Atheist Big Book Study: Forward to the 2nd Edition
The second edition of the Big Book published in 1955, sixteen years after the publishing of the first edition, and oh what a difference sixteen years made. A.A. grew from a fledgling few groups to a world wide fellowship. AA groups were located in every state of the United States and every province of Canada and making headway in other continents. A.A. could boast of 150,000 recovered alcoholics.
Notice the word “recovered”. So many people make too much of whether we are recovering or recovered. In my opinion, if we are not drinking today and are fortunate enough to put a few sober days together, then we are indeed recovered. As the Big Book would put it “our sanity has been restored”.
We can thank Jack Alexanders’s 1941 article in the Saturday Evening Post for the rapid growth of Alcoholics Anonymous during these years. “In the last ten months of 1941, AA membership quadrupled, and the flood of new members was so great that the Big Book became the best vehicle for spreading the message”. (Kurtz, 1979, Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous).
The 1955 forward acknowledges the contribution of the Oxford Group and Doctor William D. Silkworth. The Oxford Group was credited with providing the tenants of “moral inventory, confession of defects, restitution to those harmed, helpfulness to others, and the necessity of a belief in and a dependence upon God”, and Silkworth was credited with providing the hard medical facts about alcoholism.
A brief description is given of Bill W.’s meeting with Dr. Bob. This is when the great discovery is made that recovery from alcoholism can be brought about when a “spiritual” message is combined with the hard medical facts communicated by a fellow alcoholic. Bill and Bob quickly formed the belief that to stay sober, they must in turn help other alcoholics find sobriety. This gave birth to the first AA group in Akron Ohio, followed by a group in New York and another in Cleveland.
There is mention of A.A. going through some difficult times with members arguing over membership, and matters related to money, property and prestige and the twelve traditions are introduced here to address these very problems.
It works if you work it!
The 2nd edition’s offers some hard numbers to the reader of just how successful the fellowship is at helping alcoholics. 50% of those who “really tried” sobered up and remained that way, 25% sobered up after a few relapses, and the rest showed improvement.
I’m not sure what our stats are telling us now. We will have to wait for the forward to the fourth edition.
Spiritual, not religious
If we all had a nickel for every time we heard this. Oh yeah right, we’re a spiritual program, nothing religious about us, no sir. That Lords Prayer thing we do at the end of the meeting, heck that’s just spiritual, pray to the door knob if you so choose.
Here we are in 1955 telling the world that we are not a religious organization, but we do cooperate with “men of religion”. Heck we even have Catholics, Jews and Hindus among us. What no mention of atheists, but I thought we weren’t religious? Well, I guess there are just so many Hindus in AA that they overshadowed the atheists.
These were good years for AA, women accounted for 15% of it’s membership, so many religions represented, and the program worked. The forward ends with a a note of humility that we don’t have all the answers, but we hope that we can help.
It’s understandable that no mention of atheists would be made in the 1955 forward. After all, this was the era of the red scare with godless commies from Russia out to get us. Boasting about atheists wouldn’t go over so well at that time, Today, is a different story. More and more people are identifying as not having a religion and agnostic AA groups are popping up everywhere. If a forward were written today, certainly these atheists would be given at least as much mention as those Hindus of 1955.