The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous
and the Twelve Steps

Chapter 15: Sam Shoemaker Quits

Sam Shoemaker
Meanwhile, another crisis was brewing: Buchman was losing his old friend Sam Shoemaker, a fellow evangelical minister. The two of them had been working closely together ever since meeting way back in the early days, in 1918, in China, and Shoemaker had acted as Buchman's right-hand man and the American head of the Oxford Group movement for more than 20 years. But Shoemaker was increasingly finding that he could not follow Buchman's lead any longer. He was alienated by the new direction which MRA was taking. He felt that MRA was turning into a religious sect in its own right, rather than being just a spiritual adjunct to other churches, like the Oxford Group Movement had claimed to be. Shoemaker felt that MRA had chosen a path which seemed more and more to dissociate it from the Christian churches and a New Testament orientation.

In other words, Frank Buchman had abandoned Christianity and was just making up his own religion.

Sam Shoemaker was right — go re-read all of those 'principles' and tenets and practices of Buchmanism again, and you will not see the words "Jesus" or "Christ" in them anywhere. The words "Jesus", "Christ", and "Christianity" were used as decorations in a few slogans and speeches, but Buchman's dedication to Christ seems to have been little more than that. Buchman could, and did, switch from promoting "Christianity" to promoting a non-Christian generic "morality" or "spirituality" with ease. As one critic, Rev. H. A. Ironside, pointed out, all of the tenets and practices of Buchmanism would still be possible even if Jesus Christ had never been born.

In addition, Frank Buchman maintained that any Oxford Group member's current Guidance and Confession was just as informative and as authoritative as the stories in the Gospels, which implied that Buchman was assigning himself a position equal to that of the Biblical saints and prophets, or even Jesus Christ himself.

Early on, the Oxford Groups and Moral Re-Armament had claimed to be only an extension of Christianity, or a re-establishment of "First Century Christian Fellowship", but it was really something of Frank Buchman's own invention — something that was in many ways heretical. Sam Shoemaker explained,

"When the Oxford Group was, on its own definition, a movement of vital personal religion, working within the churches to make the principles of the New Testament practical as a working force today we fully identified ourselves with it," declared the Rev Shoemaker. "Certain policies and points of view, however, have arisen in the development of Moral Re-Armament about which we have had increasing misgivings."
Inside Buchmanism: an independent inquiry into the Oxford Group Movement and Moral Re-Armament, Geoffrey Williamson, page 210.

The old talk of "winning people to Christ" was dropped. MRA was now held out as something acceptable to people of any race or creed.33 Where the Oxford Group had been more religious, MRA was more political. Buchman even traveled to India, where he declared that MRA was quite compatible with Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.

...MRA [Moral Rearmament or the Oxford Group] must, therefore, be so projected in India that it would not seem to the most devout Hindu or Moslem to be just another Christian mission. So we find that in MRA propaganda designed for the oriental market there is practically no mention of Christianity: Christ, if named at all, is sandwiched unobtrusively between Gautama the Buddha and Mahatma Ghandhi; the suggestion is that, whatever your faith, you will be the better — a better Hindu or Buddhist or Moslem — for accepting MRA's rule of life; and this rule of life, so far as it is theistic at all, is consistent ... with a relatively undogmatic pantheism.
The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965, page 163.

And Buchman...

...saw no inconsistency in saying that MRA had "the answer ... that unites the Moslem with all men who truly live their faith" and that the Moslem nations could be "a girder of unity for the whole world," while he was at the same time assuring his less broad-minded brethren in the Ministerium of Pennsylvania that his teaching was based entirely on that of Luther.
The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965, page 177.

