The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous
and the Twelve Steps

Chapter 3:
The Religious Tenets and Doctrines of Buchmanism

Dr. Frank Buchman believed that the age of miracles had returned, that people could have direct, personal access to God, that people could be "changed", and that confession was necessary for "change". Frank Buchman also declared that people were essentially weak and sinful — "defeated by sin", he called it — and that only "surrender to God" and becoming totally "controlled by God" would save them.

Henry P. Van Dusen, writing for The Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1934, described Buchmanism, a.k.a. "The Oxford Group Movement", this way:

The fundamental premise which determines every aspect of its emphasis and work is this conviction — that in the modern world the over-whelming majority of folk have sadly missed the way. Many of them consciously unhappy, inwardly defeated, and insulated from their fellows by secret barriers of sham, impurity, or fear. Others are pitiably superficial, selfish, and futile. A very few are sincere, but palpably inadequate. For all alike, the need is for a radical and revolutionary experience of personal religion. For all alike, there is possible a new life of hitherto unknown power and unbelievable satisfaction.
      But there is only one avenue of access to that higher life. It is through a radical purging of inner unreality and the full and final surrender of one's whole self, all that one is and all that one possesses, to the imperious command of the Living God. From that surrender, when complete and unreserved, will follow release from defeat or ennui and the gift of utterly new joy and strength. The old life will be cast away; the old harrowing problems will dissolve; one will stand free from the shackles of temptation, self-consciousness, selfishness; for the first time in one's life, one will know the meaning of spiritual freedom. All that one has heard with the hearing of the ears about the life of religion, all that one has dismissed as the familiar exaggeration of religious propagandists or naïve faith no longer possible for intelligent moderns — all this will come vividly alive within one's own soul. One now knows, with a certainty for which there is no parallel, the truth of religion's claims — the absolutely unique character of the dedicated life, the vivid and continuous awareness of God's presence, the priceless worth of complete fellowship with Him, the service which is perfect freedom.
      Together with these results, surrender will also bring two quite definite gifts — direct and specific instructions from God Himself for every detail of daily speech and life (what the Groups term 'guidance'); and the ability to bring others into the same transforming experience. Indeed, just as the only way of entrance into the new life is through complete surrender, so there is one way and one way only by which that new life may be maintained vivid and growing. It is through revealing one's own discoveries in intimate disclosure to others and thus winning them to similar surrender and rebirth. Finally, the matrix within which this whole process of life transformation in its three phases — surrender of self, continuance in complete commitment, the winning of others — can best take place is an intimate comradeship of completely like-minded and like-dedicated persons.
"The Oxford Groups Movement", Henry P. Van Dusen, The Atlantic Monthly, August 1934, vol 154, issue 2, pages 243-244.

Notice the repeated phrases "the only way", and "one way and one way only". That is one of the first and most obvious characteristics of any cult. They almost always claim that they have the only way — the only way to Heaven, or to salvation, or spirituality, or eternal bliss, or higher knowledge, or sanity, or mental powers, or recovery, or whatever it is that the cult promises to deliver...

A corollary to cults' claims of having The Only Way is the assertion that "the other people" do not have The Way. "They" are all misguided and missing the boat, and "they" won't be going to Heaven (or whatever the declared goal of the cult happens to be). Thus the cult encourages an isolationist "us versus them" mindset, which naturally segues into an attitude that the cult members are special — that they are superior to the common rabble who haven't been "saved" and who don't have The Big Answer....

Another common cult characteristic shown there is the demand for Surrender to the Cult. You can't just join the group; you have to surrender to the cult and give it everything — your life, your mind, your heart, your loyalty, your obedience, and even your soul.

The first and most obvious characteristic of Buchmanism was meetings, meetings, meetings. The Buchmanites were always forming groups and having lots of meetings, just like Alcoholics Anonymous would do decades later. A slang term that some others used for Buchmanism was "Groupism" — the religion of those people who believe in groups and meetings.

      The early house-parties attracted varying numbers, from twenty to 150. Sometimes they were week-end affairs; sometimes they were prolonged for ten days. Young people in the twenties predominated. It was the practice, I believe, for them to contribute 5s. a head as "registration fee."
      The purpose of house-parties, it was stated, was to "relate modern individuals to Jesus Christ in terms which they understand and in an environment which they find congenial." There were "informal talks on sin," and a feature of those days, apparently, was separate groups for men and women for the discussion of sex problems "in a more intimate vein than is possible in a mixed gathering."
Inside Buchmanism; an independent inquiry into the Oxford Group Movement and Moral Re-Armament, Geoffrey Williamson, Philosophical Library, New York, c1954, page 202.

Frank Buchman always maintained that converts should remain in their own church. New people may be converted to believing in Buchmanism, but they were supposed to continue as members of their original church while simultaneously attending numerous Group meetings. Buchman declared that his sect was not a new religion, but rather something that would supplement and revitalize the existing Christian churches — "The Oxford Group is not a new religion; it is religion anew." That seemingly generous attitude had the side effect of making everyone, no matter what their religion, fair game for conversion to Buchmanism, and their former church couldn't even complain about losing a member.

But one contemporary noticed that, while the Oxford Group claimed to not be in competition with other churches, many Oxford Group meetings were scheduled for Sunday morning, at an hour which prevented O.G. members from attending the services of other churches, even if they wanted to...

An important part of the Buchmanite meetings was confession and "sharing." There were two distinctly different kinds of sharing:
    1) sharing as confession, and
    2) sharing for witness.
Sharing as confession was supposed to unburden one of the sins which Buchmanites declared kept people separated from God, while sharing for witness was intended to convince new prospects to join the Group and "surrender to God". That is, sharing for witness was just a lot of testimonials that were intended to convince newcomers that Buchmanism is the answer.

The Buchmanites were really big on public confession, and were always openly confessing everything they had ever done to meeting rooms full of strangers. They entertained their audiences with wild, humorous, and sometimes licentious stories of their sins, misadventures and escapades before they got changed into moral people by Frank Buchman and his followers. And converts would "share" the message that their lives had been much improved by following Frank's "Guidance" and "principles".

Rev. Geoffrey Allen was a leader and a true believer in the Oxford Group Movement who attempted to explain and rationalize all of the practices of the Oxford Groups, like receiving Guidance from God in séances and "sharing" sins with others who are not ordained priests or ministers.

As first created by God, the infant has a transparent purity of soul. In early childhood, how early who can say, the devil passes by. Fear and pride and self-will enter in. The child becomes ashamed and fears to confess its shame. The evil by the great illusion is buried deep within the personality. The poison of repressed fear or shame festers in the depths of the soul. Then there must come the healing work of God. Man must be converted, not with an empty change of opinions, but with the turning inside out of his life. Sins must be confessed openly on the lips, that they may be purified in God's fair air, and that so there may be room for His gift of love and peace within the newly cleansed heart.
He That Cometh; A Sequel to 'Tell John,' being further essays on the Message of Jesus and Present Day Religion, Geoffrey Allen, Fellow and Chaplain of Lincoln College, Oxford, 1933, pages 121-122.

Sooner or later, when we are ready to receive it, the Spirit will lead us to a deeper sharing of all that has been weighing on us from the past. It is a healthy practice for everyone, when they are led by God to do so, to share to the depths whatever in the past has most burdened their memory with thoughts of guilt. Such deep sharing may often be of things of which it is a shame to speak in public, and it will be right to accept the guidance of the Spirit, and to share with some one older individual. Such an individual will then stand to us as ambassador of the forgiveness of Christ. In a Church which was fully Christian the natural person to whom to take such confession would be the priest. Whether in the actual Church the priest is always the right person is questionable. He might be shocked; and that might be good neither for him nor for us. The person who receives such confession must be someone who has learnt from his own experience, both under the Cross and in the Christian fellowship, that the forgiveness of Christ outreaches the furthest sin of man. He will therefore never be shocked; before the utmost evil he will say without blame, as Christ would say: 'Thy sins are forgiven; go and sin no more.'
He That Cometh; A Sequel to 'Tell John,' being further essays on the Message of Jesus and Present Day Religion, Geoffrey Allen, Fellow and Chaplain of Lincoln College, Oxford, 1933, pages 131-132.

  • Notice how Rev. Geoffrey Allen implied that non-clergy (i.e., Oxford Group members) were more qualified, or at least better equipped, than ordained clergy to hear confessions, because they wouldn't be shocked by what they heard. Rev. Allen declared that the poor innocent cloistered feeble-minded old priests might be harmed by shocking confessions, but some worldly, experienced old degenerates from the back alleys could handle the job with ease.

  • Rev. Allen also claimed that the people who heard the confessions must be experienced sinners who have learned about the sin from their own experience.
    So let's see... Logically, Catholic priests can't hear confessions about wild sexual affairs unless they have had a few dozen themselves... And murderers can only confess their sins to another experienced murderer... Right?

  • Rev. Allen also claimed that unordained non-clergy (like Oxford Group members) had the power to forgive and absolve sins in the name of Jesus Christ — that they could "stand to us as ambassador of the forgiveness of Christ" — "Thy sins are forgiven; go and sin no more." — which is a new religious doctrine that will certainly start some interesting theological debates: "Who needs seminaries or trained clergy? Who needs ordained ministers and priests? Some college dropouts with a couple of months of indoctrination in cult religion should be good enough..."

    That shows typical cultish arrogance. Cult members like to claim that they are special, and somehow more qualified than ordinary people — even more qualified than the experts or the professionals. Like an A.A. member declared, after reading the "Big Book" Alcoholics Anonymous:

    Here was a book that said that I could do something that all these doctors and priests and ministers and psychiatrists that I'd been going to for years couldn't do!
    The Big Book, 3rd Edition, page 473.

  • And of course Allen would have us believe that all of the Groupers were constantly receiving Guidance from God, Who was even telling them whether they should confess something and to whom they should confess it. Rev. Geoffrey Allen's theology was a radical departure from mainstream Christianity.

  • The mention of using laymen, rather than ordained clergy, to hear confessions brings up another problem with the Oxford Groups. The Group members who hear confessions are supposed to keep such confessions confidential, but what about the people who leave the groups? How long will they remain silent?87 And what about the Group members who are less than Absolutely Pure, and tend to be gossips and blabber-mouths? The Oxford Groups had just that problem — gossips who could not keep secrets. More on that here.

    And of course Alcoholics Anonymous has the same problem today. Anything you say in an A.A. meeting can become common knowledge all over town as the local gossips have a hey-day. And your "sharing" can even be used against you in a court of law.

  • Rev. Jeffrey Allen simply assumed that everyone was burdened with feelings of guilt over things that they had done in the past. That was one of the fundamental Buchmanite beliefs — that everyone is separated from God by a long list of things that they haven't confessed. That is also Standard Cult Characteristic Number Two: You Are Always Wrong — it's all your fault. No matter what the situation is, you are to blame for it.

Rev. John A. Richardson wrote a critical analysis of the Oxford Groups where he stated:

It was customary in the early days of the Church to give literal obedience to the injunction of St. James, "Confess your faults to one another," the only passage in the New Testament, I think, that can properly be quoted in this connection. We know, however, that the practice of public confession, or, as the Groups would put it, confession in the fellowship, was deliberately abandoned in the fifth century, because it became a cause of moral mischief. The minds of the young were contaminated by the practice, and the sensibilities of older persons needlessly offended.
      It is freely affirmed upon what seems to be unimpeachable evidence that the revival of this ancient custom by Dr. Buchman has not been altogether unaccompanied by moral evils similar to those that occasioned its abandonment. Members of the Groups assure me that in their own experience they have seen nothing of the sort, but I cannot help feeling that they have been singularly fortunate in that regard; for there is not lacking evidence that sometimes, at least, things have happened in this connection to cause grave concern. Thus one, whom Dr. Hensley Henson [the Bishop of Durham] certifies to be "a very thoughtful and devout Churchwoman, who was present at the Oxford House Party," in 1933, I fancy, states that "some of the confessions were terrible. One in particular should never have been made in public to an audience mixed in every sense of the word."   ...
      Within my own hearing, further, it was said by one prominent among Canadian Church leaders that at a meeting of the Groups in British Columbia — at Vancouver, if I am not mistaken — that he and his wife were forced to leave the hall in protest against the character of some of the sharings.
The Groups Movement, The Most Rev. John A. Richardson, pages 60-61.
Morehouse Publishing Co., Milwaukee, Wis., 1935.

As Rev. Richardson pointed out, the practice of public confessions in the very early Christian church caused grave problems:

  1. The minds of the children were contaminated by the practice. The children will hear adults confessing what they have done, and the children will think that they might like to try that too...
  2. Plus, the children will start to think that "Everybody does it, so why shouldn't I? It's no big deal; everybody does it."
  3. The sensibilities of older persons were needlessly offended.
  4. People took pride in their sins. (As in, "My sins and infidelities and binges were lots bigger and longer and more outrageous than yours... Why, you're just a wimp when compared to a big hardened old reprobate like me.")
  5. And then people become desensitized to the sins confessed. Something about which people talk every day, and admit every day, becomes commonplace and loses its power to shock or shame. The unthinkable becomes thinkable.

