The danger of absolutes and legalism is easily recognized throughout history. Whenever flawed humans attempt absolute perfection, frustration, failure, neurosis and depression soon follow. For example the Oxford Group “recognized the human sex instinct to be God-given” but they did not condone any perversion of thought, word or deed. This meant that the young university men and women in the group were scolded for masturbating or having “impure thoughts.”
The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous were keen to avoid forcing their moral beliefs on any of its members and instead made “Progress, not perfection,” a founding principle. No member of A.A. has any right to tell any other member what to do, say or think. A.A.’s second Tradition further states: For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority-a loving God as he may express himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
An anonymous professor and long-time A.A. member stated: There were some A.A. groups who persisted in bringing the Oxford Group’s Four Absolutes into their group practices. Cleveland A.A. turned Absolute Purity into something very different: a very generalized insistence upon avoiding all moral compromise, actually doing in practice what we knew was “right” as opposing to doing what we knew was “wrong” and keeping a clean conscience in all our doings, with no reference at all to sexual matters as such.
The Cleveland A.A. kind of approach to the Four Absolutes makes better sense. I believe, we should focus not so much on the absolutes themselves, but rather on the Four Questions when making decisions in our everyday lives:
Absolute Honesty: Is it true or false?
Absolute Unselfishness: How will this affect the other fellow?
Absolute Love: Is it ugly or is it beautiful?
Absolute Purity: Is it right or wrong?
The Four Questions raise important considerations, and are moral questions which we should ask ourselves at all times in our everyday decision-making if we genuinely wish to turn or will and lives over to the care of God. When Bill Wilson was asked, in later years to comment on the debt which A.A. owed to the Oxford Group, he gave honor to them for what that movement had taught him and the other early A.A. people about the spiritual life, but he also regularly added at the end of that message of thanks, a special criticism of the Four Absolutes and all that they implied. He further said, “The absolutes don’t work well for alcoholics because the only thing they can do absolutely is; get absolutely drunk…”
If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral; we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the power was not there. Our human resources, as marshaled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly. Lack of power was our dilemma, we had to find a power by which we could stay sober, and it had to be a power greater than ourselves. But where and how were we to find this power? Well, that’s exactly what the book Alcoholics Anonymous is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem (Page 44-45 BB). To be continued.
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