UNITARIANISM AND ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS by Ian Ellis-Jones ADDRESS DELIVERED BEFORE THE SYDNEY UNITARIAN CHURCH ON SUNDAY, 6 FEBRUARY 2005Most of you would have heard of the “Twelve Steps” of the world’slargest recovery program and fellowship, Alcoholics Anonymous (“AA”),which are as follows:- THE TWELVE STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS1 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable. 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.The Twelve Steps, along with what are known as the Twelve Traditions ofAA, encapsulate an overall and organised "way of life" (see the discussionon Tradition 1 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions) involvingself-knowledge of ones powerlessness, belief in a power “greater” (or“other”) than self, self-surrender, a sense of guilt, reparation, andreconciliation with God (as one understands God) and others.1 Copyright 1939 AA World Services, Inc.
Underlying all of AAs suggestions is that "self cannot change self".Whilst the "Higher Power" (or, in the words of some, “Power-not-oneself”) is "God as we [understand] Him" (see Steps 3 and 11), Tradition2 speaks, fairly traditionally, of "a loving God" who has the ability to"express Himself" in and through the group. Step 11 makes it clear thatthat God is capable of being known ("conscious contact") through "prayerand meditation", has a "will" for each member, and confers the power tocarry out that will. It is implicit, if not explicit, in Steps 6 and 7 that the"God as we understand Him" can forgive and change peoples lives. (Sucha God is clearly transnatural, if not supernatural.) "Faith" in God isrequired (see Step 2, as discussed in Twelve Steps and TwelveTraditions), and AA stresses the principle of gratitude to an activeoverruling Power who can confer blessings.According to the primary and secondary literature of AA, life is governedby certain laws or principles which are spiritual in nature. It is officiallystated that there is "justice in [the] scheme of things" (see Step 11, asdiscussed in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions). What we giveout, we are inevitably bound to get back. Our troubles are "basically ofour own making" (see the "Big Book", ch 5).According to AA, responsibilities are owed to other human beings (see egSteps 8-10, and Traditions 1 and 5). Defective relations with others issaid to be "nearly always ... the immediate cause of our woes" (see Step 8,as discussed in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions). Both the Steps andthe Traditions speak of "we" and "our", making it clear that it is a sharedquest of ideals and principles; indeed, the "principles" of A.A. must beplaced before "personalities" (Tradition 12). Tradition 1 speaks of"common welfare" and "unity". Step 12 speaks of carrying the "message"to others, and practising the principles "in all our affairs".Few people know of the existence of a very early and importantconnection between the 12-step recovery program Alcoholics Anonymous(AA) and Unitarianism. However, on 26 November 1939, when AA wasstill very much in its infancy, the Reverend Dr Dilworth Lupton, ministerof the First Unitarian Church (Universalist-Unitarian), Euclid at East82nd Street, Cleveland, Ohio, preached a famous sermon entitled "Mr Xand Alcoholics Anonymous".22 A copy of the sermon can be found athttp://www.aabibliography.com/pdffiles/luptonsermon.pdf
Mr X was Clarence Snyder, who was one of the contributing authors ofthe “Big Book” of AA entitled Alcoholics Anonymous3 which was firstpublished in 1939. (He wrote the chapter entitled “Home Brewmeister”and was an originator of Cleveland’s Group No 3.)The fellowship of AA began in Akron, Ohio in May 1935. It firstoperated under the auspices of the very evangelical religious group knownas the Oxford Group.Briefly, the beginnings of AA are as follows. Bill W[ilson], AA co-founder,had been introduced to the Oxford Group by Ebby T[hatcher], an oldboyhood friend in November 1934. Ebby was a drinking buddy of Billswho had “gotten religion" through the Oxford Group after beingintroduced to it in August 1934 by one Rowland H[azard III], a wealthyRhode Island businessman, who had been in therapy with Dr Carl Jung inSwitzerland and who was also one of the Oxford group circle. Rowlandwas also a patient of the spiritually based Emmanuel Movement, aprecursor to AA, in 1933-34.According to official AA history, Dr Jung had told Rowland that therewas no hope for him … unless he were to experience a "vital spiritualexperience". (The great American psychologist and philosopher WilliamJames, in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, had expressed asimilar view, writing, “’The only radical remedy I know for dipsomania isreligiomania,’ is a saying I have heard quoted from some medical man.”4)Rowland reportedly was introduced to the Oxford Group by Dr Jung andthen passed the message along to Ebby. However, recent research by oneWally P (archivist and historian) has turned up Rowlands personalrecords, which are at the Providence Historical Society in Providence,Rhode Island. Rowlands personal records do not indicate that he was inSwitzerland during the period stated in most AA history books but it isstill quite possible that Rowland met with Jung during the period June toSeptember 1931.3 Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,1976). (There is now a 4th edition of the “Big Book”, published in 2001. However,references in this paper to page numbers of the “Big Book” are references to pagenumbers in the 3rd edition of that work.)4 William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: New AmericanLibrary, 1958), p 213, fn.
