The Big Book is not a Bible. Bill and Bob never asked us to worship AA.

January 26, 2010

I gotta tell ya…. I just don’t get where it was ever intended or suggested that the Big Book of AA should ever be considered a Bible or any sort of holy text.

And in all I have read and experienced in AA, I have never got even the slightest impression from the founders or the organization that the program of AA should be worshipped.

Yet I continually hear and read individuals quoting the Big Book as if it were infallible scripture and deifying the 12 steps and practices of AA.  I also hear and read opponents of AA and 12 step making ridiculous claims about the hidden agenda of the founders of AA.

To me, the Big Book is nothing more nor less than a collection of valuable observations, experiences, and suggestions of a bunch of now-sober alcoholics who found a few practices and way of life that work for them.  These observations and experiences include many self-admitted mistakes in attempts to get sober and help others do the same.  So the notion of the infalibility of the Big Book makes no sense to me.

Similarly, AA encourages us to engage the practices of our faith and to recognize where “religious” people are right.  So I remain unclear and unconvinced as to how this could all be a conspiracy.

Bill W declined many opportunities for personal gain, publicity, awards and accolades.  This is considerably different than many religious leaders of a variety of faiths.  How many religious leaders build huge empires only to become corrupt by their fame, power and wealth.  Yet people of these same faiths criticize AA and its founders.  Many religious leaders could learn a lot from some of what Bill W practiced in limiting temptations of money, property, and prestige.  Maybe he was just wise enough to know that these things corrupt people and their purposes.

To me this all seems like a tempest in a tea pot stirred up by people who are threatened by the effectiveness of AA.  newsflash…. it works for many of us.  Millions in fact. Get over it!  Why not thank God for it?

AA is not, and never was proposed as competition for religious faith.  If anything, AA told us to go back to our faith and beliefs.

There will always be fanatics who take anything worthwhile to an extreme.  Thats why many football fans paint their faces, dawn jerseys, and act like a bunch of morons over whether their team wins or not.

Today, I am clean and sober.  And I have been for years.  A day at a time.  And today, I believe more in God and the Bible than I ever did.  AA just helped me get/stay sober long enough to stay alive so I could believe and serve God again.





  1. Thanks for this post, I bet we are reading many of the same posts. People who would like us to look at “All the evidence to the contrary”. Those folks continue to read material posted on websites from years ago that are nothing more than theories derived from resentments. Comparing 12 Step Recovery to cults, mysticism, and hidden agenda’s that just don’t exist.
    If it hasn’t worked for you, that’s fine, find something that does. I guess this is where I get pissed. Find a workable solution instead of telling me how something that has proven efficiency doesn’t.
    The other thing is there are no Saints in recovery. Bill W had his own set of problems, so did Dr. Bob, Jimmy K, and a host of others and we sometimes want to raise them up on a pedestal forgetting they were human. Ultimately a day spent clean is a day won.
    It doesn’t give us a free pass to do whatever else we want, but it allows the other things…God, Self, Service, and Society a possibility.

    Excellent Post.

  2. Thanks for reply, Beyond….

    I dont tend to read controversial posts. The titles of course pop up continually and get a little boring.

    I have mainly treated controversy about AA itself as an outside issue. Very little of it helps my sobriety and recovery.

    Doing it helps. Living it helps. Talking about what it should or shouldnt be doesn’t help… well not much anyway. I have no problem testing my own resolve and seeking insights and reflections from others. This is how I sobered up to start with.

    It is the ongoing barage of controversy that adds no value. The Bible even speaks of it being unwise to engage in foolish and futile arguments.

    There are argument hobbyists out there who have nothing better to do than to nitpick the lives of others under the guise of “helping” or “ministry”. Jesus never did this. He said “take the beam out of your own eye before you tell someone else about the speck in his”.

    So whatever. I’ve spoken my piece as I do from time to time. Just to state that there are those of us who have benefited from AA without worshipping it. And respect the founders without deifying them. And connect with God as we understand him without the need to use AA or any other organization as a conduit.

