed, are given less attention. While Alcoholics Anonymous has “experts” (gurus), the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions apparently has no equivalents.

Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age is clearly the least read of the three volumes, as evidenced by its meager numbers, with less than 7,000 copies distributed in a year. This is unfortunate since generally, the more recent volume, written after most experience, would be the choice of a serious reader. Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age would be the more serious, more thought through, pronouncements of AA’s founder, Bill Wilson. Should this publication contradict thoughts, instructions, comments, etc., in the earlier two books, it is reasonable to assume the thoughts in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age should prevail, even override the earlier publications. Where there are such differences, it is not only possible, but probable, that many Big Book “experts,” study groups, Twelve Step meetings, and the like, are misleading AA members (intentionally or ignorantly) and furthering falsehoods about Bill Wilson’s thoughts.

As stated, it is not unreasonable to assume that this volume contains information, thoughts, and insights, which Bill Wilson arrived at after more experience, after more sober years. The reader may expect more nuanced insights, and a more accurate assessment of the AA program, its approach, and means to sobriety for more alcoholics. Clearly, if this were widely known and acted on, it would likely lead to reduction in sales of Alcoholics Anonymous and negatively impact the operations of corporate Alcoholics Anonymous.

The following few passages, in “Bill’s Words” from Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age are illustrative.

Example One

Discussing a Buddhist monk’s reaction to God in the Twelve Steps, Bill wrote:

To some of us, the idea of substituting ‘good’ for ‘God’ in the Twelve Steps may seem like a watering down of AA’s message.  But here we must remember that AA’s Steps are suggestions only.  A belief in them as they stand is not at all a requirement for membership among us.  This liberty has made AA available to thousands who never would have tried at all had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written. (p. 81)

There was no adverse reaction on the part of Bill Wilson to the Buddhist’s elimination of “God” in the Twelve Steps. Bill’s own words, “A belief in them as they stand is not at all a requirement for membership among us,” indicates this clearly and concisely. However, Alcoholics Anonymous, as a whole and in smaller individual units, has a seriously negative reaction to any modification of the Steps. This includes secular excommunication, shunning, and other forms of rejection.

Reactions to non-theistic groups’ modification of the Twelve Steps clearly demonstrate corporate AA’s negative reaction to any modification. This points out AA’s disregard for Bill Wilson’s later thoughts. Corporate AA’s reactions to this in the face of U.S. courts and Canadian Human Rights Tribunals manifest its strong aversion to acknowledging such freedoms through the excuse of not wanting to engage in any controversy. AA World Services has failed to directly address this issue. Could this be from a fear of rebellion and a significant loss of revenue because the Big Book would not remain such a big seller? Is AA in the business of sobriety or selling books? Cui Bono?

Example Two

Bill Wilson clearly indicated that changing the wording of the Steps had his approval.

Later in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, Bill Wilson quotes the Long Form of Tradition Three, “Any two or three gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that as a group they have no other affiliation.” He then comments:

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… This sort of liberty also prevents AA from becoming a frozen set of dogmatic principles that could not be changed even when obviously wrong.  (p. 105)

Working for sobriety was Bill’s first priority. Egotist that he was, he nevertheless was willing to give up on the “sanctity” of the Twelve Steps so that others may achieve sobriety. And to do so as an AA Group! This was foretold when he compromised on the wording of the Twelve Steps to allow the deletion of “on our knees” (Step Seven), the change of “God” to “Power greater than ourselves” (Step Two) and addition of the modifier “as we understood Him” to the word “God” (Steps Three and Eleven).

It is not widely known that these modifications (changes) to the Steps were due in large part to Hank P and Jim B – both non-theists. Jim B is known to many AA members as “Ed” in Tradition Three (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pps. 139 – 145). Readers will recall that Ed, a vocal atheist, was shunned by his AA group when he asked for money while on a drunken binge. He finally returned, on his own, and remained successfully sober and active for years. Members of his AA group eventually wondered, “What if we had actually succeeded in throwing Ed out for blasphemy? What would have happened to him and all the others he later helped?” Fact is, Jim helped others by getting AA started in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC and San Diego, CA.  Jim remained an atheist all of his life.

