Myths or subjects of Hindsight Quarterbacking
Dick B. ©2005
The Core of Early A.A.
One of A.A.’s core New York underpinnings, as embodied in
the Big Book and Twelve Steps, is the “solution”—a conversion experience—said to
have been prescribed in the 1930’s for Rhode Island businessman Rowland Hazard
by Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung. Jung recommended it as the necessary
ingredient for Rowland’s overcoming his alcoholism characterized by Rowland’s
having the “mind of a chronic alcoholic.” But it’s really under fire!
At this late date, you might wonder at the relevance of the following questions:
Did Rowland Hazard ever treat with Dr. Carl Jung at all? If so, did Jung tell
Rowland his primary hope lay in a transforming religious conversion? If Rowland
was treated by Jung, was it only after the previous, alleged formative A.A.
events that had led Rowland from Jung to Ebby Thacher and in turn to Bill
Wilson—who co-founded A.A. thereafter? Finally, if Rowland actually recovered,
did whatever success Rowland achieved come from following Jung’s advice, or
through his treatment by therapist Courtney Baylor and the Emmanuel Movement, or
by his simply undergoing a life-changing experience in the Oxford Group?
I don’t know for sure the answer to any of the foregoing questions.
But I seriously suspect the validity of the evidence
presented by those who would answer “no” to most of those questions. Those
people who today are claiming there is no record of the Jung/Hazard treatments.
Those “new thought” advocates who are laying Rowland’s successes at the feet of
the Emanuel Movement and the therapist Courtney Baylor. Those who seem to reject
the fact that a number of alcoholics well known in Oxford Group circles (Rowland
Hazard, F. Shepard Cornell, Cebra Graves, Victor Kitchen, Charles Clapp, Jr.,
and later Jim Houck) attributed their sobriety to their having followed Oxford
Group principles and practices.
I question this belated historical challenge, and the adequacy of the evidence
on which it rests. For the challenges seem more calculated to lambaste the
Oxford Group, the Bible, evangelical Christianity, and “religion” than to prove
that these vital ingredients were never the heart of early New York’s recovery
program. That their historical challenge deserves attention is not disputed by
me– especially as I look at the secularization in the A.A. atmosphere of today.
But these newly presented theories repudiate the foundation stones of A.A.’s Big
Book premise. That premise is that you must establish a relationship with God by
a conversion experience. That you do so by taking 12 life-changing steps. Many
AAs have accepted that premise, and their stories are, in part, related in
A.A.’s Came to Believe are neither factually substantiated nor historically
After 15 years of research into the history of Alcoholics Anonymous, I would
challenge the revisionists by pointing to a good deal of evidence they have
either ignored, minimized, or inadequately refuted.
The Real Rowland Hazard/Carl
First, the most compelling piece of evidence as to the
accuracy of the story Bill Wilson wrote about Rowland Hazard and Carl Jung can
be found in the extant correspondence between Bill Wilson and Dr. Carl Jung
himself. I personally have copies of the correspondence that I obtained with
permission from Bill’s home at Stepping Stones. And see Pass It On. NY:
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984; Francis Hartigan, Bill W.; Lois
Wilson. Lois Remembers, p. 93 in a letter to Bill Wilson.
Second, the Rowland Hazard/Carl Jung account has been related by Rowland Hazard
personally to many on the New York A.A. scene—people such as Bill’s sponsor Ebby
Thacher, Rowland’s pastor Dr. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Rowland’s Oxford Group
colleagues—F. Shepard Cornell and Cebra Graves, Bill Wilson himself, Professor
Philip Marshall Brown of Princeton, and Shoemaker’s associates Rev. W. Irving
Harris and his wife Julia.
Third, many others with no axe to grind have repeated the story. Bill Wilson has
written several times on several different occasions of the Rowland/Jung events.
So has Rev. Sam Shoemaker who personally knew and worked with Rowland. So has
Rev. Irving Harris. And so have Oxford Group friends of Rowland such as James D.
Newton, Eleanor Forde Newton, Victor Kitchen, and Hanford Twitchell.
Fourth, as if seeking to enshrine the account in the very foundation of Calvary
Church in New York, the story persists to this day as visitors are guided
through Calvary and shown the stained glass windows in the church which are
dedicated to Rowland Hazard—A.A.’s Rowland Hazard, as their literature remarks.
