Alcoholics Anonymous Questions Often Asked

Alcoholics Anonymous Questions Often Asked

Alcoholics Anonymous Questions Often Asked


Dick B.

© 2010 Anonymous. All rights reserved


Many times, questions are asked about Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) by courts, by clergy, by recovering alcoholics and addicts, and by members of the public. They have to do with genuine concerns as to what A.A. is and does; what the history of Alcoholics Anonymous is; where A.A. came from; what someone has to believe in order to be a “member;” and just how A.A., its recovery program, and its fellowship should be characterized.


The following questions and answers are those I have learned as a long-time A.A. member—recovered for over 24 years; as one who has researched and published on A.A. history and roots for over 20 years; and as one who receives these questions with some frequency—by phone, by email, by Facebook comments, by live audiences, and by mail.


Q: Is Alcoholics Anonymous a Christian Fellowship today?

            Answer: No.


Q: Was Alcoholics Anonymous once a Christian Fellowship?

            Answer: Yes


Q: Were A.A.’s two founders and its third member Christians?

            Answer: Yes


Q: When could it be said that A.A. was no longer a “Christian fellowship?”

            Answer: For sure, by the time the First Edition of the Big Book was published in April

            1939. By this time, the word “God” had been removed from Step Two; the unqualified

            word “God” in Steps Three and Eleven had been modified through the addition of the

            words “as we understood Him” following it; and a large number of Christian and biblical

            materials had been intentionally tossed out of later versions of the pre-publication

            manuscripts of the Big Book, primarily to appease a few atheist and agnostic participants.


Q: Can Christians come to, attend the meetings of, and become members of A.A. today?

            Answer: They not only can and do, but A.A. has no rule or right to exclude them.


Q: Are there a large number of Christians who attend the meetings of and/or become members of  Alcoholics Anonymous today?

            Answer: There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Christians in A.A.



Q: Was belief in God required when A.A. was founded in Akron in June of 1935?

            Answer: Dr. Bob insisted that every member of the fellowship profess belief in God.


Q: Was affirmation of Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior required when A.A. was founded in June of 1935?

            Answer: Every person who wanted to belong to the Akron A.A. “Christian fellowship”

            was required to make what was called a “real surrender.” This occurred when a member

            was taken upstairs in the home of either T. Henry Williams or cofounder Dr. Bob Smith,

            and required to declare that Jesus Christ was his Lord and Savior.


Q: Did the First Edition of the Big Book published in April 1939 contain mention of the Being Bill Wilson called “the God of the Scriptures?”

            Answer: The word “God” used without qualification and with capitalization appeared

            more than 200 times. In addition, there were many occurrences of capitalized pronouns

            referring to “God”—pronouns such as “His,” “Him.” Biblical descriptions of Almighty

            God also occurred frequently—words and phrases such as “Creator;” “Maker;”

            “Heavenly Father;” “Father;” “Father of lights;” and, of course, “God.”


Q: Does an alcoholic or someone with a drinking problem have to believe in Almighty God today in order to come to, attend a meeting of, or become a “member” of A.A.

            Answer: Absolutely not. A.A. literature today speaks of belief in a “higher power,” a

            “power greater than one’s self,” one’s own conception of god, and a God as one

            understands Him. Furthermore, it explicitly states that you do not have to believe in

            God or in anything at all to be a “member” today.


Q: Did the basic ideas for the Twelve Steps come from study and effort in the Bible?

            Answer: Yes. Dr. Bob stated so explicitly.


Q: Did early AAs in Akron study the Bible daily?

            Answer: Yes.


Q: Did early AAs hold “old-fashioned prayer meetings?”

            Answer: Yes


Q: Did early AAs read Christian literature?

            Answer: Yes. They read Christian books and pamphlets, as well as Christian daily


 Q: Did the 12 Steps of A.A. that were written by Bill W. in 1938 come from the Oxford Group?

            Answer: Dr. Bob said the basic ideas came from the Bible and specified the Book of

James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13, as absolutely essential. Bill Wilson named three major sources for the step ideas: (1) Dr. William D. Silkworth—Bill’s psychiatrist—whom Bill called a “founder” of A.A. (2) Professor William James of Harvard—who was called a “founder” though long dead at the time. (3) Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church of New York. In addition to the Bible and the foregoing three sources, research has since established a number of other sources that made a contribution to the Step ideas and language. They included: (1) Dr. Carl Jung. (2) Christian conversions. (3) New Thought writings by people such as Emmet Fox. (4) Evangelists. (5) Rescue Missions. (6) The YMCA. (7) The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor. (8) The Oxford Group. (9) Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne Ripley Smith. (10) Quiet Time. (11) Christian books and literature. (12) Experiences of the alcoholics themselves.


