Thursday, June 22, 2006

From The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps +:
By A. Orange

by A. Orange

Chapter 27: Bill and Dr. Bob start A.A.

Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith (left) and William Griffith Wilson (right)
in Akron, Ohio, 1949. {Click weblink above}

Tell me, would you buy a used cult religion from a couple of guys who looked like that?

In the spring of 1935, after a few months of sobriety, Bill Wilson made one more attempt to get and keep a straight job. He got involved with some more Wall Street manipulators who were in a proxy battle to take over a rubber equipment company in Akron, Ohio. Bill went there as part of a team that was attempting to take over the company. They were out-maneuvered by the opposite team and lost the proxy battle. Bill's fellow team members packed up and left town, leaving Bill alone to try to salvage something from the situation.

The standard Alcoholics Anonymous story is that Bill was wandering around the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Akron, feeling depressed and thinking about drinking. He stood in a hallway where there was a hotel bar at one end of the lobby, with music coming out through the saloon doors, and at the other end of the lobby was a public telephone, with a plaque on the wall that listed many of the local churches and their ministers. Bill was torn between going into the bar and having a drink, or calling a church for help, for someone to talk to.134

Bill wrote that, as he was considering drinking, he thought:

"But what about his responsibilities -- his family and the men who would die because they would not know how to get well, ah -- yes, those other alcoholics?"

The Big Book, 3rd edition, William G. Wilson, chapter 11, "A Vision For You", page 154.

That text is present in all editions of the book, from the 1939 multilith of the manuscript to the fourth edition.

Responsibilities? What responsibilities? What grandiose nonsense.

Mind you, Bill Wilson had not sobered up a single alcoholic at that point, other than himself. In fact, Bill had only five months of sobriety, and yet he imagined that he was so important that other alcoholics would die if Bill relapsed and didn't tell them how to quit drinking. That's Delusions of Grandeur.

And Bill's only family was his wife Lois, who was working in Loeser's department store to support Bill. She wasn't depending on Bill, which was a good thing, because he wasn't going to come back home for many months.

So, the official A.A. story goes, Bill went to the telephone and picked out a minister supposedly at random -- Reverend Walter F. Tunks -- and called him. Rev. Tunks allegedly gave Bill a list of 10 names to call, and Bill tried them all, he said, without finding a fellow alcoholic to talk to. Bill said that the last person Bill called was a Norman Sheppard who in turn sent him to Henrietta Seiberling, who was a friend of a drunken doctor in town -- Doctor Robert Smith.134

Henrietta Seiberling and Dr. Robert Smith just happened to also be members of the Oxford Group, and she welcomed him and told him "You come right out here." Henrietta arranged an appointment for Bill to see her alcoholic friend Dr. Robert Smith the next day, because Dr. Bob was already passing-out drunk that day.

Bill declared that "In retrospect, it all seems as though it had been divinely ordained."135

There are a couple of big problems with Bill Wilson's story:

The public telephone was on the ground floor of the hotel, but the hotel bar was upstairs, on a raised level. They were not at opposite ends of the lobby, so it was impossible for Bill to have stood in the middle of the lobby and looked back and forth between one and the other, debating whether to choose the devil or the angel.133

Bill Wilson did not just choose to call Rev. Walter Tunks at random, or by lucky chance. That wasn't a coincidence or 'Divine Providence'. Rev. Walter Tunks was one of the staunchest Oxford Group members in Arkon, and Oxford Group members in New York had almost certainly told Bill to remember to call Rev. Tunks (and go to O.G. meetings) while he was in Akron. In fact, Rev. Tunks had been "changed" by Rev. Sam Shoemaker, who was also Bill's mentor.141 Even the A.A. history book "PASS IT ON" says, "Whatever Bill's reason, he unwittingly picked the strongest Oxford Grouper among all of Akron's clergymen."136

Bill Wilson claimed that he had 'scored what he liked to call a "ten strike"' by choosing to call Rev. Tunks.137 Not so.

And of course Rev. Tunks sent Bill to other Oxford Group members. That wasn't any big coincidence or 'Divine Providence', either.

Bill Wilson met Doctor Robert Smith, a tragic wrecked old alcoholic, the next day. The two of them took a liking to each other. They spent the afternoon and evening talking about their mutual problem with alcoholism. Dr. Bob didn't drink while talking with Bill Wilson that evening.

