The Oxford Group’s concept of God was the spirit of love, tolerance, compassion and kindness—not a spirit of mean-hearted intolerance which criticized, condemned, and diminished other people. The O.G.’s spirit treated each man and woman as a unique individual, not as someone whose intrinsic personhood had to be crushed and annihilated. This is where Alcoholics Anonymous gets one of its most distinctive characteristics.
The Big Book is an anti-legalistic spiritual system. It contains no long lists of moral rules which it orders us to follow. In somewhat surprising fashion it does not even tell us not to steal, commit murder, or prostitute ourselves, nor does it declare any rules about any other major issues of that sort. What it does tell us is to take the third step, and turn our will and lives over to the care of God, and then in the eleventh step The Big Book tells us to use daily prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God…”praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” And then it instructs us to use obsessive resentment and fear as red warning flags, pointing out the areas of our lives where we are definitely not acting in accordance with the will of God and need to pray for further guidance to show us how to amend our desires and attitudes.
The founders of A.A. had discovered for themselves that committing acts of theft, fraud, assault, prostitution, extortion, and so on, threw them back into their old fears and resentments and ultimately made their lives unbearable. The light of God revealed all these things clearly. God’s light illuminated our lives and allowed us to see what we already knew was good and what we already knew was bad—even though we had been hiding in the darkness and trying to pretend that this was not so—and it lit up not only the true character of our behavior but also revealed what the result of that behavior was necessarily going to be.
In A.A. meetings we learned that if we habitually went into bars trying to pick fights with people who were bigger than us, there would be natural consequences which were going to occur. We learned—from people who had been there and suffered these things—that women and boys who stood on street corners working as prostitutes would inevitably end up being robbed, beaten up, terrorized, and treated with scorn and disgust even by their customers. In the Orient this basic A.A. principle would be referred to as the law of Karma. And, committing theft, fraud, and other things of that sort also had their own kind of unpleasant eventual consequences, when our misdeeds finally began to catch up with us. When we create chains of bad Karma, we will always ultimately have to bear the Karmic consequences when the end of the chain circles around and bites us on the backside.
So the founders of A.A. discovered that one did not need to preach at people and lay out long lists of complicated moral rules for them to memorize. When dealing with adults (as opposed to little children who need more direction), all one had to do was to suggest asking the right kinds of questions and then giving people credit (as adults) for having some ordinary common sense. When we discover something for ourselves instead of having other people preaching at us and haranguing us continually, then it ceases to be a hateful, externally imposed rule and becomes something which I authentically desire from within myself for my own self-fulfillment as a person.
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