It is unfortunate that these historical facts are ignored by corporate Alcoholics Anonymous and are unknown by thousands of AA members.

Example Three

Referring to the publication of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill Wilson wrote: “This small volume is strictly a textbook which explains AA’s twenty-four basic principles and their application, in detail and with great care.” (p. 219)

What? The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions is a textbook for the Steps (and the Traditions)? Not the beloved “Big Book?” Not the AA “Bible?”

As noted above, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions “sells” only one-third the number of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. Cui Bono again?

Granted that, in the Foreword to Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (p. 17) Bill wrote, “The book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ became the basic text of the Fellowship, and still is.”  Since Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age represents Bill’s later thoughts, it is possible, if not probable, that he came to believe that Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions replaced the Big Book as AA textbook.

Why Not More Attention to Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age?

The answer could be found when the interests of the publisher are considered. Which of the three books would the publisher encourage AA members to purchase and read? “Cui bono?” suggests an answer; focus on the one with the most circulation (sales) thus on profit. But who benefits? Not the individual alcoholic. It is not necessarily those who are still sick and suffering. It appears to be the three corporate bodies of The General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous, Inc., Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., and Alcoholics Anonymous Grapevine, Inc. that benefit.

Conclusion

It will take more time and effort to get corporate AA and AA’s thousands of fundamentalist members of look toward the future with open minds and hearts. AA’s aversion to controversy is beginning to “cost.” More courts and tribunals will need to rule that AA is indeed religious, not just spiritual. The propensity of expelling groups and meetings for using Steps without God and religious-like rituals (e.g. groups led in prayers) in the face of court and tribunal rulings continues and should be alarming. And, importantly, secular AA groups need to flourish and be vocal about their legitimacy.

It is time for corporate Alcoholics Anonymous to face reality. Bill Wilson demonstrated in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age that the Steps are not fixed, not sacred, not infallible. They can be, may be, and should be changed for the benefit of all alcoholics who are still sick and suffering. Each individual is free to write his or her own Steps, in keeping with personal philosophies, religions, or non-theistic life-styles.  Why not groups and meetings?  The exalted Bill Wilson was OK with it.

If they were to pick up Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age and read it, “executives” of corporate Alcoholics Anonymous, its Trustees (especially Class A), its legal staff, and consultants might just realize that it is time for AA to publicize Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age and let the Fellowship know that the Steps, as written, are flexible. The Steps are truly just suggestions.

Of course, there is the money issue, the profits from Alcoholics Anonymous are more than simply significant. Loss of those profits will hurt. Is AA ready to fulfill its mission? To follow its dream? Would AA publicize Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age in greater numbers? Would AA even consider a new kind of Big Book, which contains the textbook Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and significant portions of Alcoholics Anonymous Come of Age?

In the AA Service Manual, page S26, it is a duty of General Service Representatives to be familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. Clearly, if any reasonable number of GSRs had done so over the years, Bill Wilson’s openness to personalized Steps would be widely known, the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions would be more widely read, and the “cash cow” Alcoholics Anonymous would be a historical document.

This is even more alarming than it first appears. If General Service Representatives are expected to be familiar with this book and many GSRs become District Committee Members and many of those move on to Area positions, including Area Delegates, it is reasonable to assume that there would be many more people familiar, in some detail, than the distribution seems to indicate. More AA members, particularly Delegates, would already be aware of the fact that Bill Wilson supported customization of the Steps. Unfortunately, it is clear that Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age has not been read by a significant number of AA members.

About “AA General Service Conference-approved literature”

All three books discussed in this article contain the notice, “This is General Service Conference-approved literature.” In effect, the imprimatur of Alcoholics Anonymous, a declaration authorizing publication. An imprimatur is also a declaration that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error. It is the latter meaning that has come to be associated with AA publications, especially the books Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. In addition, the fact that both books have been “protected” from change by General Service Conference Advisory Actions, their infallibility has been assumed by most readers. Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”) has actually become known as “the AA Bible.”

