Emmet Fox’s Influence on AA Pioneers

Emmet Fox’s Influence on AA Pioneers

Emmet Fox (July 30,1886-August 13, 1951)

Alcoholics Anonymous Pioneers had many influences during the 1930’s and 40’s. Bill Wilson along with many other struggling alcoholics in New York were introduced to several different spiritual leaders and movements, with most of the teachings being very similar. One of the most influential was the New Thought Minister and Author, Emmet Fox. His most influential works at the time of the founding of AA, were his book “The Sermon on the Mount,” and the pamphlets “The Golden Key,”  “The Lord’s Prayer,” and “The Seven Main Aspects of God.”

Background History Of Emmet Fox

Emmet Fox was born in Ireland, in 1886 and passed away in France in 1951. Fox was raised and educated in London before coming to the United States in 1931 when he was selected to be the minister of New York’s Divine Science Church of the Healing Christ. He immediately gained popularity amongst the ravaged population of New York during the Great Depression. He spoke at weekly church services with attendance peaking over 5,000 people. He has a very extensive list of works that he released throughout the 1930’s, 40’s, and early 50’s. Over the past half century, many of his works have been compiled and published in different books.

Connection to Alcoholics Anonymous

Fox’s secretary in New York was the mother of one of the men who worked with AA co-founder Bill Wilson. With Wilson and many other early AA members living in New York, they often went to hear Fox speak at Carnegie Hall. The book “The Sermon on the Mount” was originally published in 1934, the year that Bill Wilson achieved sobriety. During the peak years of Fox’s work in New York City, Bill Wilson was in the middle of writing the Big Book and other AA works.

The New Thought Movement believed the idea that God in the form of Infinite Intelligence or Universal Power is everywhere, that divine thought is a force for good, sickness originates in the mind and “right thinking” has a healing effect. 

Here’s a description of Fox’s most popular work: “Understand the true nature of divine wisdom. Tap into the power of prayer. Develop a completely integrated and fully expressed personality. Transform negative attitudes into life-affirming beliefs. Claim our divine right to the full abundance of life.”

The message of this work was to simplify misunderstood and difficult teachings and to give a manual for the application of spiritual principles for the American people during a time that there was little hope. This more practical and less dogmatic interpretation of the Bible would have been immediately appealing to Bill Wilson and the early AAs. Their experience of coming to know a God was through practical action in the real world. Their experiences gained through the application of these principles, which were also used in the Oxford Groups, led to the forming of the 12 steps. The Big Book talks extensively about the programs reliance on the application of spiritual Truths and principles as Fox advocates. 

At the time, the AA principles must have seemed heretical, to those outside the fellowship, as they are somewhat vague concepts outside of organized religion. However, the absence of absolutes was paramount to the success of AA in attracting newcomers. Where the Big Book insists on something being done, it is usually in relation to eliminating character defects such as selfishness or resentments rather than a demand for blind faith or acceptance of abstract concepts. AA, like Fox, promotes belief through experience. As they say in AA, religion is for people who believe in hell and AA is for people who have been to hell.

The writings of Emmet Fox remain influential today among many AA members as they look to expand their spiritual views and experiences. Some read his works as a way to be educated on the works that influenced the AA Pioneers and the writing of the Big Book. 

Other books and writers that were influential for the AA Pioneers

The Bible: Specifically The Book of James, 1 Corinthians 13, and The Sermon on the Mount

The Greatest Thing In The World by Henry Drummond

In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon

The Varieties Of Religious Experience by William James

As A Man Thinketh by James Allen

The Common Sense of Drinking by Richard R. Peabody

I Was a Pagan by V. C. Kitchen

John Barleycorn by Jack London

The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley

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