The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous
and the Twelve Steps

by A. Orange

Chapter 19:
After the War, and Trouble with the Catholic Church

After the war, Frank Buchman and his Moral Re-Armament were not very popular, to put it mildly. Both the American and the British people had long memories, and Buchman's admiration of Hitler, and the group's attempts at draft-dodging, didn't sit well. And then there was the total failure of Buchman's appeasement-oriented "God's Plan" to save the world from war. Buchman had lost his credibility — how could he claim to be receiving messages and Guidance directly from God when he was so terribly wrong about so many things? And MRA had lost its biggest pre-war draw: fear of the coming war.

In 1944, when travel bans were still in place, some British Buchmanites wished to travel to Mackinac Island to attend an assembly. Lord Salisbury submitted a special request for them. Foreign Office Secretary Anthony Eden was strongly opposed to such a special favor...

Eden had written across Salisbury's letter in red ink, 'Surely these are deplorable people? and it is staggering that Lord S should wish them well.'
Garth Lean, On the Tail of a Comet: The Life of Frank Buchman, page 331.

Tom Driberg, the London newspaper reporter who got himself elected to Parliament, didn't want to even let the Buchmanites back into Britain after the war. On May 3, 1946, he protested against the Home Secretary James Chuter Ede granting entrance visas to a group of 100 Buchmanites, including Frank Buchman. Driberg denounced Buchman as a "soapy racketeer".46 Driberg raised the issue again in the House of Commons on July fifth:

      LONDON, July 5 — Asking why facilities had been granted for entry to Britain of 100 members of the Oxford Group led by Dr. Frank Buchman from the United States, Tom Driberg, Labor member, said in the House of Commons today that the movement had a great deal in common with the Nazis.
      Mr. Driberg asserted that Dr. Buchman had praised Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler and that leaders of his Moral Rearmament had been enthusiastic Hitlerites.
      The group's standards, Mr. Driberg stated, were "marked by remarkable duplicity," by "intrigue, backstairs methods and wirepulling."
      Mr. Driberg also attacked the movement on industrial grounds. Its program seemed "nothing less than spiritual strike-breaking," he said, adding that in his opinion it was at its worst anti-socialist and anti-democratic.
      Home Secretary Chuter Ede, repudiating any idea that he had shown special favor to Dr. Buchman's group, stated that fewer than fifty American citizens were in the party that was allowed to enter Britain.
The New York Times, July 6, 1946, page 8.

Things just went from bad to worse for Frank Buchman. The Catholic Church got fed up with him, too. In 1952, the Archbishop of Milan denounced Moral Re-Armament:


Archbishop of Milan Warns It Is
'Morality Without Dogma'

      MILAN, Italy, June 17 (AP) — Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, said today that the Moral Rearmament Movement endangered both Catholics and non-Catholics.
      He described the movement as heterodoxal — at variance with the teachings of the Catholic church — in a warning note to the clergy and Catholic faithful of his Archdiocese.
      Cardinal Schuster attacked Moral Rearmament as a movement "of Protestant origin and system, outside the guidance and control of the Catholic church." He called the movement dangerous for non-Catholics because it presents a "form of religion cut in half and suggestive, morality without dogma, without the principle of authority, without a supremely revealed faith — in a word, an arbitrary religion, and therefore, one full of errors."
The New York Times, June 18, 1952, page 8.

Then, in 1955 and 1957, the Vatican banned MRA:

Implies Sympathy With Aims
but Cautions All Catholics
Against Serving It

Special to The New York Times.

      ROME, Dec 9. — The Roman Catholic Church indicated today that it was in sympathy with the aims and purposes of the Moral Re-Armament movement but that Catholics should beware of collaborating with it.
      The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano recalled that secular and regular clergy were forbidden to attend any meeting of Moral Re-Armament and that lay Catholics were forbidden to serve it in any responsible capacity.
      These prohibitions were issued in 1955 by the Vatican's Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, which is in charge of all matters pertaining to faith and morals. L'Osservatore reminded Catholics that both prohibitions were still in force.
      The Catholic Church's main objection to Moral Re-Armament, L'Osservatore Romano indicated, is that it presents itself as "a movement with a true religious ideology of its own of a nature different from Catholic ideology."
Catholic Members Claimed
      MACKINAC ISLAND, Dec. 9 (AP) — Ray Purdy, a spokesman for M. R. A., said, "It's all news to me."
      He said many Catholics had worked in the movement in the past and many were working in it now. He declined to comment further.