Unfortunately, this has the effect of perpetuating outdated information, contradictory text, and outright error. Corrections, especially in historical facts and the sciences, are prevented. It also fails to address the obvious differences between or among books which have General Service Conference approval, including those addressed in this article.

Parting Thoughts

The obvious, but thoughtless, comment that the Twelve Steps are under copyright and therefore can’t be changed is without merit here. Personalized or customized Twelve Steps would violate copyright law only if claimed to be “the AA” Steps that are under AA’s copyright. In other words, a false claim.  Further, should Alcoholics Anonymous acknowledge Bill Wilson’s words, that Steps written by individuals and groups (e.g. “any two or three” persons) are allowable and, as the copyright holder, AA should have no objection.

It would be instructive and valuable to reflect on how AA’s program looks to others, (e.g. to non-theist) when encountering its program, its principles. Understanding how and why they react would be helpful.

It is about time for Alcoholics Anonymous to begin taking proactive action to clearly demonstrate that its mission is to help all those who are suffering from alcoholism; be they of a specific religion, theist without religion, or non-theist of any description. If the Buddhists were “allowed” to remove “God” (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age) why not everyone?


Paul W has been a member of AA since 1989. He first joined AA while he was attempting to hold onto belief in a God by “faking it till he made it.” Eventually Paul made peace with himself and came out as a comfortable and convinced atheist. He has spoken at Area functions about the lack of literature for nonbelievers and has been a supporter of recognizing nontheists as full members of AA.  Paul has had several service positions including treasurer for meetings and his District, General Service Representative, District Committee Member.

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.


 

32 Responses

  1. Al J. says:

    This was great. I would like to volunteer to further this cause.

  2. Richard K. says:

    I don’t understand? Why would someone think that? The Big Book is Sacred?

    I am not agnostic. I love the big book. I belong to a Big Book Study group. We meet every Saturday. Many different people come. I was turned on to many other books and l was told to not be closed minded. One guy reads The Daily Stoics, a philosophy. Another turned me on to C S Lewis, and many of his books, like The Screw Tape Letters, and The Great Divorce.

    I have read many AA history books, such as the Good Old Boys and AA Comes of Age. This group is very diverse. No one seems to have a problem studying the Big Book.

    • Larry G. says:

      Hey Richard, you are very fortunate to have stumbled into such an eclectic and open minded study group. Some of us have had very different experiences in AA. The kinds of experiences where overt and covert pressures were applied re the Big Book. It’s unfortunate that we can’t all have the same experience you’ve had. I have met many who have been harmed by AA practices in some locals.

      My personal beef with the Big Book is it goes beyond just sharing a starting point of experiences in recovery. Indeed the first 164 pages of the big book consistently promote a specific beliefs. Over time that has either been formally and informally codified as “the truth”. I have heard many long term AAers refer to that 164 pages in public meetings as God inspired. Where this reasoning abounds the groups will function like a religion. That kinda mess makes me itchy and squirm badly. I reckon that may be bliss for some but not this alkie.

  3. Larry G. says:

    I feel compelled to be fully honest. What I now say is true for me and me only. I don’t presume to know what’s right for anyone else. We all have the right and responsibility to sort that out for ourselves.

    Even if the powers that be are as intentional in doing, acting, and behaving as you propose in this article I don’t find it particularly helpful to accuse that. If anything I find it promoting suspicions and paranoia with speculative reasoning at best. Even if you’re right you have no actual data presented to support your actual accusation.

    I agree AA needs to evolve in a far more inclusive way. Your reasoning in my experience automatically leads to division and guarantees that AA will divide into separate churches. Right now I’m not interested. But you do have a right to your opinion and i am truly grateful we now have a platform that support non-conventional and alternative reasoning inside AA. And I am also very grateful that I have the freedom and right to disagree.