Rev. H.A. Ironside described Oxford Group confession sessions this way:

A group of them go off by invitation to some country inn, beautiful city hotel, or country home. They boast that they are generally not after the down-and-outers but the up-and-outers, people of wealth, people of fashion and culture, and they gather together to spend several days in fellowship. Their meetings are largely of this character: they come together as groups and devote a great deal of time to testimony. These testimonies are generally in the nature of confessions. They act on the scripture that says, "Confess your faults one to another," and stop there and do not notice the rest of the connection. They take it that the way to get help is to come together and confess their faults one to the other. Sometimes as a matter of decency women meet together and confess their sins to each other, and men meet together and confess their sins to each other. When I was in Boston, I found a good deal of scandal had been occasioned by mixed companies holding these parties and confessing their sins, many of which were of such a character that Scripture says, "It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret" (Eph. 5: 12). Yet they confessed these things openly, men before women and women before men. You can understand that the result was anything but helpful. Where do you find anything in the Word of God that suggests this kind of confession of sin? They say when they come together and honestly face their sins and tell about them, it gives them a certain spiritual strength that enables them to turn from their sins and so enter upon a new and a changed life.
The Oxford Group Movement; Is It Scriptural? by H. A. Ironside, Litt. D.; A Sermon Preached in Moody Memorial Church

The tone of the confessions at Buchman's meetings was often anything but repentant. Converts would tell grand entertaining tales of their "extremely sinful ways" before being "changed" into a Buchmanite in a manner that bordered on bragging. The confessional stories were often told in a jocular manner that kept the audiences laughing. As Marjorie Harrison, a contemporary critic, said in her book,

When Dr. Buchman invited converts to stand up and confess at one meeting that I attended, he said: "Remember these three points when you speak: BREVITY, SINCERITY, and HILARITY." Members of his group are taught to be funny and jocular about their sins. I should like to know how that can be reconciled with the teaching of any religion.
Saints Run Mad; A Criticism of the "Oxford" Group Movement, Marjorie Harrison (1934), page 145.

      The Salvation Army has deliberately adopted a method that it considers suitable and successful in attracting corner men and women. The [Buchmanism] Group uses measures equally undignified as a means of appeal to gilded youth. In place of tambourines it has a slangy jargon: instead of sanguinary hymns, modern catch-phrases: its emotional appeal is subtle and insidious instead of blatant. Above all, and in this it differs from every other form of revivalism, the "penitents' bench" with its genuine, if hysterical manifestations of sorrow, is superseded by the slap-stick confessional.
      But apart from superficial methods, there is no other likeness between the Salvation Army and the Group Movement.
Saints Run Mad; A Criticism of the "Oxford" Group Movement, Marjorie Harrison (1934), page 26.

Then Harrison described a ten day meeting in January, 1934, in London:

      The Church Times sent a special representative whose report is obviously written with care and a sense of responsibility. His description is extraordinarily reminiscent of many meetings that I have attended.   ...   He ... calls attention to the fact that "very many sins were confessed amusingly and greeted with laughter."
      ... I have heard Dr. Buchman himself enjoin new converts to make their testimonies with hilarity!
Saints Run Mad; A Criticism of the "Oxford" Group Movement, Marjorie Harrison (1934), page 31.

Alcoholics Anonymous still has the same problem today. At speaker meetings, the featured speaker will often entertain the audience and keep them laughing by telling hilarious stories of his wild and crazy besotted adventures before his conversion to sobriety. Later, when members of the audience "share" their stories of alcoholic ruin, they will confess their "moral shortcomings" and "defects of character" with remorse and repentance. But the featured speaker does a stand-up comedy routine that makes alcoholism and sin sound like a whole lot of fun.

Sometimes it's enough to make you wish to return to drinking, longing for the good old days when we were young and wild and crazy and didn't give a damn...

Marjorie Harrison attended many Oxford Group meetings, and noticed that the confessions changed as members gained experience in making public confessions:

      You will see an instance of how "changing" can be for the worse, if you go to a Group meeting when new converts are asked to testify. These people are very touching in their complete sincerity, humility and deep reverence. Then hear the various members of the "Teams" — the same type of people after they have had an intensive training in Group methods and have recounted their sins at many public confessions. There is no longer any ring of sincerity; they are glib. There is no humility; they are smug, complacent, and insufferably priggish. And the reverence is gone completely.
Saints Run Mad; A Criticism of the "Oxford" Group Movement, Marjorie Harrison (1934), page 91.

Contemporary clergy criticized Buchmanite sharing by saying,

There is subtle temptation to spiritual vanity which assaults the public speaker, especially if he posses the orator's gift and knows it; and against that temptation, even the most humiliating self-accusations provide no sufficient protection.   ...   The penitent may feel a strange pride in the sins which he publicly proclaims as once his own.
The Oxford Groups; The Charge Delivered At The Third Quadrennial Visitation Of His Diocese Together With An Introduction, Herbert Hensley Henson, D.D. (the Bishop of Durham), 1933, page 54.

Again, we see the warning about people taking pride in their sins: "My sins were much bigger and more outrageous than your wimpy-ass little sins."

The practice "emphasizes past occurrences unwholesomely," says Dr. Douglas J. Wilson, Prof. in the University of Western Ontario, to whose article in The Christian Century of August 23, 1933, allusion has already been made, "becomes artificial and partially insincere, and breeds a perilous spiritual pride."   ...  
The spirit of pride is never likely to be far away from one who makes repeated and habitual recital of sins before a public gathering; and herein, one cannot but think, lies a danger which even the leaders of the Groups cannot wisely disregard. "What you talk about without embarrassment," says the Bishop of Durham wisely, "you do not feel deeply. The gravity of the wrong-doing dwindles as it is discussed" (The Group Movement, 2nd Ed., Part II, p. 55).   ...
The sincerity of those adherents of the Groups who spend weeks and months, and in some cases, even years, in traveling from place to place in the interests of the Movement will not be called in question. No thoughtful person can doubt, however, that their repeated sharing for witness before large public gatherings must strain that sincerity severely. A mechanical element enters into the telling of the same story over and over again, and it becomes stale in its recital. Instead of a spontaneous witness to victory won, it tends insensibly to become a routine performance, and the sincerity of the confession diminishes. "It would be less than human," as it has been said, "if, in such circumstances, the story should not become exaggerated and embroidered."
      Hilarity, moreover, has been almost exalted as a virtue by the Groups, and, if the press reports of the meetings are to be believed, a jocular element enters not seldom into the sharings, bringing with it a danger of which many public speakers with a gift of humour are well aware — the danger of making the real end of the story the laughter that it provokes, instead of the truth that it is intended to tell.
      A typical case in point was brought to my attention some little time ago by one whose statement no one who knows him would dream of questioning. In the course of her sharing at a large meeting in Montreal, a youthful member of an international team sketched briefly the background of her life. She was a clergyman's daughter, she said. On Sunday morning, of course, they all went to church, and then came home to a good, hot dinner, during which, "while father carved the joint, mother always carved the congregation." The flippant statement was rewarded with the applause and laughter which it was obviously intended to provoke.
      Not long after, the same team was operating in another city, where my informant happened to be, and once more he attended a large gathering, at which sharings were being given. The same lady gave the same sharing in substantially the same words, and again her story found its climax in the same pitiful joke at the expense of her mother, "While father carved the joint, mother always carved the congregation," and once more her mot was rewarded with laughter and applause. I do not suggest that such instances of bad taste are common. The story shows sufficiently, however, one danger to which those who are called upon to tell habitually the story of sins forgiven are inevitably subject.
The Groups Movement, The Most Rev. John A. Richardson, pages 68-71.
Morehouse Publishing Co., Milwaukee, Wis., 1935.

Punch Magazine parodied the Oxford Group confession sessions at Oxford University by making them into an intercollegiate sporting event:

Organized match play has not yet begun, but teams of eight from two different colleges will meet informally in a neutral room, and confess against each other, sin for sin. Balliol, I hear, has a second team. Indeed, there were great tales of a sensational match between Wadham and Balliol II. After seven heats the scores were level, but in the final heat the Balliol captain defeated his opposite number by a narrow margin. The Wadham captain made a generous speech, in which he freely admitted that the worst side had won.
"THE GROUPS IN OXFORD" by G. F. Allen, pages 18-19, writing in
Oxford and the Groups; The Influence of the Groups considered by Rev. G. F. Allen, John Maud, Miss B. E. Gwyer, C. R. Morris, W. H. Auden, R. H. S. Crossman, Dr. L. P. Jacks, Rev. E. R. Micklem, Rev. J. W. C. Wand, Rev. M. C. D'Arcy, S.J., Professor L. W. Grensted,     Edited by R. H. S. Crossman;     Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1934.

One critic of the Oxford Groups noted how superficial the confessions at the house parties really were. People routinely confessed to having thought ill of someone, or having been jealous, or having had a selfish urge, or having worn make-up or drunk a cocktail or smoked a cigarette, but rarely did anyone ever confess to having committed a real crime or to anything serious (other than sex). At one house party, when it came Frank Buchman's turn to confess something, he admitted that he had cheated the Post Office out of small change by putting insufficient postage on some letters. The whole group then ceremonially trouped down to the Post Office where Buchman "made amends" by paying the postage due. Some of Frank Buchman's followers then marveled at what a wonderfully honest and spiritual man Frank was, to have confessed to such a trivial thing.

We confess our little faults to persuade people that we have no large ones.
== François de La Rochefoucauld

One of the peculiar features of Buchmanism was "Guidance sessions." People would sit quietly with a notebook in hand, and listen for God's messages during "The Quiet Hour", and God would speak to them, they believed. Buchman liked to describe it as Group members receiving "powerful spiritual radiograms". So the members of Buchman's groups were forever claiming that God had guided them, and told them to do this or that...

An Oxford Group pamphlet gave these instructions:

6. In the attitude of "Speak Lord for Thy servant heareth" wait patiently and quietly, listening for what He has to say, what he has to reveal to us concerning ourselves, what He wants us to do in His service, what message He wants us to bear, what piece of work He wants us to do, or what new truth He wants us to learn about Himself.(John 16:13-14)127

7. You may find it real help to write down the ideas and thoughts which the Holy Spirit has caused to arise in the mind. The advantage of this is two-fold; It is an aid to concentration and acts as a reminder of duties to be performed, and is of value in checking at the close of the day thoughts received each morning and through the day. (Jer. 10:2)128
from THE QUIET TIME By Howard J. Rose

And Frank Buchman declared,

Our destiny is to obey the guidance of God.
Frank Buchman, speaking at the opening of the Moral Re-Armament Training Center, Mackinac Island, Michigan, July 1943, quoted in
Remaking the World, the speeches of Frank Buchman, Frank N. D. Buchman, page 201.

The whole Buchmanite family participates in the Quiet Time.
They sit quietly with notebooks in hand, ready to write down the messages that they receive from God.

The London newspaper reporter Arthur James "A. J." Russell, who intended to write an exposé of Buchman, but who was "changed" into a devoted Buchmanite and became the first Oxford Group archivist, described his introduction to Frank Buchman's Guidance this way:

      And then, of course, Frank suggested the inevitable Quiet Time. Taking two sheets of notepaper, he handed one to me. We sat down and listened in prayerful silence. I tried to pick up another of those luminous thoughts. Nothing exceptional came: quit a lot of ordinary human thoughts, but no luminous ones. I had no wish to confess my sins to the person Frank had named, but I wished to see the thing through as an honest test. Yet my thoughts in that Quiet Time agreed with what Frank urged, though my wishes did not. I wrote down my thoughts; then read them aloud to Frank, who confidently and surprisingly pronounced them to be God-given thoughts.
      "Oh, come," I said to myself. "That's much too strong an interpretation." How on earth could a few wandering thoughts, unattended by mystical feeling or luminosity, scribbled on a sheet of notepaper, be catalogued as God's thoughts by anyone in his right senses? Still, I was determined to see the thing through, being a believer in the pragmatic method of learning by doing.
For Sinners Only, A. J. Russell, page 95.

In spite of his initial skepticism, Russell was soon converted into a true believer who went on to write two whole books of praise for Frank Buchman (For Sinners Only and One Thing I Know). Eventually, A. J. Russell became the historian and chief publicist for Frank Buchman's organization.

Notice how Frank Buchman claimed that he had the ability to tell whether a thought had come from God or not. We never got any explanation of just how, when, or where Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman acquired that great magical power, but Frank still felt entitled to routinely censor or re-interpret other peoples' Guidance, because he allegedly saw God's will and knew God's mind far more clearly than they could.

Rev. Geoffrey Allen, a minister at Oxford University who became a true believer and a leader in Buchman's cult, described Guidance this way:

It is a custom to be recommended, that those who seek to receive instruction from God in quiet should take pencil and paper, and write down the thoughts to which His Spirit leads. If any feel superior to the use of such material aids, they may well question whether God also is convinced that they do not need them. The custom of writing slows the rapid pace of wandering thoughts, that the voice of the Spirit may be heard; it enables us the more surely to remember His lessons, and to see that His requests are performed.
He That Cometh; A Sequel to 'Tell John,' being further essays on the Message of Jesus and Present Day Religion, Geoffrey Allen, pages 99-100.

That sounds very similar to the common occult practice called Automatic Writing, which is another favorite trick, like the Ouija board, of would-be psychics. What you do is, you just relax and let your hand write anything that comes into your mind. Then you imagine that you are "channelling" someone else's thoughts — usually the thoughts of a dead person, ghost, or spirit. Well, Buchmanites went so far as to imagine that they were channelling God.

"Seeking Guidance" is a lot like using the I Ching to make every decision.

B. W. Smith, who investigated the Oxford Group in 1936, described Frank Buchman's "guided" behavior as:

      Always, he says, he follows his "guidance." Sometimes he is guided as to how much to spend for postage. Once, in Canada, when they quoted him a rate of $12 a day for rooms, he said that God had told him to pay only $3.50. Once, just at the beginning of an important Group meeting in Aberdeen, Scotland, he suddenly said that he had been "guided" to take a ship to South America. It turned out that the ship he was guided to go and return on also carried the Prince of Wales. It is not recorded what progress Dr. Buchman made with the Prince, but I believe he "changed" the ship's doctor.
Buchman — Surgeon of Souls, B.W. Smith, Jr., American Magazine, 122:26-7+, November 1936, page 151.