Q:  How about all those who claim Alcoholics Anonymous is a sect, a religion, even a cult?

Answer: For what it is worth, A.A. itself publicizes that it is not allied with any sect or denomination. With 2 million members and no organized hierarchy or controlling leaders, and with members including Jews, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Mormons, New Thought adherents, atheists, agnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, gays and lesbians, unbelievers, and folks who say they believe in higher powers that are chairs, tables, rocks, light bulbs, Santa Claus, or “it,” one would have a virtually-impossible task attempting to claim that such a dispersion of believers and unbelievers and nonbelievers constitute a cult. As to religion, most of the courts called upon to decide whether A.A. is a religion have declared that it is, rejecting the spurious idea that it is somehow “spiritual but not religious”—an invention mostly of writers rather than members. Court rulings have tended to point to the frequent references to God and the regimen for “coming to believe”—whatever the belief or unbelief may turn out to be.


Q: How about the minority of Christian writers who claim that A.A. is not “of the Lord,” or

that the Bible precludes Christians from associating with those of other beliefs, or that the wide variety of behaviors—whether swearing, fornication, spiritualism, adultery, and psychobabble—somehow allow one Christian to condemn an organization or fellowship or society that has members of varied views?

            Answer: In America, and in most membership countries, diversity of beliefs does not call

            for condemnation. If Christianity be the standard, one could ask if Jesus carried a

            message only to his chosen disciples; or if the day of Pentecost marked the exclusion of

            all those who spoke different languages; or if the ministry of Peter, John, James, and Paul

            was limited to those who were either Jew or Gentile—but could not include those who

            heard the word of God and sought salvation. The story in Acts of the jailer who asked

            “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” should be proof enough that neither God nor

            Christians were respecters of persons.


Q: Can a drunk of any religious persuasion or no religious persuasion or of atheistic or agnostic persuasion walk into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous today and be or become a Christian; explain that he believes in God, in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Bible and be silenced or expelled; or be subjected to insulting or condemning language; or prevented from attending church?

            Answer: He is free to walk in, to be or become a Christian, to express his beliefs, to

            listen to insulting remarks, and to attend any church or religious fellowship he chooses.

There are still loads of bleeding deacons who will go to any lengths to silence him, but A.A. cannot and does not expel or silence anyone—no matter what a newcomer may hear or fear. And any remonstrating Christians outside of A.A. who think otherwise are simply

lacking in knowledge of A.A., A.A. history, and A.A. as it exists today.


Is There Documentation for These

The Twelve Steps Of Alcoholics Anonymous?Who Wrote Them?

The Twelve Steps Of Alcoholics Anonymous?Who Wrote Them?

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous—Who Wrote Them?


Dick B.

© 2010 Anonymous. All rights reserved


There Were Those Who Didn’t


Cofounder Dr. Bob: One who made it clear that he didn’t write the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was cofounder Dr. Robert H. Smith (known as “Dr. Bob”). In his last major address to AAs—recorded in The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches: Their Last Major Talks (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975)—Dr. Bob stated:


            In the early A.A. days . . . our stories didn’t amount to anything to speak of. When we

            started in on Bill D. [A.A. Number Three], we had no Twelve Steps, either; we had no


            But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book. [p. 13]


It wasn’t until 1938 [three years after A.A. was founded in June 1935] that the teachings and efforts and studies that had been going on were crystallized in the form of the Twelve Steps. I didn’t write the Twelve Steps. I had nothing to do with the writing of them. [p. 14—emphasis added]


“Cofounder” Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr.: Bill Wilson made it clear that his friend Rev. Sam Shoemaker, Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York, was the “wellspring” from which A.A.’s ideas had flowed. [See The Language of the Heart: Bill W.’s Grapevine Writings (NY: The AA Grapevine, Inc., 1988), 177]. Bill finally said concerning Sam:


Having now accounted for AA’s Steps One and Twelve, it is natural that we should ask, “Where did the early AAs find the material for the remaining ten Steps? . . . The spiritual substance of our remaining ten Steps came straight from Dr. Bob’s and my own earlier association with the Oxford Groups, as they were then led in America by that Episcopal rector, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. [The Language of the Heart, 298]


And Bill even called Shoemaker a “cofounder” of Alcoholics Anonymous. [See Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, Newton ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1992, 1998), 137.]