    I have two takeaways from your article: 1) you seem to lean to the conspiratorial; 2) I need to purchase, read and start referencing Bill W.’s Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. I can’t wait. Thanks for that. By the way, using critical reasoning is not the same as being critical. I speak only for myself. Think, feel, and behave as you must. LDG

    • Dean W says:

      I’m curious, Larry. What do you think the motivations are of what Paul calls “Corporate AA” when they treat the Big Book as unchangeable? And there is plenty of documented evidence that the General Service Conference and General Service Board treat the Big Book that way. Conference Advisory Actions have repeatedly decided that the first 164 pages of the text be left as is. And an Advisory Action in 1976 made the 12 Steps virtually unchangeable. This isn’t speculation; the info is available from GSO in publication F-191, Advisory Actions of the General Service Conference 1951-2018. Why do you think our 80 year old Basic Text, which contains both outdated and erroneous material, has not been updated?

      • Larry G. says:

        No argument. Of course the AA hierarchy wants the status quo. No shock there.

        Bill W set this shindig up. I think 20 years after the fact he had evolved but it was to late and the Big Book had become religious dogma. If someone has criticism about the powers that be I would suggest just saying it outright without all the reasoned hyperbole. Instead use the reasoning to make a case for what’s helped them find and keep sobriety.

        I love this forum and the reasoned discourse that abounds here. It has meant the world to me. Can’t get it to the same degree in traditional AA. I guess I sometimes grow weary of just criticism even if its well supported. I also find value in attending conventional AA Big Book thumpers and all. They can make me weary too and I also tell them so. I hope there can be room for us all. We shall see. I’m glad I ain’t in charge.

        • Dean W says:

          I’m glad you ain’t in charge too, Larry, or any one of us for that matter 🙂 As one of my Book Thumping acquaintances says, “All of us is smarter than any of us.”

          I also think Bill evolved, but I think he might have done more to try to prevent the Big Book from becoming dogma. Remember, he was the “official” head of AA until 1955, and he continued to exert a lot of influence even after that. Maybe I’m just cynical, but he might have been afraid any significant changes to the text could hurt sales and his royalties. And despite minimal input from the fellowship, the Big Book was really Bill’s baby, so simple egoism may have been a factor too. Call me negative if you want. Realism requires examination of both the positive and negative.

          On a positive note, why don’t we in secular AA just write our own text? Official AA isn’t likely to change their holy book, but they can’t dictate to us what we read and write.

          • Larry Gillespie says:

            I agree with all your observations about Bill W. I think the lad was a hot mess. One final thought. For me and me only I love the liberty to cast a wide net in my reading about. Philosophy and religion/spirituality and recovery literatures. In the end I get to cobble together what works for me. The secret I have learned in Agnostica and traditional AA is to not go it alone or keep it to myself. Its such a great life without booze.

  4. Beth H. says:

    I guess we are the Church of Latter-Day Bill.

  5. Patrick C says:

    AA’s literature is like a finger pointing at the moon.
    Some will look up at the sky and see.
    While others will grab the finger and call it the moon.

    And sadly I believe that whatever book or books or programs or steps or whatnot you are going to come up with it’s going to stay the same.

  6. Marty N. says:

    Simply, the best essay I have ever read on the subject.

  7. Lena R says:

    This is a FANTASTIC article. Thank you so much for your contribution!

  8. Dean W says:

    Thank you for this excellent article, Paul. Let’s hope that little by little, one person at a time, Conference Delegates and those in Corporate AA will start to look critically at our fellowship and our literature. Cui Bono? We would all benefit from such critical thinking, even if Corporate AA suffered a temporary drop in financial revenue. Above all, secular newcomers would benefit, and carrying the message of recovery to newcomers, not making money, is our primary purpose.

  9. George S says:

    Thanks Paul! Very enjoyable read. A.A. continues to evolve. I almost walked away at around 25 years sober. Couldn’t “fake it” anymore. I greatly appreciate your writings and the efforts of so many others. They have made it possible for me to remain a part of the A.A. Fellowship.

  10. Richard B. says:

    Great Op Ed, keep up the good work.

  11. steve b says:

    Why have any steps at all, original, modified, spruced-up, modified or mangled? As far as I know there has never been a scientific study showing that, yes, you need to do the steps or else you are dead meat. SOS, a sobriety group modeled on AA, but stepless, supposedly works well. Happy Easter.

