Sunday, 19 June 2011

Scribes, Pharisees, and angels dancing on a pinhead

Do you believe that only direct quotations from the Big Book constitute valid advice or do you believe that experience based on implementing the instructions or elaborations of how to apply them in all our affairs are valid too? In other words: is the message limited to the words of the first 164 pages or is the message anything consistent with the PRINCIPLES contained therein?

Someone in another Book distanced himself from the 'scribes and Pharisees'.

Where are we in AA in danger of becoming just such scribes and Pharisees?

Sometimes, in the small corner of AA which believes in the principles in the Big Book, there is infighting: a tendency to attempt to outdo each other in orthodoxy and precise adherence to the wording. The cries of 'heretic', the witch-burning, the reformation and counter-formation, and the establishment of 'one true churches' remind me of religious history. For some, no one is quite pure enough, no one is quite precise enough ... Words are pored over. Nuances are agonised over. "Workbooks are killing newcomers!" "That's not in the Book!" "That's in 'To Wives' ... it cannot apply to alcoholics, too ... you can't take it out of context."

And, instead of cooperating to help reach the people who need are help, we have angels-dancing-on-a-pinhead arguments and dismiss others' wisdom and experience because it does not fit our template, which, of course is the only one that is valid.

The people who wrote the Book did not, individually, take precisely the actions outlined in the Book.

When one reads on 263 how Dr Bob took people through the Steps, one would have to conclude that he and his sponsees would be disapproved of for not working the Steps 'properly'. Was the inventory REALLY thorough? Was there a whole hour reviewing Step Five afterwards? I'm being slightly naughty, here, but you get the point.

I keep coming back to this, which was written by Dr Bob as the last word on the matter of tolerance.

"During nine years in A.A. I have observed that those who follow the Alcoholics Anonymous program with the greatest earnestness and zeal, not only maintain sobriety, but often acquire finer characteristics and attitudes as well. One of these is tolerance. Tolerance expresses itself in a variety of ways: in kindness and consideration toward the man or woman who is just beginning the march along the spiritual path; in the understanding of those who perhaps have been less fortunate in educational advantages, and in sympathy toward those whose religious ideas may seem to be at great variance with our own. I am reminded in this connection of the picture of a hub with its radiating spokes. We all start at the outer circumference and approach our destination by one of many routes. To say that one spoke is much better than all the other spokes is true only in the sense of its being best suited to you as an individual. Human nature is such that without some degree of tolerance, each one of us might be inclined to believe that we have found the best or perhaps the shortest spoke. Without some tolerance we might tend to become a bit smug or superior—which of course is not helpful to the person we are trying to help, and may be quite painful or obnoxious to others. No one of us wishes to do anything which might act as a deterrent to the advancement of another—and a patronizing attitude can readily slow up this process. Tolerance furnishes, as a by-product, a greater freedom from the tendency to cling to preconceived ideas and stubbornly adhered-to opinions. In other words it often promotes an open-mindedness which is vastly important—in fact a prerequisite to the successful termination of any line of search, whether it be scientific or spiritual. These, then, are a few of the reasons why an attempt to acquire tolerance should be made by each one of us."

The absurdity of the argument also reminds me of this, by Anthony de Mello:
 A saint was once given the gift of speaking the language of the ants. He approached one who seemed the scholarly type, and asked, "What is the Almighty like? Is he in any way similar to the ant?" Said the scholar, "The Almighty? Certainly not! We ants, you see, have only one sting. But the Almighty, he has two!" Suggested postscript:
 When asked what heaven was like, the ant-scholar solemnly replied, "There we shall be just like Him, having two stings each, only smaller ones."
 A bitter controversy rages among religious schools of thought as to where exactly the second sting will be located in the heavenly body of the ant.

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