AA is a Cult, part 9

Bill W., undated, via Orange Papers

Let’s take a moment to go back and examine what kind of man Bill Wilson was before he joined the Oxford Group. Content warning for descriptions of domestic violencein the next quoted paragraph. Nan Robertson wrote in Getting Better Inside Alcoholics Anonymous:

His hangovers and hallucinations were becoming more frequent. He panhandled and stole from his wife’s purse. He would ride the subway for hours after buying a bottle of bootleg gin, talking gibberish to frightened strangers. He threw a sewing machine at Lois and stormed around their house in Brooklyn kicking out door panels. She called him a “drunken sot.” He would be sober for days and weeks and then settle into bottomless bingeing. He barely ate. He was forty pounds underweight. His dark, withdrawn periods alternated with delusions of grandeur. Once he told Lois that “men of genius” conceived their best projects when drunk. 

Cults are high demand organizations that utilize a variety of thought and behavior control techniques. To the limited extent that they are able to help addicts get sober, it is because of these techniques and demands. Cults can keep you busy, keep you distracted, keep you monitored and accountable. They can’t cure and usually don’t even address issues of domestic violence, especially not in the US 1930s. Prohibition and its supporters believed sobriety alone would address the worst of this private, family matter. 

The Oxford Group’s leader Frank Buchman was not particularly concerned with violence or alcoholism. He was concerned with advancing Buchmanism. He was a vain, authoritarian man who liked to surround himself with wealthy and famous people. Buchman was drawn to fascism and enjoyed being photographed with American industrialists and important members of the Nazi Party.

For his two years as an Oxford Group member in good standing, Bill Wilson recruited every hard luck alcoholic he could find, promising the principles and steps and meetings provided by this pre-AA group were a cure for drinking. He and Dr. Bob called their new recruits the Alcoholic Squad. But Frank Buchman didn’t like the poor and poorly dressed alcoholics Bill recruited. They weren’t glamorous or well known, and they wanted to be anonymous. 

Bill was slowly pushed out. He was disinvited from Oxford Group meetings at Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s church. Alcoholics who attended meetings there were warned the Wilsons were not in good standing. Bill W. was ousted from the Oxford Group for pitching it to the wrong clientele. But he still liked spending all his time reliving the “glory days” of binge drinking for an appreciative audience. Bill devised a solution. 

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