  12. Pat N. says:

    Thanks, Paul. You really got my ruminator going. I think I must have read AACOA in my first year or two, but haven’t looked at it since, which I will now do. Hope it’s online.

    I read the BB once, but not since. I just occasionally look up stuff in it. I found Bill’s BB writing pretentious, religious, and choppy, but really liked the personal stories. I finally realized they were just versions of what I heard from live people in meetings, so I stopped reading those as well.

    Too many of my AA siblings don’t realize that “AA” is a culture or a movement, not a supervisor. They can’t point to a single proof that we must believe, say, or do anything. We just need to want to quit drinking, and meet up with others who want the same. Pretty damned simple. It’s all wrapped in in: “AA is a fellowship of men & women, etc.” Everything else, in my opinion, is optional and superfluous.

    Thanks again. Have a blessed, nonblessed, or blessworthy Easter.

  13. John M. says:

    Paul,

    What a great way of looking at these issues in a fresh way. A “new kind of Big Book,” one that included all three texts you discuss here is an original and useful suggestion.

    Thanks for the opportunity to rethink many of the problems that your essay outlines.

  14. Chris G says:

    I wonder, just out of curiosity, how many readers of this forum have read this book, or own a copy? Maybe more than the 0.6% the distribution indicates.

    Nine or ten years ago I bought a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age; I read it at the time, cover to cover, put it on a shelf, and largely forgot about it. It’s a 1986 edition, was covered in dust, and may have been sitting on that group’s shelves for 25 years. It is a history book, in fact its sub-title is “A Brief History of A.A.”.

    I just got it down off the shelf for the first time in all those years and paged through it, reading bits and pieces. Yes, it’s a very interesting book if you are into this history… a first-person history of AA, mostly reminiscences by the founder. It is definitely not a how-to like the Big Book or the 12&12. It is not an easy read. Bill was a pretty good writer, but this is full on very long paragraphs describing past events in detail that seems almost scholarly today.

    Yes, I agree with Paul W., it does contain Bill’s later thoughts, and they do contradict the canonisation of the Big Book and so on. But it is not very accessible to the average AA member (whoever that is), nor at all interesting to most people new to sobriety and struggling just to put one day after the next. A lot of Bill’s later writing in the Grapevine says many of the same things, more bluntly, and in a wider forum. Most of AA ignored those writings also.

    I think when most any religious sect is born, or gets traction, or whatever it is that religions do, even the founders pretty soon lose control, and something social takes over. Pretty soon the herd mentality is at work, and it goes wherever it’s going to go. I don’t blame AA for becoming what it has become; it just did.

    But I am really, really grateful that sobriety does not depend on the canon, and that now a significant number of groups are making the sobriety accessible without the religion. I think Bill would be very happy about this.

    • Doc says:

      When I got sober in 1969, I got a copy of the Second Edition of the Big Book. I read it and didn’t find it to be particularly useful. I felt that: (1) it was poorly written, using archaic language and examples, (2) it was out-of-date with regard to information about alcoholism, (3) it didn’t related to my cultural experience at all, and (4) it seemed to be targeted for people with a Protestant Christian heritage.

  15. JOHN B says:

    You may not be aware, but AA’s General Service Office finalized and authorized, after approval by Thailand’s local AA area, a revised translation of the Big Book into Thai language using more language knowledgeable to a street person and very importantly, took out the word ‘god’ and replaced it with the Buddhist equivalent of ‘all things spiritual’, ‘sing ssak sit’.

    This is a monumental change and should be lauded by all of us agnostics, Buddhists and atheist’s. Personally, I would have no problem with changing the word ‘God’ in the English version to ‘Higher Power’.

    Changing the book took over 7 years by the AA people in Thailand.

    • Jim Crowley says:

      As many of non-theistics believe, a translation would work for so many more.

      “When anyone reaches out for help” the hand or literature will always be there.

      We can be hopeful!