Frank Buchman meets Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India

Sam Shoemaker was not the only one to see Frank Buchman's divergence from mainstream Christianity. In 1954, Geoffrey Williamson reported that:

      In practice, campaigns waged since the second world war have been of a political character. In place of "patriotism," which served well enough for a motive during the war years, the Buchmanites glibly turned to cries of "an overarching ideology," or a "supernational ideology," or an "ideology superior to Communism or any other -ism"! Or a "united ideology of Inspired Democracy."
      The old talk of "winning people in Christ" has been dropped. MRA is now held out as something acceptable for people of any race or creed.
      It is not in my power to unravel all this. I am simply stating the facts as I found them. In the bookshop at Mountain House I found a leaflet by Peter Howard entitled The Press in an Ideological Age. Here is an extract:

      We are living in an ideological age. This is big news. The battle is no longer only for economic and social reform, for wages and profits; it is no longer a battle for the control of territory or empire, but it is a battle to decide what ideas will capture the hearts and mobilize the wills of the masses, right across the world.

      And in another leaflet by Bill Jaeger, called How to Change a Marxist, I found this:

      If every Marxist can change a capitalist, and every capitalist can change a Marxist, then we can change the world, and that is the programme of Moral Re-Armament.

      And yet another, on How to Change Capitalists, by Garrett Stearly, contained this:

      How to change capitalists! Some people think it is a very difficult thing. I had supper last night with a gentleman who has been in touch with capitalists all his life. He was very sceptical about whether they could ever change. Yet it is not really very difficult. It is like elephant-hunting. You have to make a lot of preparations, but when you meet an elephant, and you know how to shoot, you can hit the target.

      During my stay at Caux I amassed a great collection of leaflets and pamphlets. They were filled with the same sort of stuff. Thousands of words about "ideology"; but not one mention of "the advancement of the Christian religion."
Inside Buchmanism: an independent inquiry into the Oxford Group Movement and Moral Re-Armament, Geoffrey Williamson, pages 159-160.

Roy Livesey, an English author and former MRA member, reported the same thing:

It must be said that I look in vain in around one hundred Oxford Group and MRA publications on my shelf and find little help to point the way to salvation....
Twelve Steps to the New Age, Roy Livesey, (Bury House Books, 1995 — an unpublished manuscript), pages 21-22.
Also see:
Occult Invasion, John Hunt, page 299.

Many years later, when Frank Buchman died in 1961, the President of the United Lutheran Church in America, Dr. Franklin Clark Fry, criticized the MRA movement as "not Christ-centered" and said of Buchman that his connection with the United Lutheran Church had been "only minimal".89

While Frank Buchman was moving away from any specific talk about Jesus Christ or Christianity, so was Bill Wilson. Individual Alcoholics Anonymous members will still occasionally claim that A.A. is "Christian", or "based on the Bible", but Bill Wilson carefully avoided making any such claims. Rather, in 1938 he claimed that A.A. was compatible with any and all religions.

Those having religious affiliations will find nothing here disturbing to their beliefs or ceremonies. There is no friction among us over such matters.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 2, There Is A Solution, page 28.
Originally written in late 1938.

And like Frank Buchman, Bill Wilson claimed that his program was quite acceptable to Buddhists. In his official history of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill claimed that he received this letter from a Presbyterian minister who was doing missionary work in the Far East:

      We took A.A.'s Twelve Steps over to the largest Buddhist monastery in this province. We showed them to the priest at the head of it. After he had finished looking over the Twelve Steps, the monk said, "Why, these are fine! Since we as Buddhists don't understand God just as you do, it might be slightly more acceptable if you inserted the word 'good' in your Steps instead of 'God.' Nevertheless, you say in these Steps that it is God as you understand Him. That clears up the point for us. Yes, A.A.'s Twelve Steps will certainly be accepted by the Buddhists around here."
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes Of Age, William G. Wilson, page 81.

But note how Bill had the Buddhist priest using Bill's usual wording, "...we as Buddhists don't understand God..." Bill routinely claimed that anyone who disagreed with him about religious matters didn't understand God, and was "prejudiced" and "confused about theological terminology"...

It seems to me that the Buddhist priest would be more likely to say that Buddhists do not believe in the existence of any supernatural omnipotent being who will magically grant your wishes by pulling puppet strings and changing reality to suit you. So Steps 2, 3, 7, and 11, where the A.A. believers demand miracles from God, cannot make much sense to Buddhists. If they weren't so polite, they would laugh out loud at such childish Santa Clause spirituality.