No Comment Here
      A spokesman at the New York office of the Moral Re-Armament movement said yesterday that there would be no comment on the article. He reported that Dr. Buchman was not in the city.
The New York Times, December 10, 1957, page 21.

Frank Buchman, Ray Foote Purdy, and Admiral Richard E. Byrd

In 1961, another bishop, Bishop Noa of Marquette (Detroit, Michigan, USA), re-stated the Vatican's position that Frank Buchman's doctrines were incompatible with the Roman Catholic faith, and the Bishop introduced his paper with this statement:

Last fall (1960) it appears that many Catholics in Switzerland participated in meetings with MRA, including some prominent Benedictine Monks who addressed the World Assembly in Caux.

      The publicity department of MRA made a big show here in the United States. In addition to mimeographed sheets, they distributed a pamphlet entitled "Swiss Catholics Welcome Moral Re-Armament". High church authorities were quoted in praise of the movement. The implication was that it is all right for Catholics to participate in MRA.

      At the time that the present pamphlet was in the process of print, Bishop Noa was informed authoritatively that the Holy See disapproved of the presence of these Benedictines at the World Assembly of MRA in Caux, and what they said.

      This fact shows plainly that the Holy See has not changed its attitude with respect to Catholics and MRA. This incident is a sample of how misleading MRA publicity can be.
MORAL RE-ARMAMENT and the CATHOLIC LAY APOSTOLATE, Thomas L. Noa, D.D., Bishop of Marquette, 1961, page 2.

And still, in spite of all of that, the true-believer sycophants continued to fawn over Frank Buchman. In 1955, on his 77th birthday, his followers sent him the following "report" from Mackinac Island:

      Our guidance on Frank's seventy-seventh birthday was that his greatest years are at hand...
      He lives a statesmanship — ambition-free — which will be normal for millions. It is astounding what he does by not doing it!
      He can ... give the thinking for the next stage of history — yet he makes few speeches...
      He has never written a song, yet because of him a new music is being created...
      He has never cooked a meal, yet because of him there is a new perfection in the kitchen...
Paul Campbell
John Wood
Doe and Peter Howard
Enid and Morris Martin
The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965, page 194.

The Buchmanite true believers were as much in denial as any alcoholic who insists that he doesn't have a drinking problem. They stubbornly overlooked Frank Buchman's failure to morally reform the Nazis and save the world from war. They refused to even look at the total inadequacy of Frank's "infallible Guidance" and "God's Plan to save the world from war". They simply continued to proclaim that civilization was tottering on the brink of destruction, and that only Frank Buchman and MRA could save the world. The British Buchmanite R. C. Mowat, formerly of Hertford College, Oxford, wrote in 1951 that:

People everywhere will turn to spiritual reality on a mass scale as it is correctly presented to them through Moral Re-Armament. But it is a race against time, because the forces of destruction are also moving ahead swiftly.
"Good and Evil are pitted against each other in the history of man. It takes more than diplomacy to cure evil. It takes more than lip-service to fight for God. ... An extreme of evil must be met by an extreme of good; a fanatical following of evil by a passionate pursuit of good.... Only a passion can cure a passion. And only a superior world-arching ideology can cure a world divided by warring ideologies."
      This message must be brought to the millions before it is too late. History is moving at tremendous speed to a high point of colossal catastrophe or a high point of colossal change. We can either be the last survivors of a declining age, or the pioneers of an entirely new order of society, which will bring a flowering of the human spirit such as the world has never seen.
      This is the promise of Moral Re-Armament. It is making possible the dawn of a new age. Through it "we are reaching the end of the era of crisis and pioneering the era of the cure."
The Message of Frank Buchman, R. C. Mowat, pages 51-52. (The contained quotes were from Frank Buchman.)