Henrietta was so impressed that she arranged for Bill to stay in Akron longer and longer, just to help keep Dr. Bob sober. Henrietta Seiberling really loved Bill Wilson in the summer of 1935, and considered him a "God-send" and "manna from Heaven" for his help in sobering up Doctor Bob. (She would later become one of Bill's harshest critics, after she got to know him better.) Bill ended up staying in Akron for all of the summer of 1935, living rent free and happily unemployed, getting free food and cigarettes and spare change from somewhere.

Bill talked Doctor Bob into quitting drinking, and then, together, they set out to convert other alcoholics to their Buchmanite religious beliefs. They were convinced that religious mania -- that is, joining the Oxford Group -- was a working cure for alcoholism.

During the spring and summer of 1935, Bill and Bob started up their "Alcoholic Squad" of The Oxford Group -- the "anonymous bunch of alcoholics" that would eventually become Alcoholics Anonymous. They went recruiting in the hospitals of Akron where Dr. Bob's status as a doctor got them access to alcoholic patients.

A depiction of Bill Wilson and Doctor Bob recruiting Bill Dotson, A.A. #3, The Man on the Bed

The book Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers describes how Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson shoved their new "treatment" on A.A. Number Three, Bill Dotson, when he was in the hospital:

... they thought it a good idea to have a preliminary talk with his wife. And this became part of the way things were done in the early days: Discuss it first with the wife; find out what you could; then plan your approach. It should be noted, as well, that the alcoholic himself didn't ask for help. He didn't have anything to say about it.

Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980, pages 82-83.

Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob were so arrogant that they actually felt entitled to shove their Oxford Group cult religion cure on other alcoholics regardless of the patient's wishes or beliefs -- the patient didn't get any say in the matter. (That is still the attitude of many so-called counselors and therapists today.)

Nan Robertson described Doctor Bob's method of treating new alcoholics and recruiting them for the Oxford Group:

Hospitalization was considered to be a must. Bob would circumvent hospital rules against putting alcoholics in private rooms by concocting another diagnosis and smuggling them in so that he could work on likely prospects without distractions.

The doctor and his recovering alcoholic friends would pay frequent visits to the bedside. They told their drinking stories. Patients would reply, as one of them reported, "That's me. That's me. I drink like that." Usually the sick man would spend five or six days in the hospital being detoxified (medically withdrawn from alcohol). In the final days his visitors would ask the prospect to give over his life "to the care and direction of the Creator." Then the man would get down on his knees. When he "surrendered to God," he was considered a member. Those who did not "make their surrender" in the hospital did it soon afterward at an Oxford Group meeting, usually in the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams.

Getting Better Inside Alcoholics Anonymous, Nan Robertson, pages 62-63.

Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob built their "bunch of anonymous alcoholics" group within Frank Buchman's Oxford Group cult for the first two or three years, until Frank's other disciples grew tired of them. The alcoholics weren't rich (except for the young Firestone Tire Company heir Russell Firestone); they weren't famous; they couldn't be manipulated through guilt induction; they mainly wanted to just recruit more poor down-and-out alcoholics; and the other Oxford Group members didn't like them.

The whole Oxford Group strategy was to convert rich, powerful, and famous people, and then publicize their names for all they were worth, in order to attract more rich, powerful, and famous people (who could, presumably, give Frank Buchman fat donations). Shabby down-and-out penniless alcoholics who wanted to stay anonymous didn't fit in with Oxford Group meetings held in glittering palaces like the Waldorf-Astoria and the Plaza Hotel.

Eventually, the Oxford Group started hinting that Bill Wilson should take a hike.

It seems that there is some question, and some controversy, over the question of whether Bill Wilson chose to leave the Oxford Group, or was told to leave. The "friends of Bill Wilson" like to claim that Wilson left voluntarily because he had a higher mission than Frank Buchman. But a more realistic reading of history indicates that the Oxford Group was tired of Bill Wilson.

Rev. Sam Shoemaker remained above the fray, but gave tacit permission to his assistant for him to edge the alcoholics out by slandering the Wilsons and declaring that they were "not maximum", and instructing the alcoholics at the mission not to attend the meetings at the Wilsons' house.

