THE PRECEDING chapters you have learned something of alcoholism.
We hope we have made clear the distinction between the
alcoholic and the non-alcoholic. If, when you honestly
want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when
drinking, you have little control over the amount you
take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case,
you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual
experience will conquer.
To one who feels he
is an atheist or agnostic such an experience seems impossible,
but to continue as he is means disaster, especially if
he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed
to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis
are not always easy alternatives to face.
But it isn’t so difficult.
About half our original fellowship were of exactly that
type. At first some of us tried to avoid the issue, hoping
against hope we were not true alcoholics. But after a
while we had to face the fact that we must find a spiritual
basis of life—or else. Perhaps it is going to be that
way with you. But cheer up, something like half of us
thought we were atheists or agnostics. Our experience
shows that you need not be disconcerted.
If a mere code of
morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient
to overcome alcoholism, many of us
have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes
and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we
tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be
philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these
things with all our might, but the needed power wasn’t
there. Our human resources, as marshalled by the will,
were not sufficient; they failed utterly.
Lack of power, that
was our dilemma. we had to find a power by which we could
live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves.
Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power?
Well, that’s exactly
what this book is about. Its main object is to enable
you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve
your problem. That means we have written a book which
we believe to be spiritual as well as moral. And it means,
of course, that we are going to talk about God. Here difficulty
arises with agnostics. Many times we talk to a new man
and watch his hope rise as we discuss his alcoholic problems
and explain our fellowship. But his face falls when we
speak of spiritual matters, especially when we mention
God, for we have re-opened a subject which our man thought
he had neatly evaded or entirely ignored.
We know how he feels.
We have shared his honest doubt and prejudice. Some of
us have been violently anti-religious. To others, the
word “God” brought up a particular idea of Him with which
someone had tried to impress them during childhood. Perhaps
we rejected this particular conception because it seemed
inadequate. With that rejection we imagined we had abandoned
the God idea entirely. We were bothered
the thought that faith and dependence upon a Power beyond
ourselves was somewhat weak, even cowardly. We looked
upon this world of warring individuals, warring theological
systems, and inexplicable calamity, with deep skepticism,
We looked askance at many individuals who claimed to be
godly. How could a Supreme Being have anything to do with
it all? And who could comprehend a Supreme Being anyhow?
Yet, in other moments, we found ourselves thinking, when
enchanted by a starlit night, “Who, then, make all this?”
There was a feeling of awe and wonder, but it was fleeting
and soon lost.
Yes, we of agnostic
temperament have had these thoughts and experiences. Let
us make haste to reassure you. We found that as soon as
we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a
willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves,
we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible
for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power,
which is God.
Much to our relief,
we discovered we did not need to consider another’s conception
of God. Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient
to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him.
As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative
Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the
totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new
sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple
steps. We found that God does not make too hard terms
with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is
broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding
to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to
therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception
of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions
which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice
you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly
asking yourself what they mean to you. At the start, this
was all we needed to commence spiritual growth, to effect
our first conscious relation with God as we understood
Him. Afterward, we found ourselves accepting many things
which then seemed entirely out of reach. That was growth,
but if we wished to grow we had to begin somewhere. So
we used our own conception, however limited it was.
We needed to ask ourselves
but one short question. “Do I now believe, or am I even
willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than
myself?” As soon as a man can say that he does believe,
or is willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that
he is on his way. It has been repeatedly proven among
us that upon this simple cornerstone a wonderfully effective
spiritual structure can be built.*
That was great news
to us, for we had assumed we could not make use of spiritual
principles unless we accepted many things on faith which
seemed difficult to believe. When people presented us
with spiritual approaches, how frequently did we all say,
“I wish I had what that man has. I’m sure it would work
if I could only believe as he believes. But I cannot accept
as surely true the many articles of faith which are so
plain to him.” So it was comforting to learn that we could
commence at a simpler level.
