“[He] knew little of psychics and had heard nothing before this of my adventures.”–A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson, from his official A.A. biography, Pass It On, pg.277
“Do not seek out mediums and spiritists; do not seek out and be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:31)
Author Richard Burns, better known as Dick B., has been churning out books and articles on the alleged Christian origin of Alcoholics Anonymous for years. The prolific author has written Anne Smith’s Journal, Dr. Bob and His Library, and many, many others. Regrettably, in his nearly thirty books Dick B. has never acknowledged the influence of spiritualism upon the creation of the 12 Steps.
His books, however, have deeply influenced the Body of Christ. People frequently justify A.A. attendance with statements like, “Well, Alcoholics Anonymous was originally Christian.” Or, “The 12 Steps are based on the Bible.” A common misconception is that one or both Alcoholics Anonymous cofounders, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, were Christians. (Read)
In A.A. circles the cofounders are affectionately known as Dr. Bob and Bill W. Promoting one of his more recent titles, The Conversion of Bill W., Dick B. writes, “It’s an account of the many ways the Creator seems to have touched the life of Bill W. and, through him, the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.”
The title alone gives the impression that A.A. cofounder Bill Wilson came to Christ. It is certainly true that Wilson was used powerfully and spiritually—but not by the God of the Bible. Wilson, in bondage to spiritualism, communed for decades with unclean spirits. This should be of paramount concern because Wilson was not only the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, but also the man who wrote the 12 Steps.
Because there are so many movies, television shows, and novels glorifying communication with the spirit world, many in the Body of Christ may be unaware how fiercely the Lord our God forbids attempts to contact the dead.
“There shall not be found among you…a medium or a spiritist or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10, 11, 12)
Why does the Lord declare people who do such things “detestable?” Because they have turned to a spiritual source other than the Lord God. This is a clear indication of a complete lack of Fear of the Lord. In addition, it is never the dead that are contacted but, rather, deceitful spirits posing as the dead. These spiritualistic practices therefore simultaneously disrespect the Lord and place those who undertake them at risk.
Examined over several decades, it is clear A.A. cofounder Bill Wilson repeatedly and willingly gave himself over to familiar spirits. A.A. historian Ernest Kurtz notes, “So profound was Bill’s immersion in this area that he at times confused the terms ‘spiritualism’ and ‘spirituality.’”
“As for the person who turns to mediums and spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My Face against that person and will cut him off from his people.” (Leviticus 20:6)
In PASS IT ON, A.A.’s official biography of Bill Wilson, Lois Wilson recounts some of her husband’s experiences of 1941. Saturday was generally the scheduled day for these psychic adventures. “Bill would lie down on the couch. He would ‘get’ these things. He kept doing it every week or so. Each time, certain people would ‘come in.’ Sometimes, it would be new ones, and they’d carry on some story.”
So, “every week or so,” Wilson would open himself to this entity (or entities), and “certain people would ‘come in.’” Today this is known as channeling. Author and A.A. apologist Dick B. has written of Wilson’s spiritualism, but gives it no emphasis as a factor in the origin of either A.A. or the 12 Steps.
Writer Matthew J. Raphael is far less coy. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous himself, Raphael observes, “it might be said for the cofounders at least, A.A. was entangled with spiritualism from the very beginning.”
Raphael explains, “Wilson himself seems to have been an ‘adept,’ that is, ‘gifted’ in the psychic sense; and he served as a medium for a variety of ‘controls,’ some of them recurrent. ‘Controls,’ in the lingo of spiritualism, are the discarnate entities who seem to usurp a medium’s identity and literally speak through him or (far more usually) her. Sometimes a control answers questions; sometimes a spirit seems to materialize.”
One of the most beloved pieces of 12 Step literature is the collection of essays, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written by Wilson in the 1950s. This popular book is often called, simply, the “12X12.” While working on it, Wilson exchanged letters with Father Ed Dowling, a Catholic priest Bill often looked to for advice. In his letter of July 17, 1952, the A.A. cofounder informs Dowling he is receiving help with the book from the spirit world.