Robert Thomsen wrote a fairly good book about Bill Wilson, called simply "Bill W.", which is good in spite of Thomsen's very pro-A.A. bias. Thomsen was presumably an unpublicized A.A. member, because he was a personal friend and co-worker of Bill Wilson's for the last 12 years of Bill's life. Thomsen's account of everything is always 100% compatible with the standard party line, which isn't surprising when you consider the fact that the book is said to be based on a set of autobiographical tape recordings that Bill Wilson made before his death. Nevertheless, the book provides a lot of interesting details about the history of A.A., like:

One evening Bill discovered that alcoholics from the mission had been forbidden to come to Clinton Street, and at the large O.G. [Oxford Group] gatherings it was bandied about that, after all, the Wilsons were not "really maximum," a phrase that was foreign to Bill and Lois, but nonetheless upsetting. Finally, what was referred to as the divergent work of this secret group became the subject of a Sunday-morning sermon at Calvary. Yet, in a curious way, instead of
distressing Bill and his associates, this criticism stiffened their resolve.
Bill W., Robert Thomsen, page 256.

"Clinton Street" was Bill and Lois' house, where Bill was holding Oxford Group meetings for alcoholics. The "mission" was Calvary House, Sam Shoemaker's church. The phrase "not maximum" was a slur that meant that someone was not totally committed to following the dictates of the cult leader, Frank Buchman (although the official explanation was, of course, that someone was not totally committed to doing "the Will of God"). The Oxford Group came to see Bill Wilson as doing his own thing, and not "God's Will", so he was increasingly unwelcome at Oxford Group meetings. That is hardly surprising, considering Bill's stubborn, willful arrogance and his messianic complex, as well as his obsession with alcoholics.

Bill Wilson and Lois felt that that was tantamount to an expulsion from the Oxford group. Bill and Lois took their crowd of alcoholics and left in the spring of 1937. Sam Shoemaker and Frank Buchman then claimed that they had been betrayed by Wilson's sudden desertion, and would not talk to the Wilsons for many years afterwards.

The following quote is Bill Wilson's own words, describing some of the difficulties that led to the break-up:

The Oxford Group also had attitudes and practices which added up to a highly coercive authority. This was exercised by "teams" of older members. They would gather in meditation and receive specific guidance for the life conduct of newcomers. This guidance could cover all possible situations from the most trivial to the most serious. If the directions so obtained were not followed, the enforcement machinery began to operate. It consisted of a sort of coldness and aloofness which made recalcitrants feel they weren't wanted. At one time, for example, a "team" got guidance for me to the effect that I was no longer to work with alcoholics. This I could not accept.

N.C.C.A. 'Blue Book', Vol. 12, 1960.

That's kind of funny, in a way. Bill Wilson was not bothered by Frank Buchman praising Adolf Hitler and creating a big furor and publicly embarrassing the whole Oxford Group. That was okay; neither Bill Wilson nor Doctor Bob quit the Oxford Group in protest when Frank Buchman thanked Heaven for giving us Adolf Hitler. They didn't have any problems with Frank Buchman's Fascist leanings, or anything else about that strange cult. (Bill Wilson stayed in the Oxford Group for another year after Frank Buchman's "I thank Heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler" newspaper inteview, and Dr. Bob stayed in for another three years.) Bill and Dr. Bob were happy true believers in Buchmanism, such happy true believers that they would duplicate it and make it into their own cult. (Or more accurately, they just stole a branch of the Oxford Group cult and made it their own.) But when the Oxford Group elders tried to tell Bill Wilson what to do, and expected Bill to obey orders, well, that was unacceptable...

Undoubtedly, the bad feelings between William Wilson and the Oxford Group were mutual. The Oxford Group wasn't big enough for two over-bearing, arrogant, deceitful, insane cult leaders like Frank N. D. Buchman and William G. Wilson, both of whom were going to do whatever they damn well pleased...

Doctor Bob, on the other hand, stayed in the good graces of the Akron Oxford Group for two years longer, before making a clean break of it.

Then Bill and Dr. Bob set up their own independent organization, with the same religious beliefs, customs, and practices as the Oxford Group, except that now Bill Wilson and Doctor Bob provided the leadership, not Frank Buchman.

When Bill Wilson wrote the opening chapters of the manual for the organization, Alcoholics Anonymous (popularly known as "The Big Book"), Wilson carefully hid -- or erased -- most all of the connections to Frank Buchman and The Oxford Group, because the Catholic Church was unhappy with Buchmanism, and there was a very good chance that the Church would ban it. (Eventually, the Pope did -- he ordered that no Catholics go to Oxford Group meetings.) Bill didn't want to lose all of the Catholics. So Bill also renamed confession to "sharing" throughout the program, so as to not offend the Catholic Church. (The Church has a rule against public confession.) Likewise, Bill declared that A.A. was a "spiritual program", rather than a religion, also to avoid a conflict with the Catholic Church. The Oxford Group had called itself "More spiritual than religious", and Wilson just took it one step further when he declared that Alcoholics Anonymous was a "spiritual fellowship", and not a religion at all.

Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization.

The Big Book, Forward to the 2nd Edition, William G. Wilson, page XX (of the 3rd edition).

Also, there was Frank Buchman's public admiration of Adolf Hitler and too-cozy friendliness with the Nazis, and the Oxford Group was increasingly being criticized for arrogance due to the Oxford Group's belief that they alone were sane and getting direct messages from God while everybody else was insane, and also for undercutting other churches, hypocrisy, gross dishonesty, self-congratulatory sanctimoniousness, and an inability to tolerate criticism. So Bill thought it best to not mention that Alcoholics Anonymous ever had anything to do with Frank Buchman...

In the book Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson proudly bragged about connections to William James and his book Varieties of Religious Experience, and to Carl Jung, and claimed that they were the philosophical parents of Alcoholics Anonymous. But William James and Carl Jung really only contributed one single line, one single idea, each (at most, if that). Bill got the idea of intense, soul-shaking religious experiences in times of great stress, pain, sickness and despair from Varieties. And Bill supposedly got the idea of substituting religious mania for alcoholism -- substituting religiomania for dipsomania -- from Carl Jung. But that's it. Everything else that made up Alcoholics Anonymous came from the Oxford Group, or other temperance societies that came before A.A..

Bill Wilson carefully hid the whole Oxford Group history of Alcoholics Anonymous when he wrote the opening chapters of the Big Book. Years later, after people had forgotten about Frank Buchman, Wilson allowed a few more details and hints of those early days to slip through the filter, and appear in semi-official A.A. literature.

Poor old Frank Buchman got very little credit, just two tiny mentions for the Oxford Group, only in the Forward to the Second Edition in 1955, even though he contributed almost everything else that makes up the theology and philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous. So it goes. Such is life in the evangelist's game.

The references to the Oxford Group in the Forward to the Second Edition are:

Six months earlier, the broker45 had been relieved of his drink obsession by a sudden spiritual experience, following a meeting with an alcoholic friend who had been in contact with the Oxford Groups of that day.

Big Book, 3rd edition, William G. Wilson, pages xv to xvi.

(Bill Wilson was not a stock broker either. That was another one of his grandiose but completely untrue claims.)


Though he could not accept all the tenets of the Oxford Groups, he was convinced of the need for moral inventory, confession of personality defects, restitution to those harmed, helpfulness to others, and the necessity of belief in and dependence upon God.

Big Book, 3rd edition, William G. Wilson, page xvi.

That is hardly a ringing endorsement, and it is deceptive as can be. That is like pointing at your mother, and saying, "Yes, I met that old woman, and talked to her on more than one occasion, but I couldn't agree with her about everything."

And, actually, Bill Wilson did accept all of the tenets of the Oxford Groups. The only one that he didn't accept was the one about having Frank Buchman and the other Oxford Group elders as his bosses, to be obeyed in all matters, large and small. Bill Wilson was and remained a true-believer Buchmanite for his whole life -- a Buchmanite who was just bad at following orders. That statement about not being able to accept all of the tenets of the Oxford Groups was a very dishonest statement -- a dodge to avoid being identified as a Buchmanite or being associated with Frank Buchman and his Oxford Groups.

Bill later described that practice of deception like this:

...drinkers would not take pressure in any form, excepting from John Barleycorn himself. They always had to be led, not pushed. They would not stand for the rather aggressive evangelism of the Oxford Group. And they would not accept the principle of "team guidance" for their own personal lives. It was too authoritarian for them. In other respects, too, we found we had to make haste slowly. When first contacted, most alcoholics just wanted to find sobriety, nothing else. They clung to their other defects, letting go only little by little. They simply did not want to get "too good too soon." The Oxford Groups' absolute concepts -- absolute purity, absolute honesty, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love -- were frequently too much for the drunks. These ideas had to be fed with teaspoons rather than by buckets.

Besides, the Oxford Groups' "absolutes" were expressions peculiar to them. This was a terminology which might continue to identify us in the public mind with the Oxford Groupers, even though we had completely withdrawn from their fellowship.

