This week’s DYK was written by a graduated PhD in Philosophy who is also a long-time member of Alcoholics Anonymous: Mechanical rules and absolute thinking is often more evil than whatever it is the rule is supposed to abolish. Furthermore, alcoholics normally do the exact opposite of rules and they will find some way of doing to excess that which is strictly forbidden. Why was Bill Wilson so deeply opposed to the Four Absolutes (absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and perfection)? Because he knew that preaching to alcoholics was apt to make them worse and not better and because he knew that it totally missed the point about what was really causing their resentments and fears. Inside the alcoholic’s minds they were wildly out-of-balance which made them miserable and ultimately drove them back to the bottle over and over again.
The Myth of Perfection: I do not want to give the impression that no one knew about the Apostle Paul’s solution to the problem of human self-destructiveness and our inability to do things absolutely and perfectly until the eighteenth century evangelists came along. At the end of the fourth century A.D., St. Augustine began teaching about our necessary human imperfection—central to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church—after trying for some years to live in absolute perfection. After St. Augustine became bishop of the African seaport city of Hippo Regius it finally dawned on him that he had never managed to live a perfect spiritual life and that the African dock workers and their families who made his congregation were not bad people, but they were beyond doubt never going to be people of otherworldly sainthood. He began to grasp the simple fact that obtaining absolute perfection was not an achievable goal, for either himself or for his church members.
His priests liked to set up their own private bible study classes and at that point decided to study Paul’s letter to the Romans. They kept coming to Augustine for help in understanding the New Testament, and finally (after two abortive efforts to write a commentary on the work) he realized what the Apostle Paul had been saying, and how wrong he had been in his own absolutist kind of approach to spirituality.
He also was finally able to grasp Paul’s important discovery about the power of God’s grace. When we were destroying our lives by some kind of irresistible obsessive and compulsive behavior—and could not stop by using our own will-power, no matter how hard we tried—only God’s grace could produce the soul change required to free us from the power of that destructive obsessive-compulsive urge.
St. Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, had been a childhood alcoholic, but had entered into recovery by turning to God’s grace for help and praying for God to produce a soul change in her. St. Augustine’s problem had been different. Before his conversion, he had been a compulsive womanizer, and could not keep his hands off the ladies. His illegitimate son Adeodatus, whom he dearly loved, had been begotten in an affair he had with a young African woman, and in fact had been begotten in the back of a church in Carthage when the church was empty and it seemed like a private place where he and the young woman were not apt to be disturbed. He was not an alcoholic like his mother, but he too knew what it was like to suffer from an irresistible compulsion to do things which he knew were wrong, but which he could not stop himself from doing. At the time of his conversion to Christianity in Italy, however, he called on God’s grace for help, and was finally able to stop his womanizing.
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