Wilson writes, “One turned up the other day calling himself Boniface. Said he was a Benedictine missionary and English. Had been a man of learning, knew missionary work and a lot about structures. I think he said this all the more modestly but that was the gist of it. I’d never heard of this gentleman but he checked out pretty well in the Encyclopedia. If this one is who he says he is—and of course there is no way of knowing—would this be licit contact in your book?”
On July 24, 1952, Father Dowling responds, “Boniface sounds like the Apostle of Germany. I still feel, like MacBeth, that these folks tell us the truth in smaller matters in order to fool us in larger. I suppose that is my lazy orthodoxy.”
In his August 2, 1952 letter, Wilson writes back, “…the spook business is no longer any burning issue as far as I am concerned.” But then, Wilson casually mentions, “Without inviting it, I still sometimes get an intrusion such as the one I described in the case of the purported Boniface.”
Bill Wilson, without knowing it, was paying the price for reaching out to unclean and lying spirits. The Lord had “set My Face against” him. (Leviticus 20:6) The Lord, who is a consuming fire, had found Wilson, ever the rebel against Christ, “detestable.” (Deuteronomy 18:12)
To some, this was long evident. Henrietta Seiberling, the woman who first introduced the A.A. cofounders to one another in 1935, had likely been aware of Bill Wilson’s unholy activities for years. While she had never particularly liked him, her July 31, 1952 letter resonates with her horror and disgust over his spiritual descent.
She writes of Wilson, “He imagines himself all kinds of things. His hand ‘writes’ dictation from a Catholic priest, whose name I forget, from the 1600 period who was in Barcelona, Spain—again, he told Horace Crystal he was completing the works that Christ didn’t finish, and according to Horace he said he was a reincarnation of Christ. Perhaps he got mixed in whose reincarnation he was. It looks more like the works of the devil but I could be wrong. I don’t know what is going on in that poor deluded fellow’s mind.”
“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…” (Romans 1:28)
According to PASS IT ON, Bill Wilson considered that “spiritistic matters were no mere parlor game. It’s not clear when he first became interested in extrasensory phenomena; the field was something that Dr. Bob and Anne Smith were also deeply involved with. Whether or not Bill initially became interested through them, there are references to séances and other psychic events in the letters Bill wrote to [wife] Lois during that first Akron summer with the Smiths, in 1935.”
Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob engaged in these practices starting in 1935. The 12 Steps were written in 1938. PASS IT ON actually raises the possibility that Wilson may have been introduced to these activities through Dr. Bob and his wife, Anne. Perhaps so, but it is clear all three were participating in séances (and other activities) during the same period they were involved with the pseudo-Christian Oxford Group. This is significant because the cofounders’ attendance at Oxford Group meetings has long been misrepresented as evidence of the Christian origin of Alcoholics Anonymous.
For those who have not read Dick B.’s books portraying the 12 Steps as Christian, Dick B. works very hard to show Bill Wilson’s biblical influences, his reliance on Reverend Sam Shoemaker, and so on. Since Wilson was not a Christian himself, Dick B. for years presented a “12-Steps-are-Christian-by-osmosis” approach.
In the last few years, however, Dick B. has decided to portray Bill Wilson as a Christian!
Francis Hartigan was the secretary for Lois Wilson, Bill’s wife, for thirteen years. He had many conversations with Lois about Bill. He writes, “[A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson's] belief in God might have become unshakeable, but he could never embrace any theology or even the divinity of Jesus, and he went to his grave unable to give his personal idea of God much definition. In this sense, he was never very far removed from the unbelievers.” (Bill W., by Francis Hartigan, pg. 123) (Bold mine)
Here is how PASS IT ON describes Bill Wilson and the arrival of the 12 Steps. “As he started to write, he asked for guidance. And he relaxed. The words began tumbling out with astonishing speed. He completed the first draft in about half an hour, then kept on writing until he felt he should stop and review what he had written.”