Alcoholics Anonymous Comes Of Age, William G. Wilson, pages 74-75.

So don't tell newcomers the whole truth; don't tell them what membership in the cult really entails, or what the cult is; just dole out the real facts a tiny bit at a time -- only a teaspoonful of truth at a time -- to keep them coming back for more meetings and indoctrination.

Note how Bill Wilson slandered his fellow alcoholics, saying that they didn't want to let go of their defects, and they didn't want to get "too good too soon", and that the Buchmanite "Absolute" goodness was just too much for them (even though it wasn't too much for the High Holy Alcoholic Bill Wilson, who could handle such lofty spirituality).

Likewise, Bill declared that the newcomers to A.A. were morally inferior to him because they didn't like the fascist, authoritarian nature of the Oxford Groups.

Later, Bill would make a very profitable career out of raving about how bad alcoholics really are.

Bill Wilson also believed that the newcomers to A.A. were stupid -- that he could shove Frank Buchman's religion on his new A.A. members without their realizing what was happening if he just changed the wording, using different names for things, to confuse his new converts and keep them unaware of what kind of religion they were really getting. That practice is called Deceptive Recruiting, which is some more standard cult behavior.

Bill Wilson inserted many new stories into the second edition of the Big Book in 1955, including the story "He Thought He Could Drink Like A Gentleman", by Abby G. of Cleveland, which mentions the Oxford Group. By that time, the furor over Frank Buchman, the Oxford Group Movement, and Moral Re-Armament had died down, so Wilson allowed one more small mention of the Oxford Group to slip through the filter. Abby's story tells us that in the early days of A.A.:

I had attended several of these meetings before I discovered that all of those who were there were not alcoholics. That is, it was sort of a mixed bunch of Oxford Groupers, who were interested in the alcohol problem, and of alcoholics themselves.

The Big Book, 3rd edition, page 218.

Then, finally, many, many, years later, Bill Wilson admitted that the Twelve Steps came from the Oxford Groups' theology:

Where did the early AAs find the material for the remaining ten Steps? Where did we learn about moral inventory, amends for harm done, turning our wills and lives over to God? Where did we learn about meditation and prayer and all the rest of it? The spiritual substance of our remaining ten Steps came straight from Dr. Bob's and my own earlier association with the Oxford Groups, as they were then led in America by that Episcopal rector, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker.

The Language of the Heart, William G. Wilson, page 298, published posthumously in 1988.

Note that Bill was still being deceptive and dishonest there: Frank Buchman was extremely unpopular when Bill wrote that, hated by many for his Hitler-praising fascism, so Wilson invoked the name of Dr. Samuel Shoemaker as the leader of Frank Buchman's cult religion. But all of the "spiritual substance" that Wilson was talking about came straight from Frank Buchman, and Frank Buchman was really the leader of the organization. It was almost irrelevant who the manager of the American branch was, but Sam Shoemaker's name sure sounded better than Frank Buchman's.

Bill was being deceptive and dishonest there in another way too: "The early AAs" did not "find" the material for the 12 Steps. Bill Wilson just wrote down the practices that the Oxford Groups used to "change" the minds of new recruits.

Bill Wilson rationalized his deception and hiding of the Oxford Group roots of Alcoholics Anonymous with this explanation:

"I am often asked why I do not publicly acknowledge my very real debt of gratitude to the Oxford Group. The answer is that, unfortunately, a vast and sometimes unreasoning prejudice exists all over this country against the O.G. and its successor M.R.A. My dilemma is that if I make such an acknowledgement, I may establish a connection between the O.G. and Alcoholics Anonymous which does not exist at the present time. I had to ask myself which was the more important: that the O.G. receive credit and that I have the pleasure of so discharging my debt of gratitude, or that alcoholics everywhere have the best possible chance to stay alive regardless of who gets credit."

PASS IT ON: The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world, 'anonymous', 1984, page 173. Authorship was credited to 'anonymous' but was actually written by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. staff.

Notice the numerous propaganda tricks in that paragraph:

Slanted Language:

People who disliked Nazis and Nazi sympathizers like Frank Buchman and his Oxford Groups were "unreasoningly prejudiced".

In a noble act of self-sacrifice, Bill Wilson deprived himself of "pleasure" when he didn't tell the truth.

