Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Big Book Manuscript

From Mockingbird blog today:
Coming Soon: The Original Manuscript of AA's Big Book

From yesterday's Washington Post, an article about the publication of the original, annotated Big Book entitled "AA Original Manuscript Reveals Profound Debate Over Religion." We couldn't have asked for a better advertisement for our recent publication Grace in Addiction: What The Church Can Learn From Alcoholics Anonymous, which picks up the topic and runs with it! (Speaking of Grace in Addiction, it's available for 25% off until Sept 30th). A few excerpts from the article - avoid the metafiler comments if you know what's good for you:

After being hidden away for nearly 70 years and then auctioned twice, the original manuscript by AA co-founder Bill Wilson is about to become public for the first time next week, complete with edits by Wilson-picked commenters that reveal a profound debate in 1939 about how overtly to talk about God. The group's decision to use "higher power" and "God of your understanding" instead of "God" or "Jesus Christ" and to adopt a more inclusive tone was enormously important in making the deeply spiritual text accessible to the non-religious and non-Christian, AA historians and treatment experts say.

But the crossed-out phrases and scribbles make clear that the words easily could have read differently. And the edits embody a debate that continues today: How should the role of spirituality and religion be handled in addiction treatment? They also take readers back to an era when churches and society generally stigmatized alcohol addicts as immoral rather than ill. The AA movement's reframing of addiction as having a physical component (the "doctor's opinion" that opens the book calls it "a kind of allergy") was revolutionary, experts say.

"We didn't have any knowledge then about the brain. Today we know there is a neurological component, we know there are spiritual, psychological and environmental components," said Joseph Califano, founder of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Despite objections from some secularists, experts generally believe that "there is a significant spiritual component for the overwhelming majority of people" coming out of addiction to alcohol and drugs, Califano said. The question was - and is - in what way? The notes in the margins of the manuscript make clear there was disagreement, and even Wilson was torn.

I wrote in the comments over there that I'd noticed something really interesting in the WaPo article: that by far the most frequent edit in the manuscript, and the obvious (to me) focus, lay in the excising of the word "you" in favor of the word "we." What's really far more interesting to me, though, was this: the writer of the WaPo article didn't even mention this!

I just recently posted some of this on this blog, but will quote again from the splendid pamphlet published by A.A. General Services called "A Member's-Eye View of A.A." (which can be found in PDF form online:

Long before there was a definition of A.A., before there was a book or Steps or Traditions or a program of recovery, there was a night in Akron, Ohio, only a short 33 years ago. (1935). A night when a man named Bill W., alone in a strange city, shaken and frightened, concluded that his only hope of maintaining his present hard-won sobriety was to talk to and try to help another alcoholic. So far as I know, that is the first recorded instance where one alcoholic consciously and deliberately turned to another alcoholic, not to drink with, but to stay sober with.

In the fateful meeting of Bill W. and Doctor Bob the next evening, was an answer finally given to that rhetorical question which Christ asked two thousand years ago? "If the blind lead the blind, shall they not both fall into the pit?" And in 1935 was the answer, strangely enough, "No"? But perhaps what occurred that evening was not a contradiction of Christ's maxim. Perhaps one who was a little less blind, one who was at last able to discern vague shapes and forms, described what he saw to one who still lived in total darkness.

Much more important than what was said that evening was who was saying it. Long before the average alcoholic walks through the doors of his first A.A. meeting, he has sought help from others or help has been offered to him, in some instances even forced upon him. But these helpers are always superior beings: spouses, parents, physicians, employers, priests, ministers, rabbis, swamis, judges, policemen, even bartenders. The moral culpability of the alcoholic and the moral superiority of the helper, even though unstated, are always clearly understood. The overtone of parental disapproval and discipline in these authority figures is always present. For the first time, 33 years ago an alcoholic suddenly heard a different drummer. Instead of the constant and menacing rat-a-tat-tat of "This is what you should do," he heard an instantly recognizable voice saying, "This is what I did."

I am personally convinced that the basic search of every human being, from the cradle to the grave, is to find at least one other human being before whom he can stand completely naked, stripped of all pretense or defense, and trust that person not to hurt him, because that other person has stripped himself naked, too. This lifelong search can begin to end with the first A.A. encounter.

And the writer of the pamphlet seems to have gotten that exactly right - even though it's unlikely he ever saw the manuscript itself.

Really: this is grace....