There was also a problem with power politics, the gradual take-over of the facilities of Shoemaker's church, Calvary House in New York, by MRA, which MRA was using as its American national headquarters. Through 1940 and 1941, Shoemaker tried to resolve these issues with Buchman, but seems to have been ignored. Finally, in the closing months of 1941, Calvary Church asked MRA to vacate the premises of Calvary House. And that was that.

The Group were asked to cease using their national headquarters which then formed part of the Calvary Episcopal Church in New York. The request was all the more shattering because it came from the Rev Samuel Shoemaker, one of Buchman's earliest American adherents.
Inside Buchmanism: an independent inquiry into the Oxford Group Movement and Moral Re-Armament, Geoffrey Williamson, pages 209-210.

But Sam Shoemaker stays in the story of A.A.: he is the same minister as Bill Wilson mentions repeatedly in the Big Book and in various A.A. history books. He is the same Rev. Shoemaker as attended the 20th anniversary Alcoholics Anonymous convention. Rev. Shoemaker was essentially Bill's minister, and the two grew closer together for both having left, willingly or unwillingly, Buchman's organization.

TIME, Monday, Nov. 24, 1941

Less Buchmanism

Buchmanism's recent disastrous decline in both Britain and America was highlighted this month when it lost both its U.S. headquarters and its chief U.S. exponent. Rector Samuel Moor Shoemaker of Manhattan's Calvary Episcopal Church did this double job by ousting the cult from his parish house and declaring that "after careful thought and prayer" he himself had quit the movement because of his "increasing misgivings."

Dr. Shoemaker's misgivings are not the first that have been felt about tony Evangelist Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman, who has led a series of hit-&-run house-party revivals, known successively as "Buchmanism," "A First Century Christian Fellowship," "The Oxford Group" and "Moral Re-Armament (MRA)." All have a free-&-easy panacea, best summed up in MRA's California drive last year: "You don't join anything, you don't pay anything, the idea is that you begin living the MRA standards."

One of these standards, "absolute honesty," British Humorist A. P. Herbert hoisted with devastating effect in the House of Commons last month by quoting Frank Buchman's varying entries in Who's Who between 1928 and 1939. Sample Buchman claim he riddled: "studied at Cambridge University 1921-22." That debate was a Waterloo for Buchmanism. Its 172 followers in Parliament (the fruit of two years' intensive lobbying) were all set to protest Labor Minister Ernest Bevin's refusal to exempt the Group's lay evangelists from military service. When Herbert and Bevin got through, not one of the 172 cared to reply.

Since then, secessions from the Group have landslided in Britain. Example: Sir Patrick Joseph Henry Hannon, industrialist, member of Parliament, ardent Group sympathizer. Last week Sir Patrick derided Buchmanite claims to have settled three impending work stoppages in the Midlands by urging Buchmanite principles on management and labor. Sir Patrick investigated, decided that the trouble had been cured by "sordid means like better pay and better hours."

In the U.S. Evangelist Buchman is losing followers not only through this recent setback in Britain but because many Buchmanites, including Dr. Shoemaker, now believe that he wants to form an independent sect. He has abandoned his onetime claim that Buchmanism simply makes Baptists better Baptists, Catholics better Catholics, etc. Result: he is rapidly losing the active churchmen he had in his ranks, recruiting few new members from the churches.

One tip-off on the Group's tobogganing is that publicity-wise Groupers, who for years not only welcomed but pursued the press, have lately avoided reporters like the plague both in Britain and the U.S. Evangelist Buchman, who is now trying to convert Maine to MRA, last week dodged correspondents everywhere he went. MRA has had little luck in Maine since its advent there last June. The general Down East reaction to its smooth, eupeptic preachers: "What's the catch?"
TIME magazine, Nov. 24, 1941

Marcus Bach reported on the decline of MRA:

It was a race to remake the world, and Buchman lost. Wherever MRA was strong, war's threat was stronger. Before December first, peace was broken in England where MRA had been a morale-builder, a fostering mother in the years of crisis. MRA's idealistic dream of "bridges between nations" was being swept away. The strategist for souls saw Europe breaking in his hands, while vicious rumors arose to taunt him. Chamberlain, who had believed in MRA, was disgraced. He had trusted Hitler too much. Out of the failure of the tragicomic Munich appeasement, Buchman's words bounced back. What did he mean when he said, "I thank God for a man like Hitler"? Secessions from the group reached landslide proportions. Was he a Nazi sympathizer?
They Have Found A Faith, by Marcus Bach, pages 154-155.