Frank Buchman would walk into a room full of followers and brightly announce, "I knew someone here needed me. I received Guidance to come." That kind of ego game is easy to play; in any group of a dozen or more people, it is easy to find someone who was supposedly in need of a few words of divine wisdom.

God on the Hudson

In Briarcliff Manor, not far from Nyack where lives Oom the Omnipotent, onetime "love cultist," The Groups had an international house party. Glib, bright-eyed Dr. Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman, "soul surgeon," arrived on the S. S. Aquitania with a party of 22 "experienced" members of The Groups, many of whom had met with him at a house party in Geneva last January (TIME, Jan. 18).

The Press gave much notice to their doings. Soul Surgeon Buchman, who looks to the camera much like his good friend John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s cousin Percy (see p. 55), handed out envelopes full of clippings from British newspapers, said he appreciated the publicity he had gotten from "the Bishops" and the Press in England. He explained that "this is a peripatetic group, just as the disciples of Jesus. It goes wherever God guides it." He smiled amiably, as did his entourage, 17 of whom had prepared typewritten statements for the reporters, describing themselves and the manner of their conversions to The Groups. Typical was the account of Jonkheer Eric van Lennep, Knight of St. John of Holland, who said of himself: "He used to live behind masks; a mask for the office; a mask for his friends, a mask at home and another for his social activities; but he has found freedom from all that, and more, in a God-guided and unified life. And having found a good thing, who would not pass it on to his friends?"

Proprietor Chauncey Depew Steele of Briarcliff Lodge is sympathetic to The Groups. Two years ago all the bellhops, chambermaids, desk clerks attended a Group meeting. Last week the 425 members of the house party, each paying $4 per day during the ten-day stay, had the place much to themselves. They met first at a dinner, with much grinning and chuckling and calling of first names. Then Rev. Samuel Moor ("Sam") Shoemaker Jr. opened the first "experience meeting" with the story about the unemployed broker who hired out to a zoo to pose in a lion's skin, was scared by another lion who turned out to be another unemployed broker. The Groups laughed. "That's right, Sam!" cried Founder Buchman. "That's the way we're meeting unexpected friends here tonight." Then the meeting grew chummy, with much talk of "sharing" (mutual confession), "surrender" (conversion) and spiritual fellowship. There were preachers, athletes, college professors, brokers, an elderly gentleman described as a retired 'legger, socialites from Manhattan, Louisville, Holland, South Africa, England — all pleasant, engaging folk, none of them shabby or pasty or odd-looking.

Next day, first thing after breakfast, came "quiet time." Reporters watched The Group members assemble in the sunny ballroom, get out pencil & paper "to take down what God says." Some waited with poised pencils, others took down copious messages. After 15 minutes D. Scoville Wishard said: "Some will want to share what God said." There were many who did, all beginning "it came to me. . . ." Said Jonkheer van Lennep: "God has told me he is blessing this house party." Said Evershed Thompson of the Edinburgh Stock Exchange: "Jesus is here."
TIME magazine, May 02, 1932

Vic Kitchen, another long-time true believer in the Oxford Group, wrote a book where he listed some of the benefits of living a surrendered and "Guided" life:

... Even with no change in the curriculum or staff, a surrendered and God-conscious student can gain much more from the present modes of education than any of his pagan friends.
      There is first of all the matter of choosing schools and of finding the means to go there. I have seen youngsters in the Oxford Group, for instance, select their schools or colleges, not according to parental preference, not according to ideas of their own, but according to the direct and often amazing guidance of God. This guidance sometimes leads to most unexpected institutions that neither the student nor parent had considered. At other times God shows the opportunity for attending leading universities that the student had considered beyond hope. In one case, due to depression, a young man had given up all idea of going to college. Then God told him that he ought to go — told him where to go — and told him where to find the money. This is not an unusual occurrence. It is only one case in many.
      Once in his school or college, moreover, the guided student finds the right selection of studies and he finds a greater ability to study — a certain sharpening of the mind such as I have tried to describe in my own experience. He finds himself able to attack the most intricate studies and to master subjects that have always been a bugbear. He finds, moreover, that God does not let his studies suffer when, as sometimes happens, He diverts him temporarily to other details of His work.
I Was A Pagan, V. C. "Vic" Kitchen, pages 96-97.

Obviously, that just reeks of the common cult characteristics, "We Have The Panacea", and "Magical, Mystical, Unexplainable Workings". And then there is the name-calling and "Devaluing the Outsider" — non-members are all "pagans". Vic Kitchen also made use of the propaganda technique called Proof By Anecdote. Stories about a few students who got into better schools than they had hoped do not prove that God is manipulating reality for the happiness of Oxford Group members.

There's more:

      Guided living also eliminates the frictions which are bound to arise when two self-centered people revolving on different axes are brought into close proximity. There is little friction between my wife and myself because, when we see a difference of opinion in the offing, we have a quiet time and refer the matter to God. He settles it, without argument or dispute, in the way He knows is best for both of us.   ...
[Ah, but who gets to decide what God said?]
      These, of course, are only a few — a very few — of the many blessings which occur when an ordinary marriage is turned into holy wedlock through surrender of self-will and the sharing of one's sins.
I Was A Pagan, V. C. "Vic" Kitchen, pages 112-113.

So Vic Kitchen considered surrender to the cult and confession of one's sins to be a panacea.

Peter Howard, the fascist disciple of Buchman who took over the leadership of Buchman's organization after Buchman's death, wrote a book that defended the Oxford Group Movement and Moral Re-Armament. In 1940 to 1941, during World War II, Peter Howard wrote:

      Some people in the Group have received the most remarkable and dramatic pieces of guidance from God. I have heard a naval officer describe, with obvious sincerity, how in the middle of a naval action he received precise guidance from God which told him which decisions to take and which helped him and his ship through.
      Others record how they suddenly received guidance to go to a certain street and there met people who needed their help.   ...
      When the air raids began, I was frightened, but foolhardy. Thus, although I felt alarmed, I goaded myself to stand out in Ludgate Circus and watch the bombardment when the first mass daylight raid on the London docks came our way.
      Soon after promising Garth Lean to listen to God, I received a message that if I trusted myself to God there was no need to fear. But that to go about in the streets unnecessarily when a raid was on was wrong.
      Explain it as you like, I have not from that moment felt over-alarmed in air raids.
Innocent Men, Peter Howard, page 33.

Peter Howard was obviously just cherry-picking a few choice stories there, and attempting a Proof By Anecdote. Howard said nothing about the many thousands of other naval officers who got killed. Didn't they pray too? Didn't God like their prayers? What happened to their 'Guidance'? Why did God choose to help just one begging believer and let all of the others die?

And the fact that Peter Howard managed to overcome his fear of air raids proves nothing. It's irrelevant. It says nothing about Oxford Groupers receiving Guidance from God. (It's the propaganda trick of Proof by Introducing Irrelevant Evidence.) The voice that told him that it was wrong to "go about in the streets unnecessarily when a raid was on" was probably just his common sense, or his gut-level survival instinct, telling him to stop behaving so foolishly before he got himself killed.

Similarly, another faithful Buchmanite wrote a book about his war experiences, and credited his survival to practicing Frank's style of Guidance. Edward Howell wrote in Escape to Live that God spoke to him and told him how to escape from a prisoner of war camp in Greece. Then God told him which way to run, "the author seeking guidance whenever he feels at a loss."72

I decided that the situation was out of my control if indeed it had ever been in it. God must decide and tell me what to do.
From Escape to Live, quoted in Inside Buchmanism; an independent inquiry into the Oxford Group Movement and Moral Re-Armament, Geoffrey Williamson, Philosophical Library, New York, c1954, page 51.

Edward Howell went on to say that, by following God's Guidance, he eventually met up with a group of escaped Australian soldiers, and together they made their way to Turkey and safety.

Arthur Strong quoted Howell at greater length:

      In the Spring of 1942 Wing Commander Edward Howell began to recover from wounds he sustained in the Battle of Crete, May 1941. While commanding a Hurricane Fighter Squadron he was shot down, and was seriously wounded in ground fighting. He was left for dead. Eventually, picked up by German paratroopers, he was flown to prison-camp hospitals in Greece, where he had an experience which changed the course of his life. In his book "Escape to Live" he tells an amazing story.

Captain Edward Howell
      "Having long been an atheist, I decided to stop trying to run my life and to let God, if he was there, tell me what to do. The result was immediate and fascinating. I found myself able to communicate with Him and receive constant instruction. Still in very poor health, I was half my normal weight and had both arms crippled with open wounds, so that everything had to be done for me by others. I had lost most of what we normally value, yet I suddenly found myself happier than I had ever been, and that I cared about the people around me with an inner peace and purpose I had never known before. I had escaped from self-concern and self-interest into a new way of living. I had escaped to live.
      "Then God showed me how to escape from prison. In my condition it seemed quite impossible but I chose to trust and obey Him and miracles resulted. There was no one about where there should have been; a locked door had been left unlocked; a sentry had his mind somewhere else. I managed to scale a high wall without using my helpless arms and fell, literally, on my feet instead of my head. A star became my guide. My wounds healed overnight. Shepherds and villagers in the Greek mountains became my friends and helpers despite language barriers. Finally, a smuggler's boat took me by night from Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain, to safety in Turkey and so back home again.
      "Home was the end of that journey and the beginning of many others, also fascinating and rewarding. I took part in the planning for D Day and was also on the Air Staff at the Pentagon in Washington. Since the war I have worked with MRA in many countries, and have also been in business in the United States and Greece.
      "The worst experience of my life had been transformed into the best. I became aware of the immense network of God's people, those who respond to Him, giving the continuing hope and promise of a new world. The star had led me into wholly new ways — and still does."
Preview Of A New World; How Frank Buchman Helped his country Move from isolation To world responsibility; USA 1939-1946, Arthur Strong, page 112.

The one really big, important dangling loose end that both Edward Howell and Peter Howard failed to explain in their stories is how and why "God" neglected to give such life-saving Guidance to about 30 or 40 million other good people in that war. Why didn't God bother to give such help to the Germans who opposed Hitler, or to the Russians, or even to the Jews in Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Dachau, and Treblinka? Didn't God love them? Didn't they pray enough? Not even the leading Christian ministers like Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Pastor Martin Niemoeller who opposed the Nazis? (And then, were murdered by the Nazis...)118 Not even the German members of the Oxford Group? Didn't any of them rate God's Guidance and help?

(And what about the German Oxford Group members who prayed for help while fighting against the British soldiers? If God helped them, wouldn't that be God helping to kill British Oxford Group members?)

I am reminded of the words of one of the ministers who criticized Frank Buchman's heretical teachings — He said that he considered it blasphemy for Frank Buchman to speak about how God was helping Frank Buchman, and doing great things for Frank Buchman, while the rest of humanity was dying. I have to agree.

"I count it blasphemy for Dr. Buchman, or anybody else, to pretend to testify to what God has done for him while humanity is at this moment perishing."
Rev. John Haynes Holmes, quoted in The New York Times, July 16, 1934, page 9.

The Buchmanites believed in a God who micro-manages the world. According to Buchmanism, God has a grand plan for everything, right down to the germs. Everything that happens is caused by God. There are no coincidences or accidents, they say. This quote from the "Big Book", Alcoholics Anonymous, is typical of Buchmanite beliefs:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake.
The A.A. Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd Edition, the story Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict, page 449.

According to Buchmanism, everything is subject to the will of God. God is concerned with even the tiniest of details in this world. God even cares whether you choose to drink coffee, tea, Coke, Pepsi, or water with lunch today. A follower who has properly "Surrendered to Guidance", and who lives a life that is "under God-control", will intuitively make the choice that pleases God. And God, in turn, will make things turn out right for those followers who please Him. To hear the Buchmanites tell it, God is constantly kept busy pulling millions of puppet strings, to make things happen just the way He wants them to.

And God allegedly does not hesitate to let His wishes be known by broadcasting messages — "powerful spiritual radiograms" as Frank Buchman called them — to those people who will listen.

P.R.A.Y. = Powerful Radiograms Always Yours

This is an eye-witness account of one of the Oxford Group's Quiet Times, given by a former member of the Group:

        The team is sitting in a semi-circle around Sam [Shoemaker?]. "Well," Sam asks, "what's the plan for to-nights meeting? Let's listen."...
        "Guidance-books" appear, pencils fly swiftly over blank sheets. Some peer glassily at the ceiling. Others close their eyes momentarily, and are invariably rewarded with two or three lines of guidance.
        "Amen. What comes?", Sam asks, as the scrape of pencils and pens perceptibly diminishes in volume, thereby indicating to him that the details of God's plan have been fully communicated. Sharing begins. "Any guidance about the motif?"
        "It comes to me that J. ought to give a good wad on Sin. My guidance is that we shall get the pious crowd to-night," says B.
        "That checks with my guidance," says another.
        "Check," "check," "check," echoes from many of the team.
        "That's it, Sin — that's what I got too. Sin is the drive for to-night." (It should be noted that guidance is regarded as being practically infallible when a majority is in agreement.)
        The door opens. Frank [Buchman] walks in, and sits next to Sam. "How far have you got with to-night's meeting?", he asks.
        "It seems clear that sin is the motif to-night," Sam tells him.
        Frank interrupts quickly: "Now wait a minute. I'm not so sure. I've got a feeling that it may be too early for sin. 'Intrigue' is what came to me in my early quiet time. You've got to get hold of that important pagan bunch. Play with 'em — show 'em what they're missing. Give 'em the feeling that religion's more fun than cocktail parties. Suppose we have further Quiet, and check up on it."
        More Quiet. More writing. Frank was always a tonic. Every one writes more busily. Guidance comes more easily. The words "intrigue" and "hilarity" appear on many notebooks.
        "Amen, what comes!", asks Frank.
        "I got 'intrigue' this time," says B.
        Sam seemed to have got different guidance too this time. (The phrases "right guidance" and "bad guidance" were in common use.) "I check with you, Frank," he says. "It came to me that I must be more flexible, and have no preconceptions."
        "Check," "check," "check," again echoes round the room.
        Frank resumes. "Well now, I'll share my guidance — A battery of witness from young Oxford. They want to hear Oxford, so we'll let 'em. Crisp nuggets of witness. Intrigue the young pagan elements. Sweep 'em along. That's my guidance. Now I don't want to dictate. I may be wrong. I want you to check me."
        But we knew better. Frank's guidance was always right.
== A former member, quoted by Dr. H. Hensley Henson, the Bishop of Durham, and reprinted in The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament, by Tom Driberg, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965, pages 197-198.

