AA: 'Varities of Religious Experience...

AA: 'Varities of Religious Experience'; William James

Posted in the Bellingham Forum

Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#1 Apr 22, 2012
"Varieties of Religious Experience" by William James is Alcoholics Anonymous 'Conference Approved' literature; cited in AA's "Big Book". I'm reading it again now, very interesting. Will make notes about it here soon.
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#2 Apr 22, 2012
Oopps..messed up the title..."Varieties".
Bruce Deile

Seattle, WA

#3 Apr 23, 2012
Paradoxism aside, he seems to begin with somewhat of a counter-argument citing Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Renan, and the phrase "je me'n fichisme", which is explained as meaning not to take anything in life too solemnly (pgs.36-37). The "all is vanity" state of mind.

I couldn't find anything from 1902 picturesque enough to illustrate the point, so to use a classic example a little more up to date, Jenny Rock shows us how ("You go girl!"):


Jenny Rock - Le sloopy

video by Jackretro
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#4 Apr 23, 2012
Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Renan; LSD and an exclamation point (!):

Jenny Rock

"Walking The Dog"

video by tikisong
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#5 Apr 23, 2012
From webpage "Central Texas District 5 Alcoholics Anonymous":

Did Bill Wilson use LSD?

Question: Is it true that A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson used LSD after he stopped drinking?

Answer: Yes, back when it was still legal in The United States and Canada, Bill used LSD in a clinical setting. At the time LSD was an experimental drug tried in many types of therapies. It was done in the company of Canadian pharmaceutical researchers who were investigating potential clinical uses for this new drug.

Bill first took LSD on August 29, 1956. According to Pass It On: The story of Bill Wilson and How the A.A. Message Reached the World, published by A.A. World Services, Inc., Bill was enthusiastic about his experience; he felt it helped him eliminate many barriers erected by the self, or ego, that stand in the way of one's direct experience of the cosmos and of God. He thought he might have found something that could make a big difference to the lives of many who still suffered.

Bill is quoted as saying:

It is a generally acknowledged fact in spiritual development that ego reduction makes the influx of God's grace possible. If, therefore, under LSD we can have a temporary reduction, so that we can better see what we are and where we are going — well, that might be of some help. The goal might become clearer. So I consider LSD to be of some value to some people, and practically no damage to anyone. It will never take the place of any of the existing means by which we can reduce the ego, and keep it reduced.

See pages 370 & 371 in Pass It On.
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#6 Apr 23, 2012


video by connanugo
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#7 Apr 24, 2012
I've begun this thread being silly. Will try and get serious with comments on 'Varieties...'. Just so happened to discover the Jenny Rock videos on YouTube yesterday. Can't resist...here's one more:

Jenny Rock - Le train pour Memphis - 1968

Funny (and don't miss seeing "Boum Boum Boum" either)!
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#8 Apr 30, 2012
This is a snippet of the "barbara s. reeves" review of 'Varieties...'on Amazon:

..."In his lecture on the sick soul, James describes Tolstoy's religious melancholy and "thirst for God." In his fifties, Tolstoy fell into a state of anhedonia which is characterized by an inability to enjoy the pleasures of life and the feeling that life is absurd and meaningless. He also delves into the divided self of St. Augustine, who notoriously said, "Lord give me chastity and continence - but not yet."


I also gleaned much twelve step philosophy from these pages. James included several examples of men being saved from drunkenness by conversion experiences much like Bill Wilson's. He lists case after case of men receiving instant peace upon surrendering their will to God after much struggling and resisting. This is step three in action - We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. Thus his description of letting go: "Passivity, not activity; relaxation, not intentness, should now be the rule.

Give up the feeling of responsibility, let go your hold, resign the care of your destiny to higher powers, be genuinely indifferent as to what becomes of it all, and you will find not only that you gain a perfect inward relief, but often also, in addition, the particular goods you sincerely thought you were renouncing." His description of confession as soul-cleansing is also a description of steps four, five, and ten. "For him who confesses, shams are over and realities have begun; he has exteriorized his rottenness." It's a shame the Protestants didn't keep this spiritual purification practice when they separated from the Catholic Church."...


"Higher powers"--I noticed that when reading it in the book as well. Maybe denotes James' pluralism. But the review (above) is thought provoking. Love the quote by Augustine--in fact, unfortunately that's been my position for many a year now, and remains so while reading 'Varieties'...unwilling to give up lust. But St. Augustine is quoted at length in that vein around page 169 and it's very honest and helpful reading.