Besides a seeming
inability to accept much on faith,
Please be sure to read Appendix
II on "Spiritual Experience."
often found ourselves handicapped by obstinacy, sensitiveness,
and unreasoning prejudice. Many of us have been so touchy
that even casual reference to spiritual things make us
bristle with antagonism. This sort of thinking had to
be abandoned. Though some of us resisted, we found no
great difficulty in casting aside such feelings. Faced
with alcoholic destruction, we soon became as open minded
on spiritual matters as we had tried to be on other questions.
In this respect alcohol was a great persuader. It finally
beat us into a state of reasonableness. Sometimes this
was a tedious process; we hope no one else will prejudiced
for as long as some of us were.
The reader may still
ask why he should believe in a Power greater than himself.
We think there are good reasons. Let us have a look at
some of them.
The practical individual
of today is a stickler for facts and results. Nevertheless,
the twentieth century readily accepts theories of all
kinds, provided they are firmly grounded in fact. We have
numerous theories, for example, about electricity. Everybody
believes them without a murmur of doubt. Why this ready
acceptance? Simply because it is impossible to explain
what we see, feel, direct, and use, without a reasonable
assumption as a starting point.
believes in scores of assumptions for which there is good
evidence, but no perfect visual proof. And does not science
demonstrate that visual proof is the weakest proof? It
is being constantly revealed, as mankind studies the material
world, that outward appearances are not inward reality
at all. To illustrate:
The prosaic steel
girder is a mass of electrons whirl-
around each other at incredible speed. These tiny bodies
are governed by precise laws, and these laws hold true
throughout the material world, Science tells us so. We
have no reason to doubt it. When, however, the perfectly
logical assumption is suggested that underneath the material
world and life as we see it, there is an All Powerful,
Guiding, Creative Intelligence, right there our perverse
streak comes to the surface and we laboriously set out
to convince ourselves it isn’t so. We read wordy books
and indulge in windy arguments, thinking we believe this
universe needs no God to explain it. Were our contentions
true, it would follow that life originated out of nothing,
means nothing, and proceeds nowhere.
Instead of regarding
ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God’s ever
advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists chose to
believe that our human intelligence was the last word,
the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of all.
Rather vain of us, wasn’t it?
We, who have traveled
this dubious path, beg you to lay aside prejudice, even
against organized religion. We have learned that whatever
the human frailties of various faiths may be, those faiths
have given purpose and direction to millions. People of
faith have a logical idea of what life is all about. Actually,
we used to have no reasonable conception whatever. We
used to amuse ourselves by cynically dissecting spiritual
beliefs and practices when we might have observed that
many spiritually-minded persons of all races, colors,
and creeds were demonstrating a degree of stability, happiness
and usefulness which we should have sought ourselves.
we looked at the human defects of these people, and sometimes
used their shortcomings as a basis of wholesale condemnation.
We talked of intolerance, while we were intolerant ourselves.
We missed the reality and the beauty of the forest because
we were diverted by the ugliness of some its trees. We
never gave the spiritual side of life a fair hearing.
In our personal stories
you will find a wide variation in the way each teller
approaches and conceives of the Power which is greater
than himself. Whether we agree with a particular approach
or conception seems to make little difference. Experience
has taught us that these are matters about which, for
our purpose, we need not be worried. They are questions
for each individual to settle for himself.
On one proposition,
however, these men and women are strikingly agreed. Every
one of them has gained access to, and believe in, a Power
greater than himself. This Power has in each case accomplished
the miraculous, the humanly impossible. As a celebrated
American statesman put it, “Let’s look at the record.”
Here are thousands
of men and women, worldly indeed. They flatly declare
that since they have come to believe in a Power greater
than themselves, to take a certain attitude toward that
Power, and to do certain simple things. There has been
a revolutionary change in their way of living and thinking.
