Yesterday, I was reading some history on the writing of our Big Book and ran across a section on Bill’s thoughts and experiences as he was writing the very first version of the chapter, “There Is A Solution.” As I was reading it, something hit me hard…“This would be great information to share with a newcomer who is agnostic or atheist and having trouble with the God word.” We have a beautiful chapter filled with direction on this topic, but this additional information is a wonderful “add-on” to the information already found in our literature. The author, William H. Schaberg, who was sharing on his research about this time in A.A. history shares some amazing insights through his 10-year research in A.A. archives and Lois’s journals and I thought I would share it with you. This is what he shared….
“What would likely be surprising—and, in some cases, even shocking—to many current A.A. members in this early version of the chapter is the repeated insistence that the solution for alcoholism is specifically “religious” in nature, a word that drags a fair amount of baggage into the discussion. Perhaps none of these would be more surprising than Dr. Jung’s observation that the only hope for recovery from drinking is be found in a “vital religious experience”; a dramatically different prescription from the frequently quoted “vital spiritual experience,” which appears in the Big Book today.”
As Bill was writing the first version of this chapter, he is aware of this problem and he is constantly reminding the reader that when he says “religious,” he intends that word to be understood in the most flexible and open-ended way possible. He almost pleads with the reader to keep an open mind on this question of religion, pointedly claiming that the word is meant to encompass “nearly every conceivable shade of belief” and, “we have no desire to convince anyone that the true God can only be discovered in some particular way.” The religious solution is explicitly understood to be as accommodating as possible, allowing people to approach and resolve whatever issues they might have with God in absolutely any way they find acceptable. Bill’s final appeal to William James’s book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, is meant to emphatically underline the fact he is talking about a religious solution that comes with no formal dogma and with no prescribed religious practices.
Later edits to this chapter would significantly tone down the impact and the implied message of the word “religious” by repeatedly replacing it with the much gentler “spiritual”; a word that undoubtedly comes with some baggage of its own, but nowhere near as much as the more specific “religious.” To most ears, that word almost necessarily implies “church” and “dogma,” while “spiritual” might be understood to apply to a meaningful life that is lived independent of any formal religious organization.
But just how open was Bill in this early version of “There Is A Solution” to “nearly every conceivable … shade of belief”? It does not require a careful reading of the text to realize that Wilson is very much a man of his own time, culture, and upbringing and when he uses the word “religious”—despite all of his protests to the contrary—he was identifying with a specific concept of God to the exclusion of all others. Whatever later liberalizations may have been introduced by the substitution of spiritual for religious or by Bill’s consistent efforts over the years to open the doors of A.A. ever wider, the open concept claimed for religion here does not embrace a whole host of the “varieties” so candidly acknowledged in William James’s book, a study that includes investigations into the religious beliefs of Pagans, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sufis (among others).”
As his language consistently shows, when Wilson uses the word “religious” here, he is talking about the belief in a personal, providential God, very much along the lines of the God of Abraham, who is to be the ultimate source of salvation for alcoholics. When it comes to recovery, he is not talking, for instance, about the indifferent Creator God of the Deists or about any of the other more liberal concepts of “God as you understand Him.” Bill Wilson’s God is “the Creator of you and me,” the “living Creator” and “the living God.” He is a God with “a loving and powerful hand”; one who is capable of “entering into our hearts and lives” where He can “accomplish those things which by no stretch of the imagination were we humanly capable of.” This is a God who wholeheartedly offers each of us the opportunity to form a very personal and direct relationship with Him and on whom we can absolutely rely for help to overcome the insanity that precedes the first drink.
Like almost everything else in the chapter, this conception of God came from Bill Wilson’s own personal experience, it is the foundation of a belief system he adopted when he first got sober and it is the one he maintained for the rest of his life. Since Bill’s own God was a providential God—one you could pray to with the full expectation of receiving an answer to your prayers—that is the God he explicitly described as the “glorious” solution to the problem of uncontrolled drinking in this first version of “There Is A Solution.”
I absolutely loved this and as was said by the sponsee I was reading it with said, “Each time I read this chapter now, I will have a completely different understanding of what was likely going through Bill’s mind as he was writing this amazing chapter of our book.”
As always, this is just MY experience and you can take it or leave it, although I hope it may have a similar experience on you as it did with me. Have a glorious day!
In love and service,