Reprinted from the October 23, 1939 Cleveland Plain Dealer with permission
Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its Stand Here
By ELRICK B. DAVIS
In a previous installment, Mr. Davis outlined the plan of Alcoholics
Anonymous, an organization of former drinkers who have found a
solution to liquor in association for mutual aid. This is the
second of a series.
There is no blinking the fact that Alcoholics Anonymous, the amazing
society of ex-drunks who have cured each other of an incurable
disease, is religious. Its members have cured each other frankly
with the help of God. Every cured member of the Cleveland Fellowship
of the society, like every cured member of the other chapters
now established in Akron, New York, and elsewhere in the country,
is cured with the admission that he submitted his plight wholeheartedly
to a Power Greater than Himself.
He has admitted his conviction that science cannot cure him, that
he cannot control his pathological craving for alcohol himself,
and that he cannot be cured by the prayers, threats, or pleas
of his family, employers, or friends. His cure is a religious
experience. He had to have God's aid. He had to submit to a spiritual
Alcoholics Anonymous is a completely informal society, wholly
latitudinarian in every respect but one. It prescribes a simple
spiritual discipline, which must be followed rigidly every day.
The discipline is fully explained in a book published by the society.
That is what makes the notion of the cure hard for the usual alcoholic
to take, at first glance, no matter how complete his despair.
He wants to join no cult. He has lost faith, if he ever had it,
in the power of religion to help him. But each of the cures accomplished
by Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritual awakening. The ex-drunk
has adopted what the society calls "a spiritual way of life."
How, then, does Alcoholics Anonymous differ from the other great
religious movements which have changed social history in America?
Wherein does the yielding to God that saves a member of this society
from his fatal disease, differ from that which brought the Great
Awakening that Jonathan Edwards preached, or the New Light revival
of a century ago, or the flowering of Christian Science, or the
campmeeting evangelism of the old Kentucky-Ohio frontier, or the
Oxford Group successes nowadays?
Every member of Alcoholics Anonymous may define God to suit himself.
God to him may be the Christian God defined by the Thomism of
the Roman Catholic Church. Or the stern Father of the Calvinist.
Or the Great Manitou of the American Indian. Or the Implicit Good
assumed in the logical morality of Confucius. Or Allah, or Buddha,
or the Jehovah of the Jews. Or Christ the Scientist. Or no more
than the Kindly Spirit implicitly assumed in the "atheism"
of a Col. Robert Ingersoll.
If the alcoholic who comes to the fellowship for help believes
in God, in the specific way of any religion or sect, the job of
cure is easier. But if all that the pathological drunk can do
is to say, with honesty, in his heart: "Supreme Something,
I am done for without more-than-human help," that is enough
for Alcoholics Anonymous to work on. The noble prayers, the great
literatures, and the time-proved disciplines of the established
religions are a great help. But as far as the Fellowship of Alcoholics
Anonymous is concerned, a pathological drunk can call God "It"
if he wants to, and is willing to accept Its aid. If he'll do
that, he can be cured.
Poll of "incurable" alcoholics who now, cured, are members
of the Cleveland Fellowship of the society, shows that this has
made literally life-saving religious experience possible to men
and women who, otherwise, could not have accepted spiritual help.
Poll shows also that collectively their religious experience has
covered every variety known to religious psychology. Some have
had an experience as blindingly bright as that which struck down
Saul on the road to Damascus. Some are not even yet intellectually
convinced except to the degree that they see that living their
lives on a spiritual basis has cured them of a fatal disease.
Drunk for years because they couldn't help it, now it never occurs
to them to want a drink. Whatever accounts for that, they are
willing to call "God."
Some find more help in formal religion than do others. A good
many of the Akron chapter find help in the practices of the Oxford
Group. The Cleveland chapter includes a number of Catholics and
several Jews, and at least one man to whom "God" is
"Nature." Some practice family devotions. Some simply
cogitate about "It" in the silence of their minds. But
that the Great Healer cured them with only the help of their fellow
ex-drunks, they all admit.