Bill 999

Bill W. Co-founder of AA

Historical Roots of the Concept ‘Higher Power’.

The basic principles of Alcoholics Anonymous were worked out in the late 1930s and early 1940s, during what co-founder Bill W. often referred to as the Fellowship’s period of “trial and error.”

The founding members had been using six steps borrowed from the Oxford Groups, where many of them started out. Bill felt that more specific instructions would be better, and in the course of writing A.A.’s basic text, Alcoholics Anonymous, he expanded them to twelve.

But he was dealing with a group of newly sober drunks, and not surprisingly his new version met with spirited opposition. Even though the founding members were in many ways a homogeneous bunch (white, middle-class, almost exclusively male, and primarily Christian in background), they represented the full spectrum of opinion and belief.

Bill tells us in Alcoholic Anonymous Comes of Age, a history of the Fellowship’s early years, that “the hot debate about the Twelve Steps and the book’s content was doubled, doubled and redoubled. There were conservative, liberal, and radical viewpoints.” (page 162) Some thought the book ought to be Christian; others could accept the word “God” but were opposed to any other theological proposition. And the atheists and agnostics wanted to delete all references to God and take a psychological approach.

A.A.’s Twelve Steps were to be suggestions only

Bill concludes: “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 words ‘on our knees.’ And, as a lead-in sentence to all the steps we wrote these words: ‘Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery.’ A.A.’s Twelve Steps were to be suggestions only.” (ibid., page 167)

More than sixty years later, those crucial compromises, articulated after weeks of heated controversy, have made it possible for alcoholics of all faiths, or no faith at all, to embrace the A.A. program of recovery and find lasting sobriety.

AA – A Newsletter for Professionals Fall 2003.

Related Reading:

Power vs. Force (Revised Edition): The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior
A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel: Volume Three
An AA Big Book Study Guide for Compulsive Overeaters