The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous
and the Twelve Steps

Chapter 31:
Review of Garth Lean's book On The Tail Of A Comet

If you want a laugh, or want to barf, depending on your inner constitution, try this book: On the Tail of a Comet, The Life of Frank Buchman, by Garth Lean. This book is a total whitewash, and a complete glorification of Buchman. Rarely will you find such a piece of total garbage, 590 pages of it.

Garth Lean was a long-time member and true believer in the cult. Peter Howard mentions in Innocent Men (1941) that Garth Lean was instrumental in his conversion, and Geoffrey Williamson reported in his book Inside Buchmanism (1955) that fourteen years later, Garth Lean was still there, still selling Buchmanism to the newcomers.68 By then Garth Lean was a member of the Council of Management of Moral Re-Armament.69

The back cover of Lean's book reads in part, "This is also the story of a controversial Christian statesman who was once denounced as a secret Nazi agent subsidized by Goebbels, while being suspected of operating a super-spy network for British intelligence."
Question: Who, besides the author, and perhaps the book's hopeful publisher, ever suspected that Frank Buchman was really James Bond?

Then it gets worse inside the covers. If you were to believe half of the stuff in this book, you would have Frank cruising the world, talking to nothing but heads of state, and miraculously solving all of their problems.

For instance, according to this book, Frank Buchman single-handedly solved the perplexing massive unemployment problem that cursed Denmark in 1939, by asking people whether it was God's will for a fifth of the work force to be unemployed.
"No," was the answer.
"Then go home and tackle it," Frank said. Allegedly, the result was a national campaign, and overnight, new jobs were created and the whole country went back to work. The Danish people had all just been waiting for Frank Buchman to come and tell them what to do... (Pages 267-8.)
(Unfortunately, it was really Adolf Hitler who solved Denmark's unemployment problem, by invading the country and turning everybody into slave laborers...)

The photographs in the book show Buchman with a long list of royalty, heads of state, and other high-ranking officials. But someone forgot to include any good photographs of Hitler, Himmler, or Goebbels. The author rewrote the history before World War II, so that rather than praising Hitler, Buchman warns the USA and Britain of the coming dangers in the chapters, "Awakening Democracy" and "America Has No Sense of Danger." The Buchmanites explained Buchman's failure to convert Adolf Hitler into a nice guy by stating that Buchman never met Hitler; that the other Nazis, knowing how effective Buchman was at making saints out of sinners, blocked Buchman's attempts to see Hitler. The true believers didn't offer any explanations for the failure of Buchman to "change" Himmler or Goebbels.

Speaking of World War II, Garth Lean gave us a very distorted version of the flap over the MRA draft-dodgers. He talked about the lively debates in the Parliament, and told us that 174 members opposed drafting the Groupers, and then implied that just one British official — Minister of Labor Ernest Bevin — went off half-cocked and acted unreasonably in declaring that Oxford Group and MRA members would be drafted anyway. Garth Lean completely forgot to mention the minor detail that, after the lively debate, a majority of the House of Commons voted to deny the Oxford Group and Moral Re-Armament members exemptions from the draft. (Pages 298 to 303.)
That's the propaganda technique called "Lying by Omission".

And Buchman and his group weren't kicked out of Princeton in 1923, this author says. Princeton President Hibben publicly stated that, in December 1923, he had banned Dr. Frank Buchman from the Princeton campus, but Buchman and his friends insist that they were not aware of this, and remember only that Hibben had expressed "great confidence in Sam [Shoemaker] and the young men working with him", 'whom he knew to be products of Buchman's work.'

Then, some very strange logic follows: Enemies of Buchman at Princeton, whom the book hints were "practicing homosexuals", allegedly prepared a pamphlet called "The Cannonball" and showed proofs of it to President Hibben, and threatened to publish it unless the President denounced Buchman. This book does not say what the pamphlet contained, or why the President should care if it were published, or how the President of Princeton could be blackmailed by the anti-Buchmanite forces. Nevertheless, the story says, Hibben responded by getting an understanding from Sam Shoemaker that Buchman would not be invited back to Princeton.

