The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous
and the Twelve Steps

Chapter 12: A Slogan a Day Keeps the Thinking Away

Speaking of "the usual MRA clichés", Frank Buchman also started the Alcoholics Anonymous practice of codifying great numbers of things in short, simplistic slogans.

Numerous slogans and thought-stopping language is a standard feature of many cults. Dr. Robert J. Lifton, who wrote a classic study of the Chinese Communist brainwashing techniques that were used on the American and British prisoners of war in North Korea during the Korean War, found that loaded language and thought-stopping clichés were an integral part of an effective program of thought control and coercive persuasion techniques. Such distorted language, slogans and mind-deadening clichés constrict thought, rather than enhance it, and make comprehension and communication more difficult by restricting what people can think, which makes slogans extremely useful for converting newcomers into unthinking cult members. A properly-indoctrinated cult member simply parrots slogans without having any real, original, intelligent, conscious thought behind his words.

Frank Buchman's slogans functioned in just such a manner. He had a great number of them, good for stopping intelligent thought in most any situation. Some of Buchman's slogans were pretty contrived, like:21, 25

  • "PRAY = Powerful Radiograms Always Yours"
  • "MRA = My Religion Active", or
  • "MRA = Make Religion Attractive"
  • "JESUS = Just Exactly Suits Us Sinners"
  • "FAITH = Forsaking All I Take Him"
  • "FAITH = For All I Trust Him"99
  • "When man listens, God speaks"
  • "No man can be wholly God-controlled who works alone."100
  • "Constipated Christians"
  • "A spiritual radiophone in every home"
  • "World-changing through life-changing"
  • "It's the banana that leaves the bunch that gets skinned."
    [A warning against quitting Frank Buchman's cult.]
  • "Crows are black the world over."
  • "If a man's got eye trouble, it's no use throwing eye medicine at him from a second-story window."
    [The explanation for the necessity of the Oxford Group style of one-on-one conversions.]83
  • "Don't throw eye medicine out of a second-story window."
  • "It is no good throwing eye medicine out of a second-storey window on to a crowd of people suffering from ophthalmia."102
  • "Don't forget that a hooked fish jumps, kicks, and runs."
    [Explaining how some people resisted the Oxford Group recruiting procedures.]83
  • "Every man a force not a field."
  • "Revival which continues in survival."
  • "Interesting sinners make compelling saints."
  • "All good cider comes from stinking apples."67
  • "Hate, confess, forsake, restore"
  • "Woo, Win, Warn"
  • "Brevity, Sincerity, Hilarity"
  • "Change! Unite! Fight!"91
  • "Win your argument, Lose your man."
  • "Confidence, Conviction, Confession, Conversion, Continuance"
  • "Sin Binds, Sin Blinds, Sin Deadens, Sin Multiplies."
  • "'I' is the middle letter in SIN."143
  • "A small sense of sin means a small sense of Christ; a great sense of sin means a great sense of Christ."144
  • "Only God-Controlled Men Will Make God-Controlled Nations!"25
  • "America Must Re-Arm Morally!"
  • "World Security Lies In God-Control!"
  • "God Has A Plan For Every Man!"
  • "The Day of Miracles Is Not Over!"
  • "Where God Guides, God Provides."
  • "There is enough in the world for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed."
  • "If everybody cares enough, and everybody shares enough, everybody will have enough."
  • "God in every heart will put the nations in the heart of God!"
  • "A person isn't completely changed until he changes someone else."
  • "New Men, New Nations, A New World!"
  • "God's great army without guns."
  • "Workers led by God can lead the world."
  • "Out of a million homes in touch with God will come a nation's peace."
  • "The answer to burning churches is the church aflame!"
  • "If you can't be good, be honest."
  • "The better the laundry, the cleaner the linen."
  • "When man listens, God speaks. When man obeys, God acts. When men change, nations change."
  • "So long as the desire for good exists, nothing can be genuinely bad."
  • "Every last man in America, in every last place in America, in every last situation in America, guided by God."
  • "The plus of the character is the plus that will change the world."
  • "The quality of the individual is the quality of the nation."
  • "Youth today is faced with the alternative of being fodder for war or fabric of a new world order."
  • "MRA means revolution for all politics."
  • "We must give ourselves for peace or we will automatically give ourselves for war."
  • "MRA, scientific medicine for the moral ills of the world."
  • "God has bound us together to reconcile this fighting world."
  • "Bridges from man to man, the whole round earth to span."
  • "The Oxford Group is not a new religion; it is religion anew."
  • "Suppose everybody cared enough, everybody shared enough, wouldn't everybody have enough?"29
  • "If you want the world to get straight, get straight yourself."30
  • "Everybody wants to see the other fellow changed. Every nation wants to see the other nation changed. But everybody is waiting for the other fellow to begin."30
  • "When I point my finger at my neighbor there are three fingers pointing back at me."98
  • "The Oxford Group believes that the ordinary person can do the extraordinary thing if he is in touch with God."30
  • "God spoke to the prophets of old. He may speak to you. God speaks to those who listen. God acts through those who obey."30
  • "Why not a spiritual radiophone in every home?"30
  • "Guidance or Guns."
  • "Guidance, Not Guns."
  • "We must listen to guidance or we will listen to guns."31
  • "The only sane people in an insane world are those guided by God."32
  • "Every employed and unemployed man employed in Moral Re-Armament."
  • "Only a new spirit in men can bring a new spirit in industry."
  • "New men, new homes, new industry, new nations, a new world."
  • "Only a spiritual revolution goes far enough to meet the needs of men and industry."
  • "The average man wants to see the other fellow honest, the other nation at peace with his own."
  • "The secret lies in that great forgotten truth that when man listens, God speaks; when man obeys, God acts; when men change, nations change."
  • "That power active in a minority can be the solvent of a whole country's problems."
  • " Leaders changed, a nation's thinking changed, a world at peace with itself."
  • "When Labor, Management and Capital become partners under God's guidance, then industry takes its true place in national life."
  • "God has a nation-wide programme that provides inspiration and liberty for all and anticipates all political programmes."
  • "People Are More Important Than Things."123