Non Sequitur -- goofy logic. Bill worried that he might "establish a connection between the O.G. and Alcoholics Anonymous which does not exist at the present time " if he told the truth about the history of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Nonsense. The Oxford Group had ceased to exist by then, so there was no need to worry about establishing a present connection. We can't know precisely when Bill Wilson made that statement, but it was probably late in his life, both from the sound of it, and because the book PASS IT ON was published in 1984. The Oxford Group had ceased, morphed into Moral Re-Armament, back in 1939, and then MRA died out in the 'forties and 'fifties.

Rationalization and The End Justifies The Means:

Bill Wilson claimed that he had to lie and deceive in order to selflessly help others.

Petitio Principii -- Assume Facts Not in Evidence and Lying:

Bill just shoved onto the readers the false assumption that the Alcoholics Anonymous program saved many lives, without giving any evidence to support that groundless assertion. The truth is that Bill Wilson knew precisely what a terrible failure rate his Alcoholics Anonymous program really had (95%), and that it didn't really work at all. He and Doctor Bob had many, many years of experience in failing to save alcoholics.

Even today, the official A.A. position regarding the Oxford Groups is still largely a cover-up. The A.A. history book Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, written by the staff of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (AAWS), says, in explaining the reasons for the split between the Oxford Group and the fledgling group of "anonymous alcoholics":

There was one more reason, which never came out publicly: Frank Buchman, founder and leader of the Oxford Group, was not only trying to influence political and business affairs on an international level, but was regarded by some as being in sympathy with Hitler, following a widely publicized interview with Buchman in 1936.

Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., page 155.

Frank Buchman publicly declared to a New York daily newspaper, the New York World Telegram, "I thank Heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler...", and AAWS only says that Buchman "was regarded by some as being in sympathy with Hitler". Now that's good old-fashioned stereotypical alcoholic minimization and denial.

And what do they mean by "There was one more reason, which never came out publicly"?

How could any of that sensational affair not come out publicly? Are they admitting that the A.A. organization has been hiding facts and deceiving people ever since 1937? What happened to, "grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty"? (The Big Book, page 58.)

[Also see Charles Bufe's description of how the AAWS staff quoted Frank Buchman out of context to make him sound less like a Nazi sympathizer.]

So, anyway, Frank Buchman is dead and gone, and the whole Buchmanism / Oxford Group / Moral Re-Armament religious organization is dead and gone, and it's all history, right? No, unfortunately, that isn't quite true. Buchmanism lives on in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and the whole host of other twelve-step programs, and it is far, far more popular and more powerful now than it ever was when Frank Buchman was alive. Alcoholics Anonymous simply is Buchmanism, dressed up in a shabbier suit of clothes. (Not in a new suit of clothes -- that's what Frank Buchman's millionaires were wearings. Bill's down and out alcoholics were dressed in ragged threadbare old suits. A.A. is downscale Buchmanism.)

I recall that Shakespeare, in the play Julius Caesar, had Mark Anthony say,

"The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft' interred with their bones."

That surely is true of Frank Buchman and his sick, weird, twisted cult religion. Like a vampire that you can't even kill with a wooden stake -- one that to your horror keeps rising again from the grave -- Buchmanism refuses to die. Frankenstein's monster may be dead, but Son of Frankenstein lives on...

Next: The Text of Frank Buchman's New York World Telegram Interview

The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous
and the Twelve Steps
by A. Orange

Chapter 28: Frank Buchman's New York World Telegram Interview

Here is the entire text of the famous World Telegram interview where Frank Buchman declared, "I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler..."


By William A. H. Birnie,
World-Telegram Staff Writer

To Dr Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman, vigorous, outspoken, 58-year-old leader of the revivalist Oxford Group, the Fascist dictatorships of Europe suggest infinite possibilities for remaking the world and putting it under "God Control".

"I thank Heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler, who built a front line of defense against the anti-Christ of Communism, " he said today in his book-lined office in the annexe of Calvary Church, Fourth Ave and 21st St.

"My barber in London told me Hitler saved Europe from Communism. That's how he felt. Of course, I don't condone everything the Nazis do. Anti-Semitism? Bad, naturally. I suppose Hitler sees a Karl Marx in every Jew.

"But think what it would mean to the world if Hitler surrendered to the control of God. Or Mussolini. Or any dictator. Through such a man God could control a nation overnight and solve every last, bewildering problem."

Dr Buchman, who is directing an Oxford house-party tonight at the Lenox, Mass. estate of Mrs Harriet Pullman Schermerhorn, returned from Europe aboard the Queen Mary, after attending Oxford meetings in England and the Olympic Games in Berlin.

