The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous
and the Twelve Steps

Chapter 22: Partying in a Fairy-Tale Castle

After World War II, several wealthy Swiss citizens decided that Frank Buchman and his Moral Re-Armament needed a better headquarters than the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. They also liked the idea of Buchman having a European headquarters in Switzerland, so they raised a lot of money and bought a large unused resort hotel at Caux, Switzerland, complete with three hotel buildings, and had it refurbished, using a lot of volunteer MRA labor.

"Mountain House", the main building of the MRA center at Caux, Switzerland

In July 1946, the first World Assembly for Moral Re-Armament to be held in Europe after the war was staged at "Mountain House" in Caux, Switzerland. It was attended by 2,500 people from twenty-six nations. After that, Assemblies were held there yearly, growing in size and scope for a while, with the anti-Communist note being sounded more strongly year after year.

Peter Howard arrives at Caux after World War II, 28 July 1946
Peter Howard is the tallest, left-most, man in the picture.
Frank Buchman is in the background to the right, behind the flagstaff.

The participants at the first MRA World Assembly at Caux, 1946

Interior of "Mountain House" (The Grand Hotel), Caux, Switzerland

In the Grand Hotel, there were two dining rooms, the large dining room for everybody in general, and "the small dining room", which was for Frank Buchman and a few hand-picked, favored, table guests. The best food always went to "Frank's table". The best jam in the kitchen was labeled "For Frank's table".

Interior of "Mountain House" (The Grand Hotel), Caux, Switzerland

"Bunny" Austin, the former tennis player and Frank Buchman's true-believer convert, described Buchman's treatment of his kitchen staff like this:

To Frank a man's love of God and his fellow man should be reflected in the perfection of all he did; and he used the facilities of Globin's chalet to train the women in the preparation, cooking and serving of meals. If everything was not done perfectly, Frank set out to discover the reason. One day the soup was burned. Investigation revealed that one cook had been jealous of another.
      One day a woman came to tea. The tea was served luke warm. Frank gathered together those responsible for serving the tea. Tea less than piping hot was never served again.
      The meals were hand-served by the women. This had to be done with efficiency, speed and grace. No plates were allowed to be stacked.
Frank Buchman As I Knew Him, H. W. 'Bunny' Austin, page 83.

This staged photograph of the kitchen staff at the Caux, Switzerland headquarters of MRA shows a more cheerful scene than that which Bunny Austin described.

301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Diagnostic Criteria:

  • has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • ... They often usurp special privileges and extra resources that they believe they deserve because they are so special.
DSM-IV-TR == Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision; Published by the American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DC. 2000; pages 658-661.

And we could add, "Narcissists feel entitled to a first-class lifestyle, always getting the best of everything, getting nothing less than perfect food and perfect service..."

But Buchman, now as always, was unpredictable. He shook with rage one day because a cook had once again produced tough meat...
On the Tail of a Comet: The Life of Frank Buchman, Garth Lean, pages 294-295.

The theater inside "Mountain House" (The Grand Hotel), Caux, Switzerland

Geoffrey Williamson concluded his study of Frank Buchman and his organization by writing:

      The façade which Buchmanism now presents to the world is undeniably impressive. But I cannot help comparing it with that of Valle Crucis Abbey, in North Wales. There is it possible for a visitor to approach from one angle and to find himself confronted by a towering edifice. He rings the bell, bolts are drawn, a small door opens — and he steps through into space! Behind the noble façade lies nothing but a tangle of long grass and a few scattered ruins.
      So it is with Buchmanism. The façade of the World Assembly is tremendously impressive; but behind it one finds glorified YMCA meetings and juvenile amateur theatricals putting over the uplift. Born in college close and cultivated on the campus, Buchmanism has never quite grown up. An aura of adolescence pervades many of its activities. One gets the impression that, for all their sincerity, the Buchmanites are playing at evangelism and dabbling in world politics.
      [The World Assembly at] Caux [Switzerland] is held up as a microcosm of what life could be if everybody changed. But it seems to me fallacious. Carried to a logical conclusion the system would be unworkable. If everyone threw up his normal occupation, feeling an urge to live life as it is lived at Mountain House, there would be chaos.
      Who, then, is to decide which citizens shall keep on working in the mines, in industry, or on the high seas?
      In a microcosm it can be made to appear very attractive. Little to do but feast, dash about in big cars, or sit back and be entertained by choirs — except for taking a turn at washing up or some other chore. It is a bubble that glistens brightly so long as enough good-hearted and generous people are willing to finance it all.
      But suppose, by some miracle, it could be carried to this logical conclusion, with all grades of workers agreeing to keep on at their jobs and to pool the fruits of their labors and to live on a share-and-share-alike basis. Doesn't that sound like Communism? Even if everyone agrees to call it "inspired democracy," it is hard to see where democracy comes in when there is no such thing as membership. No one belongs to anything. It is "only an organism." So no one has any choice. No one, that is, save a few men at the top.
      Too clever.
Inside Buchmanism; an independent inquiry into the Oxford Group Movement and Moral Re-Armament, Geoffrey Williamson, Philosophical Library, New York, c1954, pages 167-168.

Frank Buchman posing with "leading European industrialists" at Caux, Switzerland

Geoffrey Williamson concluded:

      ...there is another side to the "guidance" question. God, I am sure, never intended us to shuffle off all personal responsibility for our actions or to abandon personal effort. It may be very comfortable if you can convince yourself that there is no need to worry about anything any more — that God will guide and provide. But I can't accept such an easy way out. I don't believe that God will do anything for us that we are capable of doing for ourselves. It is when we are in extremity and powerless that He sometimes steps in.
*       *       *
      This brings me to a second point in Buchmanite lore which I cannot accept. I do not like their policy where young people are concerned.
      I am opposed to the regimentation of youth in any form, but religious regimentation seems to me to be most detestable of all. Of all the freedoms, freedom of worship is the most vital. Nothing but evil, I feel, can come from striving to foist ready-made ideas on young people before they are able to reason for themselves. Buchmanites may protest that they only seek to teach their young subjects to be virtuous and to respect the four absolute moral standards; but I am unmoved.   ...
      On their own evidence it is all too clear that some adults as well as children have, as a result of these teachings, developed something akin to religious mania. This is revealed in a completely false notion of "God-control" which leads them to cite examples of "guidance" which are palpably absurd.
      In a few generations the effect of such influences on susceptible people would be to produce a race of beings quite incapable of independent thought or of doing anything on their own initiative.
      On this count alone I reject Buchmanism as a softening influence. It is calculated to lead impressionable youngsters and weak-minded adults to abandon all self-reliance and to accept no responsibility for their actions. At best the habit of seeking daily "guidance" in everything can only induce a smug complacency in the practitioner who in time must shake off all sense of personal obligations and be content to "leave everything to God."
Inside Buchmanism; an independent inquiry into the Oxford Group Movement and Moral Re-Armament, Geoffrey Williamson, Philosophical Library, New York, c1954, pages 220-221.

Alcoholics Anonymous still teaches the same theology today:

  • Let Go and Let God.
  • Turn It Over (to God).
  • "I Can't... God Can... I Think I'll Let Him."
  • "I Can't Handle It, God. I'll Give It To You."
— Popular A.A. slogans

And worst of all is Bill Wilson's teaching that self-reliance is the same thing as "self-will" and that is bad because it is going against "the Will of God".

Tom Driberg ended his book on Moral Re-Armament with these conclusions:

For — to sum up the main criticisms — MRA is irrational in its mystique and authoritarian in its methods; it rejects free discussion; it practises with insufficient discrimination the dangerous, and often deadly, doctrine that the end justifies the means; and, by seeming to proclaim the possibility of instant perfection, it raises hopes that cannot be fulfilled. In short, it is essentially non-Christian and anti-democratic.
The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965, pages 304-305.

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Last updated 21 April 2010.
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