The part of AA; 3rd step in review above: That is what really dogs me about it--that it comes across so absolutely; absolutism. Whereas a number of the personal stories James provides are of the "educational variety"--they happen over time, etc. AA points that out yet the pressure to make something happen when taking the 3rd step, as opposed to relaxing and letting go, was always a difficult thing for me in AA. Perhaps because I've held onto lust and not surrendered more, but the concept that you have to turn your life over to God, etc. appears more daunting to me than helpful such as letting go, etc.
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#9 Apr 30, 2012
Ooops--wrote that a little confusedly above...the snippet of barbara s. reeves review begins at "In his lecture", and then a paragraph or two was left out, and continues ending with "It's a shame the Protestants didn't keep this spiritual purification practice when they separated from the Catholic Church."...

My comment about the review follows that. And it's interesting that the one reference to "higher powers" by James is included in this prominent review linking it to AA. Because after many, many years in AA, I'd say the people involved in it are very much inclined to de-emphasize traditional religious concepts; so much so that it is in many ways unwelcome to those professing, or attempting to believe in, Christianity.

Like the bible being described as hijacked by fundamentalists, so AA appears to have been hijacked by pantheists or universalists, etc. There is much harassment that occurs on the group level and behind the scenes.
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#10 May 1, 2012
I'll try not to go into all that again about AA. It has helped much in staying sober, and much I agree with, but the harm experienced in AA has makes one wonder where the abusiveness comes from. Anyhow, the quote by Augustine about chastity refrred to in the above review--it doesn't appear in 'Varieties...'. Instead what is dwelt on is moving away from sin (lust), not so much as to chastity as it could also have been towards healthy sexuality(don't ask me what that is--I'd be the last person to answer). And the issue is not sexual orientation since any orientation can involve lust. Have explained before, hetero lust made me wonder if homo orientation was the answer, but met a homo who described his struggle with homo lust/controlling behaviours towards his (bi-sexual!) male partner. That conversation struck me in the forehead, as I realized no matter one's orientation, they can still be bedeviled by lust. So instead of saying, as someone recently posted on another thread title that they are a homosexual, I look at it as one may not be "a" anything...it may be one is many things. Yet no matter, the problem remains as to where and when does the willingness come to give up seeking satiation through lust (unhealthy sexuality)?
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#11 May 1, 2012
That's my intent on re-reading 'Varieties' anyways. Having been cut off from either church fellowship or AA fellowship through malicious gossip/persecution, it really comes down to getting right with God irregardless. And even though 'Varieties' is at times polytheistic, it has many, many good personal experiences described that are very thought provoking. Maybe it will help in getting my mind in the right direction.
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#12 May 3, 2012
Actually, it's probably better referred to as universalist or pluralist than polytheistic, since James states (this shouldn't be out of context): "...One might therefore be tempted to explain both the humility as to one's self...as results of the all-leveling character of theistic belief. But these affections are certainly not derivatives of theism. We find them in Stoicism, in Hinduism, and in Buddhism in the highest possible degree."...

I've never been interested in theology in the slightest, but it might be helpful to compare the terms pluralism with catholicism--they might have very similar meaning. Or they have a different take on the same, such as this quote (paraphrased) attributed to Victor Hugo in 'The Essential Victor Hugo'--A pantheist believes all is God; I believe God is all.
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#13 May 3, 2012
One other thought, and have posted this before, but happened to read a Promise Keepers pamphlet and in it they said something to the effect that Christian men refer to sexual sin (lust) as their biggest struggle in living a Christian life.

William James has conversion stories of some where temptation to all forms of sin were removed, others where only certain sins were completely removed (such as drinking alcohol excessively, etc.), and others where backsliding was reported, and a specific experience where a man was delivered from lust completely (the definition of lust I think to mean inordinately dwelling on sensual desires as opposed to healthy God-given sexual desire which is spontaneous).

It's pretty interesting, but having just recently finished that chapter of conversion stories, unable to recall if it explained what precipitated a full release (surrender to God), or what was ascribed to there being a full release from all temptations. That can't be in an absolutist sense, since all fall short even following conversion experiences, but it would be helpful to know how a full surrender experience came about as opposed to a semi-full surrender.

My desire for alcohol/drugs was completely removed around 7/18/85, but again, lust of the flesh wasn't. And it's only through knowing the emotional turmoil that can ensue from acting out on that lust that I've for the most part avoided promiscuity; otherwise I'm sure I'd have been or would be as promiscuous as possible (probably would have been a crack addict too had it been around before quitting alcohol/drugs in '85). That turmoil (from lustful relationships) is extremely difficult to live with without resorting to drinking to anesthetize (sp.?) the pain, so sobriety has helped to some degree in curbing that tendency. But in over 26 years, there hasn't been a complete experience of deliverance as cited by some of the stories that James recounts (and they're very convincing as being valid).
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#14 May 4, 2012
It's taking forever to read through 'Varieties..'. Thinking about it gets very complicated so my thoughts on this thread are not very clear. It seems to be bringing up the "conviction of sin", as described in the personal stories, but so far without the deliverance. Particularly as I'm already inclined to self centeredness and being self absorbed as a lonely outcast.