In 1941, the You-Can-Defend-America Campaign diffused into the School for Home Defense in Maine. In 1942 it became the Midwestern Industrial Morale-Building Campaign. These activities drew little attention from the press. The ranks of MRA had thinned; prominent names had disappeared; the beloved disciple, Samuel M. Shoemaker, had forsaken his master. The New York rector had been attracted to the movement because of its emphasis on vitalized personal religion. But after charging that the Buchmanites were listening to the voice of Frank rather than the voice of God, he requested that they vacate the parish house near Gramercy Park that had long served as national headquarters.
They Have Found A Faith, by Marcus Bach, pages 155-156.

Among the big names that disappeared was Senator Harry S Truman, who had occasionally been a vocal booster of Buchman's evangelism, and had also helped the Buchmanites to dodge the draft.

The Candidates & Their Churches

The Trumans. A member of the Grandview (Mo.) Baptist Church since his youth, Candidate Truman was once interested enough in Buchmanism to speak twice at Oxford Group meetings. He now disclaims any interest in the Oxford Group, has never met Founder Frank Buchman.
TIME magazine, Monday, Aug. 14, 1944

The faithful Buchmanite Garth Lean had a ready explanation for Truman's defection: Truman had to "drop all connections with any other groups, however worthwhile" as a condition of getting the Vice Presidential nomination in 1944, he says.84

(There is, of course, another likely explanation. When President Roosevelt's staffers were vetting Senator Truman and carefully examining his past while considering him as a possible Vice-Presidential candidate, they might have noticed that Truman was far too chummy with a certain religious leader who was far too chummy with high-ranking Nazis... And when they told Truman about the real background of his Moral Re-Armament friends, he probably said something like, "Oops!", or some of those choice 4-letter words for which he was famous, and immediately decided not to have anything more to do with those MRA guys...)

And of course the Buchmanites minimized and denied Sam Shoemaker's defection. They tried to explain away Sam's quitting the cult as merely a small disagreement over territory and objectives:

Logan Roots, the retired Primate of China, now working full-time with Buchman, gave his own explanation of this development. 'The simple issue,' he said, 'is that Shoemaker has initiated a new parish policy whereby he felt the parish was the prime objective. Buchman, true to his twenty-year-old definition of the Oxford Group as a programme of life issuing in personal, social, racial, national and supernational change, felt the work could not be limited to the confines of a parish but must give itself and its work to every parish and every denomination, and that if the parish would rightly see it the Church could really be a focal centre to save the world.'
Garth Lean, On the Tail of a Comet: The Life of Frank Buchman, page 304.

The MRA leader Garth Lean declared in his biography On the Tail of a Comet: The Life of Frank Buchman that Sam Shoemaker ultimately rejected Buchmanism because "he didn't want to grow out of his cocoon", rather than because Shoemaker felt that Buchman was abandoning Christianity.95 Lean also gave a rather paranoid explanation of the split — It was caused by some "personal recriminations against Frank surfacing...". (What recriminations?) Then Lean wrote that Frank Buchman moved out of Calvary House not because he had been ordered to by Rev. Shoemaker, but rather just because his doctor advised it. Then Garth Lean cast Frank Buchman in a noble light, making him into a long-suffering saint:

For Buchman the rupture was a personal sorrow. He had seen it coming, as personal recriminations against him within the Calvary House community had begun to surface during the spring. These difficulties caused his health to deteriorate, and his doctor had him moved from Calvary House into the country. 'His great concern', writes the doctor, 'was not his health but his friend... which caused him great agony of spirit, yet without any word of bitterness or resentment. One day I found him relaxed, and his face shone. It was apparent something tremendous had happened to him. He said he had prayed all night for his friend... "I will live unity," he said to me. "Tell everyone that."'
Garth Lean, On the Tail of a Comet: The Life of Frank Buchman, page 305.

