Read Not-God Online

Authors: Ernest Kurtz


Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint the following:

Excerpts from
Bill W
. by Robert Thomsen. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Copyright 1975 by Robert Thomsen. Reprinted by permission of the publishers.

Excerpts from
Alcoholics Anonymous
. Copyright 1939, 1955, 1976 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

Excerpts from
Twelve Steps And Twelve Traditions
. Copyright 1952, 1953 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

Excerpts from
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
. Copyright 1957 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

The “A.A. Preamble,” copyright © 1958 by the A.A. Grapevine, Inc. Reprinted by permission.

Copyright 1979
by Ernest Kurtz

First Published 1979
Expanded Edition First Published 1991

Appendix B First Published
by Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., San Francisco,
AA: The Story,
by special arrangement
with the Hazelden Foundation

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form
without the written permission of the publisher

Hazelden, Box 176

Center City, Mn. 55012

ISBN13: 978-0-89486-065-2
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-59285-902-3
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 79-88264

Printed in the United States of America


with gratitude

About the Book

is a fascinating, fast-moving, and authoritative account of the discovery and development of the program and fellowship that we know today as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Easily readable,
contains more anecdotes and excerpts from the diaries, correspondence, and occasional memoirs of A.A.’s early figures than are heard in a hundred A.A. meetings. Kurtz traces the interesting debts that A.A. owes to such persons and groups as the psychiatrist Carl Jung, American philosopher William James, Akron social matron Henrietta Seiberling, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., as well as the Oxford Group of Frank Buchman, a few Irish-American Catholic priests, and fundamentalist religion.

Beginning with the well-known visit between the sober Ebby T. and the drunken Bill Wilson, Kurtz documents Wilson’s spiritual awakening (or “hot flash” as the first fifty A.A.s called it), his desire to tell other alcoholics what he had discovered, and his ever-growing conviction that to stay sober he
work with other alcoholics.

The story relates the importance of the Oxford Group to the development of A.A., the painful writing of the Big Book, even the problems caused over the years by Wilson’s unofficial status as “Head of A.A.,” and the fight involving the A.A. Board of Trustees. All is told in the context of two important points: Wilson and the first recovered alcoholics were keenly aware of their own limitation as alcoholics, and—more important—they discovered a health and wholeness, a maturity, as sober individuals within the fellowship of A.A.

Ernest Kurtz was given full and complete access to the archives of the General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous in New York. His unhindered research, coupled with extensive interviews of surviving early members and friends of A.A., has resulted in an account with documented accuracy.

clearly details the slow but unswerving development of a program of recovery for alcoholics, and it carries the message that Alcoholics Anonymous as a program and fellowship has to give to the United States of America in the middle third of the twentieth century.

About the Author

Ernest Kurtz received his Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization from Harvard University in 1978 and came to the study of history after professional experience in both religion and psychology.

He is on the faculty of the Rutgers University Summer School of Alcohol Studies, and holds the title of Adjunct Research Scientist at the Center for Self-Help Research and Knowledge Dissemination at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

“First of all we had to quit playing God.”

Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 62



PART ONE: The History


I     Beginnings: November 1934-June 1935
The Limitations of the Drinking Alcoholic

II    First Growth: June 1935-November 1937
The Limitations of the Sober Alcoholic

III   Independent Existence: November 1937-October
1939 Finding Wholeness in Limitation

IV   Prelude to Maturity: October 1939-March 1941
Needing Others — The Era of Publicity

V    Attaining Maturity: 1941-1955
The Limitations of Alcoholics Anonymous

VI   Responsibilities of Maturity: 1955-1971
Alcoholics Anonymous and the Wholeness
of Limitation

PART TWO: The Interpretation


VII  The Larger Context of American History

VIII The Context of the History of Religious Ideas

IX    The Meaning and Significance of
Alcoholics Anonymous






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It is always out of place to attempt to justify or to demonstrate the significance of a subject in the introduction to its study. If this statement could be intensified, that strengthening would apply preeminently to the subject of Alcoholics Anonymous. Similarly, simple acknowledgment rarely does justice to the depth and the breadth of the assistance enjoyed by any student in the pursuit of his or her subject. If this second observation can be enhanced, that heightening applies especially to this writer on this topic.

Professor Milton Maxwell and Professor George Gordon of the Trustees’ Archives Committee of the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous did more than introduce me to “official” A.A. They offered interest, encouragement, and tempered enthusiasm as well as the approval necessary for research in the primary sources. As the custodian of sensitive materials, the Trustees’ Archives Committee bears great responsibility to the hundreds of thousands of members of Alcoholics Anonymous who have placed implicit trust in their professional judgment. Before the present project, never had any researcher been granted the access to materials that I requested as necessary to this endeavor. Yet, over several meetings I felt not so much screened as welcomed into a sharing of their responsibility. For such trust, I am grateful.

Beyond archival research, this study required immersion in the alcoholism literature and attendance at many meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. My appreciation of Alcoholics Anonymous as “fellowship” as well as “program” was born at the latter, and for this I am especially grateful to six friends. They have insisted that their names remain completely unmentioned, and I accede to their wish. However I wish to honor their contribution by the simple observation that there is but one term adequate to describe their dedication to this project at its deepest level — love. Their evident commitment to sobriety as honesty and their patience with my early challenges to their beloved program in many ways gave birth to the decision to pursue this project at this depth.

My research in the alcoholism literature, begun at the Center of Alcohol Studies of Rutgers University, was carried on most intensively at the Hazelden Foundation in Center City, Minnesota. As a treatment center for alcoholism and other chemical addictions as well as a research center for problems of addiction and their treatment, Hazelden afforded the most helpful as well as a most congenial setting for my research. I am grateful to the director of Hazelden, Dr. Daniel J. Anderson, to his staff, and especially to the late Sr. Mary Leo Kammeier, C.S.J., of Hazelden’s Research Department for their cheerful good will, profound trust, and enthusiastic assistance.

The historical study of a subject of less than fifty years’ existence necessarily involves extensive research by interview. Especially the following people, significant in the early history of Alcoholics Anonymous, gave generous and infallibly courteous help — at times in the face of questioning that no doubt too often seemed impertinent: Lois Wilson, Henrietta Seiberling, Marty Mann, Clarence S., Warren C., and Dick P. I am deeply grateful to each of these kind individuals for their assistance, honesty, and trust.

A very special acknowledgment must be reserved for Nell Wing, long-time secretary to A. A. co-founder Bill Wilson and present archivist of Alcoholics Anonymous. Her deep knowledge of the materials, her generosity in sharing personal recollections, her faithful devotion to assisting this project, her help with introductions and contacts, her ready response to occasionally desperate requests for verification: all these were exceeded by only one thing — her unfailing cheerfulness in her dedication to service.

At this moment of history, the term “mentor” seems in danger of destruction by cliché. Such a loss would be tragic, for the concept bears a meaning that is profound. It has been my privilege and good fortune to profit as person as well as student from the mentoring guidance of two skilled historians, Professor Oscar Handlin and Professor William R. Hutchison. Each labored tirelessly and far beyond ordinary responsibility to improve a style that was initially opaque. Each challenged assumptions and laid bare tortuous reasoning. Each encouraged or chastised as one or the other impetus was needed; and each carefully shared his own developing enthusiasm for the project as my ardor at times waned in the labors of research and writing. To both, I am grateful: beyond the requirements of any academic relationship, these dedicated scholars have taught me that — and how — scholarship is humanizing.

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