Bill Wilsons drinking had progressed to such a point that in 1933 he wasadmitted to the Charles B Towns Hospital in New York City. This was thefirst of four hospitalizations for alcoholism between 1933-1934. It wasat the Towns Hospital that Dr William Duncan Silkworth, the hospital’schief physician, declared Wilson a hopeless alcoholic. According to theRev Dr Norman Vincent Peale, who was the senior minister of MarbleCollegiate Church in New York City from 1932 to 1984, a good friend ofBill Wilson and the Oxford Group’s Canon Sam Shoemaker,5 and also oneof the first ministers of religion to accept and publicize the “diseaseconcept” of alcoholism as well as the wonders of AA, Dr Silkworth saidthe Great Physician, Jesus Christ, could cure alcoholics who weredeclared hopeless.In Bill Wilson’s own words, “I was in favour of practically everything hehad to say except one thing. I was not in favour of God.” However, soonafter Ebbys visit with him, Bill was admitted for the last time to theTowns Hospital in December 1934 and it was during this hospitalizationthat Bill experienced his "white light" spiritual experience that he laterwrote about in the Big Book. Bill reported this experience to DrSilkworth and was soon after released from the hospital never to drinkalcohol again until his death in January 1971.Bill attended Oxford Group meetings, went to the Calvary Mission andbegan working with other Alcoholics. He did not have much success atgetting them sober during the first five months, but was told by his wife,Lois, that he had remained sober for the first time in many years.Though Bill had considered himself a dismal failure due to his inability to5 “One of the greatest clergymen of American history died about 20-30 years ago.Im sorry I never had the opportunity to meet him. His name was Sam Shoemaker. Hewas Episcopalian. Sam Shoemaker and Norman Vincent Peale were very close friends.And the two of them were the spiritual participants that helped Brother Bill puttogether the Twelve Step Programs for Alcoholic Anonymous. AA didnt come out ofsecular hearts and secular minds. It came out of the hearts and minds of NormanVincent Peale and Dr. Samuel Shoemaker.” Robert H Schuller, “The Ultimate Journey”,Hour of Power [Sermon #53] (30/11/02) [Online]http://www.hourofpower.org.hk/data/readdata/readeng-53-text.html [accessed29/12/2004]. Dr Peale, who often preached and wrote about the efficacy of AA, spoketo AA members at special intergroup dinners celebrating Bill’s sobriety back in theearlier years, and when the “24th Street Club House” in New York wasn’t large enoughfor the growth, Peale was the one who provided a larger location.
