Four Absolutes

The origins of the Twelve-Step Recovery process are deeply rooted in principles adopted from the Oxford Group, especially its

Four Absolutes – Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, and Love.

Dr. Bob, a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), emphasised the crucial role of the Four Absolutes in the formative years of AA. Before the Twelve Steps were established, these absolutes provided vital guidance for members navigating their recovery paths. Dr. Bob highlighted their enduring relevance, observing that decisions aligned with these principles typically resulted in ethical and beneficial outcomes. This foundational influence from the Oxford Group not only shaped AA’s initial framework but also deeply affected the development of the Twelve Steps, with Bill Wilson acknowledging the group for inspiring ten of these steps.

The spiritual structure of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous deeply integrates teachings from the Oxford Groups. Bill Wilson, another of AA’s founders, attributed this early connection to the spiritual essence evident in most of the steps, encompassing concepts such as conducting a moral inventory, making amends, and surrendering to a higher power, as well as incorporating practices like meditation and prayer.

The Four Absolute originated from Robert E. Speer, a Presbyterian missionary who based them on the moral principles he observed in the life of Jesus, offering them as guidelines for personal behaviour. These principles were later adopted by the Oxford Group, significantly influencing Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Bill Wilson, discussing their integration, highlighted that these Absolutes influenced Steps Six and Seven of the 12-Step program.

Despite their impact, the Four Absolutes were not formally adopted within AA, primarily because the organisation sought to establish its identity separate from the Oxford Group. Additionally, Bill Wilson was concerned that their stringent moral expectations might overwhelm new members not prepared for such challenges.

In the Twelve-Step Recovery context, Dr. Bob and many early members in the Akron and Cleveland areas continued to be guided by the Four Absolutes. Exploring these moral standards offers valuable insights into how they shaped the foundational texts and recovery practices.

  1. Absolute Honesty
    Early on, groups like Tom Power’s All Addicts Anonymous encapsulated honesty with the imperative to avoid “lying, cheating, or stealing” and to maintain a stance of “no falsehood” in all affairs. This principle of unwavering truthfulness was framed in the Big Book as the need for “rigorous honesty,” urging members to continually assess whether their actions were true or false.
  2. Absolute Purity
    Defined broadly as purity of mind, body, emotions, and heart, including sexual purity, this standard involves a deep introspection of one’s motives, decisions, thoughts, and actions, often summarized by the query, “Is it right, or is it wrong?” The Oxford Group, from which these ideas were derived, advocated for a personal adherence to God’s will, rather than imposing strict behavioral codes.
  3. Absolute Unselfishness
    This absolute asks members to prioritize what is right and true over personal desires, constantly considering the impact of their actions on others. The focus shifts from self-centered attitudes—like self-importance or self-pity—towards a “God-centered” life aimed at serving others, as highlighted by A.J. Russell, a prominent voice in the Oxford Group.
  4. Absolute Love
    Emphasizing the importance of loving God wholly and loving one’s neighbor as oneself, this standard probes the beauty of actions and relationships. The Pioneers, reflecting on their own experiences, expressed a deep yearning for more of this profound connection, recognizing that fulfilling the soul’s need for love brings meaning and purpose to life, encapsulated in the realization that “God is love.”

Although the Big Book authors advised against the opposites of these standards, the continued practice of the Four Absolutes among the Pioneers highlights their enduring impact in shaping the spiritual aspects of the Twelve-Step programs.

Many of us still incorporate the Four Absolutes into our 12-Step programs, inspired by Dr. Bob and other pioneers. These standards act as crucial guideposts that both simplify and deepen our recovery efforts, strengthening our connection with God and each other. While we do not claim to fully achieve these ideals, we aim towards them, using them to drive significant changes in our consciousness, character, and behaviour.

In practical terms, the Absolutes inform various steps in our recovery process:

  • Steps Four & Five
    Originally, pioneers used the Absolutes as a framework for taking inventory, with each Absolute heading a separate sheet of paper. They sought divine insight into how they might be obstructing God’s presence in their lives, followed by reflection, writing, and sharing their findings.
  • Steps Six and Seven
    These steps build the foundation of our recovery, informed by the Absolutes. Recognizing their placement here offers fresh insights and strengthens our commitment to these steps.
  • Step Ten
    We continuously monitor our thoughts and actions against the Absolutes to maintain daily mindfulness. Acknowledging our shortcomings, we seek God’s strength and guidance through prayer, mindful of the Pioneer’s advice that being vigilant helps us know what to pray for.
  • Step Eleven
    Engaging in Two Way Prayer, we deepen our relationship with God, receiving and journaling our daily guidance. We evaluate these insights against the Absolutes, ensuring they embody honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love to confirm their divine origin.
  • Step Twelve
     Our growing experience of God’s love empowers us to shed fears and achieve the profound psychic change needed to overcome addiction. Dr. Bob’s mantra to “Keep It Simple” resonates deeply, as applying the Absolutes helps us focus on the essentials of our recovery journey.

Through these applications, the Absolutes not only guide us in recovery but also foster a more meaningful and spiritual path forward, reinforcing the transformative power of living according to these profound moral principles.

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