There is another and far more important story pertaining to Garrett Stearly, Sam Shoemaker, and Bill Wilson. [Reverend Garrett R. Stearly was a member of the church corporation at Shoemaker’s Calvary Episcopal Church.] Our Oxford Group friend, James Draper Newton, who has been aligned with Buchman, Shoemaker, and the Oxford Group since the early 1920’s, has repeatedly reminded us of two conversations he [Newton] had with Stearly. According to Newton, Stearly twice told him:


Bill Wilson asked Sam Shoemaker to write A.A.’s Twelve Steps. Shoemaker declined. Shoemaker told Bill that the Steps should be written by an alcoholic and that Bill was the one to do it. [See Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works, new, rev. ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1992, 1995, 1998), 127-28. This statement was made to me several times on the telephone and in person by James Draper Newton of Fort Myers Beach, Florida]


So Sam Shoemaker did not write the Twelve Steps even though he was the principal source for their ideas.


There Were Those Who Gave Bill the Twelve Step Ideas Way Back in 1934


There were at least three people who gave Bill Wilson all the precepts of the Twelve Steps, long before A.A. was founded, and at least six months before Bill met Dr. Bob in May of 1935. See Bill W., Bill W.: My First 40 Years (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000), 126-69; Bill Pittman and Dick B., compilers and editors, Courage to Change: The Christian Roots of the Twelve-Step Movement (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1994), 22-23; ‘Pass It On’: The Story of Bill Wilson and How the A.A. Message Reached the World (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984), 111-16.


The first was Bill’s friend Ebby Thacher. See Lois Remembers: Memoirs of the co-founder of Al-Anon and wife of the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (NY: Al-Anon Family Group  Headquarters, Inc., 1987), 87-88.


Next came Ebby’s Oxford Group friend F. Shepard Cornell. See Courage to Change, 22-23; “Pass It On,”116; Francis Hartigan, Bill W.: A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 59.


And finally, Rowland Hazard, who had dramatically conveyed the ideas to Shep Cornell and to Ebby, and then directly to Bill. For the most part, these were the little group of “teachers” from whom Bill learned his ideas at their Stewart’s Cafeteria meetings. See Robert Thomsen, Bill W. (NY: Harper & Row Publishers, Perennial Books, 1975), 226-32; Dick B. The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous, New Rev. ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), 128-30. And all of this occurred in 1934 and early 1935—long before Bill published the Big Book and Twelve Steps in 1939, and before Bill met Dr. Bob later in 1935.


The most complete and thorough discussion of what Rowland taught Ebby, what Rowland and Shep Cornell taught Ebby and Bill, and what Ebby taught Bill directly concerning the Twelve Step ideas taken from the Oxford Group’s program will be found fully discussed and documented in Dick B. Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes (San Rafael, CA: Paradise Research Publications, 1997), 81-108.


These facts were made clear to Dick B. on his two research trips to Bill’s home at Stepping Stones in Bedford Hills, New York. There Dick found manuscripts where Bill described the actual steps and step materials later incorporated in the Big Book and how these were transmitted to him by Ebby Thacher. The dates were 1934! Also, some small glimpses of these materials can  be found, even today, in Bill’s Story in Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 2001, 8-11, 13-15. Again, the dates of Ebby’s visits with Bill were in late 1934.


Bill’s Interim “Step” Period Between 1934 and 1939


Bill, on his own, developed six “word of mouth” ideas, varied in form, and applied in different ways. And these word-of-mouth thoughts and expressions followed the Oxford Group ideas he had learned from Rowland Hazard, Shep Cornell, Ebby Thacher, and Rev. Sam Shoemaker. Bill said there was disagreement as to their wording and application; and Bill himself phrased them in at least four different ways. But, according to Bill, it was these six “word of mouth” ideas that Bill later expanded to the Twelve Steps as he wrote the famous Chapter Five “How It Works” in the Big Book manuscript. See Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Early A.A. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006), 149-86.


So it Was Bill Wilson, and Bill Wilson Alone, Who Wrote the Twelve Steps in December, 1938


Recently, several anti-A.A. commentators have laid out historically inaccurate, conjectural, and totally erroneous ideas as to how Bill received some alleged spiritualist-like guidance as he penned the steps. But Bill was simply writing down ideas with which he had been thoroughly familiar in the Oxford Group and from his talks with Rev. Sam Shoemaker—from 1934 on.