According to PASS IT ON, Wilson asked for “guidance” as he began writing. But guidance from what? The unsaved Wilson was eager to receive messages and leadings from the spirit world. We see this in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
We see in the 1940s that Wilson allowed unclean spirits to speak through him. We know from Wilson’s 1952 letter to Father Ed Dowling that the book, ‘Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions’ was influenced by a spirit called Boniface. How many more, then, of Wilson’s books and articles were demonically guided? Some? None? All?
One thing is certain. It is virtually impossible that a man engaged in practices the Lord finds so “detestable” that He promises to “set My Face against that person” could have been given these 12 Steps by Jesus Christ. (Deut. 18:10-12 and Lev. 20:6)
T.A. McMahon, Editor of the Berean Call, writes, “A.A.’s official biography indicates Bill Wilson received the details of the 12 Steps through spirit dictation. Does anyone see a simple, idolatrous problem here?”
McMahon then addresses the well meaning effort to offer “Christ centered” 12 Step support groups. “But what about evangelicals just using the methodology the familiar spirit gave to Bill Wilson? Simple again: God condemns the source, and the approach is contrary to the way He wants to transform our lives. Furthermore, why turn to such a spiritually toxic system? Where are the evangelical pastors’ heads in this?”
The evangelical pastors’ heads have been in books by Dick B., books which tend to downplay or ignore the many anti-Biblical ingredients that went into the simmering, sulphurous creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. In this article we have been examining spiritualism and the 12 Steps. We could just as easily point out A.A.’s other aberrant roots: the New Thought heresies, the swiss-cheese theology of the Oxford Group, Dr. Bob’s Masonic background, or even the dangerous meditative practices of Oxford Group/early Alcoholics Anonymous.
Okay, then should Christians even attend groups? Absolutely. We call them “Bible Studies.” A strong church can do much to help alcoholics and their families. Bondage to alcohol is no light thing. Our mistake has been to seek worldly and unholy solutions, even attempting to “Christianize” them, rather than relying on prayer, the Word of God, and the fellowship of the saints.
- Alcoholics Anonymous Co-founders Were Not Christians,
- Dick B., Promotional for The Conversion of Bill W.
- Ernest Kurtz, Not-God, pg. 136
- PASS IT ON, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., pg. 278-79
- Matthew J. Raphael, Bill W. and Mr. Wilson, pg. 159
- Ibid., pg. 159
- Robert Fitzgerald, S.J., The Soul of Sponsorship, pg. 59
- Ibid., pg. 59
- Robert Fitzgerald, S.J., The Soul of Sponsorship, pg. 61
- Ibid., pg. 61
- Henrietta Seiberling, 7/31/52 letter,
- PASS IT ON, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., pg. 275
- PASS IT ON, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., pg. 198
- T.A. McMahon, The Berean Call Newsletter
The A.A. history articles:
LSD for “influx of God’s grace”: click_here_to_read
Does A.A. contradict the Bible? READ
Alcoholics Anonymous Co-Founders Were Not Christians: READ
Early A.A. Heresy: READ
Alcoholics Anonymous and Contemplative Spirituality: READ
Hard Truth About Alcoholics Anonymous: READ
Does Christ teach what A.A. teaches?
“We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of the Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men. When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God.” –From the “Big Book,” the A.A. “bible,” pg.46-47 (Bold mine)
Christ tells us: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is BROAD that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” (Matthew 7:13)
Yet, the A.A. Big Book (the A.A. “bible”) again makes a direct reference to this spiritual Broad Highway: “If our testimony helps sweep away prejudice, enables you to think honestly, encourages you to search diligently within yourself, then, if you wish, you can join us on the Broad Highway. With this attitude you cannot fail. The consciousness of your belief is sure to come to you.” (pg. 55) (Bold mine)
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is BROAD that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” (Matthew 7:13)