The group had ostensibly clearly heard God's Will during their first "Quiet Time", and such Guidance was supposed to be nearly infallible, but when Frank Buchman came in and contradicted them, the whole group changed its opinion of "God's Will" in two minutes flat. So much for getting infallible guidance from God during one's Quiet Time.

Also notice how Buchman called those who had not joined his group "pagans". That is common cultish behavior — name-calling, devaluing the outsider, and encouraging an us-versus-them mindset. So is the attitude that the leader is always right.

Geoffrey Williamson, a journalist who investigated the Oxford Group and Moral Re-Armament, said of such "received Guidance":

It is idle to speculate whether these promptings emanate from a living God, from the depths of the subconscious, from an individual's own conscience, from a latent "better self", or from a form of wishful thinking.
Inside Buchmanism; an independent inquiry into the Oxford Group Movement and Moral Re-Armament, Geoffrey Williamson, Philosophical Library, New York, c1954, page 168.

And Marjorie Harrison, another contemporary investigator, stated:

      As The Times [of London] put it in a leading article, "It would be incredible if the bulk of the 'guidance' received in 'quiet times' would not consist of submerged thoughts and desires. Most of what is put forward as guidance received in these periods of relaxed attention is so trivial that it would be impious to ascribe it to the promptings of God."
      The Group itself does not deny this. Dr. Buchman himself admits that "thoughts might come from the sub-conscious self or from the evil one".
      The author of What is the Oxford Group? says: "The human mind ... takes up a train of thought it finds hard to discard, invents or remembers a thought of its own. But to those closely in touch with God, it becomes easy after a short while to differentiate between spiritual and human messages." Was there ever a more thoughtless, dangerous and careless pronouncement on a subject of gravest importance to the lives of so many people?
Saints Run Mad; A Criticism of the "Oxford" Group Movement, Marjorie Harrison (1934), page 64.

And, I would add, "Such arrogance, such conceit." That Buchmanite just assumed that he was "closely in touch with God" because he had practiced Buchmanism for "a short while". For a short while? In the history of the world's great religions, we often find stories of saints who spent most of their lives in prayer and meditation — just to finally get a mere few paragraphs of enlightened wisdom — and those saints felt that it was worth the wait. And those saints did not claim to be "closely in touch with God" because they had prayed and meditated "for a short while".

The Bishop of London wrote to A. J. Russell,

I think I explained at St. Ermin's Hotel that I believe absolutely in Guidance by the Holy Spirit, without which belief I could not be for five minutes Bishop of London.
        But instances have been brought before me of mistaken views of Guidance on the part of the Group, which lead me to suppose that many of them leave out the light of reason (also a lamp given us for our Guidance) and what might be called sanctified common-sense.
One Thing I Know, A. J. Russell (1933), page 285.

The Bishop later explained:

"...I would say now that of course we Christians rely on Guidance. 'As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the Sons of God.' We take one day at a time, and we trust the Holy Spirit to see us through, and so He does. That has been my slogan for years.   ...
      "Yet frankly I have seen dangers and foresee dangers. For instance, in the matter of Guidance, we must remember that the Lamp of Reason was given us by God to guide us. Therefore, we must do nothing against reason. This will save us from mistaking a mere whim or desire as Guidance by the Holy Spirit. I illustrated that point when giving a farewell charge to thirty-three Groupers who left England in 1932, as a team to visit Canada and the United States. I told them of a very unhappy story of misguidance, which I knew to be true, for it was given to me by the father of the girl who was the victim of it. Because of the behaviour of a young man in the Group towards my informant's daughter, the father was completely put off by the movement. His attitude was understandable, if not quite logical.
      "The young man had written a love-letter to his daughter on the Friday, but on the Monday he had been 'guided' to propose to another girl.
      'The father said he wanted a horse-whipping, for his sense of decency should have come in to check such ungentlemanly conduct. The Group should insist upon such safeguards as the Lamp of Reason, and the observance of good taste and decency when interpreting Guidance. When I told my story at the Group meeting, it raised a laugh; but it is a serious objection, none the less, for the story is true."
One Thing I Know, A. J. Russell (1933), pages 291-292.

What was so darned funny? The Bishop told the very sad story of a girl who was hurt by a Grouper's goofy "Guidance", and the team of Oxford Group recruiters laughed when they heard it. Did their laughter indicate that they just couldn't bear to hear the truth?

(That was also a subtle form of resistance to criticism — just laugh at anything that might be a valid criticism of the Oxford Groups or of Frank Buchman's teachings. Don't take it seriously; don't really consider it or think about it. Just frivolously laugh it off and pretend that it is all very funny.)

Marjorie Harrison wrote:

        The Bishop of London, speaking on the Group some time ago, said: "God has given us intelligence and reason to be the lamps to guide us."
        The Group by its interpretation of Divine Guidance advocates the dowsing of these lamps.
        To return to the simile of a father and his children. The Group teaches the child to regard his father not as a guide and defence generally and a ready help in time of trouble, but someone to whom the child turns for actual direction in everything he does. Father, shall I play with my train or my bricks? Father, shall I build a house or a bridge? Father, shall I use red bricks or blue? Father, shall I knock it down? Father, shall I build it up? Father this and father that, until a father might well wonder whether his child is a half-wit, instead of a reasonable being.
        Why should we storm the courts of Heaven to know whether we shall buy cigarettes or take the 10.45 or the 11 o'clock train to town, or as a critic has said: "render God responsible for our neckties or whether we choose to eat beef or mutton at luncheon."
        Believe me, these instances are no exaggeration. Dr. Buchman acknowledges that he asks for guidance for the expenditure on postage.
Saints Run Mad; A Criticism of the "Oxford" Group Movement, Marjorie Harrison (1934), page 55.

Another Bishop declared:

Groupists actually speak of 'listening-in' to the Holy Ghost: whenever they run up against a difficulty they stop for guidance. Such an idea of God is crudely anthropomorphic, derogatory to God's honor, and contrary to natural morality.... Guidance as understood by the Groups encourages all kinds of illusions; it undermines the sense of personal moral responsibility, it leads to fanaticism.
The Rt. Revd. M. J. Browne, Bishop of Galway, in his Catholic Truth Society Pamphlet, quoted in
The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament, by Tom Driberg, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965, pages 195-196.

And Dr. Herbert Hensley Henson, the Bishop of Durham, said in his criticism of the Oxford Groups:

Groupism discloses in its conception of 'Guidance' precisely the same error as that which infects its conception of 'witness'. It 'seeks a sign'. It insists on something precise, concrete, calculable. Its temper of mind is rather Pharisaic than Christian. It seeks proofs of Divine action in what is abnormal, amazing, even miraculous. Its view of inspiration is mechanical, and its treatment of Scripture literalist. Thus it comes about that, even in the process of exalting the genuinely Christian conception of the 'guided life', it perverts and lowers it.
The Oxford Groups; The Charge Delivered At The Third Quadrennial Visitation Of His Diocese Together With An Introduction, Herbert Hensley Henson, D.D., 1933, page 70.

Belief in Guidance is the same kind of "faith" as believing that someone gets sick because it is the will of God.

It is also an appeal to ignorance — "Can you prove that such thoughts don't come from God?"

Marjorie Harrison interviewed Frank Buchman, and asked him about "Guidance".

I asked him to justify "Guidance" as he teaches it. He asked me if I had read the Book of Ezekiel lately. I replied that I had not. But I have since done so: I fail to see the slightest connection between the vision of Ezekiel, prophet and priest, a man set apart by God and chosen by Him, not when Ezekiel desired it but when God willed — to be the recipient of direct Divine Guidance, and the little circular clumps of converts, heads together, notebooks in hand, seated in the lounge of a fashionable hotel. Their heads are bent; eyes screwed up. Then in a moment or two they start scribbling in the little books. They read out the result in turn. They laugh and chatter and seem to enjoy themselves hugely. They appear to be playing "consequences", they believe they are having an audience with God. No, Dr. Buchman, there does not appear to be any connection between this and the burning vision of Ezekiel "among the captives by the river Chebar" when the heavens opened and he saw "visions of God".
Saints Run Mad; A Criticism of the "Oxford" Group Movement, Marjorie Harrison (1934), pages 115-116.

When people seriously believe that their own random thoughts and internal mental noise are the actual Words of God, then they can become convinced of anything they wish. This can lead to just about any kind of insane behavior you could imagine, of course. Bill Wilson admitted that A.A. members often got into trouble when receiving Guidance while practicing A.A. Step Eleven:

On awakening, let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking...
Here we ask God for inspiration...
What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration becomes a working part of the mind. Being still inexperienced and having just made conscious contact with God, it is not probable that we are going to be inspired at all times. We might pay for this presumption in all sorts of absurd actions and ideas. Nevertheless, we find that our thinking will, as time passes, be more and more on the plane of inspiration. We come to rely on it.
The Big Book, pages 86 to 87.

Notice how Bill Wilson tried to shrug off the crazy behavior of some "God-inspired" A.A. members as just being the actions of beginners who were still inexperienced in making conscious contact with God. And Bill implied that he was above that sort of thing because he had been listening to God longer.

And many Oxford Group members did behave irrationally as a result of their "Guidance". There were numerous stories of students getting "Guidance" to neglect or abandon their studies and skip their final exams, to abandon their careers and just devote their entire lives to the Oxford Group:

        The Group boasts of the reunion of parents and children thanks to its influence. It does not count the homes sundered through the same cause. Parents, who have made sacrifices to send their sons and daughters to the University, are exasperated and distressed to find time wasted, work neglected and careers ruined. I was told recently of a man who, at considerable financial inconvenience, had undertaken the education of a young nephew. In the midst of his University career the boy insisted on throwing up his work and attaching himself to the Buchmanites. No sense or reason can be used as an influence. To every argument they blandly reply that they know that they are right because God told them so.
Saints Run Mad; A Criticism of the "Oxford" Group Movement, Marjorie Harrison (1934), page 57.

        Here is another instance of the shallowness of thought and extremes of teaching of which the Group must be held guilty. In a booklet issued by the Group entitled The Guidance of God, there is a story of a three-year-old child taught to be quiet and listen to God's Voice. He looks up and remarks: "God says that you must eat more porridge this morning." Although the child is obviously reiterating an injunction of his mother's, this is put forward as a direct instance of Divine Guidance.
        In the same booklet there is the dangerous injunction: "Look for the coincidences" as sign-posts of Guidance.
... If every passing thought is to be followed as Guidance, and every coincidence regarded as a Divine intervention, where are we to stop this side madness? Dr. Buchman has no authority whatever for his doctrine of direct guidance available at any moment.
        The result of such a teaching, made "with an infallibility the Pope would envy", is to rob men and women of their God-given intelligence, and to weaken their sense of reason and their capacity for judgement until they become almost non-existent.   ...   It is a pitiable fact that many young children are now being brought up this way. I believe that there are no words too strong to condemn such a teaching, and that its consequences can be so terrible that no warning is too grave.
        The "Quiet Time" encourages introspection: the pseudo-guidance is its result. Minds deranged, homes made tragic, careers broken, bitter disappointment following the unhappy or negative outcome of this so-called guidance — these are the consequences.
        I would sum up in the words of The [London] Times: "It must be the most serious charge against the Groups that they encourage their members to shirk the discipline of thought in favour of impulses received from they know not where."
        The teaching on Guidance is as great a superstition as any purged from the Church at the Reformation.
Saints Run Mad; A Criticism of the "Oxford" Group Movement, Marjorie Harrison (1934), pages 67-68.

        It is not easy to get a direct answer to a direct question. People who have followed this pseudo-guidance for long lose the ability to think to the point. They are, even in conversation, under guidance and following the ideas that come into their heads at the moment. Groupers become extraordinarily evasive people.
Saints Run Mad; A Criticism of the "Oxford" Group Movement, Marjorie Harrison (1934), page 62.

Here is a good example of such evasiveness: Peter Howard, the fascist disciple of Frank Buchman who took over the leadership of the organization after Buchman's death, wrote in his first book of praise of the Oxford Groups:

      "Now the question will be put to me: 'Hey — Peter Howard — are you a member of the Oxford Group?'
      "My answer is that I find the standards aimed at by the Oxford Group difficult of achievement by me. But I should like to achieve them. I shall try to achieve them.
      "Two of them are absolute honesty and absolute unselfishness.
      "I cannot believe these goals deserve the flouts and gibes of anyone. Certainly they do not get mine."
Innocent Men, Peter Howard, pages 38-39.

