This week’s DYK was written by a prominent professor with long time sobriety and membership in Alcoholics Anonymous: I go on at such length about the Oxford Group’s Four Absolutes (unselfishness, love, honesty and purity), to try and make clear that my own opposition (like Bill Wilson’s), is most definitely not the attitude of some wishy-washy liberal (in his case or mine) who want to water down the requirements of sobriety or because he is somehow or other “soft on sin” and searching for “the easier softer way” by ignoring the clear pronouncements of holy scripture and true biblical faith. If one wishes to argue the issue in terms of good Christian theology, one must say that on scriptural grounds the teaching of the Four Absolutes as such is a total catastrophe, and a selling out of the true gospel. Where does the true church exist? Where “the gospel is truly preached and the sacraments are duly administered.” On the basis of both holy scripture and the true Christian tradition, people who claim to be Christian but teach the necessity of pursuing the Four Absolutes are not Christians at all, in spite of all their claims to the contrary, because they do not preach the true gospel of saving grace which saves our souls.
In this case Bill Wilson (and the majority of people during the first 30 years of A.A.) was on the side of the angels—if you are a Christian—when they declared that teaching the Four Absolutes was not just unwise, but was going to do real harm to innumerable alcoholics who took the absolutist ideas too seriously. Even if many alcoholics can talk in terms of the Four Absolutes without going back to the bottle again—and all too many cannot—for all the others, it is going to have an extremely deleterious effect on their serenity. And the sad thing is these alcoholics make themselves miserable thinking that their devotion to these absolutist ideas proves how highly moral and dedicated people they are. They are not bad people—quite on the contrary—simply people who fail to understand the way this kind of approach to spirituality blocks the full working of God’s grace.
I have tried to be careful in what I said about the Four Absolutes, because although the four of them taken all together can lead people into a destructive kind of works righteousness, one of them does have to be separated and given an absolute status in A.A. teaching. That exception—the one absolute that A.A. does seek—is absolute honesty even though none among us are absolutely honest in the beginning.
The A.A. program is quite peculiar in that regard. The only thing it requires of us at the beginning is honesty. “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.” We are not required to believe anything, or have a conversion experience, or go through any initiatory ritual like baptism or circumcision or sitting in a Native American sweat lodge.
In sorting through the Oxford Group’s Four Absolutes, the majority of early A.A.’s quickly began to see problems with the other three absolutes, and any attempt to require absolute unselfishness, love or purity. Or if not the A.A.’s, ask the Al-Anon’s how much trouble any attempt to practice absolute unselfishness got them before they came into the Al-Anon program, and started learning about the principle of detachment with love! But the early A.A. people saw that absolute honesty had to be dealt with in an entirely different way. Until people become honest with themselves, they could get nowhere…
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