Buchman says that he had merely received a Guidance from God, in the spring of 1924, that he should "Clear out of Princeton completely." (Pages 103-5.) It seems that, even if Buchman could not understand that he had been banished from Princeton, God could understand it.

In 1958, Buchman and gang visited Japan, where they say they found that the Japanese cabinet was 'terribly corrupt', taking bribes and keeping mistresses. So one of the local Buchmanites, in three days, wrote a play exposing this evil, and they publicly performed it. When the Prime Minister allegedly found out about it, and investigated, and found it all to be true, he supposedly said to the Buchmanites: "You are the only people who love our country enough to tell me the truth. Go on talking to me like this. The door is always open to you." (Pages 508-9.) If you can believe that any politician would be delighted to have the misconduct of his cabinet so publicly, scandalously, exposed, and if you can believe that any Japanese Prime Minister would welcome such a public, humiliating, loss of face, then I own a major interest in a big bridge in Brooklyn that I'll sell to you cheap... At times, this book is so stupid that it insults the reader's intelligence.

If you are interested in any scholarly research, you will find Garth Lean's book to be maddening, because very little of anything can be verified. Most of the footnotes read like, "Buchman to unknown Yale student, 19 August 1920." (Question: if Buchman is dead, and the student is unknown, and probably dead too, how does anyone even know that such a conversation ever took place? What is the real source of the information?) Another great footnote: "Buchman to mother, 19 March 1924." And: "Lady Hardinge in talks with author and others." And, naturally, it is the most questionable and controversial points that have the flimsiest of supporting footnotes.

There are a few items of interest buried in there, however, like this:

What is Moral Re-Armament?
It's not an institution,
It's not a point of view,
It starts a revolution
By starting one in you!

I could swear I heard something like that in an A.A. meeting.

Speaking of which, it is very interesting to see the roots of A.A. and N.A. in Buchmanism. For instance, on pages 150 and 151, we read about a fellow named Jim Driberg who had a drinking problem, and The Oxford Group had dried him out. But there was something about the Oxford Group that put him off, so he wrote a letter explaining that he could no longer work with the group. The Buchmanites' conclusion: "His elder brother John attributed the sudden move to the mental factor which has now and then sent Jim off on absurd tangents." In other words, he's crazy.

Alas, Jim Driberg could not make it alone. As Tom, his brother, relates in Ruling Passions, he soon turned back to the bottle and to massive borrowing.

You are crazy if you quit the group and stop practicing Buchmanism, and you will never make it alone — you can't maintain sobriety without a 'support group'. The seeds of A.A. are all there.

Yes, all there, even the failure rate and the nasty habit of repeated relapses. Another famous drunk whom the Oxford Group supposedly dried out was Russell Firestone, the prodigal son of the famous tire manufacturer Harvey Firestone. The father was so grateful that he sponsored Dr. Buchman and team of 60 in Akron, Ohio, for a ten-day campaign, which established an ongoing functioning group in Akron, which ended up being the famous group that Doctor Robert Smith of A.A. fame joined. But, much to the embarrassment of the Oxford Group, after they had publicized the newfound sobriety of Russell Firestone for all it was worth — the family doctor had called it a "medical miracle" — and after the Oxford Group had staked some of their reputation on it, Russell relapsed repeatedly, publicly, spectacularly, in all of the wrong high-society places. (Sort of like the movie Arthur.) Ah, but this book doesn't mention that last part...

Speaking of A.A., it gets only a tiny mention. Literally, two and a half pages, 151 to 153. Bill Wilson, Doctor Bob, and the anonymous alcoholics group are all dismissed with a cavalier wave of the hand, and an attitude of, "Oh, yeh. That's also another one of the many great things that we did, but we've done much better than that." Bill and Bob got their original charter in the Oxford Group with the words, "You look after drunken men. We'll try to look after a drunken world." That was just a little condescending: "You play with some drunks while we save the world." Still, the Buchmanites claim A.A. and all of its clones as just some more of the many organizations that have benefited from Frank Buchman's 'brilliant morality'.