Talk about fear-mongering — Mowat tried to use fear to stampede people into joining MRA:

  • "the forces of destruction are ... moving ahead swiftly..."
  • "History is moving at tremendous speed to a high point of colossal catastrophe..."
  • "We can either be the last survivors of a declining age or ..."

Likewise, the French Buchmanite Gabriel Marcel described the world situation in 1960 as:

      A relentless flood threatens to engulf many nations.
      Men try here and there to raise a frail barrier, but their timid efforts only win them a little time before they are suddenly submerged.
      In some countries the masses are taken over by a system of ideas. Suddenly there arises a revolutionary wind which with a single blast topples great structures, though men fancied that they were standing fast.
      An idea invades a nation without the formality of a declaration of war. It takes prisoners without firing a shot and conquers whole countries, while parliaments continue with their debates.
      Is there a road that the nations of the world could walk together?
      While the succession of international conferences and the disappointments that follow them seem to say that the answer is 'no', yet the work of Frank Buchman and the men committed with him proves beyond question that this road does exist. Not only does it exist, but already men and nations have decided to take it.
Fresh Hope for the World: Moral Re-Armament in Action, edited and introduced by Gabriel Marcel, 1960, translated from the French by Helen Hardinge, pages 177-178.

Those Buchmanites used everything except "the sky is falling".

In 1960, Gabriel Marcel even complained about the criticism that Frank Buchman received by writing:

The strangest alliances have arisen to block his path, alliances of people, who although their interests are directly opposed to each other, nevertheless have weaknesses in common drawing them together. The charges brought against him [Buchman] have been mostly contradictory. They have consisted of whatever slander, at any time or in any country, happened to be the most damaging. The same men have first sarcastically criticised him for not attacking some world figure, and then tried to entangle him with this same person.
Fresh Hope for the World: Moral Re-Armament in Action, edited and introduced by Gabriel Marcel, 1960, translated from the French by Helen Hardinge, pages 158-159.

The unnamed "world figure" whom Buchman would not attack was, of course, Adolf Hitler. That's why Marcel tip-toed around the issue and didn't bother to mention his name.

Talk about "strange alliances". The Frenchman Gabriel Marcel was actually defending a Nazi apologist after World War II.

Thirty years later, another die-hard old Buchmanite declared that the world was still tottering on the brink of chaos, and that only Moral Re-Armament could save the world:

"I know for sure: all men everywhere must be different. Otherwise what will happen to the world of my grandchildren and great grandchildren, sinking into unbelievable chaos. Can people change? I have experienced that I can change and that people around me can also become different... I have travelled through all the continents and saw how many people changed completely when they met the ideology of Moral Re-Armament... It is an incomparable, an historic revolution. Whatever a person is, Christian, atheist or materialist, black or white, rich or poor, he changes. If he passionately accepts an unconditional commitment under God's guidance, his thinking and his whole being changes. This change in men is essential. There is no substitute for it. We miss the meaning of our life if we want to remain as we are. Without this men do not change. Only in this way can the world once again be brought under God's dominion and be saved from chaos."
Paul Kurowski, 1989 (aged 89).
(Underlining in the original.)
Preview Of A New World; How Frank Buchman Helped his country Move from isolation To world responsibility; USA 1939-1946, Arthur Strong, page 315.

By the way, when was the first Golden Age?
That old guy talked about bringing the world "once again under God's dominion".... Well, when was it ever that way? When was the first time?

That obviously conflicts with the Buchmanites' repeated claims that the Oxford Groups and Moral Re-Armament were something brand new and original. It can't be something brand new and original — "an historic revolution" — if we are supposed to return to what existed way back in "the good old days"....

And Alcoholics Anonymous still uses the same contradictory language today. They alternate between calling 12-Step treatment of alcoholism — also called TSF, Twelve-Step Facilitation — "traditional treatment of alcoholism", and also declaring that TSF is something brand new — "a new sub-culture — and "just being discovered" and "increasingly recognized as important". It can't be both an old tradition and a new discovery.

Next: Frank Buchman, Anti-Communist, Union-Buster, Spiritual Strike-Breaker

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Last updated 29 June 2009.
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