get anyone sober, he did finally realize through Lois help that he was asuccess. He was a success because he had stayed sober.Now, in 1933 a certain Dr Bob Smith, an alcoholic surgeon, who wouldbecome AA’s other co-founder, had begun going to Oxford Groupmeetings to cope with his alcoholism. The story of how Bill Wilson and DrBob came to meet up has often been told. Tempted while on a businesstrip in Akron, Ohio, Wilson fought off the bottle by cold-calling churchesfrom the hotel directory in search of a drunk to help. One call led him toBob Smith. On May 12, 1935, Mother’s Day, Bill Wilson and Dr Bob met inAkron and on June 10 (or perhaps June 17, according to some sources) DrBob had his last drink. That was the start of AA.Now, Clarence Snyder, too, was a helpless and hopeless alcoholic. Hiswife Dorothy had often implored Dilworth Lupton to speak to Clarenceabout his alcoholic drinking. Lupton did speak with Clarence on a numberof occasions. Unfortunately, Clarence at that time was unable andunwilling to quit drinking. Lupton explained to Dorothy that he (Lupton)could do nothing more than what he had done, and that the only thing leftwas a spiritual solution to Clarence’s drinking problem.Eventually Clarence began attending meetings of the Oxford Group inAkron. "Nothing good could come out of the Oxford Group," Lupton saidto Dorothy. In the AA conference-approved publication, Dr Bob and theGood Oldtimers6 Dorothy Snyder is quoted (on pp 162-3) as saying: Well, I was disappointed, because he [Lupton] wouldn’t come. He said that inasmuch as AA was mixed up with the Oxford Group, it was bound to fail; that any movement as tremendous as this should never be mixed up with a religious organization. How right he was!Lupton did, however, promise Dorothy that he would still thoroughlyinvestigate the new movement and get back to Dorothy. read the “BigBook”, continued to meet with Dorothy, and offered to assist Dorothy inany way he could with the movement. Dorothy herself turned out to be aninstrumental part of the beginnings of AA in Cleveland, Ohio, for she wasclose with Anne Smith, wife of Dr Bob, in Akron.Clarence did get sober through the movement and told Lupton not only hisdrinking story and the story of his meeting Dr Bob and Bill Wilson butalso the story of the fellowship’s split from the Oxford Group. Lupton6 Dr Bob and the Good Oldtimers (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1980).
was invited to and eventually did in fact attend several meetings of theCleveland group after it had, in accordance with Lupton’s recommendation,broken with the Oxford Group. He even invited nine of the alcoholicmembers to his home to be "interviewed" by himself and a "prominentphysician and a psychiatrist".On 26 November 1939 the Reverend Dr Dilworth Lupton preached to hiscongregation his famous sermon. The very next day it was printed in theCleveland Plain Dealer. The sermon, which was later printed in pamphletform by Luptons church, turned into one of the first pamphletsconcerning AA. It was first distributed by the Cleveland AA group. InDr Bob and the Good Oldtimers Dorothy Snyder is quoted as saying,“That was for publicity. He [the Rev Lupton] was one of the really bigProtestant ministers in Cleveland, and what he said was good copy”.7From his conversations with Clarence Snyder and with members of theCleveland group, Lupton stated that he was convinced that the success ofAA came through the application of four religious principles that, inLupton’s words, were “as old as the Ten Commandments”. Luptonidentified the four principles as being: 1. The principle of spiritual dependence. 2. The principle of universality. 3. The principle of mutual aid. 4. The principle of transformation.1. The principle of spiritual dependenceSnyder was told by AA members that he must stop trying to use his willand begin to trust in a Power greater than himself. Snyder chose tobelieve. Within a few days he lost all desire for alcohol.In his sermon Lupton stated:7 Dr Bob and the Good Oldtimers (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1980), p 205.