If your A.A. sponsor wants your ego deflated, check this: This book describes how Frank Buchman would regularly attack the people around him, finding faults in them, and constantly deflating their egos whenever they felt any self-confidence or pride in their work. Then they would confess that they had needed such guidance, because they had been slipping into self-seeking. Why, it's just a regular good old sado-masochistic lovefest:

      One day there was something wrong with Buchman's stomach. [Dr.] Campbell gave him his diagnosis.
      "You don't know anything about stomachs, do you?" asked Buchman. Campbell, who had studied stomachs in one of the best hospitals in America, was outraged.
      Two days later, Buchman said, "I don't think we'll call you 'doctor' any more."
      "Just single sentences, but what sentences for a proud young doctor," says Campbell. He was deeply hurt. He seemed suddenly to be able to do nothing right in Buchman's eyes. He said to Barrett, "Doctors are meant to be helpful. I seem to be making Frank worse. I think I'd better go home."
      "What do you want from him?" asked Barrett.
      "To be appreciated from time to time. Not always under criticism. To be able to tell my family I am doing something worthwhile."
      "Would going back to Canada cure that lust for appreciation?" asked Barrett.
      Campbell saw the point and decided that he would do whatever God wanted, however he was treated by Buchman or anyone else.
(Page 462.)

Frank Buchman reduced his personal physician and true believer, Dr. Paul Campbell (center, in white coat), to selling copies of the book "You Can Defend America" at shows.
(Photo taken in Atlanta, Georgia, April 12 to 20, 1942, probably by Arthur Strong).
Also selling books were Edith Shillington (Ramsay) and Edward Bell, formerly headmaster of England's St. Bees Public School.
Preview Of A New World; How Frank Buchman Helped his country Move from isolation To world responsibility; USA 1939-1946, Arthur Strong, page 115.

So a real fully-qualified medical doctor was reduced to selling books at shows, just like any other Moonie or Hari Krishna cult member, instead of practicing medicine?
The school-master didn't fare any better, either.
That just seems to be one of the characteristics of cults: They don't build up their followers, they tear them down until they are reduced to grovelling wimps who will do whatever they are told.

It seems that, after Frank Buchman got his claws into Dr. Paul Campbell, Campbell never practiced medicine again. Campbell wasted the rest of his life promoting Frank Buchman's cult and writing Buchmanite propaganda.

And why wasn't Dr. Paul Campbell serving in the Army, saving the lives of wounded soldiers, if he really wanted to be helpful and defend America? Why was he wasting his time and medical talents selling books for a cult religion?

In fact, Frank Buchman seems to have written a new book, "How To Win Friends and Influence People By Putting Them Down":

"There is a gigantic, Olympian quality in F's wrath that is something to be experienced to be believed. It certainly produces change." (Page 292.)

During the time at Tahoe Buchman often brought up in the full morning meeting the personal faults he had observed in his colleagues. (Page 294.)

"I wish you had fifteen children," he [Buchman] said to another [woman]. "It would make you less of a pedant." (Page 292.)

      Buchman held a meeting each morning. They were wholly unpredictable. One day he arrived with a peach in one hand. "Every woman should be like this," he said. "But some of you are like this," and he opened his other hand to disclose a prune. He felt that some of the women in his team had become dry in spirit because they had not given God unconditional control of their lives, and were therefore not free personalities. "It meant fearlessly tackling some of us dominating American women," one of them said later. "But it was done so delicately, with such hope." (Page 293.)

(You know, I just had this funny, perverse thought. I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if Frank Buchman had ever had to deal with a real woman, rather than a grovelling sycophant — a woman who would look him straight in the eye when he pulled a stunt like that, and say, "Go to Hell, you stupid ass-hole." Or, if she really wanted to get his goat, she might have responded by picking up a banana and a limp noodle, and saying, "Oh yeh? Well, every man should be like this, but you...")

