Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Deconstructing the 12 Steps: Part I

Alcoholics Anonymous derives pretty directly from the Oxford Group (originally called "A First Century Christian Fellowship"), an evangelical organization begun by Frank Buchman, a American Lutheran pastor, in 1921. Interestingly:
The group was unlike other forms of evangelism in that it targeted and directed its efforts to the "up and outers": the elites and wealthy of society. It made use of publicity regarding its prominent converts, and was caricatured as a "Salvation Army for snobs." Buchman's message did not challenge the status quo and thus aided the Group's popularity among the well-to-do. Buchman made the cover of Time Magazine as "Cultist Frank Buchman: God is a Millionaire" in 1936. For a U.S. headquarters, he built a multimillion-dollar establishment on Michigan's Mackinac Island, with room for 1,000 visitors. From Caux to London's Berkeley Square to New York's Westchester County layouts, Buchman and his followers had the best. In response to criticism, Buchman had an answer: "Isn't God a millionaire?" he would ask.

A.A. founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith were both Oxford Groupers; Wilson was a New York stockbroker and Smith an Akron physician - and no doubt the "up and outer" group appealed to them. The Oxford Group focused on personal sinfulness and personal redemption:
Buchman, who had little intellectual interest or interest in theology, believed all change happens from the individual outward, and stressed simplicity. He summed up the Group's philosophy in a few sentences: all people are sinners , all sinners can be changed, confession is a prerequisite to change, the change can access god directly, miracles are again possible, the change must change others.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous (AKA "The Big Book") was written in 1939 as an effort to spread the word about recovery from alcoholism - remember that until this time, alcoholics were mostly thought of as "hopeless" - in an inexpensive way; the 12 Steps were introduced for the first time in this volume. Again from Wikipedia:
After the third and fourth chapters of the Big Book were completed, Wilson decided that a summary of methods for treating alcoholism was needed to describe their "word of mouth" program. The basic program had developed from the works of William James, Dr. Silkworth, and the Oxford Group. It included six basic steps:

1. We admitted that we were licked, that we were powerless over alcohol.
2. We made a moral inventory of our defects or sins.
3. We confessed or shared our shortcomings with another person in confidence.
4. We made restitution to all those we had harmed by our drinking.
5. We tried to help other alcoholics, with no thought of reward in money or prestige.
6. We prayed to whatever God we thought there was for power to practice these precepts.

Wilson decided that the six steps needed to be broken down into smaller sections to make them easier to understand and accept. He wrote the Twelve Steps one night while lying in bed, which he felt was the best place to think. He prayed for guidance prior to writing, and in reviewing what he had written and numbering the new steps, he found they added up to twelve. He then thought of the Twelve Apostles and became convinced that the program should have twelve steps. With contributions from other group members, including atheists who reined in religious content--such as Oxford material--that could later result in controversy, by fall 1938 Wilson expanded the six steps into the final version of the Twelve Steps, which are detailed in Chapter Five of the Big Book, called "How It Works."

The modern version of the 12 Steps are pretty well-known by now, but here they are again:
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.

So, I'm going to try to look at these Steps and work in the opposite direction; I'm going to shrink them down into their component parts to see actually what's happening here. Maybe this will give some clues as to "what the church can learn from A.A.," even here in 2010? I hope so.

And I suppose this will probably take me a while, won't it? Well, then: the next post as soon as possible, but I'm not sure it's going to be tomorrow....

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