Trust in God seems to be the heart of the whole movement. Religion must be more than a mere set of beliefs; it must be a profound inner experience, faith in a Presence to which one may go for strength in time of weakness. This fact is made quite clear in the book ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, which gives the philosophy behind the movement and also the testimony of thirty of those who have benefited. Although written by laymen it contains more psychological and religious common-sense than one often reads in volumes by religious professionals. The book is free from cant, from archaic phraseology. It gives with skill and intelligence an inside view of the alcohol problem and the technique through which these men have found their freedom.2. The principle of universalityIn his sermon Lupton referred to the universality of religion: In our great museums one usually finds paintings covering several ages of art, often brought together from widely separated localities - the primitive, medieval and modern periods; products of French, American, English, and Dutch masters; treasures from China, Japan, and India. Yet as one looks at these productions he instinctively feels that a universal beauty runs through them all. Beauty knows no particular age or school. Beauty is never exclusive and provincial; it is inclusive and universal. So, too, in the field of religion. We are beginning to recognize the substantial unity of all religious faiths. Back of all religions is religion itself. Religion appears in differing types, but they are all expressions of one great impulse to live nobly and to adore the highest. This universality of religion is recognized by the Alcoholics Anonymous. Their meetings are attended by Catholics, Protestants, Jews, near-agnostics, and near- atheists. There is the utmost tolerance. It seems of no concern to the group with what religious bodies non-church-going members eventually identify themselves; indeed there is no pressure to join any church whatever. What particularly impresses me is the fact that each individual can conceive of the Power-not-himself in whatever terms he pleases.Lupton speculated that perhaps these laypersons in AA were layingfoundations for a “new universal movement in religion”. In the words ofLupton: Surely the conventional conceptions of religion have been too narrow. Religion, itself, is far bigger and broader than we thought. It is something we can no more capture through rigid dogmas than we can squeeze all the sunshine in the world through one window.
In Dr Bob and the Good Oldtimers it is written: In his sermon, Dr. Lupton noted that there was room in A.A. for all creeds, through the concept of God as “a Power greater than ourselves.” Such an attitude “displays nothing short of genius,” he said.83. The principle of mutual aidLupton stated that when Snyder was being hospitalized “eighteen laymenvisitors called on him within the brief space of five days. These menwere willing to give their valuable time in trying to help a man they hadnever seen before. To [Snyder] they related their own dramaticexperiences in being saved from slavery to alcohol, and offered theirassistance. Upon leaving the hospital [Snyder] began attending theweekly meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.”Before long Snyder was following the example of the people who had sogenerously given him of their help.Lupton observed: The weekly meetings of the Alcoholics Anonymous operate on this same principal of mutual aid. T he ex-victims bolster up each others morale through comradeship. Like ship-wrecked sailors on a raft headed for the shore, the bond that holds them together is the same that they have escaped from a common peril. Upon each newcomer is impressed the necessity of helping other alcoholics obtain the freedom he has attained. They believe they gain strength from expenditure - not expenditure of money, of which most of them have but little, but of themselves. Said one of them to me, "What I have is no good unless I give it away." There are no dues, no fees, just the sheer pleasure and, in this case, moral profit, that comes from helping the other fellow. This mutual aid acts as a sort of endless chain. Mr. A, Mr. B, and Mr. C help Mr. X out of the frightful mess he is in; then Mr. X turns around and helps Mr. Y and Mr. Z. These in turn helps other victims.4. The principle of transformationLupton stated that during the previous half century many ablepsychologists have turned the searchlight of their investigations on"religious experience". He stated:8 Dr Bob and the Good Oldtimers (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1980), p 205.