In the face of collapse and despair, in the face of the
total failure of their human resources, they found that
a new power, peace, happiness, and sense of direction
flowed into them. This happened soon after they wholeheartedly
met a few simple requirements. Once con-
and baffled by the seeming futility of existence, they
show the underlying reasons why they were making heavy
going of life. Leaving aside the drink question, they
tell why living was so unsatisfactory. They show how the
change came over them. When many hundreds of people are
able to say that the consciousness of the Presence of
God is today the most important fact of their lives, they
present a powerful reason why one should have faith.
This world of ours
has made more material progress in the last century than
in all the millenniums which went before. Almost everyone
knows the reason. Students of ancient history tell us
that the intellect of men in those days was equal to the
best of today. Yet in ancient times, material progress
was painfully slow. The spirit of modern scientific inquiry,
research and invention was almost unknown. In the realm
of the material, men’s minds were fettered by superstition,
tradition, and all sort of fixed ideas. Some of the contemporaries
of Columbus thought a round earth preposterous. Others
came near putting Galileo to death for his astronomical
We asked ourselves
this: Are not some of us just as biased and unreasonable
about the realm of the spirit as were the ancients about
the realm of the material? Even in the present century,
American newspapers were afraid to print an account of
the Wright brothers’ first successful flight at Kitty
Hawk. Had not all efforts at flight failed before? Did
not Professor Langley’s flying machine go to the bottom
of the Potomac River? Was it not true that the best mathematical
minds had proved man could never fly? Had not people said
God had reserved this privilege to the
Only thirty years later the conquest of the air was almost
an old story and airplane travel was in full swing.
But in most fields
our generation has witnessed complete liberation in thinking.
Show any longshoreman a Sunday supplement describing a
proposal to explore the moon by means of a rocket and
he will say, “I bet they do it—maybe not so long either.”
Is not our age characterized by the ease with which we
discard old ideas for new, by the complete readiness with
which we throw away the theory or gadget which does not
work for something new which does?
had to ask ourselves why we shouldn’t apply to our human
problems this same readiness to change our point of view.
We were having trouble with personal relationships, we
couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey
to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we
had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we
were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other
people—was not a basic solution of these bedevilments
more important than whether we should see newsreels of
lunar flight? Of course it was.
When we saw others
solve their problems by a simple reliance upon the Spirit
of the Universe, we had to stop doubting the power of
God. Our ideas did not work. But the God idea did.
The Wright brothers’
almost childish faith that they could build a machine
which would fly was the mainspring of their accomplishment.
Without that, nothing could have happened. We agnostics
and atheists were sticking to the idea that self-sufficiency
would solve our problems. When others showed us that “God-suf-
worked with them, we began to feel like those who had
insisted the Wrights would never fly.
Logic is great stuff.
We like it. We still like it. It is not by chance we were
given the power to reason, to examine the evidence of
our sense, and to draw conclusions. That is one of man’s
magnificent attributes. We agnostically inclined would
not feel satisfied with a proposal which does not lend
itself to reasonable approach and interpretation. Hence
we are at pains to tell why we think our present faith
is reasonable, why we think it more sane and logical to
believe than not to believe, why we say our former thinking
was soft and mushy when we threw up our hands in doubt
and said, “We don’t know.”
When we became alcoholics,
crushed by a self-imposed crises we could not postpone
or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that
either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either
is or He isn’t. What was our choice to be?
Arrived at this point,
we were squarely confronted with the question of faith.
We couldn’t duck the issue. Some of us had already walked
far over the Bridge of Reason toward the desired shore
of faith. The outlines and the promise of the New Land
had brought lustre to tired eyes and fresh courage to
flagging spirits. Friendly hands had stretched out in
welcome. We were grateful that Reason had brought us so
far. But somehow, we couldn’t quite step ashore. Perhaps
we had been leaning too heavily on reason that last mile
and we did not like to lose our support.
That was natural,
but let us think a little more closely. Without knowing
it, had we not been brought to where we stood by a certain
kind of faith? For did
not believe in our own reasoning? did we not have confidence
in our ability to think? What was that but a sort of faith?
Yes, we had been faithful, abjectly faithful to the God
of Reason. So, in one way or another, we discovered that
faith had been involved all the time!