  16. Wallace K. says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the threads of this issue pulled together in one spot. My concern is that AA is currently engaged in pulling itself apart as its liberal wing, led by the secularists and non-believers, attempt to implement Bill’s own ideas. Our fundamentalist Christian and “door knob” Higher-Powerist kinfolk meanwhile, attempt to keep AA in the mid to late 1930s with no room for wiggle. We could fracture – it has happened to many religious, political and philosophical organizations in the past. Our real power may be in a liberal, tolerant “one big tent” approach where AA becomes a vast cafeteria of healing and rehabilitation encompassing the cuisine of all applicable recovery methods. Will we get there? Are we, as the family of all AA members, active and inactive, smart enough to achieve the benefits possible? It is really difficult to see even inches ahead. Here in Boise, our two secular groups keep the lamp in the window on, the porch light lit, and the latch string out. We’ll see.

  17. Tere says:

    Anything can be a sacred text. If someone wants to use the BB that way, so be it. Personally, I use the Harry Potter books. I struggled for years with the AA literature. And then … I found HP. And now I think… What Would Ginny Do?

    • Chris G says:

      Very good. When I think that way, it Terry Pratchett’s “Small Gods”…especially the small divine turtle falling on the priest’s head at 30 m/sec.

  18. Dan L. says:

    Thanks for the enjoyable essay Paul. Unfortunately our program was not envisioned as an intellectual exercise and it shows quite clearly. Many of the addiction issues we understand fairly well today were complete mysteries (allergies?) when the books in question were written and as a result many modern AA members still choose to view their issues through Bill’s self analysis in the late 1930’s when he had only four or five years of sobriety within the Oxford Groups. He was a pioneer, a trailblazer, a man with a certain vision. That he grew and matured is often ignored.

    On page 25 of the Big Book he refers to the Steps as “the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet”.

    After being thoroughly disappointed in my first sober read through the Big Book I seized upon this idea and have held on to it since. I view the Steps as tools to reach the principles of humanity which are the “secret” of sobriety. The wordings matter little and I am a life long atheist but the Steps are my method of reentering the human community.

  19. marj says:

    Thank you for connecting the dots Paul.

  20. Patrick C. says:

    1-Trust g*d/Life
    2-Clean House
    3-Help Others

    That’s what the proctologist prescribed.
    Things can be complicated or simple, the choice is yours.
    If something doesn’t ring a bell for you, listen to your heart and keep going. Make your new life the Big Book you’d wish to re-write. Be it, that’s all: live and let live.

    • Tim says:

      Exactly!

    • Mike H. says:

      I relapsed many times. I had so many chips that I was using them to level fence posts. No amount of meetings, discussions with sponsors, fake it till you make it, step studies, etc. worked. What did was very simple and I knew it : Just dont drink today……the 24 hour plan.

  21. Doc says:

    I have been in many meetings where the idea that “God wrote the Big Book; Bill just held pen,” has been expressing. This is an indication that the Big Book is a religious document, not really a textbook. Over the years that I have been sober, I have written a number of college textbooks and they all have one thing in common: with new data and new understanding they quickly go out of date.

    Another related idea that is often expressed is that the steps must be “worked” in order. That’s not been my experience. Many of the steps are simply irrelevant to me. The number 12 is simply a magical number and I see no reason that I have to utilize 12 steps to stay sober. In my personal recovery I have revised the steps to 8 and this works for me. The steps are simply philosophical guidelines and their order is not important. I prefer to visualize them as spokes on a wheel rather than steps leading upward.

    • Bob K says:

      Bill repped that the steps coming out to 12 was serendipitous. That’s some of the myth-making that Wilson was known for. Various biographers have suggested that he played fast and loose with factual details. William Schaberg drills that home with WRITING THE BIG BOOK, released last November. The only possible numbers for the steps were 12 and 10, digits with religious “gravitas.”

      Bill further pitched the idea of divine inspiration with the speed of the writing, “I wasn’t feeling well,” “the pen just glided across the page” etc. Of course, Bill was probably trying to avoid the mauling and editing his earlier chapters received.

      The steps as Bill wrote them got changed fairly dramatically. If Bill was divinely inspired in writing them, then we edited the crap out of God. I ain’t no expert, but that can’t be good. 🙂