So will keep comments brief. And will only add right now that the book is helpful in that it really does address the solution to life being surrender to God.

When I did fully surrender to God in early sobriety, preoccupation with personal sins was no longer a problem. Even from the very beginning--when entering the Salvation Army Clitheroe treatment center in Anchorage in 1985 I was talking about how one of my biggest concerns was that I'd enjoyed relations with both men and women and so was unsure about which was my true sexual orientation. No counselor was able to resolve that problem, and there were diverse reactions to my being openly honest about the subject.

The only relief from it being a problem came, not from more relationships of either kind to figure things out, but from surrendering to God and no longer being self absorbed. The "problem" took care of itself.

'Varieties...' refers to Mother Theresa and St. Francis at some point, and wondered if they had problems that remained unsolvable until they entirely devoted themselves to helping others and found the "problems" were not so paramount after all. What happens though is I'm neither of those persons, rather more like the Underground Man (Dostoyevsky) hitting the wall of spiritual inertia instead. That's why I'm reading 'Varieties...'--hoping it will provide that spark of willingness and it grows form there.

Btw, to explain a little further. About that man I'd met at a gay AA meeting in 1992 (described in above post) who was struggling with lust/control issues concerning his relationship with a man that was "cheating on him" bi-sexually. I questioned him about his sexual orientation and he shared that he had no problem whatsoever with his orientation. That he was homosexual and didn't care what society thought about it. That he had no hangups in that regard whatsoever. What was troubling him was lust, jealousy and obsessiveness, and stalking his male partner, etc., etc. I told him I knew what he was experiencing because that's how I'd get when involved with a woman who was being unfaithful (or had refused to commit to a monogamous relationship)[except for the stalking--fortunately I'd not been obsessed to the point of stalking my girlfriend but generally the obsessiveness he was describing was the same]. I didn't get that way in homo relationships so concluded homo was my true orientation since I was more laissez-faire about it all. Little to no emotional turmoil. Anyhow, that's been the implication for so many years (from the gay side)--that everything would fall into place once I accepted my true orientation. Yet here was a man sharing that he was fully accepting of his homo orientation but was a mess due to those same bedeviling sins of lust, obsessiveness, etc.

Either person, no matter the details of their lust, needs deliverance from that torment. And I've not found any other solution than surrender to God.
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#15 May 5, 2012
He begins to reference Herbert Spencer ideas on pges. 324-325 ("survival of the fittest" credited to Spencer, not Darwin); on this webpage, he is shown in opposition to some of Spencer:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

2. Early Writings

“Remarks on Spencer's Definition of Mind as Correspondence”(1878)

Although he was officially a professor of psychology when he published it, James's discussion of Herbert Spencer broaches characteristic themes of his philosophy: the importance of religion and the passions, the variety of human responses to life, and the idea that we help to “create” the truths that we “register”(E, 21). Taking up Spencer's view that the adjustment of the organism to the environment is the basic feature of mental evolution, James charges that Spencer projects his own vision of what ought to be onto the phenomena he claims to describe. Survival, James asserts, is merely one of many interests human beings have:“The social affections, all the various forms of play, the thrilling intimations of art, the delights of philosophic contemplation, the rest of religious emotion, the joy of moral self-approbation, the charm of fancy and of wit — some or all of these are absolutely required to make the notion of mere existence tolerable;…”(E, 13). We are all teleological creatures at base, James holds, each with a set of a priori values and categories. Spencer “merely takes sides with the telos he happens to prefer”(E, 18).
Bruce Deile

Bellingham, WA

#16 May 5, 2012
I posted yesterday:

"Either person, no matter the details of their lust, needs deliverance from that torment. And I've not found any other solution than surrender to God."

Sustaining that surrender, or having it be so complete that lust is no longer a bedevilment, that is where I (and many Christian men referred to in the Promise Keepers pamphlet) differ with some of the stories of complete deliverance in 'Varieties...'.

It's an ongoing struggle of trying to avert places where temptation is incited, etc. Which, with regards to alcohol, is "doomed to fail" (AA Big Book describes)--one could go to the farthest reaches of Alaska yet an Eskimo could show up with a bottle. But regarding lust, what else can one do lacking complete deliverance? You can only attempt, however futilely it seems at times in this materialistic society, to avoid people, places, and things that trigger the lust. Recovering alcoholics are advised to avoid bars (unless they have a legitimate reason to be there), as in, "Don't go into the barbershop unless you want a haircut", etc. So, don't go to strip clubs, etc., etc. And hope for complete deliverance at some point. I guess.

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