It seems quite clear from these studies that religion consists not primarily in the intellectual acceptance of certain beliefs. It involves even more the transformation of human character. Such transformations have taken place not only in the lives of saints and religious leaders, but in the souls of multitudes of common folk as well. It is a scientific fact that through religious faith people are sometimes suddenly, and sometimes gradually aroused to a new set of interests, are raised from lower to higher levels of existence. Life and its duties take on new meaning, and selfishness (half-conscious often) is displaced by the conscious desire to help other people. If any human being needs such a transformation, it is the chronic alcoholic. He may not be at the point where he is willing to admit that, but his family and friends are! Alcoholism is a sickness, to be sure, but it is unlike any other malady in certain fundamental aspects. Compare for example, the case of the alcoholic with that of a tubercular patient. Everybody is sorry for the "T.B." and wants to help. He is surrounded by friendliness and love. But in all likelihood, the alcoholic has made a perfect hell of his home and has destroyed his friendships one by one. He has drawn to himself not compassion and love, but misunderstanding, resentment, and hate. There seems to be every evidence that the Alcoholics Anonymous group has been amazingly successful in bringing about religious transformation. …Lupton summed up the success of AA in these words: Every member of this movement declares that since he has come to believe in a Power-greater-than-himself a revolutionary change has taken place in his life; even his acquaintances note a marked change. He has radically altered his attitudes and outlooks, his habits of thought. In the face of despair and impending collapse, he has gained a new sense of direction, new power. I have seen these things with my own eyes. They are convincing, dramatic, moving. One final word to the members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Go back to your synagogues and churches; they need you and you need them. Preserve your principle of Universality, your faith that all religion is one. Never allow yourselves to be absorbed by any single church or sect. Keep your movement what you call it now, a "laymans outfit." Avoid over-organization for religious organizations always tend to follow the letter rather than the spirit, finally crushing the spirit. Remember that early Christianity was promoted not by highly involved organization, but by the contagion of souls fired with enthusiasm for their cause. And keep your sense of humor! So far you do not seem afflicted with the curse of over-seriousness. To doctors and psychiatrists I would say; Be skeptical, investigate this movement with an open mind. If you become convinced of their sincerity and the efficacy of their methods, give these men your approval and open support.
ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS ought to have a wide reading by the general public. For one thing the public ought to learn first hand that the chronic alcoholic is suffering not from a vice, but from a disease; that it is impossible for him to "drink like a gentleman." Moderation for him is out of the question. For him there is no such thing as the single drink. It is one taste, and then the deluge. Certainly every victim of alcoholism and every friend of victims ought to buy or borrow and read this book, then seek to get in touch with some member of the movement. The writer of this article will be glad to furnish addresses of the Cleveland leaders. Or communicate with Alcoholics Anonymous, Box 658, Church Street Annex, New York City.In the AA conference-approved publication Alcoholics Anonymous Comesof Age9 Bill Wilson referred to Dr Lupton as a “fine gentleman” and“noted Protestant clergyman” who “preached and wrote warmly about us”.Indeed, he did. He was one of a handful of clergymen who gave greathelp to AA at a time when most ministers of religion still saw alcoholismas nothing more than sinfulness and moral weakness.Consistent with Unitarianism, Alcoholics Anonymous offers its membersperfect freedom when it comes to such matters as choosing one’s ownconcept of higher power. Further, AA has never claimed to be a religionor religious. Spiritual, yes, but religious, never! Indeed, Bill Wilson hasthis to say about certain misgivings that expressed in relation to whetherAA was a new religion: If these misgivings had real substance, they would be serious indeed. But, Alcoholics Anonymous cannot in the least be regarded as a new religion. Our Twelve Steps have no theological content, except that which speaks of "God as we understand Him." This means that each individual AA member may define God according to whatever faith or creed he may have. Therefore there isnt the slightest interference with the religious views of any of our membership. The rest of the Twelve Steps define moral attitudes and helpful practices, all of them precisely Christian in character. Therefore, as far as the steps go, the steps are good Christianity, indeed they are good Catholicism, something which Catholic writers have affirmed more than once. Neither does AA exert the slightest religious authority over its members. No one is compelled to believe anything. No one is compelled to meet membership conditions. No one is obliged to pay anything. Therefore we have no system of authority, spiritual or temporal, that is comparable to or in the least competitive with the Church. At the center of our society we have a Board of Trustees. Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World9Services, 1957), p 20.