The Defective Challenges
Those who are known to espouse the rejection of Hazard’s
visit are long on their support of the Emanuel Movement and New Thought and
clearly deficient in their familiarity with the Oxford Group, with Oxford Group
writings, and with Oxford Group members. They make no claim of having read or
interviewed or reviewed the works and remarks of the Oxford Group people just
They make much of dates, but little of facts. They purport to have reviewed Carl
Jung’s records years and years after they were made. But they cannot and do not
cite the entirety of Jung’s records or even claim to have examined them.
The detractors reject the very theory that enabled Bill Wilson to sell his whole
East Coast version of the Alcoholics Anonymous road to recovery. That version,
simply stated, was: (1) That the “medically incurable” and seemingly hopeless
Rowland Hazard was told by Dr. Carl Jung that medicine could not help Rowland,
but that a conversion might. (2) That Rowland sought a conversion via the Oxford
Group—which happened to prefer the expression “change” in its own unique
parlance for seeking for persuading “converts.” (3) That Rowland was changed and
cured; sought out Ebby Thacher; and taught Thacher the Oxford Group
life-changing principles. (4) That Ebby then had a conversion—albeit by
accepting Jesus Christ at the altar at Calvary Rescue Mission (a fact seldom
mentioned by historians). (5) That Ebby’s witness persuaded Wilson to go to
Calvary and himself accept Christ (a fact seldom if ever mentioned by
historians). (6) That Wilson then soon checked into Towns Hospital for
treatment, was again indoctrinated by Ebby in the Oxford Group life-changing
principles, and submitted himself to God as Bill said he then understood God.
(7) That Bill had his resultant “hot flash” conversion experience in which Bill
“found God,” and never drank again. (8) That Bill consulted the famous book by
Professor William James on Varieties of Religious Experience, concluded that he
had validated his own conversion in one of these experiences, and that James’s
“deflation in depth” was also a necessary condition to conversion, and (9) That
deflation in depth, application of Oxford Group principles, receiving a
consequent conversion or “spiritual” experience as the result, was—when coupled
with the Oxford Group idea of “sharing for witness” and thereby helping others
to such an experience—the essence of a program developed by Bill Wilson himself
in company with Rev. Sam Shoemaker and embodied in the language of Bill’s Big
Book and Twelve Steps suggested as a program of recovery.
And I believe the erroneous hindsight quarterbacking of several detractors of
the Oxford Group/Conversion/Rowland Hazard/Carl Jung story (these being Dr.
Ernest Kurtz, Dr. Glenn Chesnut, and Dr. Richard Dubiel) demonstrates in content
that the analysts just plain missed the boat when it came to thoroughly
investigating, describing, analyzing, and critiquing the actual events described
What has been demonstrated
There is ample evidence today that as many alcoholics get
sober and stay sober outside the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous as do so within.
There is ample evidence today within the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous that
between one and five percent of today’s members do get sober and stay sober
within the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.
There is, to my satisfaction, observable evidence that a great many long-time
sober AAs today got sober and stayed sober within A.A. whether they were Jews,
Protestants, Roman Catholics, agnostics, and possibly even atheists.
There is, to my satisfaction , observable evidence that many sober AAs today
came into the fellowship, grabbed a Big Book and a Sponsor, studied the Big
Book, “took” and endeavored to practice the principles of the Twelve Steps, and
There is, to my satisfaction, observable evidence that among those A.A.
believers—be they Jews, Roman Catholics, or Protestants—there are many who
believe in God, pray, study the Scriptures, seek God’s guidance, attempt to find
and apply His will, and provide love and service to others within the
fellowship. That being true whatever the religious convictions of their
neighbors may be. This legion of helpers has helped to make A.A. as famous as it
There is, to my satisfaction, observable evidence that far too many AAs,
therapists, treatment center people, clergy, physicians, and counselors have
little or no knowledge of A.A. history, of its Christian roots, or its early
program in Akron, or of the enormous difference in the success rates in early
A.A. as compared to those today.
