A particularly memorable section of “Bill’s Story,” in which Bill Wilson, primary author of The Big Book and co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, recounts what it was like to begin thinking about religious ideas afresh, in light of the significant internal resistance/baggage incurred by negative experiences he’d had with the church as a youth. The occasion of his reflection is a visit from an old drinking buddy who had appeared on Bill’s doorstep, sober and having “gotten religion.” From pages 9-12 of The Big Book:
He talked for hours. Childhood memories rose before me. I could almost hear the sound of the preacher’s voice as I sat, on still Sundays, way over there on the hillside; there was that proffered temperance pledge I never signed; my grandfather’s good-natured contempt of some church folk and their doings; his denial of the preacher’s right to tell him how he must listen; his fearlessness as he spoke of these things just before he dies; these recollections welled up from the past. They made me swallow hard. That war-time day in old Winchester Cathedral came back again.
I had always believed in a Power greater than myself. I was not an atheist. Few people really are, for that means blind faith in the strange proposition that this universe originated in a cipher and aimlessly rushes nowhere. My intellectual heroes, the chemists, the astronomers, even the evolutionists, suggested vast laws and forces at work. Despite contrary indications, I had little doubt that a mighty purpose and rhythm underlay all. How could there be so much precise and immutable law, and no intelligence? I simply had to believe in a Spirit of the Universe, who knew neither time nor limitation. But that was as far as I had gone.
With ministers, and the world’s religions, I parted right there. When they talked of a God personal to me, who was love, superhuman strength and direction, I became irritated and my mind snapped shut against such a theory.
To Christ I concede the certainty of a great man, not too closely followed by those who claimed Him. His moral teaching – most excellent. For myself, I had adopted those parts which seemed convenient and not too difficult; the rest I disregarded.
The wars which had been fought, the burnings and chicanery that religious dispute had facilitated, made me sick. I honestly doubted whether, on balance, the religions of mankind had done any good. Judging from what I had seen in the war and since, the power of God in human affairs was negligible, the Brotherhood of Man a grim jest. If there was a Devil, he seemed the Boss Universal, and he certainly had me.
But my friend sat before me, an he made the point-blank declaration that God had done for him what he could not do for himself. His human will had failed. Doctors pronounced him incurable. Society was about to lock him up. Like myself, he had admitted complete defeat. Then he had, in effect, been raised from the dead, suddenly taken from the scrap heap to a level of life better than the best he had ever known!
Had this power originated in him? Obviously it had not. There had been no more power in him than there was in me at that minute; and this was none at all…
Despite the living example of my friend there remained in me the vestiges of my old prejudice. The word God still aroused a certain antipathy. When the thought was expressed that there might be a God personal to me this feeling was intensified. I didn’t like the idea. I could go for such conceptions as Creative Intelligence, Universal Mind or Spirit of Nature but I resisted the thought of a Czar of the Heavens, however loving His sway might be. I have since talked with scores of men who felt the same way.”