This body is accountable yearly to a Conference of elected Delegates. These Delegates represent the conscience and desire of AA as regards functional or service matters. Our Tradition contains an emphatic injunction that these Trustees may never constitute themselves as a government - they are to merely provide certain services that enable AA as a whole to function. The same principles apply at our group and area level. Dr. Bob, my co-partner, had his own religious views. For whatever they may be worth, I have my own. But both of us have gone heavily on the record to the effect that these personal views and preferences can never under any conditions be injected into the AA program as a working part of it. AA is a sort of spiritual kindergarten, but that is all. Never should it be called a religion. 10Years earlier, in May 1949, in a speech delivered at the 105th AnnualMeeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Montreal, Quebecthat was later published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Wilsonhad stated: Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization; there is no dogma. The one theological proposition is a "Power greater than ones self." Even this concept is forced on no one. The new corner merely immerses himself in our society and tries the program as best he can. Left alone, he will surely report the onset of a transforming experience, call it what he may. Observers once thought A.A. could only appeal to the religiously susceptible. Yet our membership includes a former member of the American Atheist Society and about 20,000 others almost as tough. The dying can become remarkably open-minded. Of course we speak little of conversion nowadays because so many people really dread being God- bitten. But conversion, as broadly described by James, does seem to be our basic process; all other devices are but the foundation. When one alcoholic works with another, he but consolidates and sustains that essential experience.11In the “Big Book” of AA there are numerous references to AA’s “spiritualbasis”12 and to there being a distinction between “religion” on the one10 Bill W, “Alcoholics Anonymous”, in The Proceedings of the Twelfth National ClergyConference on Alcoholism (The “Blue Book”), vol 12, April 19-21 1960, p 194.11 William W, “The Society of Alcoholics Anonymous” (1949) 106 Amer J Psych 370[Online] http://silkworth.net/aahistory/billw2/societyofaa.html [accessed 22/11/2004].12 See eg pp 118, 135, 162. See also As Bill Sees It (New York: Alcoholics AnonymousWorld Services, 1967), p 27: “We of AA obey spiritual principles … .”
hand and “spirituality” on the other, with the emphasis in AA being on thelatter: … [W]hile his religious convictions were very good, in his case they did not spell the necessary vital spiritual experience.13 “… Though not a religious person, I have profound respect for the spiritual approach in such cases as yours. For most cases, there is virtually no other solution.”14 … Though we have no religious connection, we may still do well to talk with someone ordained by an established religion. …15 The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it.16 We represent no particular faith or denomination. We are dealing only with general principles common to most denominations.17 If he thinks he can do the job in some other way, or prefers some other spiritual approach, encourage him to follow his own conscience.18 He had begun to have a spiritual experience.19Spirituality refers to non-physical things such as faith, hope and charity.One Catholic priest, with the imprimatur of his church, has written: Increasingly, I have come to view spirituality in terms of relationship – of how we relate to God, to other people, and to ourselves. Since we already have a way of relating to ourselves, to other people, and to God, each of us already has a spirituality. …Our spirituality is made up of all those qualities of mind and13 Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,1976), p 27.14 Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,1976), p 43.15 Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,1976), p 74.16 Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,1976), p 83, emphasis in the original.17 Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,1976), pp 93-4.18 Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,1976), p 95.19 Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,1976), p 158.
character that make us who we are: our values, our desires, our feelings, and our dreams.20Perhaps the main difference between spirituality and religion is thefreedom to choose one’s own path towards wholeness, recovery and“enlightenment” – something very much in the Unitarian tradition. AA’sTwelve Steps are “suggested as a program of recovery”;21 there are no“musts”. The following is also illuminative: Religion is the institutionalized or formal practice of a particular spiritual traditions beliefs, ethics, and rituals. Depending on the spiritual texts it is based on, the structure of the institutions, and the individuals involved, religion can range from being a positive means of sharing spiritual practice to a destructive vehicle for systematic oppression and exploitation. Spirituality, on the other hand, does not necessarily entail any adherence to a religious tradition whatsoever. It is the participation in spiritual matters, whether in the context of a structured group who base their entire faith on a single religious text, or in the context of a solitary spiritual seeker who establishes and interprets their own encounters with spiritual phenomena.22On that basis, AA is definitely spirituality rather than religion … and aspirituality that, in my humble opinion, is quite consistent with all that isimportant in Unitarianism, despite the different goals of the 2organizations. However, it is clear that not all Unitarians, or UnitarianUniversalists, share my opinion.In an article entitled “Twelve Steps, Seven Principles: UUs in AlcoholicsAnonymous”, and published in UU World in January/February 2000,23Michelle Huneven wrote:20 Gerard H Chylko, Twelve Steps to a Deeper Faith Life (Liguori MO, LiguoriPublications, 1999), pp 6, 8.21 Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,1976), p 59, emphasis added.22 Spirituality versus Religion, in “Spirituality (For Skeptics)”http://treesong.org/spirituality/skeptics/ [accessed 23/11/2004].23 Michelle Huneven, “Twelve Steps, Seven Principles:UUs in Alcoholics Anonymous”, UU World, January/February 2000 [Online]http://uuworld.org/0100feat1.html [accessed 29/12/2004].
