Join Together – by Benjamin Chambers
The original manuscript of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Big Book is being published for the first time, along with edits that changed its references to religion, the Washington Post reported Sept. 22.
The first AA manual, called: “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism,” was published in 1939, the Associated Press (AP) reported Sept. 28.
First drafted by co-founder Bill Wilson, the 12-step manual has become known as the “Big Book” or “Bible.” Wilson’s working manuscript is now being published by Hazelden under the title, “The Book That Started It All.”
The annotated manuscript shows that Wilson picked a group of people — whose identities are still unknown — to review and edit the Big Book. Their changes and comments indicate there was disagreement over how explicitly to talk about God and religion.
For example, a sentence in the first chapter that read “God has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish,” was changed to read “Faith has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.” The anonymous editor explained, “Who are we to say what God has to do?”
The editors also made changes to the 12 Steps as well. In Wilson’s original version, Step 7 read, “Humbly, on our knees, asked Him to remove our shortcomings — holding nothing back.” The editors suggested it be changed to read, “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings,” because “on our knees” suggested church worship, the Post said.
The Big Book has exerted worldwide influence. Millions have used it to help them with addiction — not only to alcohol, but also to many other substances and activities, including sex, food, and email. It has been adopted for use by Jews, evangelical Christians, the former Soviet Union, and the Islamic government of Iran.
“If it had been a Christian-based book, a religious book, it wouldn’t have succeeded as it has,” said Nick Motu, of Hazelden Publishing.
The book was published at a time when the public tended to see alcoholism not as a disease, but as an indication of weak morals. The doctor’s opinion at the book’s opening, by contrast, called it “a kind of allergy.” That represented a radical shift in thinking.
“We didn’t have any knowledge then about the brain. Today we know there is a neurological component, we know there are spiritual, psychological and environmental components,” said Joseph Califano, founder of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
It is still unclear how Wilson’s manuscript was edited, or who its editors were. Before its publication, Wilson sent the manuscript to about 300 doctors, religious leaders, and people in recovery from alcoholism. The actual number of editors was probably smaller, according to the Post. Since its publication, the book has gone through four editions almost unchanged, although the stories of those in recovery have been replaced with newer ones several times.
Wilson and his wife Lois kept his manuscript until the late 1970s, when she gave it to a friend. In 2004, it was auctioned by Sotheby’s for about $1.5 million; it was sold again a few years later to a man who gave it to Hazelden for publication.
The Post reported that the publication of the edited manuscript may stimulate debate over how big a role faith should play in treatment.
“We’re downplaying the faith issue to get more people,” said Jack Cowley, who oversees faith-based prison programs. Cowley said that Wilson’s decision not to emphasize God and Christ was a “cop-out.”
“Wilson was divided, too,” said Sid Farrar, Hazelden’s editorial director.
The fourth edition of the Big Book can be found online.