A small, portly man, who doesn't smoke or drink and listens quietly to "God's plans" for a half hour or so every day, usually before breakfast, Dr Buchman talked easily about world affairs while eight or nine Oxfordites -- good-looking young fellows in tweeds -- sat on the floor and listened.

"The world needs the dictatorship of the living spirit of God," he said and smiled, adjusting his rimless glasses and smoothing the graying hair on the back of his head. "I like to put it this way. God is a perpetual broadcasting station and all you need to do is tune in. What we need is a supernatural network of live wires across the world to every last man, in every last place, in every last situation...

"The world won't listen to God but God has a plan for every person, for every nation. Human ingenuity is not enough. That is why the isms are pitted against each other and blood falls.

"Spain has taught us what godless Communism will bring. Who would have dreamed that nuns would be running naked in the streets? Human problems aren't economic. They're moral and they can't be solved by immoral measures. They could be solved within a God-controlled democracy, or perhaps I should say a theocracy, and they could be solved through a God-controlled Fascist dictatorship."

He looked around the room at the eight or nine young men drinking in his words, and straightened the crimson rose in his button hole.

"Suppose we here were all God-controlled and we became the Cabinet," he said. "You" -- pointing at the reporter, who seldom ventures off the pavements of Manhattan -- "You would take over agriculture. You" -- a Princeton graduate beamed -- "would be Mr Hull. Eric here, who has been playing around with a prominent Canadian who's Cabinet is material1, would be something else, and this young lawyer would run the Post Office.

"Then in a God-controlled nation, capital and labour would discuss their problems peacefully and reach God-controlled solutions. Yes, business would be owned by individuals, not by the State, but the owners would be God-controlled."

The Oxford Group has no official membership lists, no centralised organisation, but Dr Buchman estimated that "literally millions" listened in to his recent world broadcast from the meeting in England attended by 15,000 persons. Finances?

"God runs them," he smiled. "Don't you say every day, Give us this day our daily bread? And don't you receive?"

The group is built on the simple thesis that there is a divine plan for the world and that human beings, with faith and devotion, can receive God-given guidance in a "quiet time" of communion. Most Oxfordites write down their guidance and then check it against the "four absolutes" -- absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, absolute love.

"Those are Christ's standards," Dr Buchman explained. "We believe that human nature itself can be changed by them. We believe in answering revolution by more revolution -- but revolution within the individual, and through the individual, revolution in the nation, and, through the nation, revolution in the world. It's as simple as that -- Christian simplicity. And it's fun, too. We call each other by our first names and our meetings are always informal.

"I held meetings at the Republican and Democratic conventions. What Washington needs is God-control. Landon talks about divine guidance. Why doesn't he apply it? And the finest thing Roosevelt ever said was this -- 'I doubt if there exists any problem, political or economic, which would not melt before the fire of spiritual awakening'.

"Oxford is not a one-way ticket to heaven, although that's a splendid thing and lots of people need it. It's a national ticket, too. That's the ticket we should vote in this coming election -- God's ticket."

Dr Buchman is unmarried, a graduate of Muhlenberg College, which awarded him a doctorate of divinity in 1926. He said he was "changed" -- Oxfordites use the word to mean complete surrender to God control -- by a gradual process.

"I was in England and I began to realise I was a sinner and there was an abyss between Christ and me," he said. "I was resenting my lost power and I was confessing others' sins when the real problem was mine. Then I went to church.

"A vision of the Cross. Of Christ on the Cross. An actual vision. I was changed then, but I've been changing ever since. A little even today, I suppose."

"And when was the vision, Dr Buchman?"

"Let's see," he said, and rustled some pamphlets in his hand. "Let's see -- what year was the vision?"

He looked around at the faces turned toward him. "What year was the vision?" he repeated. One of the young men spoke up. "1908, wasn't it, Dr Buchman?"

Dr Buchman smiled at him.

"Of course," he said. "That was it. 1908."


1 Sic. There may be an error in the transcription, or a misprint, here. Elsewhere in the interview a few obvious misprints have been corrected. [Tom Driberg's words]


The New York World Telegram, August 26, 1936, quoted in

The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965, pages 68-71.

(Buchman was slick. Look at how he tantalized his young followers with hints that they would end up running the country, being Members of the Cabinet, in his "God-controlled" world.)

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