Textbook or Text?

I’ve heard the Big Book referred to as a textbook, which I think is a mistake. 

I love the Big Book, but believe it is our basic text — something the Book claims for itself — not a textbook for recovery, which it doesn’t  (and which is  not the same thing at all).

This is the wording on the dust cover of the current Big Book: 

This is the Fourth Edition of the Big Book, New and Revised. The Basic text for Alcoholics Anonymous.

Bill W referred loosely to the Big Book as a textbook a couple of times in his Grapevine articles. However, on 16 May 2006, Art Sheehan posted Bill’s explanation of 12 Steps and 12 Traditions

This small volume is strictly a textbook which explains AA’s 24 basic principles and their application, in detail and with great care.

The differences between a text and a textbook should be obvious to anyone; e.g. the Bible and emails are texts but not textbooks. 

  • Text – ‘the original words of something written or printed’; 
  • Textbook – ‘a book used by students as a standard work for a particular branch of study’. 

The only requirement for membership of AA is a desire to stop drinking – there is no requirement to ‘study’ any AA text. 

Furthermore, the Big Book is a collection of stories

It says so on the title page: “Alcoholics Anonymous – The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women have Recovered from Alcoholism“. 

A story does not give instructions; it is a work of inspired imagination. Bill W. wrote, in As Bill Sees It, 

“Most Steps are open to interpretation, based on the experience and outlook of the individual.” 

The Big Book is not sacred scripture; we have no authorities in AA who can impose their understanding on the rest of us, no sacred priests of special origin who are entitled to explain the hidden meanings the rest of us are too dimwitted to catch ourselves. The Catholic Church tried that approach for a few hundred years and it didn’t work well for them. 

Let’s not repeat their mistakes.

Remember: It is dangerous to make a fetish of the written word.

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