And Frank Buchman also declared:

'They say there has been a split between us. Not a split, but there's always been a splinter... I can't raise any feeling against him. My temperature does not rise an inch.' To one friend in Calvary Church who wrote asking whether he should cut his association with Shoemaker, Buchman replied that he must certainly not do so, as Shoemaker would need his support more than ever.
Garth Lean, On the Tail of a Comet: The Life of Frank Buchman, page 305.

That's so outrageously arrogant and sanctimonious that it is downright funny: "Now that Rev. Sam Shoemaker has finally seen through Frank Buchman's phony game, Shoemaker will need the Buchmanites' help more than ever."
It's also a textbook case of Denial and Reversal of Reality.

Also notice the narcissistic denial of feelings:
'...something tremendous had happened to him. He said he had prayed all night for his friend..."I will live unity," he said to me. "Tell everyone that."'
"I can't raise any feeling against him. My temperature does not rise an inch."

Narcissists simply cannot handle intense feelings which might cause their facade of bliss, serenity, and tranquility to crack. Dr. Alexander Lowen wrote:

The need to project and maintain an image forces the person to prevent any feeling from reaching consciousness that would conflict with the image.
Narcissism, Denial of the True Self, Alexander Lowen, M.D., page 48.

The narcissist faces the risk of being overwhelmed by feelings and going wild, crazy, or mad, should his defense of denial break down. This is especially true of anger. Every narcissist is afraid of going crazy, because the potential for insanity is in his personality. This fear reinforces the denial of feeling, creating a vicious circle.
Narcissism, Denial of the True Self, Alexander Lowen, M.D., page 155.

And Frank Buchman continued to maintain that mask of serenity. Four pages later, Garth Lean wrote:

Despite the growing tensions over the question of the call-up Buchman said at this time, 'I am living in a zone of calm.'
Garth Lean, On the Tail of a Comet: The Life of Frank Buchman, page 309.

Sam Shoemaker gets the credit for originating the "Act As If" and "Fake It Until You Make It" practice that is popular in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous circles. Note that Shoemaker invented that clever persuasion technique to help in the religious conversion of doubtful newcomers, not to help anyone to quit drinking or drugging:

"Act As If"
In 1954, the Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker wrote a story about an unfortunate who came to him admitting that he didn't believe in God and certainly didn't know how to pray. Shoemaker asked him to "try an experiment," as he had nothing to lose. He asked him to get down on his knees and say anything at all that came to his mind, addressing his thoughts to "The Unknown." He then asked if the man could read just one chapter from the Bible, from the book of John. Solely out of respect for Shoemaker, the man obliged, but fighting every step of the way. This went on for some time, until one day the man actually began praying to God and reading the Bible and other works on his own. The man eventually became a spiritual leader within his church. Shoemaker believed that this was possible because the man "acted as if he had faith" until faith came by accident, or "until there was an opening for God to come through."
      The slogan "act as if" has been used in AA circles ever since.
A Ghost In The Closet: Is There An Alcoholic Hiding?, Dale Mitchell, Page 194.

Shoemaker said that the man had "nothing to lose." That was not true at all. (That is quite a rationalization for joining a cult religion.) The man had a great deal to lose, starting with his mind and his sanity, and perhaps also his soul and his life.

Note how Shoemaker cleverly got the man praying to nothing but "The Unknown", just to get him accustomed to praying to something. (That is just like the A.A. technique of getting reluctant skeptics praying to a bedpan, a doorknob, or something as their "Higher Power".) But then "The Unknown" morphed into Sam Shoemaker's version of "God". A.A. uses the very same bait-and-switch trick today to effect the religious conversion of newcomers.

When people talk to me about God and religion and "rigorous honesty" and "absolute honesty", and then it turns out that they are putting on an act and faking it and deceiving me, and encouraging me to deceive others, I know then that there is something very wrong with their religion.

Act As If.
Fake It Until You Make It.

Next: What is Fascism? How fascist was Frank Buchman?

Previous: Dodging the Draft

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Last updated 15 October 2013.
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