Now we come to another kind of problem: the intellectually self-sufficient man or woman. To these, many A.A.’s can say, “Yes, we were like you–far too smart for our own good. We loved to have people call us precocious. We used our education to blow ourselves up into prideful balloons, though we were careful to hide this from others. Secretly, we felt we could float above the rest of the folks on our brainpower alone. Scientific progress told us there was nothing man couldn’t do. Knowledge was all-powerful. Intellect could conquer nature. Since we were brighter than most folks (so we thought), the spoils of victory would be ours for the thinking. The god of intellect displaced the God of our fathers. But again John Barleycorn had other ideas. We who had won so handsomely in a walk turned into all-time losers. We saw that we had to reconsider or die. We found many in A.A. who once thought as we did. They helped us get down to our right size. By their example they showed us that humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we placed humility first. When we began to do that, we received the gift of faith, and faith which works. This faith is for you, too.”
This section gives me goosebumps. “Reconsider, or die.” It sounds melodramatic until I put names to the concept. Today I’ll add Kelly. We talked to her mother last night.
I think I came a generation after the “God of my fathers” had already been displaced. My parents were and are decidedly not religious and of unknown but not obvious spirituality. My grandparents likewise were not religious or obviously spiritual, though my grandmother was very superstitious. My Catholic great grandmother warned all and sundry who attended my father’s wedding in a Lutheran church that God would strike them dead. They attended anyway, apparently unfazed, and many have died but some still live 55 years later. Such was my upbringing and, as far as it goes, being smart was viewed as a good thing in family, and it still is. The idea I try to impress on the young people in my turn is that smarts is a gift, something unearned and that, as the passage says, humility has to come first if a smart one is to lead a happy life.
“The spoils of victory” weren’t mine for the thinking. I could not think my way out of my alcoholic drinking. I tried, to some extent. I read about alcoholism, things like that, but I did so while and drinking and the happy result for me is that I concluded I needed help. The psychological help offered by my school and by the therapists my mother sent me to never seemed like any kind of solution at all. The people in AA said they understood, and I believed them. They said they were sober and happy, and I believed them. In terrible desperation, the times when I fought to stop drinking, there was something in my that cried out to “God” but the people and the program were, to me, a much more understandable, provable, tangible higher power. And it took some time of just refraining from drinking for me to move beyond that. I was such a case that I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t think very much or very well while under the influence.
So, they showed me that humility and intellect could be compatible? Yes. Some have showed me this by example. Certainly it is true for me that when I placed humility first, by admitting that the people of AA had a solution to my problem that I did not have, I was able to receive the gift of a faith that works.
But personally I find, sometimes, and anti-intellectual prejudice in AA (and elsewhere in the country, in the world) and I try to speak out about it every time I see it. Yes, as this passage illuminates, you can be “too smart” for AA, if you can’t summon up enough humility to follow suggestions, stop drinking and work the program. Reconsider or die. But I think you can be too stupid for AA as well. And by that I don’t mean having a low IQ. It’s true for me that I need to still put some intellectual effort behind my participation in AA or I’ll get numb and bored and, for me, I think that could be dangerous and possibly result in my drinking eventually. “A simple program for complicated people . . . ” Well, it’s really not all that simple. Which to me is a good thing. I’m a complicated person (and I don’t mean that in a good way) and I need complications to engage me. Or at least I enjoy having complications that engage me. It’s worked for me so far.