    Sounds like you are on a similar journey.



    • Further to my point… the following written by Bill W is a from the Foreword of “As Bill Sees It”.

      ‘Of course, all this material reflects my personal viewpoint on A.A.’s way of life. As such, it is bound to have limitations and imperfections. Nevertheless, one may hope that this new publication will meet a genuine need’.

      By his own admission, the publication is a colection of viewpoints. Not eternal truths, viewpoints. Complete with limitations and imperfections.

      Now how is it that some have the impression that Bill W represented AA literature as holy text when he refers to it as limited and imperfect?

      I read from this paragraph that it is simply a set of viewpoints that he hopes are helpful in some way.

      And that is how I take my AA experience.

      The experiences and suggestions of a group of imperfect, now-sober alcoholics who found a way to get and stay sober… and to improve their lives by adhering to a methodical way of thinking and behaving. A way that works for many but admittedly not all.

      And never have I seen resistance in the original material to those who move on if they need something different.

  3. I admit at times I get preachy about OA…and then I have to realize none of it is something I nor anyone else HAS to do. OA, or AA, or any other 12-step program is just there for those it works for. All the program and Big Book does is make suggestions. There’s no punishment if we don’t do what it says. We take what we can and leave the rest. And that’s why I love the 12-step program!

    • Agreed Aja…

      You make a good point. It is easy to get preachy or extreme in some way over things we are passionate about. Particularly things that have helped turn our lives around. This is entirely natural.

      To me, much of the 12 Traditions appear to keep us on course from becoming fanatical. Such as safeguarding against allowing money, property, and prestige to divert us from the simple task of living and working our program of sobriety and helping others in this simple way.

      If the human tendancies werent there, why would the traditions have developed?

      So fanaticism and syncicism for and against something as influential and widespread as 12 step programs is entirely understandable and natural.

      Glad you are finding help for your situation.



  4. Very timely subject, I’m glad I came over here….

    Spent an entire hour after a meeting today talking about this exact thing. Yes, there are AA fundamentalists who are either hyper-spiritual in their pink clouds, or one of those turn or burn “scared straight” people…but they are the tiny minority, and in my experience the common thread when those folks come up in discussions is usually to discredit the whole program. The super-conservative evangelicals I grew up with dismiss it because it is basically idolatry, and fellow addicts who have been to a couple of meetings they didn’t click with are quick to write it off due to preachiness, cliques, etc. If you want to find a reason NOT to go to AA, that is easy enough. But when you decide you are willing to go to any length to stay sober, come on back.

    For me, my program doesn’t include changing people’s minds about AA….the highs and lows of emotions associated with that rollercoaster are things I do everything to avoid. We are an egotistical lot, and that would be too easy of a path that does nothing to change old habits. I know what works for me, and I really think that if people see a change in me (someone who would normally scoff at the idea of belonging to such an organization) due to the work I’m doing, and I am helping others who want to stop using, that is testimony enough. AA isn’t here to replace my doctor, my shrink, my minister, my lawyer, etc…….but I know that there is a certain magic, miracle, or whatever you want to call it when I sit around the tables, listening and sharing (with the emphasis on listening).


    • Yo Jerr… great points.

      I observe the same proportions. The vocal and visible minorities of extreme proponents and oponents of AA and any other organziation are indeed minorities.

      They do tend to begin to wear on me over time. This I see as my own problem. As I recover and grow, it matters less what others do. But I am being honest in saying that I get sick of hearing it and from time to time, I will post my candid views on the subject.

      I further agree that the proof in AA is mainly to ourselves and in the results it yields. All the theory, theology, debating, blogging, arguing, and just plain freakin noise, doesnt matter in the least compared to the fact that many of us are now sober and recovering where repeated attempts for prolonged periods did not get us to this point.

      The argument hobbyists who seemingly have nothing better to do than to nitpick the efforts and conduct of others probably have the most pathetic, empty lives.

