A Brief & Mind-Blowing History of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
Mel B. ‘New Wine’… The Grand Synthesis of A.A. History
If Parmenides taught us anything it’s that nothing comes from nothing (ex nihilo nihil fit!) – super nerdy philosophy humor, forgive me!
Astonishingly, we are still wrestling with that one. Logic and the human brain fail to be compatible at times.
Reminds me of the first rule of Calvary: when the horse is dead, dismount.
Anyway, let’s keep moving forward.
Ever wonder where A.A. came from?
Did Bill W. and Dr. Bob pioneer something previously unknown?
Were the contents of the Big Book, AA’s basic text, created, discovered, or borrowed?
Or as with most things, was it the outcome of the age-old dialectic? Wherein the thesis is subverted by the antithesis, yet revolutionized into a synthesis – the process lingers ad infinitum.
Mel B in New Wine demonstrates how the grand historical synthesis of A.A. history – which some A.A. members call “divine inspiration” – put Bill W and Dr. Bob in just the right place to receive everything they needed.
Indeed, the information was merely received, applied and recorded.
History of AA: Context, Context…and…oh yes, Context!
If there is one word that is key to understanding any piece of literature, it is context.
- Cultural context.
- Situational context.
- Relational context.
- Symbolic context.
- Inner context.
- Physical context.
Or perhaps for simplicity’s sake, the five w’s and the h.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Who, what, where, when, why, and how.
If you desire to draw out the intended content of the author and that which a text attempts to communicate then these are the basic ingredients for that comprehension.
I’m sure this is not surprising with the context I set but setting the context for the creation of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is the drive of New Wine.
It answers the above questions in a skillful exegetically manner.
In other words, Mel B weaves a fascinating account of the major factors that led to the birth of the 12-Step program.
A.A. Is The Sum Total of its Influences… Aren’t We All?
For instance, he informs the reader of the role Christian Science and it’s revered book “Science and Health With The Key To Scripture” had in the formation of Big Book philosophy, or better yet, theology.
Furthermore, he notes the undeniable influence a myriad New Age thinkers and the literature they presented i.e. Phineas Quimby, Emmett Fox, James Allen, and many others, were instrumental in the “Higher Power” understanding of capturing a God who is all-inclusive.
Richard Peabody…Is There a Common Sense to Drinking?
Not much is known about Richard Peabody, the lay therapist, but he authored a book a few years prior to the publication of the Big Book that is eerily similar to A.A. The disease concept he suggests appears to be identical to Dr. Silkworth’s in the Doctors Opinion. Moreover, he proposed alcoholics in recovery should work with each other, one alcoholic helping with another, optimized significantly in a small group setting….sound familiar?
Indeed, some lines within the pages of the Big Book copy verbatim lines found within his seminal classic “The Common Sense of Drinking.” The same exact pattern can be found in copying phrases from “What Is The Oxford Group?” The Oxford Group textbook, from which Alcoholics Anonymous Undoubtedly got its conception.
Serving a Science and Religion Cocktail on the Rocks – Cheers!
The idea of conflating religion with science most likely infuriated individuals at the outset of the twentieth century. People who already upset with drunks enough for them to spearhead that operation. No, the mixture first began (at least in an institutional sense viz. medicine) in the Emmanuel Movement. Small wonder that with ease Bill W. was able to discuss disease, not sin, and the healing powers of God in the same book.
Prior to Emmanual Movement, this was for the most part unheard-of, at least to the common folk. But those days were a changing, the thus the ability to see addiction as a disease which could be transcended biologically and psychologically by the practical application of spiritual principles was born and sustained.
Give A Round of Applause for the Philosophers in the House…
Failing to acknowledge the role of pragmatic philosopher William James in the understanding of a spiritual experience as vital to mental health would be simply providing misinformation.
In addition, Freud, Adler, and Jung (godfathers of psychoanalysis) added to the wealth of knowledge available on mysterious elements of the human consciousness lending credence to the spiritual (I should note that Freud would bite his thumb at me for that comment).
Not to mention the liberal Christian theologians who sought to create exhaustive theologies of subjective religious experience.
A Must Read History Book for A.A. “In the Room Scholars”
This book is a must-read for history buffs. As a source for sponsorship, it’s invaluable. However, if you are interested A.A. history from a few different angles I suggest you read Wally P’s “Back to Basics” or Joe McQ’s “Carry This Message;” further, for something more exhaustive and comprehensive check out Ernest Kurtz “Not God.”