There is, to my satisfaction, irrefutable and abundant evidence that: (1) In
early Akron A.A., Bill Wilson—AA number one; Dr. Bob Smith—AA number two; and
Bill Dotson—AA number three, all believed and stated they had been cured of
alcoholism by Almighty God. (2) The program of recovery that was developed and
used in Akron between 1935 and 1938 produced cures of alcoholism among 75% of
those members who really tried and completely gave themselves to the program
that was specifically described by Rockefeller’s agent Frank Amos after careful
investigation in Akron. (3) That the Akron program was far different—definitely
Christian in character and fellowship—than the one which Bill Wilson fashioned
in New York primarily from Oxford Group life-changing principles taught him by
Rev. Sam Shoemaker and embodied in the Big Book and Twelve Steps. (4) That if
any AAs today were to hear of, learn, and apply the program developed and used
in Akron throughout Dr. Bob’s life, those AAs would achieve the same 75% to 93%
success rates that were achieved from the Akron program. (5) That many of us in
today’s A.A. (myself included) have been in the trenches, have grabbed the Big
Book program with enthusiasm, have dived into fellowship activities, have—with
or without knowing what early AAs did—received the same help, healing, guidance,
forgiveness, and love of God that is still available to those who want it and
seek it. (6) That there is virtually no likelihood that the A.A. of today will,
as a fellowship, ever accept, endorse, apply, or return to the A.A. of the
pioneers. (7) That there is still a rampant hunger within the ranks of A.A.
people today for facts about early A.A.’s Biblical program, Christian
fellowship, and astonishing cures. (8) That if the early A.A. facts are widely
disseminated within A.A. itself, there can be an enormous difference in the
lives lived, the sobriety attained, and the service rendered by those who work
within the fellowship and emulate the program which worked so successfully among
the Akron pioneers.
No profit in ignorance
For years, perhaps at least 50, AAs have drifted farther
and farther from any knowledge of, or resources about, their early program and
its successes. For years, perhaps at least 50, AAs have been fed an idolatrous
diet about higher powers and spirituality and good deeds that supposedly
represent the real program of recovery. For years, perhaps at least 40, AAs have
increasingly grown boisterous in their condemnation of religion, Christianity,
the Bible, and even God—the number of such activists may well be few, but the
sound of their voices is deafening and intimidating. For years, perhaps as many
as 65, AAs have been spoon fed myths that detract from the Jung/Hazard/Thacher
conversion beliefs, the Oxford Group program of the 1920’s and 1930’s, the vital
importance of Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. in New York, the supposed failures
of churches and of clergy and of religion, and New Age pap about strange gods,
pseudo-Christianity, and outright unbelief. For at least 40 years, the spotlight
has been focused on an irrelevant Washingtonian Movement, an unsuccessful
Emanuel and New Thought movement (the latter being unsuccessful in penetrating
A.A. ranks), and the shortcomings and supposed traitorous beliefs of Oxford
Group Founder Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman.
All these tides have washed away valuable history, vilified sound reports, and
produced increasing ignorance of what A.A. is really about. In fact, the less
that is known, the less A.A. has to offer except for meetings and
abstinence—neither of which have had everlasting success within or without A.A.
If A.A. is a spiritual program of recovery—and it is; and if A.A. distinguished
itself originally in its reliance on the Creator, the truths in the Bible, the
power received in a new birth, and the outreach of love and service by ordinary
drunks, then those are the facts which should be made known. This is true
whether you believe in the Creator, Jesus Christ, the Bible, the new birth, and
conversions or not. That is the history that is missing in too many of today’s
“Bill W.” biographies, irrelevant studies of tangential alcoholism movements,
and the long temperance events of past centuries.
Using A.A.’s Real Early A.A.
History to Compare other present-day contenders
If we are going to talk about the Washingtonians, let’s
start with the fact that God was not part of their program. If we are going to
talk about New Thought, let’s start with the fact that it rejected the
born-again faith found in early A.A. If we are going to talk about conversion,
Rowland Hazard, Ebby Thacher, Carl Jung, and William James, let’s start with the
nature of the Oxford Group, the religious beliefs of Carl Jung, and the New
Thought orientation of William James. But if we are going to talk about A.A.,
let’s start with the Book of James, the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians
13, and find just what ideas therein were proclaimed by Dr. Bob to be absolutely
essential to the early A.A.’s basic program. Yet I don’t see these discussed at
all by the quarterbacks. A few, however, are finally beginning to recognize that
they have never really looked into, reported on, or accurately summarized the
real early A.A. history, particularly the whole program in Akron, the program as
reported by Frank Amos to Rockefeller, the United Christian Endeavor roots of
the Akron program, and the significance of James, the Sermon, and 1 Corinthians.
I suggest contrasting and looking at the materials in three of my latest titles:
When Early AAs Were Cured and Why; Twelve Steps for You; and The James Club and
The Early A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials.
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