      The fanatics who quote the Big Book as if it were holy, inspired scripture strike me as completely desperate individual frantically seeking something of deeper meaning that they can deify and cling to.

      Should either type of person be worth getting upset over for disagreeing with what we see, feel, or experience? Shouldnt matter one bit. But aparently it does else I would never have published this post.

      So a part of me is still weak in the sense that I still wish to make my point. Or maybe it is because I hope that others who can indeed benefit from AA are not unduly turned off by fringe perspectives from either end of the spectrum.

      Best I can do is continue to keep my mind open and work my program in hope to continue to grow and learn.

      The journey continues.



  5. Chaz: Yours is one of the most temperate and well-reasoned articles I’ve seen in quite some time. I am an enthusiastic AA with almost 24 years come April 21st. I began researching and writing about our history some 20 years ago. And I think most, in and out of A.A., could profit immensely by learning where we came from. Such a quest can go far in enhancing the “love and tolerance” that Bill spoke of and the “love and service” that Dr. Bob spoke of and apparently picked up from the slogan of the Young People’s Christian Endeavor Society as part of his excellent training in the Good Book as a youngster in Vermont. God Bless, Dick B. http://www.dickb.com/titles.shtml.

    • Thanks Dick…. I have enjoyed reading your work and listening to many of your broadcasts on Monty Man’s sponsortosponsor.com radio program… Take 12 Radio, I believe he calls it.

      I appreciate also that you believe the Bible and dont find a competition between it and the practice of 12 step recovery.

      Certainly, any practice of personal discipline can be made into a religion and placed above God by some. This is nothing new. My point in the original post was simply that I have never seen any encouragement by AA formally to do so. Regardless to how some individual AAs may behave.

      Great dialogue… see you on the blogs.



  6. Alcoholics Anonymous: Do You Believe?
    Remember, It Only Takes One!

    By Dick B.
    © 2010 Anonymous. All rights reserved

    Do you believe:

    God raised Jesus from the dead.

    Acts 2:22, 24 (KJV):
    Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him. . . . Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death. . . . [See also Romans 10:9.]

    Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

    John 11:39-41, 43, 44 (KJV):
    Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. . . .
    Jesus saith unto her [Martha], Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
    Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, Father, I thank thee that thou has heard me.
    And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
    And he that was dead came forth, . . .

    Peter raised Tabitha from the dead.

    Acts 9: 36, 37, 40, 41 (KJV):
    Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, . . .
    And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: . . .
    But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes; and when she saw Peter, she sat up.
    And when he gave her his hand and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.

    Paul raised Eutychus from the dead.

    Acts 20: 9, 10, 12 (KJV):
    And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.
    And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.
    And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.

    What Jesus said after he was risen:

    Mark 16:14-18, 20 (KJV):
    Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
    And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
    He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; . . .
    And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
    . . . they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
    And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

    Statements by A.A.’s cofounders and A.A. Number Three that offer the promise of belief about curing alcoholism:

    Bill Wilson: “Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York City, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 191]

    Dr. Bob Smith: “That was June 10, 1935, and that was my last drink. As I write, nearly four years have passed. The question which might naturally come into your mind would be: ‘What did this man [Bill Wilson] do or say that was different from what others had done or said? . . . . But this was a man who had experienced many years of frightful drinking, who had had most all the drunkard’s experiences known to man, but who had been cured. . . .” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 180]

    “If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you. . . . Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 181]

    A.A. Number Three Bill Dotson: “That sentence [Bill Wilson’s statement quoted earlier on page 191], ‘The Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep telling people about it,’ has been a sort of a golden text for the A.A. program and for me. . . . [P]robably the most wonderful thing that I have learned from the program—I’ve seen this in the A.A. Grapevine a lot of times, and I’ve had people say it to me personally, and I’ve heard people get up in meetings and say it—is this statement: ‘I came into A.A. solely for the purpose of sobriety, but it has been through A.A. that I have found God.’” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191-92]

