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What are the Four Absolutes and How Do They Relate to Alcoholics Anonymous?

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Before Bill Wilson and company wrote the book Alcoholics Anonymous and found a solution to their chronic alcoholism, the Oxford Group helped many people with many problems. 

The Oxford Group worked to improve members by teaching a formula for spiritual growth that is similar to the 12 Steps in Alcoholics Anonymous: inventory, admitting mistakes, making amends, praying and meditating, and carrying the message to others.

Many of A.A.’s steps were inspired from the Oxford Group. 

The Oxford Group was a Christian organization founded in 1921 by Lutheran priest Frank Buchman. Later the group was called Moral Re-arrangement, because they proclaimed that that was their purpose, to give their members a moral rearrangement. 

Even this concept is echoed in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. 

This is very similar to what Carl Jung told Roland Hazard. Roland’s wealthy family hired the best psychiatrist in the world during the 1930s. Jung explained to Roland what needed to happen for a chronic alcoholic to get sober. 

“They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.”

Page 27, Alcoholics Anonymous

The biggest difference between the two groups is that Alcoholics Anonymous — although founded on principles from a Christian group — does not affiliate itself with religion. And frankly, if left only with the Four Absolutes, it probably would not sober many chronic relapsers.

Instead, A.A. focuses on spiritual principles that will transform how an alcoholic responds to life, thinks, acts, and treats others. It does not take a position on what or who God is but just states that a higher power does exist. 

By removing what is blocking you from a higher power, you’re able to have a new design for living. The “moral re-arrangement” just naturally happens by following the steps.

What are the 4 Absolutes

  • Honesty
  • Unselfishness
  • Purity
  • Love 

As a recovered alcoholic, the Four Absolutes can be helpful. They can help you understand if you are treating others like you should be treating them and it can help guide your meditation and prayer. 

But for someone who is first trying to get a spiritual experience and a moral rearrangement, the Four Absolutes can be almost impossible to follow, especially if you are a chronic relapser. 

Here’s What Dr. Bob Wrote about the Four Absolutes

“The four absolutes, as we called them, were the only yardsticks we had in the early days, before the Steps. I think the absolutes still hold good and can be extremely helpful. I have found at times that a question arises, and I want to do the right thing, but the answer is not obvious. Almost always, if I measure my decision carefully by the yardsticks of absolute honesty, absolute unselfishness, absolute purity, and absolute love, and it checks up pretty well with those four, then my answer can’t be very far out of the way.”

The Oxford Group used these principles to make decisions based on God-consciousness. Let’s see how both groups use them.

On Honesty

We have an article that discusses honestly and why it is critical for recovery. 

In the Oxford Group, when addressing a problem, they simply ask, “Is it true or is it not?” This guides people in making moral decisions. 

However, with the alcoholic, being honest is a revolutionary trait. Honesty does not happen. Alcoholics lie and manipulate so much, it becomes second nature. 

This is not to say that alcoholics themselves are evil or bad people. They have a disease that causes them to drink at all costs. Lying, manipulating, and taking advantage of others becomes necessary. 

This statement leads well into the next absolute.

On Unselfishness

Alcoholics are by their nature selfish. Their mind, body, and spirit are abnormal. This abnormality forces an alcoholic to drink. They have no choice but to drink. 

Because of this, they are going to drink no matter what. If their child wants them to stop drinking, or if they are in trouble at work, or have trouble with the courts they will still drink. 

Selfish or unselfish are written in the first 164 pages 15 times. 

This is one of the fundamental characteristics that the 12 Steps solve; it takes you from a place of being selfish and only thinking of yourself to “packing into the stream of life.”

The question the Oxford Groups asks is, “How will this affect the other fellow?”

With an alcoholic who cannot control the amount they take or cannot stay stopped, this is a question that is difficult to answer and honestly not thought of during a bender, spree, or relapse.

On Purity

Purity is not mentioned in the first 164 pages of the Big Book. The Oxford Group asks, “Is it right or not?”

Perhaps the reason Alcoholics Anonymous did not adopt this is that chronic alcoholics cannot differentiate the true from the false. They think their alcoholic life is normal. 

To assume an alcoholic can make the right decision is incomprehensible. Addicts suffer from a three-fold problem that makes it impossible to make the right decision. 

Perhaps the founders knew that this would be a tall order for an alcoholic. 

On Love

Oxford Group asks, “Is this ugly or is it beautiful?”

The action of consistent love is absent in chronic alcoholic relationships. Again, chronic alcoholics are dishonest and selfish. Love is difficult to come by. 

But by doing the steps, having a spiritual awakening, having a “moral rearrangement,” you will be able to care for others, be more tolerant, and want to be of service to others.


- SINCE 1999 -

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