Martin Luther’s biographer Roland Bainton once wrote in his classic volume Here I Stand:
Those who are predisposed to fall into despondency as well as to rise into the ecstasy may be able to view reality from an angle different from that of ordinary folk. Yet it is a true angle; and when the problem or the religious object has been once so viewed, others less sensitive will be able to look from a new vantage point and testify that the insight is valid (p. 283).
Bainton is suggesting that one person’s extremity may reveal an aspect of truth that applies to all people. Such is the case with addiction, which paints a portrait of the human condition in very stark brush strokes. As such, it offers considerably more insight than the picture we typically find in Hollywood or on CNN or in our own head – where we hear that we are free agents making choices, and that life is a matter of performance and accomplishment. Instead, addiction echoes the biblical portrait of original sin, where man is in conflict with God and unable to surrender his prerogatives.
As far as the Twelve Steps are concerned, alcoholics are not free to choose sobriety. Bishop FitzSimons Allison once said, “The amazing thing about the alcoholic is that he can choose between gin and beer and whiskey, but he can’t choose not to drink”. This is the same view of humanity that we find played out in the Garden of Eden – that man is free to choose everything except the one thing he should be choosing: God, over and above himself.
For this reason, any kind of behavior that willpower has proved insufficient in controlling or curbing – workaholism, manic-depression, compulsive exercise, obsessive parenting, road rage, to name just a few – offers a relevant glimpse into the problem of life to which both AA and Christianity seek to respond. Regardless of whether society views these proclivities positively or negatively, worldly accomplishment can indicate neurotic preoccupation as much as dire failure can. As a result, it would be hard to find a person for whom some aspect of this material does not apply.