Peter Howard dodged and tap-danced around the question like a politician, and never answered it. While Howard was supposedly being so "absolutely honest", a simple "Yes" would have answered the question of membership.70

Rev. John A. Richardson also wrote about 'Guidance':

A young man writes a love-letter to one girl on Friday, and is "guided" to propose to another girl on the following Monday. (Related to Mr. Reginald Lennard, Fellow and Tutor of Wadham College, Oxford, as authenticated by the Bishop of London, "Morals and the Group Movement," The Nineteenth Century and After, Nov., 1933, pp. 600-601.)   ...
      No less a person than Canon Grensted says, "I was once worrying as to which I should do: go a long journey by car or by train. After a long time wasted in weighing the pros and cons, guidance came suddenly through with the message: 'Don't be a fool, go by car.'" (For Sinners Only, A. J. Russell, Eng. Ed., Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd., p. 288). It is hardly in such language that we may expect the Holy Spirit to speak to us, but we may let that point pass. The significant thing about Prof. Grensted's testimony is that he regards it as wasted time to consider for a few moments the advantages and disadvantages of two contrasted courses of action in the experiences of ordinary life. He would have us believe, it seems, that the exercise of common sense by a Christian is superseded by dependence upon supernatural intimations.
      ... Prof. Douglas J. Wilson [Prof. in the University of Western Ontario] ... informs us that within his own experience "Group leaders were 'guided' to break important engagements while large gatherings of people sat waiting in confused ignorance" ("A Critique of Buchmanism," The Christian Century, August 23, 1933). I have it on excellent authority, moreover, that similar breaches of courtesy and common sense were observed in Toronto during one of the great gatherings of the Movement. Sunday pulpit engagements are said to have been actually broken without a word of warning even at the last moment, leaving embarrassed ministers to improvise a sermon. Called to account later on for their inconsiderate behavior, the defaulting persons are said to have replied with apparent unconcern that they had been "guided" to go elsewhere.   ...
      With such incidents in view, few rationally-minded persons are likely to disagree with the Bishop of Durham, when he says with his customary directness that such a conception of guidance cannot be reconciled "either with piety or with good sense. It appears to be equally inconsistent with the character of God and the self-respect of man" (The Group Movement, 2nd Ed., Part II, p. 66). Nor will they find it difficult to make their own conclusion arrived at in the matter by Mr. Reginald Lennard. "The practical dangers of 'guidance,' however," he affirms, "great as they are, do not seem to me to be the most serious objection which can be urged against it on ethical grounds. It is all-important to notice the fundamental implications of the doctrine — its ethical implications, I mean;... Guidance is only to be sought in those matters which are usually matters for reason and common sense or for principles and conscience. No suggestion is ever made that we should substitute 'guidance' for our eyesight and walk across a busy street under 'guidance' with our eyes blindfolded. In other words, that in man which he shares with other animals is honored and trusted to do its work. The reason, which most obviously distinguishes him from other animals, is dethroned. (The italics are my own. [—Richardson]) It is difficult to conceive anything more degrading. The theory and practice of 'guidance' is not merely foolish and likely to lead in practice to moral pitfalls. It is in itself fundamentally immoral.... Imagine a world in which everyone lived wholly by 'guidance,' making each day simply the execution of commands received in the morning 'Quiet Time' and noted in the guidance book! All planning and thought, everything permanent in human relationships and human purposes, everything which makes life really human and worth living, would be brushed aside as an irrelevant waste of time if this theory were worked out to its logical conclusion and acted upon to the full" ("Morals and the Group Movement," The Nineteenth Century and After, Nov., 1933, p. 602).
      I leave the subject by merely recording the opinion of the Rev. E. R. Micklem, of Mansfield College, Oxford, one of the contributors to Oxford and the Groups. "To look for daily intimations," he says, "— subtle promptings — which indicate the tasks God has in mind for us, rather than to look for illumination on the way of grasping the multifarious and obvious opportunities of service which our ordinary daily life presents, is to attempt to live in a world of mechanical responses rather than of personal relationships" (p. 144).
The Groups Movement, The Most Rev. John A. Richardson, pages 75-79.
Morehouse Publishing Co., Milwaukee, Wis., 1935.

Rev. Richardson made a couple of great points there. Nobody walked across a busy highway while wearing a blindfold, trusting Guidance to safely guide his feet. The reason that they didn't is because, deep down in their hearts, they knew that Guidance didn't really work.

And Rev. Richardson was quite correct when he called the practice of 'Guidance' degrading. It would reduce humanity to being just so many remote-controlled toys of God. Children like to play with radio-controlled toy cars or airplanes, but Frank Buchman would have us believe that God prefers radio-controlled hairless monkees that mindlessly, unquestioningly, obey the orders that they receive through "spiritual radiograms". The practice of Guidance would reduce people to being just so many brainless robots.

Back in the 1920s, Dr. Frank Buchman was originally warmly received at Cambridge University by the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU). But they gradually cooled to his doctrine of "Guidance". Dr. Oliver Barclay, a former CICCU president, wrote:

      Buchman was at first received warmly by CICCU.... As time went on, however, disturbing features emerged. He spoke of the Quiet Time, but it was less and less a time of Bible study and prayer and increasingly a time of "listening to God." This members did with their minds blank and with pencil and paper in hand, writing down the thoughts that came to them.
      In this way men received entirely irrational guidance.... regarded as authoritative.... They tended to lose their concern for doctrine and to end up less definite about the gospel....
Whatever Happened to the Jesus Lane Lot?, Oliver R. Barclay, InterVarsity Press, 1977, pages 98-100.
Also see:
Occult Invasion, Dave Hunt, Howard House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, page 301.

Rev. Geoffrey Allen of Oxford University, who became a true believer and a leader in Buchman's cult, even taught followers to be ready to break appointments whenever they received Guidance to do so:

As we surrender our prejudices to God, so also we must surrender our engagements, so that we allow Him to direct in perfect freedom how He would have us spend our day. We shall not start our time of quiet before Him, blocking in the day that lies ahead with all that we have planned to do, and then asking Him how He would have us spend what is left of our time. God is Lord of the whole of our time. If He wills that we should go to apparently fixed engagements, He will send us to them. If He wills that we should break free from them to be used for other work of His, He is able to guide us how without damage to others of His children we may be set free. Of course, under His guidance, we may be at liberty to fill our diaries with engagements for days and weeks and months ahead. We must, however, then each new day allow God to redirect us as His purposes demand. It is men and not God who are fickle; but where men in revolt live their days by their own changing, selfish wills, God must be also free to adjust His plans to their changing situations, so as best to use those who obey Him, for calling the world back to His service.
He That Cometh; A Sequel to 'Tell John,' being further essays on the Message of Jesus and Present Day Religion, Geoffrey Allen, pages 99-100.

Rev. Geoffrey Allen claimed that God would teach the Oxford Groupists how to break appointments without pain to others — "He is able to guide us how without damage to others" — but his young followers seem to have failed to learn that part of their lessons. (Note that Rev. Geoffrey Allen changed his mind about the Oxford Groups in a few years' time, and broke away from the Groups.82)

Dr. H. H. Henson, the Bishop of Durham, strongly disagreed with Rev. Allen about his doctrine of breaking appointments:

I have read this passage several times, and considered it carefully, but I have not been able to reconcile it either with piety or with good sense. It appears to be equally inconsistent with the character of God and the self-respect of man. If generally acted upon, it would make social life almost impossible. It suggests that the Almighty may first 'guide' His children to frame engagements, which, when they fall due, He may 'guide' them to break. Instead of directing his course by reason and conscience, illumined no doubt by the Spirit of God, but indestructably free and responsible, the Christian is reduced to dependence on specific directions which he cannot foresee, may not understand or approve, and must not disobey.
Dr. H. Hensley Henson, the Bishop of Durham, quoted in
The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament, by Tom Driberg, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965, pages 195-196.

The Alcoholics Anonymous headquarters tells us that the A.A. members are also busy receiving and mindlessly obeying orders from some unidentified dictatorial "Higher Power", every day:

"I will center my thoughts on a Higher Power. I will surrender all to his power within me. I will become a soldier for this power, feeling the might of the spiritual army as it exists in my life today. I will allow a wave of spiritual union to connect me through my gratitude, obedience, and discipline to this Higher Power. Let me allow this power to lead me through the orders of the day."
Daily Reflections; A Book of Reflections by A.A. members for A.A. members, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1990, August 27, page 248.

...when the Grouper says that the voice of God has spoken to him that morning, Oxford may reply, platitudinously enough, that truth and error are each often accompanied by the same feeling of certainty.
John Maud, page 48, writing in
Oxford and the Groups; The Influence of the Groups considered by Rev. Geoffrey F. Allen, John Maud, Miss B. E. Gwyer, C. R. Morris, W. H. Auden, R. H. S. Crossman, Dr. L. P. Jacks, Rev. E. R. Micklem, Rev. J. W. C. Wand, Rev. M. C. D'Arcy, S.J., Professor L. W. Grensted.     Edited by R. H. S. Crossman;     Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1934.

Curiously, few of the Oxford Group believers ever got any "Guidance" that conflicted with any of Frank Buchman's "Guidance". You would think that some conflicts or collisions would be inevitable, because anybody could think, or imagine that he heard, anything he wanted to, but apparently, "God" managed to keep His followers from making any mistakes. How convenient.

Actually, Buchman implemented a system of checks for the regular followers: they had to submit their received Guidances to the other group members, or, preferably, the group elders, for approval. That was called "Checking Guidance". The other members or elders would interpret and approve of the Guidance, or not approve of it. If it conflicted with the guidance handed down from Frank Buchman and his lieutenants, then such erroneous Guidance must have come from The Evil One, not God. In that way, no follower could get a message from God like, "Frank Buchman is crazy. Quit this stupid cult right now."

Collective guidance is the test of individual guidance. The Group demands total loyalty to the inner group. Some have had to leave the movement because of the Groups' demands which conflict with truth or duty.
The Oxford Groups; The Charge Delivered At The Third Quadrennial Visitation Of His Diocese Together With An Introduction, Herbert Hensley Henson, D.D., 1933, pages 73-74.

(The demand for total loyalty to the group is another standard cult characteristic.)

Dr. Herbert Hensley Henson, the Bishop of Durham, pointed out that Buchman's doctrine of Checking Guidance created a great contradiction:

      In the Groupist system, although the individual is encouraged to attach Divine authority to the 'luminous thoughts' which visit the mind during the 'Quiet Time', and may be written down in his 'Guidance Book', and although he is urged to govern his daily course, even in the pettiest details and in spite of the dislocation of carefully-prearranged engagements which may be entailed by his obedience to their direction, external authority is not lacking. Above the Groupist there is the Group to which he is attached, and beyond the Group there is an 'Inner Group' over which Dr. Buchman himself presides, and whose decisions are final. Groupism is thus a closed system, as close-knit and dominating as that of the Jesuits, which leaves to the individual Groupist little liberty and no ultimate responsibility. In a recently published letter, expressed with gravity and restraint, twelve Evangelical clergymen resident in Oxford have instanced this aspect of the Movement as one of the objections which may be fairly urged against it:

'They [sc. the Groups] insist that individual guidance must be "checked" (i.e. tested and approved) by the collective guidance of the Group, with ultimate reference to the "Inner Group" of which Dr. Buchman is the head. Loyalty to the Group — as being directly controlled by the Holy Spirit — is the dominating factor in determining the actions and choices of its members.'

      We seem to be contemplating a paradox. A religious movement which begins by ignoring all existing systems, and claims to have none of its own, ends by becoming a system more despotic than any! In order to 'check' the marching orders from on high which the Groupist has been taught to count upon, and which in fact he claims to have received, the movement has found itself forced to create a 'checking' machinery which robs the Groupist of his private judgement, and binds him to an unquestioning obedience to the verdicts of another authority than that of the 'luminous thought' which he was originally required to look on as Divine!
The Oxford Groups; The Charge Delivered At The Third Quadrennial Visitation Of His Diocese Together With An Introduction, Herbert Hensley Henson, D.D., 1933, pages 72-73.

Indeed. It would seem that Frank Buchman got to over-ride "the Word of God" whenever he felt like it. No matter what "God" seemed to have said to a Group member during his Quiet Time, it was Frank Buchman and his lieutenants who got to decide what God really said.

That is a classic example of a bait and switch trick — you start off being told to listen to God, but you end up being told to listen to the cult leader — and Alcoholics Anonymous still uses the same trick today.

The individual ... is merged into the group, the 'Cell', the state, and as such is bound into a system more analogous to the polity of bees or ants than anything properly human. The Buchmanite group reminds us irresistably of the Russian soviet, and "Frank's" sovereignty in the one system is not wholly unlike that of Lenin or Stalin in the other.
The Oxford Groups; The Charge Delivered At The Third Quadrennial Visitation Of His Diocese Together With An Introduction, Herbert Hensley Henson, D.D., 1933, page 48.

Bill Wilson implemented the same "checking of Guidance" in Alcoholics Anonymous with this patronizing put-down of A.A. members:

If all our lives we had more or less fooled ourselves, how could we now be so sure that we weren't still self-deceived?
      ... what comes to us alone may be garbled by our own rationalization and wishful thinking. The benefit of talking to another person is that we can get his direct comment and counsel on our situation, and there can be no doubt in our minds what that advice is. Going it alone in spiritual matters is dangerous. How many times have we heard well-intentioned people claim the guidance of God when it was all too plain that they were sorely mistaken. Lacking both practice and humility, they had deluded themselves and were able to justify the most arrant nonsense on the ground that this was what God had told them. It is worth noting that people of very high spiritual development almost always insist on checking with friends or spiritual advisors the guidance they feel they have received from God. Surely then, a novice ought not lay himself open to the chance of making foolish, perhaps tragic, blunders in this fashion. While the comment or advice of others may be by no means infallible, it is likely to be far more specific than any direct guidance we may receive while we are still so inexperienced in establishing contact with a Power greater than ourselves.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, pages 59-60.

So, Bill says, you shouldn't trust your own mind — you shouldn't trust yourself to correctly receive Guidance directly from God while practicing A.A. Step Eleven. You should let your sponsor and the other group old-timers interpret your guidance, and tell you what God really said, and what God really wants you to do. So they, not God, become your real bosses. It is their voices that you will end up hearing. Bait and Switch.