In response to a query placed in this magazine, over 130 alcoholics and a handful of Al Anons (family and friends of alcoholics), ACOA’s (Adult Children of Alcoholics), and professionals working in recovery volunteered to share their experience, opinions, and often passionate feelings on the subject. The lion’s share of this report consists of UU/AAs speaking in their myriad, diverse voices.The author went on to report: The most salient characteristic of the responses to our query of UU alcoholics and their friends was a polar split between Unitarian Universalists who embrace Alcoholics Anonymous and UUs who reject it, both on the same grounds—what I call the God Issue. This split is not unique to UUs. AA’s religious, or spiritual, content has led to resistance since the program’s inception, when AA was attached to the Oxford Group Movement (today called Moral Rearmament), a progressive English spiritual group that sought a return to the spiritual principles and values of early Christianity. …The author then went on to recount the experience of Dilworth Lupton towhich I have already referred: Nor did all religious liberals find the movement to their liking in its early days. The prominent and influential Rev. Dilworth Lupton, minister of First Unitarian Church of Cleveland, Ohio, who was known for the help he gave to alcoholics, declined to attend an AA meeting so long as it was affiliated with the Oxford Group. He told the woman who had invited him, whose husband Lupton had helped to stay sober, “Inasmuch as AA [is] mixed up with the Oxford movement, it [is] bound to fail. . . . Any movement as tremendous as this should never be mixed up with a religious foundation.” A year later, when the groups had broken away from the Oxford Movement, Lupton read The Big Book, attended a meeting, and met at length with some of the newly recovered alcoholics. Impressed, he preached about this new hope for a previously hopeless condition. His sermon, titled “Mr. X. and Alcoholics Anonymous,” was promptly made into a pamphlet that is still reprinted from time to time. Both sermon and pamphlet helped swell the ranks of the newly sober. … … … While the God of AA is supposed to be privately defined by each alcoholic for him or herself, in the public imagination this God of the 12 Steps too easily gets conflated with the general Protestant God of our “one nation under God.” Many agnostics and atheists balk at the very word God, refusing to translate the metaphor. And since Unitarian Universalism houses a good many secularists, humanists, agnostics, and atheists—not to mention Buddhists, pagans, Hindus, Jews, and other non-Christians—it isn’t surprising that the denomination contains a contingent critical of AA. About a fifth of UUs responding to the World’s query and a follow-up questionnaire said AA is over-religious and therefore unacceptable, ineffective, or even repellent to them.
The author also states: On the other end of the spectrum from the UU critics of AA are those who find that UUism and AA make a perfect match. Many of these people, including a growing group of seminary students and ministers, had their first spiritual experiences in Alcoholics Anonymous and then came over to UUism.The author concludes: Clearly, Unitarian Universalism manages peacefully to contain within its body a vast range of opinions and feelings about AA—all the while housing many a meeting in its churches! Meanwhile, AA somehow manages to welcome a diversity of religious and spiritual opinions and feelings. While theologically and psychologically the two may not make a perfect match, both evince a far- reaching if still imperfect tolerance. -oo0oo-