AA’s ‘Big Book’ Anachronistic?

The AA “Book Thumpers” Phenomenon

It’s an inevitability in AA recovery journey: you’ll encounter those known as “book thumpers” in AA meetings. These well-meaning members strongly advocate the AA ‘Big Book’ as the ultimate authority on recovery matters, dissecting it line by line.

The ‘AA Fundamentalists’: A Parallel to Religious Zealotry

These “book thumpers” are what I dub “AA fundamentalists.” Their approach to the Big Book parallels that of fundamentalist Christians to the Bible, viewing both as divinely inspired and infallible. They champion literal, word-for-word interpretation of these texts and their final authority in settling disputes.

The Disputed Authorship of the Big Book

Some might consider the “God-as-author” perspective beneficial in interpreting challenging texts. But can we truly assert that God wrote the Big Book? This claim would demand extraordinary evidence, which isn’t apparent. There are archival drafts of the Big Book, authored by mere mortals, which clearly contradict any divine authorship.

Questioning the Divine Inspiration Argument

Books may draw inspiration from various sources, but they are ultimately the products of fallible human beings. A writer’s perspectives may shift from day to day, altering their narrative. Therefore, the literal interpretation of ideas from a book written over 75 years ago can be problematic.

Understanding the Appeal of Literal Interpretation

A definitive text that solves all problems would indeed be a comforting notion. Imagine a “magic book” that personally understands your troubles and offers divine solutions! However, the world we inhabit changes rapidly, and our knowledge expands through technology, science, and medicine, demanding frequent revisions in our books.

The Unchanged ‘Big Book’ and Its Consequences

The first 164 pages of the Big Book have remained virtually unchanged since its 1939 publication, save a few minor grammatical adjustments. The anachronistic tone of the Big Book and its glaring omissions – like the absence of sponsorship mention – might discourage newcomers to AA. The refusal to update these foundational pages intensifies the trend of “Big Book thumping.”

Need for Modernization: Addressing Current-Day Recovery Challenges

In the 21st century, the Big Book could greatly benefit from an update to include discussions on topics like treatment centers, pharmacology and sobriety, mental illnesses, poly-addictions, genetics’ role in diagnosis, chronic relapsers, and what is now termed Alcohol User Disorder (AUD). The ongoing reluctance to update, however, could stymie attempts at making the AA experience less confusing for newcomers.

Thumpers’ Role and Limitations

Fundamentalist thumpers may assist newcomers by providing simple directions, but they risk alienating many with their religious fervor and chapter-and-verse quoting. A less literal, more experiential approach to reading the Big Book could offer a more mature perspective and open-minded interpretation.

The “Grown-Up” Approach to AA Literature

A grown-up approach entails understanding the context of passages and their practical application by sober individuals. It’s crucial to remain tolerant of differing viewpoints and keep an open mind when reading the Big Book. This approach may also help curtail the tendency to quote the Big Book in meetings, which often serves more as an ego boost than a helpful practice.

The Power of Triangulation: Sponsor, Group, and Conscience

Triangulating the Big Book’s teachings with the insights of a sponsor, your group, and your own conscience can provide a well-rounded perspective on recovery steps. AA’s fundamental dynamic involves interaction and honesty between members, not the rigid adherence to a text. This mindset reinforces humility and acceptance of our limited knowledge. After all, as the Big Book reminds us, “we realize we know only a little.”