In addition, Bill Wilson was also using the propaganda technique of Making Groundless Claims — just making sweeping declarations that had no basis in fact. Wilson wrote that:
"It is worth noting that people of very high spiritual development almost always insist on checking with friends or spiritual advisors the guidance they feel they have received from God."

Oh yeh? Who? What people? Bill Wilson didn't name one. How about Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed? Did they go around asking their friends and neighbors for approval and agreement before they dared to do something? Was going it alone in spiritual matters dangerous for them?

It was obvious to contemporary theologians that Frank Buchman went off on an occult tangent in developing his theology. Buchman and his followers were allegedly channelling God while receiving Guidance, not much different, really, from some spiritist or medium who claims to be channelling the spirits of dead people. There were even stories of Buchmanites getting together for Quiet Time "spook sessions", where they attempted to contact spirits other than God. In his historical novel Wide is the Gate (1943), Upton Sinclair described Oxford Groupers holding séances in London with a self-proclaimed medium who claimed to channel the spirits of the Indian chief Tecumseh and a long-dead Ceylonese Buddhist monk.

Bill Wilson also pretended to be a medium, and, while he was the leader of Alcoholics Anonymous, he routinely conducted séances where he claimed that he was channeling a long-dead Catholic priest named "Boniface", along with numerous other entities whom Bill said were both good and evil spirits: "There were malign and mischievous ones of all descriptions, telling of vices quite beyond my ken, even as former alcoholics."146
(Notice how Bill Wilson was spreading yet another stereotype of "the alcoholic" there, implying that alcoholics are very knowledgeable about all kinds of demonic vices just because they drank too much alcohol.)

In fact, A. J. Russell's third book was nothing but two Buchmanite women claiming to be channelling Jesus Christ. After Frank Buchman "changed" him, the London newspaper reporter Arthur James Russell wrote "For Sinners Only" (1932), a book of praise of Frank Buchman that became the standard textbook for the Oxford Groups. Then "One Thing I Know" (1933) was more praise of Frank Buchman, his organization, and his religious doctrines. But Russell's third book, "God Calling", was a very different piece of work. Two of Frank Buchman's women followers read Russell's book "For Sinners Only", and then allegedly began to receive very specific messages from Jesus Christ during their "Quiet Times", and they made a habit of writing down the messages every day. Russell then assembled those messages into a book and published them as some new scriptures from Jesus Christ:

The Two Listeners

        I did not write this book. I wish that I had done so.   ...
        Not one woman but two have written this book; and they seek no praise. They have elected to remain anonymous and to be called "Two Listeners." ... But the claim which they make is an astonishing one, that their message has been given to them, to-day, here in England, by The Living Christ Himself.   ...
        I have found these messages a spiritual stimulus.   ...   None could have written this book unless he or she was a Christian and in touch with the Living Founder of Christianity.
        Two poor, brave women were courageously fighting against sickness and penury. They were facing a hopeless future and one of them even longed to be quit of this hard world for good. And then He spoke. And spoke again!
        Day after day He comes and cheers them....
God Calling, A. J. Russell, pages 3-4.

And the "Guidance" which Jesus Christ allegedly gave to those women was like this:

Feel Plenty           October 15
      Live in My Secret Place and there the feeling is one of full satisfaction. You are to feel plenty. The storehouses of God are full to overflowing, but you must see this in your mind.
      Be sure of this before you can realize it in material form.
      Think thoughts of plenty. See yourselves as Daughters of a King. I have told you this. Wish plenty for yourselves, and all you care for and long to help.
God Calling, A. J. Russell, page 198.

May 9         Harmony Within
      Follow My Guidance. Be afraid to venture on your own as a child fears to leave its mother's side. Doubt your own wisdom, and reliance on Mine, will teach you humility.
God Calling, A. J. Russell, Barbour Publishing, Inc. 1998 reprint without page numbers.

April 15           Never Feel Inadequate
      Obey my commands. They are steps in the ladder that leads to success. Above all, keep calm, unmoved.
God Calling, A. J. Russell, Barbour Publishing, Inc. 1998 reprint without page numbers.

July 8           My Secret
      You are being guided but remember that I said, "I will guide you with mine eye."
      And My Eye is My set purpose — My Will.
      To guide with My Will is to bring all your desires into oneness with My Will, My Desires.
      To make My Will your only will. Then My Will guides you.
God Calling, A. J. Russell, Barbour Publishing, Inc. 1998 reprint without page numbers.

July 20           My Standard
      Carry out My Commands and leave the result to me. Do this as obediently and faithfully as you would expect a child to follow out a given rule in the working of a sum, with no question but that if the working out is done according to command, the result will be right.
      Remember that the Commands that I have given you have been already worked out by Me in the Spirit World to produce in your case, and in your circumstances, the required result. So follow My Rules faithfully.
      Realize that herein lies the perfection of Divine Guidance. To follow a rule, laid down, even by earth's wisest, might lead to disaster.
      The knowledge of your individual life and character, capability, circumstances, and temptations must be, to some extent, lacking, but to follow My direct Guidance means to carry out instructions given with a full knowledge of you and the required result.
      Each individual was meant to walk with Me in this way, to act under Divine control, strengthened by Divine Power.
God Calling, A. J. Russell, Barbour Publishing, Inc. 1998 reprint without page numbers.

June 20           Miracles Again
      Wait to hear My Will and then obey. At all costs obey.     ...
      Remember I long to work miracles, as when on earth I wrought them, but the same condition holds good. I cannot do many mighty works because of unbelief.
      So only in response to your belief can I do miracle-works now.
God Calling, A. J. Russell, Barbour Publishing, Inc. 1998 reprint without page numbers.

Why it's just like Tinkerbell, whose magic won't work if you don't believe in her.

And someone actually reprinted that book in 1998, so even more people are being misled by it now...

The contemporary clergy were certainly aware of the occult aspects of Buchmanism — they lumped Buchmanism in with other psychic phenomena like communicating with the dead:

Episcopal Conference in Philadelphia
Is Told of Psychic Phenomena.

Special to The New York Times.

PHILADELPHIA, Feb 15. — Spiritualistic phenomena, Buchmanism, Biblical Miracles and conversion were discussed by speakers today at the opening session of the two-day conference of liberal clergymen of the Episcopal Church, who attended from all parts of the country.
      The Rev. Dr. Walter F. Prince of New York, Secretary of the Psychic Research Society, told how the Rev. William H. Morgan, a Methodist minister of New York, experienced a complete change in his views on theology as result of an all-night communication with the spirit of his dead wife.
      The Rev. W. T. Snead of Beverly, N. J., then declared that "castor oil and calomel would clear up most of the cases of psychic experiences" and asked about "premonitions that did not come true."
      The Rev. Samuel Shoemaker Jr., rector of Trinity Church, New York, in a paper on Buchmanism, likened its founder, Frank Buchman, to John Wesley and George Fox in that "he had the courage to go into our highest social circles and tell people what they are."
The New York Times, February 16, 1927, page 3.

"Sam Shoemaker"
Rev. Samuel Moor Shoemaker Jr.

The sycophant Sam Shoemaker's hero-worshipping remarks were simply untrue. Frank Buchman did not tell the rich, the famous, and the titled nobility "what they are". Frank Buchman did that to the poor. Towards the rich, Frank's behavior would be better described by the word "grovelling".

Another important concept in Buchmanism is the idea that everyone has been "defeated by sin", and is "insane". Buchman redefined the word "sanity" to mean "living according to the Will of God" and "insanity" was living a life not "Guided" by God. Thus, only Frank Buchman and his arrogant followers were sane; everyone else in the world was "insane" and in need of Frank's "Guidance". Thus Buchman taught that people were incapable of running their own lives, and needed to surrender to "God-control" (i.e.: to Frank-control). A Buchmanite text teaches:

      What we want to do is get in touch with Him and turn our lives over to Him. Where should we go to do it?
      At once the lad replied:
      "There is only one place — on our knees."
      The lad prayed — one of those powerful, simple prayers which are so quickly heard by Him who made the eye and the ear: "Oh Lord, manage me, for I cannot manage myself."
For Sinners Only, A. J. Russell, (Harper & Brothers, New York and London, 1932), p. 62.

That theology is a Gnostic heresy. One aspect of Gnostic theology was the idea that this world and all of the people in it were irredeemably corrupt:

The earth and life on it are irredeemably evil, and separation from earthly life is precisely salvation.
      ... The Gnostic view is that this world was the creation of an evil spirit. Matter itself is chaos; it is the baser half of their dualistic universe.
      Gosticism's pretense to exclusive divine knowledge is also implicitly millenarian, for prophetic knowledge is often exactly of this kind; suitable only for the awareness of a select few who can comprehend it.
A Doomsday Reader: Prophets, Predictors, and Hucksters of Salvation, edited by Ted Daniels, page 42.

Buchmanism declared that you were inherently so corrupt and evil that you were incapable of managing your own life or of doing good things with your own free will, and that salvation was only possible through surrendering control of your life and your mind to "God" (i.e., to Frank Buchman and his minions who were supposedly in closer contact with God than you were). That is a heresy, in direct conflict with the Christian idea that you can repent your sins, change your ways, and choose to live a good life. Christianity generally believes in free will; Buchmanism teaches that you are the powerless slave of evil impulses, hopelessly "defeated by sin".

Alcoholics Anonymous teaches exactly the same heresy. (Of course — it pushes the same very package of theology: Alcoholics Anonymous is Buchmanism.) A.A. teaches that you are a helpless insane slave of evil impulses — that you are "powerless over alcohol".

A.A. Step One says:
      1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

So you are powerless over evil — alcohol, Demon Rum, in this case — and you cannot control your own actions and manage your own life. The only answer for you is A.A. Steps Two and Three, where you achieve "sanity" by surrendering your mind and your life to the control and direction of some "Higher Power" or "God":

  • 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care [and direction] of God as we understood Him.
The original version of Step Three included the words "and direction", which made the Buchmanite doctrine of Obeying Guidance much more obvious. So Bill Wilson deleted those words from the second edition of the Big Book.

Peter Howard

Peter Howard, who took over the leadership of Frank Buchman's groups after Buchman's death, wrote:

Man is born to believe and obey. If he turns his back on God, he turns his face to man and man's dominion. He will believe and obey Hitler or Stalin as long as they hold the whip. Then he will serve their successors.
Britain and the Beast, Peter Howard, 1963, page 97.

Man is born to believe and obey?
All men must be the unthinking slaves of some dictator or other, God or Stalin or Hitler?
That is a very twisted view of human life. It's downright fascist.

Peter Howard really was a fascist. He held a leadership position in Sir Oswald Mosley's New Party, which morphed into the British Union of Fascists — the B.U.F. — during the nineteen-thirties, and Peter Howard was the leader of the New Youth Movement, Mosley's copy of the Nazi Hitlerjugend. See the web page on Nazi Partying for more of the story.

Frank Buchman was also in love with the word "obey". Oxford Group slogans declared:

  • "When man listens, God speaks. When man obeys, God acts. When men change, nations change."

  • Our destiny is to obey the guidance of God.
    Frank Buchman, speaking at the opening of the Moral Re-Armament Training Center, Mackinac Island, Michigan, July 1943, quoted in
    Remaking the World, the speeches of Frank Buchman, Frank N. D. Buchman, page 201.

  • "God spoke to the prophets of old. He may speak to you. God speaks to those who listen. God acts through those who obey."73

And Buchman went on to say,

"The future lies with the men and nations who listen to God and obey."
The New York Times, August 28, 1939, page 9.

God has an inspired plan for peace and the means to carry it out through men and women who are willing to obey.
Frank N. D. Buchman, Remaking the World, page 104, quoted in
Experiment With God; Frank Buchman Reconsidered, Gösta Ekman, 1971, page 84.

"The secret lies in that great forgotten truth that when man listens, God speaks; when man obeys, God acts; when men change, nations change."
Frank Buchman, quoted in Britain and the Beast, Peter Howard, 1963, pages 107-109.

But note that somehow Frank Buchman always managed to twist things around so that "obeying God" ended up meaning that everybody had to agree with Frank and do what Frank said. Everybody had to check their guidance with Frank or his lieutenants, and then Frank decided what God was really saying and what God was really ordering them to do.

"I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."
== Susan B. Anthony, 1896

Again and again, Buchman declared that people could not manage their own lives, that they must obey God and follow God's orders (as interpreted by Frank Buchman or his lieutenants):

God alone can change human nature.   ...   God made the world, and man has been trying to run it ever since. That must stop... Many have been waiting for a great leader to emerge. The Oxford Group believes that it must be done not through one person, but through groups of people who have learned to work together under the guidance of God.
Frank Buchman, quoted in Experiment With God; Frank Buchman Reconsidered, Gösta Ekman, page 44.

In other words, people are so bad that the Oxford Groups should run the world.

Vic Kitchen, another one of Buchman's dedicated followers, agreed:

      My own political thought therefore no longer looks to political expedients for a real answer. It is given to the possibilities of theocracy under the Oxford Group and other working Christians in all sections of the world. Our old system of democracy, like our old system of economics, is gone — never to return. No intermediate stage of man-made adjustment is likely to linger with us for very long. Therefore, on whether you and I accept this new awakening of the Holy Spirit, depends the outcome of present political experiments. They will not escape disaster unless the tide turns to God. There, and there only, lies the Nation's Real Advantage — a "new deal" of the kind that enables everyone to hold a winning hand, and the only programme which enables everyone to play a vital part.
I Was A Pagan, V. C. "Vic" Kitchen, 1934, page 136.

So theocracy under the Oxford Group is the only answer to the Great Depression.

Frank Buchman's definition of "democracy" was downright Orwellian:

An increasing number of citizens in democratic states are now unwilling to acknowledge in speech and action those inner authorities on which the life of democracy depends. Each man has his own plan. It's so wonderful each to have his own plan. It's such freedom, such liberty! Everyone does as he pleases. But not in the Oxford Group. There you have true democracy. You don't do as you please, you do as God guides. You do God's plan.
Frank Buchman, speaking at Visby, Sweden in 1938, quoted in Experiment With God; Frank Buchman Reconsidered, Gösta Ekman, pages 44-45.

