Writing the book Alcoholics Anonymous, what we today call the Big Book was a moment of genius and creativity. I can just imagine the excitement in the room when Bill read the steps to the group for the first time, and what an interesting debate it must have been as they hashed over the precise wording. There were those on one side who wanted the program to be religious, specifically Christian and there were others who wanted it to be completely secular, no god at all, and those who were between the two camps who helped bring about compromise.
Imagine the passion those early members felt for the fellowship as they watched it grow, as they made new friends while getting sober together. New groups were forming all over the country and A.A. was a real movement that was really going somewhere. The fellowship was looking forward, to the future. It was free of any burden from the past, no founding fathers to revere, no sacred texts, everything was fresh. The Twelve Traditions formed from A.A’s early experience were formally adopted in 1950 when A.A. was only fifteen years old. The A.A. members of that time were experiencing a program that was designed by their generation and for their generation.
Sadly, this doesn’t describe A.A. in the 21st Century. No longer is A.A. looking forward to the future, instead it clings to the past. The A.A. of today is no longer dreaming, no longer tapping into the collective imagination and talents of its membership. A.A. isn’t building anything new for future generations. In twenty-four years, the Big Book will be 100 years old! Those of us who are members of the fellowship today should be horrified at the thought that this book will be used as the central text in the year 2039. That’s not the future any of us should wish for A.A.
It’s time to get some movement back into this movement. We members of Alcoholics Anonymous of the 21st Century need to build on the foundation that was laid by the A.A. of yesterday. The time has come to build something new, something better that will reach more people, save more lives and make a real difference. In order to do this, we need to stop clinging to the past. Honor it yes, even revere it, but we mustn’t let it burden us. If we don’t take responsibility for this fellowship and help to prepare it for the 22nd Century, then we are doing a grave disservice to the founders. Alcoholics Anonymous simply cannot survive long into the future if it refuses to dream, to change, to adapt and adopt, to think big.
We have the technology to gather the experience of millions of alcoholics the world-over and to transmit that experience in the language of our generation. We can and should rethink everything. For example, can’t we have more than one version of the steps? Can’t we take the principles of the steps and translate them into language for people of all faiths or people with no faith at all? If an A.A. group somewhere decides to write its own version of the steps while staying true to the basic tenants, isn’t that something we should celebrate and encourage?
There’s a lot of excitement among the agnostics, atheists, and freethinkers in A.A. We are writing new literature, blogs, creating websites, holding conventions, creating new groups, workshops for new groups, rethinking the steps, even debating these things. It’s an exciting time, a time of change. This is where the change begins, but the rest of the fellowship needs to join in. We need to build it together or we will ultimately drift apart. Change is coming, it’s inevitable, but we have a duty and obligation to those who preceded us to act as capable stewards of the fellowship so that future generations can build on our work.