The Cults of Frank Buchman 9

An Alcoholics Anonymous medallion with the Four Absolutes

Buchman proposed four Absolutes as part of living a “guided” and “God-controlled” life: Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Love, and Absolute Unselfishness. These were first mentioned in The Principles of Jesus by Robert E. Speer, then expanded on by Buchman’s mentor at Yale, Henry B. Wright. Most Oxford Group literature credits Buchman with creating this idea. How absolutely honest!

It should be evident that such absolutes are an example of rigid, black and white thinking, and present an impossible standards to live up to. White lies and social niceties were treated as grave sins. Any sexual expression that was not intended to cause pregnancy within a legal marriage was denounced. Healthy boundaries were seen as threats to unrealistic interpretations of love and unselfishness.

This is cult leader 101 stuff. Give your followers a lofty yet unattainable goal, wrap the message in flowery positive language, and then use it to emotionally beat down members when they fail to do the impossible. It takes normal, appropriate social interactions and sexual desires and turns them into proof of depravity. A guilty cult member is too consumed to question leadership, and will do almost anything to find relief from their guilt .

Contemporary critics of the Oxford Group had much to say on the flaws of this philosophy.

“[T]he Four Absolutes, when compared with any of the classical codes of ethics, do not form a well-balanced or comprehensive rule of life. They read as if they were framed on the spur of the moment, in a flash of Guidance, by Dr Buchman; and as if, since ‘Frank’s guidance was always right’, nobody ventured to question his authority and to suggest that other Absolutes, too, might be required.   … there is in this code no mention of the social virtue of justice or of the personal virtue of humility.”

– Tom Driderg, Member of Parliament (Labor Party)


“[I]f ‘absolute honesty’ means, as it has come to mean in the Oxford Group, a giggling exhibitionism, from people who really have not so very much to exhibit, then it is drab and morbid.”

– Beverly Nichols, ex Oxford Group member

Nichols also highlighted the danger of one-sided Absolute Unselfishness.

“I have seen several people’s lives brought to the brink of ruin because of one woman’s absolute unselfishness. If you strip this vague and mushy ideal to its essentials, how does it reveal itself? As a complete abrogation of the rights of the individual concerned. For example, an absolutely unselfish wife must endure, year in and year out, the persecution of a drunkard. She must never assert herself, never speak harshly to him, never protest when he revolts her sensibilities, terrifies her children, turns her house into a lunatic asylum, gambles away her money.”

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