Chapter 4

                        WE AGNOSTICS

  IN THE PRECEDING chapters you have learned some-
thing 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 prob-
ably alcoholic.  If that be the case, you may be suffer-
ing 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

                        WE AGNOSTICS                      45
would 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
  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 alcoho-
lic 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 sub-
ject 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 re-
jected this particular conception because it seemed
inadequate.  With that rejection we imagined we had
abandoned the God idea entirely.  We were bothered

46                  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
with 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 inexpli-
cable 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, made 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 reas-
sure 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 com-
menced 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 under-
lying 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 all men.

                        WE AGNOSTICS                      47
  When, 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, how-
ever 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 ac-
cept 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,
48                  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
we often found ourselves handicapped by obstinacy,
sensitiveness, and unreasoning prejudice.  Many of us
have been so touchy that even casual reference to
spiritual things made 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 re-
spect 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 be preju-
diced 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 reason-
able assumption as a starting point.
  Everybody nowadays, believes in scores of assump-
tions 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 con-
stantly 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-

                        WE AGNOSTICS                      49
ing 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 Intelli-
gence, right there our perverse streak comes to the
surface and we laboriously set out to convince our-
selves 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 noth-
ing, 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 the 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 logi-
cal 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 be-
liefs 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

50                  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
  Instead, we looked at the human defects of these
people, and sometimes used their shortcomings as a
basis of wholesale condemnation.  We talked of in-
tolerance, while we were intolerant ourselves.  We
missed the reality and the beauty of the forest because
we were diverted by the ugliness of some of 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 believes in, a Power greater
than himself.  This Power has in each case accom-
plished 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 in-
deed.  They flatly declare that since they have come
to believe in a Power greater than themselves, to take
a certain attitude toward the 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 whole-
heartedly met a few simple requirements.  Once con-

                        WE AGNOSTICS                      51
fused 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 supersti-
tion, tradition, and all sorts of fixed ideas.  Some of
the contemporaries of Columbus thought a round
earth preposterous.  Others came near putting Galileo
to death for his astronomical heresies.
  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 have proved man could never fly?  Had not
people said God has reserved this privilege to the

52                  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
birds?  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 com-
plete liberation of our thinking.  Show any longshore-
man 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?
  We 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 emo-
tional natures, we were a prey to misery and depres-
sion, 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 main-
spring of their accomplishments.  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-

                        WE AGNOSTICS                      53
ficiency" worked with them, we began to feel like
those who had insisted the Wrights would never fly.
  Logic is great stuff.  We liked it.  We still like it.  It
is not by chance we were given the power to reason,
to examine the evidence of our senses, and to draw
conclusions.  That is one of man's magnificent at-
tributes.  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 crisis 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

54                  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
we 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 in-
volved 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, senti-
ment, 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 feel-
ings, 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, deter-
mine 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?  Of course we
couldn't.  The electrons themselves seemed more in-
telligent 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,

                        WE AGNOSTICS                      55
though 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
  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 fear-
lessly, 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 testi-
mony 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
to you.
  In this book you will read the experience of a man
who thought he was an atheist.  His story is so interest-
ing that some of it should be told now.  His change of
heart was dramatic, convincing, and moving.

56                  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
  Our 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 frustra-
tion.  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 physi-
cal collapse, brought him to the point of self-destruc-
  One night, when confined in a hospital, he was ap-
proached 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 com-
panionship with his Creator.
  Thus was our friend's cornerstone fixed in place.  No
later vicissitude had shaken it.  His alcoholic problem
was taken away.  That very night, years ago, it dis-

                        WE AGNOSTICS                      57
appeared.  Save for a few brief moments of temptation
the thought of drink had never returned; and at such
times a great revulsion had 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 ele-
ments 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!