For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern. (“Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions“, Tradition Two)
For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. (long form)
First, here are a couple of rhetorical questions that might help dispel the myth of A.A. being a democracy:
1) Is A.A. a form of government?
2) Does A.A. lodge any supreme power (or even any power at all) in the hands of its members?
We each certainly do have a right of personal decision concerning the management of our lives, but having that right does not give us the power or ability needed to manage them well or successfully. And since not one of us has ever been granted any authority or power over the life of any other human being, today we have this from A.A. Tradition Two:
“Our leaders…do not govern.”
“…no president having authority to govern…
“…no treasurer who can compel the payment of any dues…
“…no board of directors who can cast an erring member into outer darkness…
“…no A.A. can give another a directive and enforce obedience…”
(“Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”)
So then, and as our friends and others outside of A.A. might ask:
“Where does A.A. get its direction? Who runs it?”
Our answer: “…the sole authority in A.A. is a loving God as He may express Himself in the group conscience.”
Monarchy, n. (Webster, 1828)
A state or government in which the supreme power is lodged in the hands of a single [entity]…
“…as He may express Himself in our group conscience.” (Tradition Two)
Two questions typically arise at this point:
1) Are you saying A.A. is some kind of dictatorship rather than “democratic”?
2) Also, what if I do not believe there even is any “supreme being” or “loving god” to guide anyone at all in the first place?
First, no, we do not say there is nothing “democratic” in A.A. In fact, we do say this:
“Alcohol being no respecter of persons, we are an accurate cross section of America, and in distant lands, the same democratic evening-up process is now going on.” (Foreword to Second Edition, 1955)
So in the sense of the playing field having been leveled at Step One for all of us, A.A. is quite “democratic”, as such, and we can also see that component of the foundation for the fellowship we share reflected here:
“…having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us.” (page 17)
And to then describe our overall experience a little farther, we also share this:
“Social distinctions, petty rivalries and jealousies – these are laughed out of countenance. Being wrecked in the same vessel, being restored and united under one God (Tradition One), with hearts and minds attuned to the welfare of others (page 20), the things which matter so much to some people no longer signify much to them.” (page 161)
So overall and “democratically”, our dealings with the matters of authority and power in A.A. begin as founded upon our awareness of our human powerlessness and inabilities to successfully manage human lives. For example, and as said with a wink:
“He can’t even run his own life,
“I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine!” (Jonathon Edwards)
“I can’t even run my own life,
“You’ll be doomed if I run yours!” (Humble Sponsor)
At that point, and especially while sitting side-by-side in our group business meetings where some members might not yet have “admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things” (page 46), how can we A.A.s possibly “absolutely agree, and…join in brotherly and harmonious action” (page 17)? Doctor Silkworth has proved very helpful to some of us there with his mention of “the powers of good that lie outside our synthetic knowledge.” So while bringing that thought into the mix whenever necessary, we can see something like this at Tradition Two:
“For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – the powers of good that lie outside our synthetic knowledge.”
There is yet another way to see A.A.’s dependence upon “the powers of good” being made manifest amongst us, and page 152 in our book reflects that to the A.A. newcomer:
“‘I know I must get along without liquor, but how can I? Have you a sufficient substitute?’
“Yes, there is a substitute and it is vastly more than that. It is a fellowship in Alcoholics Anonymous. There [as an active member in your own home group or ‘A.A. fellowship’] you will find release from care, boredom and worry. Your imagination will be fired. Life will mean something at last. The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead. Thus we
find the fellowship [we share together in our autonomous fellowships], and so will you.” (page 152)
So then, and once again:
Where does A.A. get its direction? Who runs it? How are unity, agreement and harmonious action even possible amongst people such as we have been?
That all begins at Step One where we abandon all ideas of already knowing what is best for ourselves or for anyone else, and that continues for us for just as long as we continue to look together toward “God as you (do or do not) understand God” (page 164) for the guidance and direction we have learned is available from within “the powers of good that lie outside our synthetic knowledge“.