Bill Pittman noted that, "Such ready-made formulae for personal and social ills were very acceptable to many bewildered people who liked simple answers to problems they faced in themselves and others."23

Note that Buchman's simple-minded answer to the Nazis burning Jewish synagogues was merely to exhort people to religious fervor: "The answer to burning churches is the church aflame!"

And while Frank Buchman declared that "People are more important than things", his actions didn't show it. How about the Jewish people being more important than "things" like the Nazi Party?

When a clear-headed (not "changed") visitor heard Buchman repeat the slogan, "It's the banana that leaves the bunch that gets skinned" (declaring that people should not quit the Oxford Group), the still-thinking visitor answered, "But Frank, that's the whole purpose of a banana." Frank Buchman just laughed off the remark with a knowing smile.88

Walter Houston Clark commented,49

Such slogans, which he repeated again and again at House-parties, are probably a reasonably good indication of Buchman's intellectual stature. Yet one detects in them the shrewd sense of an advertiser of no mean ability. They suggest the popular evangelist, not the theologian. If one studies them, he will see how succinctly each one expresses special features of Group philosophy and emphasis.
      Some may be inclined to look upon Buchman's theological simplicity as a weakness. In a sense that is true, for this lack of intellectual emphasis has resulted in many persons failing to find ultimate satisfaction within the group... Furthermore, it is a source of danger. Yet on the other hand, it has also been a source of strength in directing attention to action, not thought. It has turned energies to changing people, not to explanations, and has given the movement a drive which might otherwise not have been possible. To the extent that this drive can be traced to Buchman's simple theology, we can say that the success of the movement owes something to it.
The Oxford Group; Its History and Significance, Walter Houston Clark, pages 110-112.

The eminent theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, whose Serenity Prayer would later gain fame and popularity in A.A. circles, criticized Frank Buchman's use of slogans by writing:

Several times Mr. Buchman has confessed that the word of God which he heard in his quiet hour was the slogan: 'An international network over spiritual live-wires,' whatever that may mean. In other words, the world is to be saved by a vulgar advertising slogan rather than by a genuine priestly and prophetic mediation of the judgement and the mercy of God upon a sinful world.
Christianity and Power Politics, Reinhold Niebuhr, in the chapter "Hitler and Buchman".

Such simple-minded slogan-slinging pervaded all of Buchman's social policies. Tom Driberg observed:

He [Buchman] was once asked to state in specific terms his 'programme' for India: his programme, not his hopes and aspirations, which no doubt most people would share. He replied: 'Empty hands will be filled with work, empty stomachs with food, and empty hearts with an idea that really satisfies. That is Moral Re-Armament for East and West.' It may be Moral Re-Armament for North and South, too, but it is not a programme, it is an incantation.
The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965, page 124.

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Last updated 30 June 2009.
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