As a counterweight to the critique offered in the post below, I offer one of the more intriguing pro-AA responses I’ve received this week. It comes from a longtime AA member who offers an unusually harsh take on the organization’s history:
I’m 28 years sober…My master’s thesis looked at the influence of James and Jung on the thought of Wilson. My conclusion, Wilson really did not understand what either was saying. But it did not matter. [Though] Wilson was the ultimate flim flam man (well portrayed by James Woods in the movies), he was a genius, a con artist selling a recovery elixer that he did not really understand himself. Despite Wilson, AA has flourished. However, had Wilson been a Saint, I doubt that AA would have made it into the second half of the 20th century. It is well understood and documented that after the initial acceptance of AA by the public, the fellowship had to be rigorous in protecting itself against Wilson’s constant attempts to make it the Bill Wilson show. Understand that my comments on Wilson are not negative, it is my belief that if our first founder had been anything other than a down and outer who struggled with depression the rest of his life we would never have gotten beyond the thousand personality conflicts and self interests that would have likely stopped a more organized endeavor.
I have never been able to satisfy my thirst to better understand why AA works. The more I learn, the more I know, the less I understand. I do believe that William James comes closest in his discussion of the soul sick and the divided self where he reformulates St. Paul, John of the Cross and Ignatius. Clearly there is a Jesuit influence in the early AA literature.
When I was a few years in AA I came to believe that I found God in AA. As I have become older and more mellow I realize that I was the one who brought God to AA. Each and every time a newcomer walks through the door a new God presence is initiated. AA is the ground upon which a deeper encounter is played out. I believe AA serves exactly the same role in terms of a person seeking a psychological breakthrough that leads to substantive behavioral change.
The line I bolded really sums up why this piece was such a titanic challenge: The deeper one plows into complex systems, the tougher it becomes to employ neat explanations. Reality, unfortunately, is a rather messy beast.