AA and Jesus

How ancient spiritual teachings are linked to the
inspirational program of Alcoholics Anonymous

Mel B. (Toledo, Ohio)

See Mel's website at http://walkindryplaces.com

  On my way to a favorite bar, I sometimes passed a church sign whose blazing neon letters proclaimed: JESUS SAVES.

The message annoyed me because I thought it was in poor taste and tended to intrude on my privacy. I resented the zeal of those who would erect such a sign. I agreed that the world needed saving, but it would be saved by tolerant, broad-minded people like myself, not by religious zealots. I hurried on towards neon signs that seemed more inviting and to companions who did not threaten my way of thinking.

That was in the late 1940s. By April 1950 my reasonable way of thinking had landed me in a state hospital as an alcoholic patient. It hit me, then, that there were some problems which individuals could not solve by intelligent reasoning or personal determination. One of them was alcoholism, and a mere glance about the hospital ward told me that there were other more sinister human problems. In short, I needed saving---from myself. At the same time, I realized that I had no answers for the others in the hospital, the victims of terrible mental and physical diseases.

Well, my answer came via AA. Its principles and practices have carried me over some very rough spots in the years since 1950. In its way, curiously enough, AA has been a form of personal salvation like that offered by the old time religionists who proclaimed that "Jesus Saves." It has neither altar call nor sawdust trail, but some of its best ideas appear to have come from the teachings of Jesus. In fact, some of AAís most novel and radical ideas are not new or different at all; they are just new and different in our time. Here are a few of them that first saw the light of day in the sayings of Jesus:


  By all accounts, the principle of anonymity came to AA in a gradual way, and was discovered almost by chance. There were members who didnít want their association with the fellowship to be known, so the pioneers instituted a policy of discreet silence. The AA founders also worried about what would happen if a well-publicized member slipped, so anonymity was also an attractive way to protect the society from unfavorable publicity. Then the AA book was published under the title "Alcoholics Anonymous," chosen because its authors had no bylines. The name caught on for the society and has become so identified with the ideal of mutual help in problem-solving that other societies have adopted the "anonymous" tag.

But anonymity also has a deep spiritual purpose. It is the spiritual purpose that Jesus must have had in mind when he warned against doing good for public praise: "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. When thou doest alms, do not sound a trumpet before theeÖThat thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."

The Trusted Servant

  Another of AAís startling ideas has been the tradition that "our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern." In a world that writhes with power struggles, AA has been almost unique in putting a severe limitation on the authority, tenure, and prestige of its leaders. And for good reason. Power struggles, by their very nature, generate the bitterness and resentment that would destroy our effectiveness in carrying the message. We cannot afford the strife that seems to be second nature to many organizations.

Where did AA get this radical idea about limiting the power of leaders? It may have been inspired, in part, by Jesusí instructions to his own disciples: "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon themÖBut it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant."

Attraction rather than Promotion

  It is nothing short of miraculous that AA settled upon a policy of "attraction rather than promotion" quite soon after its origin. The very first AA member was a stockbroker skilled in the arts of salesmanship and persuasion, while others who soon followed him into AA were advertising men and business promoters of all types. What convinced those promoter types that something besides the established ways of publicizing and advancing an enterprise was needed for AA? If promotion is good for business, why isnít it good for AA?

One reason for rejecting promotion is that we have nothing to sell. Another reason may be in the ethics of the thing:; promotion would be bad for us in the same way that itís deemed to be bad for certain professional people.* But the best reason for putting aside promotion may be that itís simply inferior to attraction, which is more appropriate for a spiritual fellowship.

  *Since the time this was written, professionals have begun to advertise, making the comparison expressed here somewhat out of date!  

  Attraction is also more lasting, because it tends to work on real feelings of the heart rather than surface desires. Heavy promotion might cause us to buy a certain automobile, but it would never keep many of us in AA for long.

This form of reaching others was called "letting your light shine" in the sayings of Jesus: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." The same thought is evident in the writing of Emerson and others: we attract people by what we are and not necessarily by what we say or do. If we are sincere and unselfish, people intuitively understand this and seek us out for help, but if we are hypocritical and self-seeking they will turn away. It is always the quality of AA that counts, never the quantity of publicity that happens to be coming our way.

The Lordís Prayer and the Slogans

  The Lordís Prayer, repeated at the close of AA meetings the world over, comes to us from the Sermon on the Mount, while the AA slogans may also have a New Testament origin:  

  (1) First Things First: "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

(2) Live and Let Live: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (the woman taken in adultery).

(3) Easy Does It: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me Ö For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

The Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan

  Where in the Bible can we find the First and Twelfth Steps of AA? There are remote parallels in several places, but it seems to me that the parables of The Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan convey the intent of these steps as much as anything does. I suspect that The Prodigal Son really covers the initial three steps of the program and, in its entirety, symbolizes the Fatherhood of God. The story of The Good Samaritan is our Twelfth Step, and it represents the Brotherhood of Man.

The alcoholic appears in both parables. As the prodigal son, he takes his God-given inheritance of good health and natural talents to a far country, there to squander them in the frantic pursuit of pleasure. Finally he comes to ruin and rejection among the swine, far from his father, far from God. He recognizes his mistakes and realizes that he would be better off back in his father's house (the Second Step), and so he decides to return to his father on whatever terms his father will give him (takes the Third Step). The rest of the story, with its celebration and feast on fatted calf, is well known.

The alcoholic is also the man who takes a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho, in the parable of The Good Samaritan. The road between those two cities is downhill all the way, so the symbolism is clear: the man is doing something wrong and is on the skids. Along the way, he runs into thieves who strip him of his belongings and leave him half dead in a ditch. A priest and a Levite pass on the other side, too busy to bothered with one who may have brought most of his trouble on himself.

Things are hopeless until that great Twelfth Stepper, the Good Samaritan, arrives on the scene and takes charge. He takes the victim to a hostelry, and dresses his wounds with oil and wine. Since oil and wine often represent Godís Love and Life in the Bible, we can conclude that something of great spiritual importance is taught here. It is this: if we love our fellow man and pour our own lives into helping him in his hour of distress, we are doing the work of Eternal Love and Eternal Life. Faith without works is dead, it passes by on the other side of the road. But the most ordinary man, if he is willing to serve, can put into practice Godís healing Love and Life. Come to think of it, maybe the Good Samaritan is also the alcoholic, and he helped because he too had once been half-dead in a ditch.

AA and Jesus

  On my way to an AA meeting, I sometimes see signs whose letters proclaim: JESUS SAVES. I have no quarrel with such signs now, for I believe that Jesus bequeathed to the ages a saving truth that is with us today in AA. It is as if he stood as a silent partner in the historic meeting of Bill W. and Dr. Bob in 1935. It is as if he sat in on every AA meeting. It is almost as if Jesus himself came again among winebibbers to give them the new wine that does not perish.