Atheist Big Book Study: Forward to the First Edition
If you have ever attended a Big Book meeting or gone over the book with a sponsor, invariably you may have heard, “this is a we program”, and indeed it is to a great extent.
“We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body”. (Alcoholics Anonymous xiii)
That first sentence written in the first person plural sets the tone for the entire book. It is coming from the perspective of the first one hundred members of A.A. who are simply sharing their experience with the reader. This makes for a softer approach without the preaching and lecturing so many of us find objectionable.
However, this language did not come naturally to the authors. There was a deliberate effort made to avoid a tone that was overly instructional, especially in the early chapters. In the original working manuscript the following sentence was originally written as “to show other alcoholics PRECISELY HOW THEY CAN RECOVER…” this was changed to the read “precisely how we recovered“.
During my early days in the program, I picked up on the word “precisely” and took it to mean that I had to do things exactly as laid out in the book. I don’t see things that way now. Though I still love the Big Book, I don’t view it as sacred and I don’t see it as an instruction manual that must be followed to the letter.
One of the great contributions of Alcoholics Anonymous was to change the public’s perception of the alcoholic problem from one of self-control to a disease from which one suffers. “Many do not comprehend that the alcoholic is a very sick person”. (Alcoholics Anonymous xiii).
This wan’t a totally new concept, Benjamin Rush understood this in the 18th century and Dick Peabody wrote about it a decade earlier in his book “The Common Sense of Drinking”, but it was Alcoholics Anonymous that won this idea greater acceptance.
The authors also point out that “we are sure that our way of living has its advantages for all”, which I speculate may be an influence from the evangelical Oxford Group. The idea of anonymity is expressed here, but not as a spiritual foundation. They thought anonymity was necessary because they wouldn’t be able to handle the large number of requests the book would generate. As it turns out, it took a little while for the book to catch on.
The forward closes with what is today the A.A. preamble, describing A.A. as not allied or opposed to any particular faith, sect or denomination”, and welcoming inquiries from the scientific, medical and religious communities”.
How does this help my sobriety and my recovery? I think this reading helped me approach the newcomer not as one with all the answers, but only a fellow alcoholic willing to share my experience.
We plan to continue blogging this Big Book study, chapter by chapter, providing commentary and relating the reading to our recovery. I’m sure as we get deeper into the book that there will be many opportunities for some interesting discussion.