The historical facts are simple. They are well-documented. And they show the long trail in Bill Wilson’s life that led from his tutors—Rowland Hazard, F. Shepard Cornell, and Ebby Thacher to him; from his extensive Oxford Group meeting attendance from1934 to August of 1937 when he and Lois left the Oxford Group (See Lois Remembers, 91-94); and from his long conferences with, and teachings by, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. concerning the step ideas themselves. These well-recorded sources led to Bill’s own incorporation in his Big Book of the Oxford Group ideas that were codified into his Twelve Steps just prior to publication of the Big Book in 1939. A.A.’s own ‘Pass It On,’ said this about the writing:


Bill was about to write the famous fifth chapter, ‘How It Works.’ The basic material for the chapter was the word-of-mouth program that Bill had been talking about ever since his own recovery. It was heavy with Oxford Group principles, and had in addition some of the ideas Bill had gleaned from William James and from Dr. Silkworth (page 197)


            Bill’s first three steps were culled from his reading of James, the teachings of Sam

Shoemaker, and those of the Oxford Group (page 199)


The newly published biography of Lois Wilson underlines the Oxford Group source—one which we will call part of “the rest of the story.” See William G. Borchert, The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2005):


            Dr. Shoemaker was to play a significant role in Bill Wilson’s spiritual development and

his writing of Alcoholics Anonymous, which became known as “The Big Book,” p. 156.


These principles, which Bill developed into AA’s Twelve Steps to recovery for millions

of alcoholics around the world essentially incorporated and expanded upon the Oxford

Group’s ‘Four Absolutes’ of honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love, p. 239.


Borchert then lays out what he calls the “first draft of the Twelve Steps.”

Alcoholics Anonymous History And Its Initial Christian Roots

Alcoholics Anonymous History And Its Initial Christian Roots

Alcoholics Anonymous History and Its Initial Christian Roots

How They’ve Been Forgotten; And How They Can Help Recovery Today

By Dick B.

© 2010 Anonymous. All rights reserved


Learn About Them


I am one of the tens of thousands (probably hundreds of thousands) of Christians who deeply appreciate the recovery from alcoholism and addiction that Alcoholics Anonymous made possible in our lives. Many of us have been criticized for mentioning Jesus Christ and the Bible in our talks at meetings. But most of us know that God is our sufficiency. We pray to Him in the name of Jesus Christ. And we recover.


Many of us who are Christians involved in A.A. do believe in God, the accomplishments of His Son Jesus Christ, and the truth about both that is found in the Bible. Many of us, as Christian members of Alcoholics Anonymous, had no idea whatsoever that early A.A. was a Christian fellowship, that its members believed in God, surrendered to Jesus Christ, and studied the Bible on a daily basis. Many of us had no idea whatsoever that the early, Christian-oriented A.A. claimed an overall 75% success rate among the “seemingly-hopeless,” “medically-incurable,” “last gasp case” alcoholics who thoroughly followed the pioneer A.A. program. And many of us never learned that the Original Akron program is summarized rather well in on page 131 of the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book, DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers.


How could so many of us have been unaware of these facts?


The answer, in part, is that, as the First Edition of A.A.’s Big Book manuscript was being written and edited in 1938 and early 1939, many additions, omissions, and changes were made to the highly-successful Akron Christian program Bill W. and Dr. Bob began developing in the summer of 1935. For example, as Bill W. stated on pages 166-67 of the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age:


We [Bill W., Hank P., Ruth Hock, and John Henry Fitzhugh M.] were still arguing about the Twelve Steps. All this time I had refused to budge on these steps. I would not change a word of the original draft, in which, you will remember, I had consistently used the word “God,” and in one place the expression “on our knees” was used. Praying to God on one’s knees was still a big affront to Henry. He argued, he begged, he threatened. He quoted Jimmy [B.—i.e., Jim Burwell] to back him up. . . . Though at first I would have none of it, we finally began to talk about the possibility of compromise. . . . In Step Two we decided to describe God as a “Power greater than ourselves.” In Steps Three and Eleven we inserted the words “God as we understood Him.” From Step Seven we deleted the expression “on our knees.” . . . Such were the final concessions to those of little or no faith; this was the great contribution of our atheists and agnostics. [Emphasis added]


Bill W.’s wife Lois spoke about another major change on page 113 of her autobiography, Lois Remembers:


Finally it was agreed that the book should present a universal spiritual program, not a specific religious one, since all drunks were not Christian.


Such major changes to the Original Akron A.A. “Christian Fellowship” program obscured the simple solution the A.A. pioneers in Akron discovered; specifically, that a cure from alcoholism was available through reliance on Almighty God, coming to Him through His Son Jesus Christ, and reading and studying the Bible—along with the other principles and practices of the early days. [For the Frank Amos summary of the Original Akron A.A. “Program,” and the other principles and practices of the Akron fellowship, see: Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Manual (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2009), 44-46, 49.]