    What’s so hard about believing the statement contained in the “Foreword to Second Edition” of Alcoholics Anonymous [published in 1955] that “of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50%” were permanently cured [“got sober at once and remained that way”—Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., xx]? And that another “25%” relapsed but returned to be cured [“sobered up after some relapses”—Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., xx]? What’s so hard about believing the following statement by Bill W.:

    What is this but a miracle of healing? Yet its elements are simple. Circumstances made him willing to believe. He humbly offered himself to his Maker—then he knew.
    Even so has God restored us all to our right minds. . . . He has come to all who have honestly sought Him. When we drew near to Him He disclosed Himself to us! [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 57]

    In his own hand, and on his own office stationary, Dr. Bob listed by name, sobriety date, and sobriety record the first pioneers who were cured. Three quarters of of those pioneers on Dr. Bob’s list were cured. They believed. And I believe that!


    Gloria Deo

    • Gloria or Dick? Wow… lots of input. Thanks. Chaz

  7. Than you for your article on the big book. I am 75, 19 years sober and have tried to do service and help where I can. However, I do not stay in the centre of AA. I benefit from attending meetings and social events and of course the social side of things. A chat in a mall or getting together for a bit of fellowship. So, I have benefited from AA.
    I do not have a belief in any of the Abraham religions. I appreciate many in meetings do.
    I do not appreciate being told what to do at any time and can become upset when I have someone attempt to ‘teach me. If we share and not arguing we all learn.
    I refuse to be bullied into doing things the big book way. It is information that I use along with other inputo make my decisions in life. I also will not be bullied into silence. Cheers

    • Hi John… I am 6 months late replying to your comment. I had started a new blog and only visit this one from time to time, yet it appears to get numerous hits per day and a number of comments. Sorry for my delay in this reply to your comment.

      First off, glad to hear you are sober. Sounds like you get from AA what it is you need to remain so. It appears to be different for all of us. Your involvement may be less in comparison to some of us who need it more… but we all need what we need as individuals.

      I agree that hearing something being shared, and internalizing it on your own, is often a far better way to assimilate new knowledge that affects change. Yet, many of us come in so messed up, that we do need to be taught with a little more force for our own good. Someone trying to teach us may be saving our lives. I dont know you well enough to say this applies to you so please dont get me wrong. I am simply glad that more than one person spoke loudly and strongly to me at times I needed to hear it for my own good and survival.

      Yet, I agree that ongoing gleaning of new knowledge for us in AA tends to be through our own volountary absorption of sharing, rather than teaching or preaching. Time has proven that we alcoholics simply learn better this way.

      Which brings me to one of the points of my original post. Many AAs treat and teach the Big Book as a holy text, rather than a collection of helpful examples, successes, and suggestions.

      This form of Big Book evangelism can turn people off…. sounds like it has had that effect on you.

      AA of today is not what it appears to have begun as. There is no denying its Christian roots and biblical teachings. Whether we like it or not, AA basics come from the Bible. Yet AA does not as an organization believe the Bible.

      In my experience, the very effort by many to deny or overlook this fact comes accross as a form of evangelism to persuade people in AA meetings toward alternative sets of beliefs. Or, we see many denying the Bible by overlaying the Big Book in its place.

      These are but a few observations, I am certain many other scenarios are at play as well.

      It all becomes quite convaluded so I can see your frustration. I suppose frustration was one of my motivating factors behind writing this post in the first place.

      For me, I have found great sobriety, joy, peace, recovery, and healing in following the teachings of the Jesus Christ in the Bible. As did the very men (not saints) who started AA, particularly Dr. Bob, who is believed to have a track record for helping alcoholics get and stay sober better than any other. He didnt have the Big Book to help him do this.

      Thanks again for adding to the dialogue. Wishing you all the best on your journey of sobriety.