Also, notice the Orwellian double-think in the above quote:
      "they had not given God unconditional control of their lives, and were therefore not free personalities."
They were not totally controlled by God, so they were not "free"?
In George Orwell's famous novel, 1984, the slogan was
      "Freedom is Slavery!"
And, by implication, "Slavery is Freedom!"

I mentioned earlier how Frank Buchman considered any do-good social movements (other than his own) to be immoral. We have another example here, describing the conversion of Tod Sloan, a well-known East London labor movement militant:

He went in to the meeting and, as he later said, "got a basinful." He came to realize that his agitations on behalf of the unemployed and homeless, his fights for meals and boots for the school-children, essential activities which had sometimes landed him in jail, had inadvertently taken a wrong turning. "I'd always said that I loved my class and family... But I saw that the main thing I'd done was to teach them to hate. I'd said I was an idealist, but I'd made materialists out of them," he said.
(Page 263.)

Campaigning for school-children to have meals and boots is wrong, because it makes "materialists" out of them? Those Buchmanite guys were really something else. I can see his point about it being wrong to teach people to hate — don't do that — but abandoning the unemployed, the homeless, and the school-children because we don't want to make materialists out of them?
That is literally throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Once again, Ebineezer Scrooge would be pleased. This gets to sounding so much like something out of a Charles Dickens novel that it is uncanny.

Many people hated the Buchmanites, and strongly criticized them for all of their faults. This book minimizes such controversy, but does not ignore it totally. They have a very interesting explanation for the criticism:

      Malcolm Muggeridge writes that for a long time he was puzzled by "the extraordinary hostility which Buchman's Christian evangelism caused" in Britain. "Yes, he's an American," he says, "but so is Billy Graham, for instance, and I've never heard people denigrating Billy in quite such vicious terms as they did Buchman and MRA.
      "An experience I had some years ago shed light on the conundrum. I had been elected by the students of Edinburgh University to be their Rector, and when I went to Edinburgh to be installed I had a wonderful reception. Then some months later I was asked by the Students' Union to put in a request to the governing body of the University that contraceptives should be made freely available by the University Medical Unit. I refused to do this, whereupon I was subjected to abuse, to the point that I found it necessary to resign. In a farewell sermon in St. Giles' Cathedral, I explained why I had done what I had, and received some private thanks, but none publicly. The conclusion I came to was that in a libertine society any attack on libertinism is anathema..."
(Pages 270-271.)

Oh? Really, Malcolm? You were so thoroughly hated that you were forced to resign, just because you would not give out free contraceptives? Why am I having trouble believing that?

And, by implication, Frank Buchman and MRA were likewise viciously hated just because they wouldn't approve of people's immoral activities? So the people who disliked Buchman were all just a bunch of libertine sinners?

  • The Hitler-worshipping, the weird religion, the deceptive recruiting practices, the outright lying, the perverted sexual obsession, and the homophobia had nothing to do with it?
  • And the smug self-righteousness and arrogant sanctimoniousness had nothing to do with it?
  • And the Buchmanites' insistence that only they had a hot-line to God, and that everyone else was insane, had nothing to do with it?
  • And Buchman's declarations that workers were selfish and immoral if they wanted higher wages had nothing to do with it?

Garth Lean's book says, "Why was he opposed? For the same reason as Jesus and His disciples were opposed." (Page 270.) Yeh, right.

Jesus had a name for people like Frank Buchman, who do evil while wrapping themselves in the Bible: "wolves in sheep's clothing."

Those Buchmanites were so insane and so weird and so evil that sometimes it becomes difficult to believe that this is all for real. Someone out there must be wondering if I am making all of this up. I can only say, "I wish, because if my imagination were really that good, and that wild and crazy and demented, then I could make a whole lot of money as a Hollywood script writer."

How about a new slasher horror movie, "The Vampire Vicar"? "The Meeting Monster"? "The Group Godzilla"? "The Buchmanites from Brazil"? Oops! That one's been used. "An American Werewolf in London"? Nope, that one's been done too.

Oh well, enough of Buchman. Let's go on to something else equally depressing.

[Note that this book is now a free read on the Internet:]

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Last updated 21 March 2013.
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