The Lesson from the First Three AAs


Early AAs knew one another. They visited one another. They had address books with the phone numbers (if a given member had a phone) and addresses of the other members. And they kept rosters which showed the sobriety dates and sobriety history of the members.


The 75% overall success rate early A.A. claimed was remarkable because it was attained by what Bill W. called the “seemingly-hopeless,” “medically-incurable,” “last gasp” cases who gave their all to God and received the blessed healing and deliverance that followed. Bill W. and Dr. Bob did indeed state that there were “failures galore.” But there weren’t failures galore among the real hardcore members who turned to God and gave the program everything they had.


A very important part of the historical record is how the first three AAs got sober in late 1934 and in 1935. When they got sober:


There was no Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous was published in April 1939);

There were no Twelve Steps;

There were no Twelve Traditions;

There were no “drunkalogs”; and

There were no “meetings to make”—at least of the kinds normally seen in today’s A.A.


 The Creator of the heavens and the earth was there. See, for example, Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed.:


“my Creator” (page 13)

“My Creator” (76)

“our Creator” (pages 25, 68, 72, 75, 83)

“a living Creator” (page 28);

“his Creator” (page 56, 80, 158)

“their loving and All Powerful Creator” (page 161)


The “Great Physician,” Jesus Christ, was there. See, for example: Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Early A.A. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006), 59ff.


The Bible (which Dr. Bob often called the “Good Book”) was there. See, for example, page 13 of the A.A. General Service Conference-approved pamphlet, The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (Item # P-53; available for reading online at; accessed 8/5/09):


At that point, our stories didn’t amount to anything to speak of. When we started in on Bill D., we had no Twelve Steps, either; we had no Traditions.

            But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book. To some of us older ones, the parts that we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James.


A.A. Number One, Bill W., learned from Dr. Silkworth that Jesus Christ could cure him. Bill learned from his old drinking friend Ebby Thacher that Ebby had been to the altar at Calvary Rescue Mission, and been reborn, causing Ebby to tell Bill that God had done for him (Ebby) what Ebby could not do for himself. Bill then went to Calvary Church itself. He heard Ebby give testimony from the pulpit; and Bill decided that he too needed help and needed the same help that Ebby had received. Bill then went to the altar at Calvary Rescue Mission, made a decision for Christ, wrote that he had been born again for sure, and then decided to seek the help of the “Great Physician,” Jesus Christ. Deeply depressed and despairing, Bill proceeded drunk to Towns Hospital where he was greeted by Dr. Silkworth. At Towns Hospital, Bill cried out for help, had a dramatic spiritual “white light” experience, perceived that he had been in the presence of the “God of the Scriptures” (as Bill wrote on page 284 of The Language of the Heart), and never drank again. Bill proclaimed he never again doubted the existence of God. And his message became: “The Lord has cured me of this terrible disease, and I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191) No Big Book. No Twelve Steps. No Twelve Traditions. No drunkalogs. No meetings. Just the power and love of God that Bill had sought and relied upon.


A.A. Number Two, Dr. Bob S.,–a Christian since his youth in St. Johnsbury, Vermont–prayed for deliverance on the rug at the home of T. Henry Williams in Akron. Miraculously, help showed up quite soon in the form of a visit of Bill W. to Akron. Henrietta Seiberling declared Bill’s visit to be “Manna from Heaven.” Bill soon moved in with Dr. Bob and his wife, studied the Bible with them, and nursed Dr. Bob back from one, brief and last binge. Dr. Bob never drank again thereafter and told the nurse at City Hospital that he and Bill had found a cure for alcoholism. No Big Book. No Twelve Steps. No Twelve Traditions. No drunkalogs. No meetings. Just the power and love of God that Dr. Bob had sought and relied upon. Dr. Bob closed his story in the Big Book with these words:


Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!


Bill W. and Dr. Bob sought out another drunk to help. They found A.A. Number Three, the hospitalized Akron attorney Bill D., also a Christian. After Bill D. heard what Bill W. and Dr. Bob had to share, Bill D. decided to entrust his life to God’s care. Shortly, when Bill W. and Dr. Bob returned to the hospital, Bill D. told them what had happened. Bill D. then left the hospital a free man and never drank again. He had been told to find other drunks to help; and he did so. No Big Book. No Twelve Steps. No Twelve Traditions. No drunkalogs. No meetings. Just the power and love of God that Bill D. had sought and relied upon. Bill D. found himself echoing Bill W.’s statement on page 191 of the Fourth Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous:


The Lord has cured me of this