Bill W. was aware that, try as they may, neither psychology (that considered alcoholics to have a mental disorder); nor religion (that considered alcoholics to have a moral problem) ~ had managed to help the alcoholic very much.

The help that alcoholics needed would later be attributed to medical insights and advances, increased treatment opportunities; the basic tenets of AA; and the grace of God, “as we understood Him [sic].” Here are some of the names given to God in the Big Book:

▫ Higher Power
▫ a power greater than myself
▫ a mighty purpose and rhythm that underlay all
▫ Creative Intelligence
▫ Universal Mind
▫ Spirit of Nature
▫ my new-found Friend
▫ Father of Light
▫ Spirit of the Universe
▫ Realm of Spirit
▫ Supreme Being
▫ Our Director
▫ the Principal
▫ the New Employer
▫ Our Maker

God, by any other name, is still God. The psychiatrist, Carl Jung, to whom Bill Wilson and others in AA once turned for support, stated in his book, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, that the trend of religious movements to depart from standard Christian religious practices and institutions, “undoubtedly arise from psychic energy which can no longer be invested in obsolete religious forms.”

We might rightfully wonder whether if, 80 years ago, the church or the Oxford Group had been more receptive and less judgmental of alcoholics ~ AA might have been more a part of, rather than apart from religion or other religious groups.

I have made the above point before to many individuals, groups and institutions that are quick to point to how well AA and other 12 Step groups and fellowships are doing; often within the church buildings. That is undeniably true.

But it is also true that the church today is, so far, less than helpful in addressing the opioid epidemic that is ravaging our country. The number one cause of death for people under 50 in America today is opioid overdose death. More on that will be presented later in this series; as well as ways in which churches can be helpful in addressing this epidemic.

That said, AA and the church basically parted company long ago. That was no surprise to Carl Jung who, decades ago, asserted in The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man that a modern person, “expects something from the psyche which the outer world has not given him.”

One goal of this book is to consider what that “something” is that the “outer world” ~ including the church ~ did not ~ or could not ~ give enough help to people attempting to achieve recovery so that they chose, as did Bill W., to align themselves as a separate but equal, spiritual but not religious movement that is not aligned with any church, sect, denomination, politics, organization, or institution.

It is not my belief that AA separating from the church was or is a regrettable mistake. But I am also acutely aware that not even AA has been terribly successful in saving the lives of addicts. The vast majority of people who come to AA do not stay sober for even one year. As long as those statistics remain true, I will continue to ponder and investigate ways in which more people could be served and saved by AA, similar fellowships, and the church. I believe that Bill W. would do the same.

Next week we dig into the 12 Steps and begin an in-depth comparison with them and some basic tenets of religion.

Please ask your friends and colleagues to subscribe to this blog by entering their email address in the upper right corner of this page. Your comments may be incorporation into future posts. Please read the eight posts published prior to this one in this series called “Spirituality Within Addiction & Recovery.”

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  • Tom Goodhue

    Great column, Dwight! The list of Names used in the Big Book reminds me of the 99 Beautiful Names in Islam–which, of course, proceeds to list has more than a hundred of them.

  • Valerie Mitchell

    The church is not in competition with AA, or vice versa. For me, after 30 years of sobriety, they complement one another.

  • Dwight Wolter

    Never said they were, Valerie.

  • Obscurely

    I have a friend who tells me, “I believe in whatever keeps me sober” — this pastor thinks God is OK with that!