  8. For “John” who misses the point entirely. A.A. is not a Christian Fellowship today. Members range from those who believe in God, who understand the role of Jesus Christ, and study the Bible, to those who think they can rely on nonsense gods that are called a “higher power” and are frequently described as a rock, a tree, a door knob, a light bulb, Something, Santa Claus, Ralph, and a radiatior.

    “John” needs to understand that A.A. is about “love and tolerance”–not sounding off about religious viewpoints–particularly those which perhaps inadvertently condemn the role that God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible played and can play in recovery. A.A. is also about “Love and Service.” Neither of the two mottoes promotes intolerance, nor those who condemn the expression of one’s own experience, strength, and hope derived from a church, the Bible, a preacher, prayer, or a Christian Fellowship.

    In today’s A.A., all are welcome–and that includes John. He just needs more knowledge about the history of A.A.–“Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes” (www.dickb.com/Turning.shtml).

    Keep chugging Chaz. There are an increasing number of Christians in recovery who need to be encouraged to learn, talk about, and–if they wish–practice their own beliefs in fellowships like A.A.

    God Bless, Dick B.

  9. problemly would got sober soon or later with out the help of AA. just dont know it. only know what a man mostly bill w. saw and expenced in his life and the time he lived in. good luck. take care. if AA works for you great. bill w. was a con man womenizer and ect. i let you do the rest of research. this may help you get started. if you want to follow this man great. ther are a lot of people out there that are cable of beliveing any thing. look at hilter. normly i could care less about a person personal life but bill w. did not do what he told other to do. but again if it work for you stay with it.

    • Thanks Kenneth. The longer I live, the more I learn that we can learn from imperfect people. In what I have read about Bill W, I can only conclude that he was a man of good intentions and had a genuine spiritual experience of some kind that helped him get sober…. and help others do the same. I’ve seen nothing in AA material to suggest early AAs including Wilson thought or represented AA to be a cure all for all problem drinkers. I am convinced that AA is not for everyone and know a number of ex-problem drinkers who sobered up without it. I am however convinced that for problem drinkers of a specific kind, of which I am one, that AA can be extremely effective. There are a few underlying requirements for AA to be effective but none of them are the requirement to have any kind of reverence for Bill W. He may very well have been a scoundrel…. I will never know. And frankly don’t care. Even scoundrels have something to offer whether they know it or not. God as I understand him has an amazing skill for turning wrongs into rights, flaws into strenghts, evil into good. My focus is on God, not on AA, Bill W, or anyone else. And there it stays.

      Thanks agian for stopping by and adding to the dialouge. Your comments are thought-provoking.



  10. Hang in there with these important, thoughtful posts by Chaz.
    God Bless, Dick B.

  11. Love this post. I got sober in A.A. over 24 years ago (still am) but in recent years I’ve grown further and further from A.A. When I do go to a meeting nowadays it seems all I hear is this gratitude not to God but to A.A.or their sponsor or “the program” ad infinitum. I even verbalize this to my well indoctrinated friends after meetings. I tell them A.A. is a tool, it is not God. God is still there, even without A.A. Thank you for putting into words what has been driving me nuts about A.A. in recent years. These people worship A.A. not God, hence the cult factor that I sense nowadays and don’t want to be a part of. When you take God out of A.A. it starts being about people and personalities and egos and control and that’s not good. Thanks, I think you’ve helped me pinpoint why I’m so dissatisfied with A.A. in recent years.

    • Hi Drew… thanks and sorry for the late reply. Been away from blogging for a while.

      Glad to hear the post resonated something with you. Of the topics I felt important enough to blog about, this subject is one of the topics that has remained over the years.

      Since posting this, I had an uncomfortable experience in AA that pretty much left me soured and have backed away from meetings quite a bit.

      I have done my best not to let this grow into a resentment and admittedly, I need to do some work in this area. I suppose I am admitting a weakness here. One that stems from the principle of AA worship versus God worship.

      Thanks again for stopping in.

      Will see you around the blogs.



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