Ah, but who gets to say just what God's plan is? The Oxford Group sure didn't hold elections.

Likewise, Frank Buchman's convert Herbert Grevenius praised Buchman with this Orwellian double-think:

His enormously active life is built on one thing only — guidance. He openly admits it. He is a sail always waiting to be filled by the wind, a man with a great and warm and humble heart, a democrat who wants to set men free under God's dictatorship.
Herbert Grevenius, quoted in
Experiment With God; Frank Buchman Reconsidered, Gösta Ekman, page 21.
Remaking the World, the speeches of Frank Buchman, Frank N. D. Buchman, page 266.

There we again see the common cultish practice of redefining words, of loading the language, as Dr. Robert J. Lifton called it. Inside of a cult, words take on new meanings which are quite different from their accepted meanings outside of the cult. In Buchmanism,
  • "True democracy" meant that you were a slave of a dictatorial God, living only to obey His orders, and you were not allowed to vote on anything. You also got no freedom of speech, and you were not even allowed to have an opinion that differed from Frank's opinion. That was "inspired democracy".
  • Allegedly, subjecting people to such slavery "sets them free" and gives them "true freedom of the spirit".
  • "Sanity" meant living a life where your every action was dictated by the whims of God as expressed to you in your Quiet Time, or as dictated to you by the Oxford Group leaders, and "insanity" meant doing what you wished to do with your life.
  • In the Oxford Groups, "Conservation" meant "go recruit more members".
  • "Sharing" meant reciting stories about how wonderful Frank Buchman and the Oxford Groups were, while confessing how stupid and sinful you were.
  • "Materialism" meant striving to get something more substantial to eat than Frank Buchman's spirituality, behavior which Frank considered to be very selfish and evil.
    (Note that this derogatory label was not applicable to Frank Buchman or his millionaire patrons while they lived a luxurious first-class lifestyle in the world's finest hotels and restaurants.)

Bill Wilson echoed Frank Buchman's and Peter Howard's fascist philosophy in the Big Book, where he preached that people had to give up their freedom and stop managing their own lives — which he called "playing God" — and submit to God's control, and become obedient slaves of God (or their sponsor):

We trust infinite God rather than our finite selves. We are in the world to play the role He assigns.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 5, How It Works, page 68.

"Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world..."
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Working With Others, page 100.

First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn't work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 5, How It Works, page 62.

(Notice how Wilson called such slavery "freedom".)

The notion that we would still live our own lives, God helping a little now and then, began to evaporate. Many of us who had thought ourselves religious awoke to the limitations of this attitude. Refusing to place God first, we had deprived ourselves of His help. But now the words "Of myself I am nothing, the Father doeth the works", began to carry bright promise and meaning.
      We saw that we needn't always be bludgeoned and beaten into humility.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, © 1952,1953, 27th printing 1984, page 75.

(When Bill Wilson said "humility", he really meant subservience and obedience.)

This shines a whole new light on the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

  • In Step One, when people admit that they are powerless over alcohol, and that their lives have become unmanageable, that is really just the Buchmanite defeated-by-sin confession, only slightly edited.

  • The second Step, "We came to believe that only God ('a Power greater than ourselves') could restore us to sanity" is actually referring to Frank Buchman's idea of insanity, the one caused by sin, not some temporary insanity caused by drinking too much alcohol. If you think about it for a minute, it makes sense. You don't really need a miracle or God to get you out of the temporary insanity caused by drinking too much alcohol; a few days or weeks of sobering up will usually do it. You only need The Big Miracle to totally transform you, and remove all sin from your life.

    Now some of the current A.A. faithful may disagree, and say that they saw themselves as insane in the Second Step because they were suicidally drinking impossible quantities of alcohol, and couldn't stop. That may be; sometimes words just mean what we want them to mean. But plenty of the old faithful will tell you that the insanity refers to living a life of sin, and that "Sanity is living according to God's Will, rather than one's own."

  • Then, in the third Step, where you
    "Turn your will and your life over to the care [and direction] of God,"
    that is really just Frank Buchman's
    "Turn your will and your life over to the control of God"
    doctrine, only slightly re-worded.

And in his second book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill Wilson redefined the word "humility" to require "a desire to seek and do God's will" (page 72). So Bill's line in that last quote about, "We saw that we needn't always be bludgeoned and beaten into humility" really means that Bill's followers needed to be beaten and bludgeoned into following the orders of "God, as we understood Him" — or God as Bill Wilson and the Oxford Groups understood Him.

It's just like how Bill Wilson declared that A.A. members who disagreed with him — who were "obstinate" and "prejudiced" (like Ed the atheist) — needed to get beaten into believing in Bill Wilson's religion — "beaten into a state of reasonableness" — beaten into "having faith":

We saw that we needn't always be bludgeoned and beaten into humility.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, © 1952,1953, 27th printing 1984, page 75.

Besides a seeming inability to accept much on faith, we found ourselves handicapped by obstinacy, sensitiveness, and unreasoning prejudice.   ...   In this respect alcohol was a great persuader. It finally beat us into a state of reasonableness. Sometimes this was a tedious process; we hope no one else will be prejudiced for as long as some of us were.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, We Agnostics, Pages 47 and 48.

Bill Wilson's attitudes were certainly thuggish.

Oh, by the way, it was never Bill Wilson who needed to get beaten and bludgeoned into a state of reasonableness. It was all of those other people, the ones who disagreed with Bill's bombastic preaching and compulsive lying.

Frank Buchman's and Bill Wilson's teachings directly conflicted with St. Paul's teachings in his letter to the Romans:

All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery, but you have received the spirit of sonship.
The Reader's Digest Bible, page 668.
Also see Romans 8:14-15.

Frank Buchman's program consisted of "personal evangelism" with emphasis on:

  • 1) both public and private confession of sin;
  • 2) reception of divine "guidance" during "quiet times";
  • 3) complete surrender to this "guidance";
  • 4) the living of a "guided" life in which every aspect of one's actions was controlled by God;
  • 5) the practice of the Buchmanite Four Absolutes — Absolute Purity, Absolute Honesty, Absolute Love, and Absolute Unselfishness;
  • 6) making restitution to those one has harmed; and
  • 7) carrying "the message" to those "still defeated by sin" — that is, going recruiting for the Group.

Note that the "Four Absolutes" are pretty typical cult fare. Many cults make impossible demands for super-human perfection from their members. Such impossibly lofty standards are good for making members feel inadequate and inferior, which is good for inducing lots of guilt, which then makes the members much easier to manipulate and control.

In his classic study of Chinese Communist brainwashing, Dr. Robert J. Lifton wrote:

The Demand for Purity

In the thought reform milieu, as in all situations of ideological totalism, the experiential world is sharply divided into the pure and the impure, into the absolutely good and the absolutely evil. The good and the pure are of course those ideas, feelings, and actions which are consistent with the totalist ideology and policy; anything else is apt to be relegated to the bad and the impure. Nothing human is immune from the flood of stern moral judgements.
Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China, by Robert Jay Lifton, M.D.; W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1963, page 423.

Tom Driberg, the London newspaper reporter and Labor Party Member of Parliament, pointed out that...

      ... the Four Absolutes, when compared with any of the classical codes of ethics, do not form a well-balanced or comprehensive rule of life. They read as if they were framed on the spur of the moment, in a flash of Guidance, by Dr Buchman; and as if, since 'Frank's guidance was always right', nobody ventured to question his authority and to suggest that other Absolutes, too, might be required.   ... there is in this code no mention of the social virtue of justice or of the personal virtue of humility.   ...
      In any case, is absolute honesty or purity (in the MRA sense of the word) really desirable? To quote the usual examples of the justified 'white lie': if a violent psychopath is looking for a gun, the honest citizen is not obliged, when asked, to tell him where it is; and it is not sinful dishonesty, but common courtesy, to let a worthy bore think that you are glad to see him.   ...
      An advocate of MRA has no right to shrug off such examples as absurdly extreme cases in which common sense would obviously come into play: 'of course we wouldn't behave so extravagantly'. For extravagant behavior is exactly what the Absolutes require. If you tell the psychopath that you don't know where the gun is, when you do, you are not being absolutely honest. This is the cleft stick into which MRA's absolutism forces its disciples: either they must behave extravagantly or they fall into dishonesty — minor dishonesty which they are debarred from calling, as others would call it, excusable. So, by deliberate training, they must come to lack that most precious of civilised human attributes, a sense of proportion.
The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965, pages 230-231.

Beverly Nichols was a member of the Oxford Groups for a while, and wrote about his experiences there. This was his analysis of the Four Absolutes:

      Absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness and absolute love. Those are the four pillars which are supposed to sustain the fabric of this movement. Let us consider them one by one.

Absolute Honesty
      If this is taken as only applying to oneself, if it is confined to a ruthless personal examination, it is obviously desirable, not only as a religious exercise but as a commonplace of everyday conduct. We are all inclined to fool and flatter ourselves, drawing rosy veils over the harsh outlines of the Ego. It can do none of us harm to sit down quietly, from time to time, and look ourselves squarely in the face. If we look long enough and deeply enough we shall see, behind our own image, another image, either of good or of evil. It is always there; and we might as well find out, or try to find out, which it is.
      But if 'absolute honesty' means, as it has come to mean in the Oxford Group, a giggling exhibitionism, from people who really have not so very much to exhibit, then it is drab and morbid.
      This slogan is the result of cheap and muddled thinking, for falsehood is the foundation of almost everything that raises man above the level of the brute. The essential difference between a man and an animal is that man has learned to lie; this, though it may outrage the susceptibilities of the R.S.P.C.A., is a point in favour of man. An animal cannot disguise its rages, its pains nor its appetites; if it is hungry it must howl, if it is frightened it must run away, if it is angry it must snarl and bare its teeth.
      Man — except in certain degraded institutions like the House of Commons — does not behave like that. He has learned better. He can and often does disguise his passions, and disguise is the first step towards control.
      If this is true of his life as an individual, it is doubly true of his life in the family. I have known five marriages that were wrecked by the Oxford Group — by this pernicious practice of 'absolute honesty'. In each case they were wrecked by totally unnecessary confessions of a sexual nature. In two of these cases there was not even any question of physical misconduct; the husbands, in an orgy of self-exposure, merely admitted that their eyes had wandered, and that they had been tempted by other women. Such admissions, once in a way, may possibly clear the air — though even that is doubtful; as a regular feature of married life they are humiliating and intolerable.
      Family life is a fabric of delicate half-truths and heroic lies; and the universal application of Oxford Group principles would utterly destroy it.

Absolute Purity
      This is another example of muddled thinking. Absolute purity, if it means anything at all, means complete sexual repression of all occasions not directly aimed at the reproduction of the species. That, in my opinion, is poison and lunacy.
      For the word 'repression' the Groupers substitute the word 'sublimation', which is prettier, and can be intoned with the eyes raised to the ceiling. They have, of course, a case there. There are many noble examples in history of men and women who, having been denied the consolations of normal love — even more often, of abnormal love — have directed their pent-up energies to the service of some great cause. I do not wish to give unnecessary offence, and so I will refrain from the temptation to make a list of some of the world's saints whose whole lives are an example of the sublimation of sex.
      But though one can pay sincere tribute to these people, it is neither possible nor desirable for the rest of the world to follow their example. For the vast majority of men and women, sexual sublimation is prohibited by the very conditions of their social existence; at best they can only achieve a sort of grudging and half-hearted repression, by which their lives will be neither sweetened nor simplified.

[I have to interject a note here: While we are talking about saintly sexual sublimation and the huge energies released in the service of some great cause, I can't help but think of one person who managed to sublimate almost all of his sexual energy, and who was famous for moving Heaven and Earth in the pursuit of his great cause. He was a very pure individual — so pure that he was also a non-smoker, a non-drinker, and a semi-vegetarian. His name was Adolf Hitler.]

Absolute Unselfishness
      I should have to bring a whole collection of family skeletons rattling out of the cupboard to explain why I mistrust this apparently spotless ideal. All I care to say here is that I have seen several people's lives brought to the brink of ruin because of one woman's absolute unselfishness. If you strip this vague and mushy ideal to its essentials, how does it reveal itself? As a complete abrogation of the rights of the individual concerned. For example, an absolutely unselfish wife must endure, year in and year out, the persecution of a drunkard. She must never assert herself, never speak harshly to him, never protest when he revolts her sensibilities, terrifies her children, turns her house into a lunatic asylum, gambles away her money. 'It is not him,' she must say. 'It is a disease.' Or again: 'I took him for better or for worse; I must endure to the end.'
      Such women exist by the thousand; the Oxford Group approves of them; I do not. They are magnificent but mad. Unselfishness, if carried to these extremes, is an obsession that does nothing but prolong unnecessary pain. (Read Stefan Zweig's Beware of Pity.)

[The resemblance to the Alcoholics Anonymous wives' group, "Al-Anon", is glaringly obvious. The Oxford Groups really are the religious and philosophical roots of Al-Anon, too. Bill Wilson's wife Lois, who ostensibly founded Al-Anon, was also a member of the Oxford Groups, and she obviously carried that baggage with her.]