We found, too, that
we had been worshippers. What a state of mental goose-flesh
that used to bring on! Had we not variously worshipped
people, sentiment, things, money, and ourselves? And then,
with a better motive, had we not worshipfully beheld the
sunset, the sea, or a flower? Who of us had not loved
something or somebody? How much did these feelings, these
loves, these worships, have to do with pure reason? Little
or nothing, we saw at last. Were not these things the
tissue out of which our lives were constructed? Did not
these feelings, after all, determine the course of our
existence? It was impossible to say we had no capacity
for faith, or love, or worship. In one form or another
we had been living by faith and little else.
Imagine life without
faith! Were nothing left but pure reason, it wouldn’t
be life. But we believed in life—of course we did. We
could not prove life in the sense that you can prove a
straight line is the shortest distance between two points,
yet, there it was. Could we still say the whole thing
was nothing but a mass of electrons, created out of nothing,
meaning nothing, whirling on to a destiny of nothingness?
Or course we couldn’t. The electrons themselves seemed
more intelligent than that. At least, so the chemist said.
Hence, we saw that
reason isn’t everything. Neither is reason, as most of
us use it, entirely dependable,
it emanate from our best minds. What about people who
proved that man could never fly?
Yet we had been seeing
another kind of flight, a spiritual liberation from this
world, people who rose above their problems. They said
God made these things possible, and we only smiled. We
had seen spiritual release, but liked to tell ourselves
it wasn’t true.
Actually we were fooling
ourselves, for deep down in every man, woman, and child,
is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by
calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in
some form or other it is there. For faith in a Power greater
than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that
power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself.
We finally saw that
faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up, just
as much as the feeling we have for a friend. Sometimes
we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was
as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality
deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there
that He may be found. It was so with us.
We can only clear
the ground a bit. If our testimony helps sweep away prejudice,
enables you to think honestly, encourages you to search
diligently within yourself, then, if you wish, you can
join us on the Broad Highway. With this attitude you cannot
fail. the consciousness of your belief is sure to come
In this book you will
read the experience of a man who thought he was an atheist.
His story is so interesting that some of it should be
told now. His change of heart was dramatic, convincing,
friend was a minister’s son. He attended church school,
where he became rebellious at what he thought an overdose
of religious education. For years thereafter he was dogged
by trouble and frustration. Business failure, insanity,
fatal illness, suicide—these calamities in his immediate
family embittered and depressed him. Post-war disillusionment,
ever more serious alcoholism, impending mental and physical
collapse, brought him to the point to self-destruction.
One night, when confined
in a hospital, he was approached by an alcoholic who had
known a spiritual experience. Our friend’s gorge rose
as he bitterly cried out: “If there is a God, He certainly
hasn’t done anything for me!” But later, alone in his
room, he asked himself this question: “Is it possible
that all the religious people I have known are wrong?”
While pondering the answer he felt as though he lived
in hell. Then, like a thunderbolt, a great thought came.
It crowded out all else:
“Who are you to
say there is no God?”
This man recounts
that he tumbled out of bed to his knees. In a few seconds
he was overwhelmed by a conviction of the Presence of
God. It poured over and through him with the certainty
and majesty of a great tide at flood. The barriers he
had built through the years were swept away. He stood
in the Presence of Infinite Power and Love. He had stepped
from bridge to shore. For the first time, he lived in
conscious companionship with his Creator.
Thus was our friend’s
cornerstone fixed in place. No later vicissitude has shaken
it. His alcoholic problem was taken away. That very night,
years ago, it dis-
Save for a few brief moments of temptation the though
of drink has never returned; and at such times a great
revulsion has risen up in him. Seemingly he could not
drink even if he would. God had restored his sanity.
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. To this man, the revelation
was sudden. Some of us grow into it more slowly. But He
has come to all who have honestly sought Him.
When we drew near
to Him He disclosed Himself to us!
for chapter 4 of the pre-1939 Original Manuscript.