This week’s DYK was written by an anonymous graduate of Louisville University, Southern Methodist University and Oxford University in England: A.A. meetings require no sacred sanctuaries. There are no ordained clergy or certified teachers, no eloquent rituals or liturgies. There is no melody of hymns or chants being sung at A.A. meetings. This is a curious thing, in fact, because most spiritual movements develop all sorts of music and chants, whether it’s Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Native American religion, or what have you.
What happens at “open” speaker meetings is that one of the members stand up and tell the story of his or her life. At “closed meetings” group members simply take turns sharing their experience, strength, and hope with one another about a specific reading or topic as it moves around the table. The power of this is shown in the curious way that, Alcoholics stop using alcohol and terminally sick people start regaining their mental and physical health.
The proof of the twelve step faith is that it works; the proof is in the pudding. Many of the fundamental parts of A.A. belief came from the general evangelical tradition, and could in theory have first been learned by the founders from some other evangelical group, such as the Southern Methodists who began publishing The Upper Room meditation booklets during the 1930s. In fact, once early A.A. began breaking with the Oxford Group, they turned to those very Methodist pamphlets, and we can see a number of specifically Methodist influences on the book, Alcoholics Anonymous.
Nevertheless, it was the Oxford Group where they first learned about the basic principles of evangelism, and some of the most distinctive features of A.A. practice still reflect their origins in the Oxford Group. We have seen this over and over again, for example, in our perusal of V.C. Kitchen’s little book. Studying the Oxford Group in the right kind of way can still help us to understand better the basic principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In our study of the Oxford Group, however, we must see it as it actually was, as a revival and revitalization of some of the most fundamental discoveries of the eighteenth-century evangelical movement. We need to look, not just at the world of the 1930s, but also at the world of the 1730s two hundred years earlier, when theologians like Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley were first devising a new kind of psyches therapeia, a spiritually—based psychotherapeutic method for healing the human soul and producing real soul-change, which was adapted to the world of modern science and technology. It is not just the Oxford Group alone which should be studied, but also the sources of that movement’s most important ideas.
Bill Wilson rejected the Oxford Group because of its Four Absolutes and the dangers of Legalism. V.C. Kitchen repeatedly stated that the goal of the spiritual life was to follow at all times the Four Absolutes: Absolute Honesty, Unselfishness, Love and Purity. One version of early A.A. teaching by the Cleveland Group, continued to lay great stress upon the absolutes long after the break between A.A. and the Oxford Group, and, Dr. Bob did in fact mention them in his last lead. There were some changes in this later A.A. version however. The concept of Absolute Purity, for example, was totally re-interpreted. In the original O.G understanding, “Purity” focused exclusively on sexual issues. A.J. Russell said in his book, “For Sinners Only,” that the O.G. “recognized the sex-instinct to be God-given but “they did not condone any perversion of thought, word or deed. This meant that young men and women were scolded for masturbating or having impure thoughts, homosexuality was condemned and members were encouraged to “sublimate” sexual thoughts into impassioned work instead. To be continued…
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