Absolute Love
      This is the only one of the four standards which I can accept without difficulty — though I do not consider that it robs a man of his right to lose his temper in the face of cruelty and oppression, nor, having lost it, to give violent expression to his indignation. However, I have not really the philosophical equipment to argue about this; I can only refer the reader to a previous passage, in which I confessed to a feeling that if only my faith were strong enough, I could walk into the cages of lions without hurt.
      There is some important truth here — important in the sense that any completely honest confession of any man on such a subject is important. What it is, I hardly know. All I know is that I — as a unit in the creative plan — am linked in love to all the superficially evil things in creation — to bullies and cowards and thieves, to snakes and toads and 'things that go bump in the night' — to Hitler and Nero and the Borgias and all the human beasts who, from any man-made standards of right and wrong, are inexcusable, and exist only to be crushed under foot. These being I accept and embrace.
      How is it possible to live life on any other terms? How is it possible to draw the curtains and look up to the sky and greet the sun? You cannot split the world into partitions, apportion it into tiny squares of approval and disapproval. You must take it and grip it with the whole of your hand, and the whole of your heart, nettles and all.
      The mystics know the truth of this. Their eyes are clear always; they are not like ourselves, who see a gleam of moonlit truth, follow it down a shadowed glade of doubt, and end up in the dark, clasping our hands in despair in an avenue of barren branches. They know. But sometimes we know too.
      And this is what I know. That all is lovable. That all is meet and ordained and perfect. The poison in the fang of the serpent — that is right. The clouds over the brain of the lunatic — they are correctly disposed. The folly in my own heart, the tinkling of the clown's bells that echo through my brain, they have their appointed harmony. And one day, through the discord, I shall hear the tune, and spell it out, and know it for the music that it is.
All I Could Never Be, Beverly Nichols, pages 262-266.

And it seems that the Four Absolutes were not original material, either. They had a long history:

      The Buchman ethical structure was based on the four moral standards of absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love. They were to be applied personally, socially, and nationally. The four standards were a part of the legacy from his personal evangelism mentor, Henry B. Wright of Yale. Wright, in turn, had found the four standards in the writings of Robert E. Speer.23

23 Wright, The Will of God, and, Speer, The Principles of Jesus.

World Changing Through Life Changing: The Story of Frank Buchman and Moral Re-Armament; A Thesis for the Degree of Master of Sacred Theology at Andover Newton Theological School, T. Willard Hunter, 1977, page 125.

Marcus Bach studied the Oxford Group / Moral Re-Armament organization, and reported,

      I had no intention of posing as a spiritual saboteur, but when Ned [Barton] and a young English friend, Aylmer, talked me into going with them on a "guidance walk", I took along the explosives that had been accumulating in my mind since I first heard of Frank N. Buchman.
      In response to their exaggerated praise of the man, I contended that his genius lay in the appropriation of other men's ideas. "Your four absolutes," I recounted, "came from Henry B. Wright, who got them from Robert E. Speer, who got them from Henry Drummond, who very likely got them from someone else."
      Aylmer responded to my mention of these men with "Never heard of them!"
      I was in the awkward position of an outside informant enlightening the neophytes. They did not know that the workable technique which Buchman had popularized had been tested in the laboratory of a Yale professor's life. At the time of his death in 1923, Henry B. Wright was collaborating with Buchman on a treatise devoted to personal religion. Wright's earlier publication, The Will of God and a Man's Life Work, was Buchman's text. Before Buchman became famous, he confessed that much of the best in his message had come from Henry B. Wright. It was Wright who made Buchman "system-conscious"; it was Wright who taught him the first words of his spiritual lingo.57
      Neither of my companions on this morning walk was impressed or disturbed by my exposé of their leader. Aylmer, with a gesture of unconcern, said, "All that may be true, but don't we always ascribe originality to the man who makes a thing memorable? And you'll have to admit that F. B. has certainly sold the Oxford Group idea to the world."
      "But I must protest against the use of that name," I retorted. "There was an Oxford Group long before Buchman ever set foot in your country, Aylmer. It was initiated in 1833 and was intended to clarify the position of the Anglican Church in light of its higher function. I've often hear the charge that Buchman was never averse to capitalizing on the prestige this name afforded. It slyly put him into the company of men like John Henry Newman and John Keble and tied him to a great tradition in a way that was downright misleading."
      "Oh," said Aylmer deprecatingly, "let's not quibble about that."
They Have Found A Faith, by Marcus Bach, pages 146-147.

The behavior of Ned and Aylmer seems to have been common. Geoffrey Williamson reported that when he read to some MRA members (Moral Re-Armament, the renamed "Oxford Group" organization) some writings of Benjamin Franklin, where old Ben had advocated an international moral organization much like MRA, the MRA members just gave him blank looks, and...
Much to my surprise, there was no great show of interest in this disclosure that a great figure in American history had undoubtedly thought of 'Moral Re-Armament' nearly two hundred years ago. Apparently for them there was no prophet but Frank Buchman! Ben Franklin could go hang.
Inside Buchmanism: an independent inquiry into the Oxford Group Movement and Moral Re-Armament, Geoffrey Williamson, page 140.

More Buchmanism: The Five Procedures of the Sane:

  1. Guidance
  2. Checking Guidance
  3. Giving in to God
  4. Restitution
  5. Sharing

What they meant was:

  1. Guidance == Conduct a séance and "listen to God" talking to you.
  2. Checking Guidance == Ask the cult elders whether they agree with what you think God said.
  3. Giving in to God == "Surrender" to the "guidance" and do what the voices in your head tell you to do.
  4. Restitution == Go around apologizing and making amends to all whom you have offended.
  5. Sharing == Deliver testimonials at meetings, "sharing" stories of how you lived a decadent life of terrible sin until you were saved by Dr. Frank Buchman's wonderful religion.

And more Buchmanism: "The Five C's": These steps were the procedure for recruiting more members. The most important duty of members was to "win more souls" for the Group. The five C's were:

  1. Confidence
  2. Confession
  3. Conviction
  4. Conversion
  5. Conservation

What they meant was:

  1. First, the recruiter got the prospect's Confidence and trust by utilizing whatever mind games were required.   (Yes, it's a "con" — a confidence game.)

  2. Then, the recruiter Confessed something to the prospect in order to get his trust, and encouraged him to Confess something about himself in return. Gradually, the recruiter pressured the prospect to Confess all of his innermost dirty little secrets. The Oxford Group manual called "Soul Surgery" tells us that recruiters must be "lovingly relentless" in insisting that a confession be made.

  3. Then came Conviction — the recruiter betrayed the prospect's trust, and turned his confession around and used it against him, amplifying and exaggerating it, in order to make the prospect feel as guilty as possible. The recruiter got the prospect to 'Convict' himself of sins — that is, to find himself guilty of having committed many sins and to confess that he was a worthless sinner who had been defeated by sin.

  4. Then, the recruiter held out religious Conversion as the only way to escape from the feelings of guilt. The prospect was told that he must "surrender himself to God" (really, surrender to the Oxford Group recruiters).

  5. And the last 'C' was "Conservation", which was somehow redefined to mean that the new convert had to go out and recruit more new cult members, using the same Five C's as were just used on him, doing unto others what had just been done unto him.

That con job is still going on today. The Hazelden book of "daily meditations" called Twenty-Four Hours a Day says:

MAY 23 — A.A. Thought for the Day

The Twelfth step of A.A., working with others, can be subdivided into five parts, five words beginning with the letter C — confidence, confession, conviction, conversion, and continuance. The first thing in trying to help other alcoholics is to get their confidence. We do this by telling them our own experiences with drinking, so that they see that we know what we're talking about. If we share our experiences frankly, they will know that we are sincerely trying to help them. They will realize that they're not alone and that others have had experiences as bad or worse than theirs. This gives them confidence that they can be helped. Do I care enough about other alcoholics to get their confidence?

Notice the absurd declarations that the recruiting targets will "see that we know what we are talking about", and "they will know that we are sincerely trying to help them." But what if they sincerely see that the A.A. recruiter is just to get new converts for his favorite cult religion?

And then hearing a recruiter reciting his drunkalogues "gives them confidence that they can be helped"? Oh really? How does that work? What if the drunkalogues merely convince the prospects that the recruiter is crazy?

Note the similarity between Buchman's routine for conversion of prospects, and the Red Chinese brainwashing that was inflicted on the American, British, and other United Nations soldiers in North Korea during the Korean War:
The Reds had found that the easiest way to subdue any group of people was to give its members a guilt complex and then to lead them on from self-denunciation to self-betrayal. All that was required to put this across was a sufficiently heartless exploitation of the essential goodness in people, so that they would seek self-sacrifice to compensate for their feelings of guilt. The self-sacrifice obviously made available to them in this inside-out environment is some form of treason.
Brainwashing, From Pavlov to Powers, Edward Hunter, page 169.

In Buchman's cult, the self-sacrifice that was made available to the guilt-ridden new convert was the chance to surrender to the cult, and become a slave of the cult, and spend the rest of his life "Under God-Control", "Seeking and Doing the Will of God" (as Buchman and his lieutenants defined it), and, of course, recruiting more members for the cult.

Another vital ingredient for a good brainwashing program is a method for inducing a sense of helplessness or powerlessness in the victims. Prof. Margaret Thaler Singer listed that as one of her five essential conditions for an effective mind-control program — "Create a sense of powerlessness, covert fear, guilt, and dependency."

The Red Chinese guards could easily induce such feelings of helplessness and fear — their victims were already prisoners of war, and the guards could randomly, arbitrarily, punish or kill whomever they chose, and they did. Buchman induced a sense of helplessness and fear by declaring that everyone was defeated by sin and incapable of running his or her own life (and presumably doomed to Hell unless saved by Buchman), because even their thinking was corrupted by sin — "Oh Lord, manage me, for I cannot manage myself."

Note: That similarity may not be coincidental at all. Dr. Frank Buchman went to China as a Lutheran missionary in 1915, 1916, and 1918, and taught the Chinese his strange guilt-inducing methods of religious conversion. Is it just a big coincidence that 30 years later, the Chinese Communists had coercive conversion techniques that are almost identical to Frank Buchman's techniques?

The Oxford Group member A. J. Russell wrote the following instructions for extracting confessions from prospective converts:

      People will argue for hours on points of doctrine and selfishly waste the Life-Changer's time unless he realises the need for isolating the main sin. If a man is known to be a drunkard, a Christian worker talks on that aspect of the contact's experience and shows how Christ's power can work through him to victory.
      But there are many hidden sins that have to be talked about and shared if others, seemingly perfectly respectable, are to be won. The earnest evangelist for Jesus will be led to discover the weak spot and be guided to say the right thing to strengthen it. For He who inspires the Life-Changer is also at the same moment working with the contact, since "every thought of holiness is His alone."
      But do not waste time proving the whole Bible, defending every renegade rector, or every Christian hypocrite. Time is too short, even to defend yourself. Admit your own mistakes rather, and then both stand face to face with Christ Jesus.
      Soon you will be hearing which of Christ's four standards of purity, honesty, love, or unselfishness the other is breaking. Then challenge!
      It is a practical way. It works.
      Once we wasted several hours urging a youth to surrender, but we were held up because we did not know his problem. Some days later, when he revealed it after we had gained his confidence by admitting that we had once been beaten by the same sin, he made his full decision in a few minutes, and witnessed boldly that night to a thousand people.
One Thing I Know, A. J. (Arthur James) Russell, 1933, page 202.

Notice the extreme arrogance of that Oxford Group proselytizer: Arthur James Russell said that people who disagreed with him and refused to immediately confess and surrender to him were "selfishly wasting his time".
It doesn't seem to have occurred to Russell that he might be selfishly wasting other people's time with his dogmatic nonsense and invasion of other people's privacy.

A. J. Russell displayed arrogance in another way, too: He sneered at those who wished to argue points of doctrine, or to dispute his interpretation of the Bible. He was quite sure that they were wrong and he was right — so sure and so right that the debate was not even worth having. It would just be "a waste of his time", he said.

(And A. J. Russell was actually following Frank Buchman's instructions to "Avoid argument" and "Aim to conduct the interview yourself" — side-track all attempts at honest criticism by dodging the questions and refusing to answer or discuss critical questions.)

Then of course there was the obvious arrogant assumption that every person whom they approached, no matter how "perfectly respectable" in appearance, was really a sinner who was separated from God by a "main sin" that he or she needed to confess to an Oxford Group recruiter. And the O.G. recruiter was supposedly so spiritually skilled that he was able to identify that sin, and then he was entitled to accuse his target of that sin, even if the O.G. recruiter was just a young inexperienced college dropout.

A. J. Russell was actually so arrogant that he even declared that those who criticized the Oxford Group cult recruiters (like him) were "refusing to put God first in their lives", as if the Oxford Group was the same thing as God.

Also notice the author's use of the propaganda tricks Deception Via Mislabeling or Misnaming Things and Association. A. J. Russell surreptitiously told people that the Four Absolutes were not something that Frank Buchman made up, or copied from Prof. Henry B. Wright —
"Soon you will be hearing which of Christ's four standards of purity, honesty, love, or unselfishness the other is breaking."
No, suddenly Frank Buchman's goofy Four Absolutes were supposedly "the four standards of Jesus Christ" — an assertion for which there is not a shred of Biblical support. Jesus Christ simply did not go around yammering about "The Four Absolutes", not ever.

Likewise, Russell described the Oxford Group recruiting work as "winning people for Jesus", which is also a groundless assumption. Many Christian churches, including the Roman Catholics, saw Frank Buchman's theology as leading people away from Jesus, not towards Him.

The Oxford Group manual called "Soul Surgery" declared that all people are sick with unconfessed sins, and declared that the "soul surgeon" must identify those sins:

Every physician knows the importance of getting to the root of the trouble, to avoid the danger of false diagnosis and superficial or harmful treatment, which might even result fatally. Is it any less important for the soul-surgeon with a life-destiny at stake to make certain that he has reached the ultimate seat of the trouble before he seeks to administer the cure? It is well for him to remember that men are living their lives on four levels — spiritual, intellectual, social, and physical — and that the diseased spot, the centre of infection that is spreading in all directions, may be in any of the four. It may be that either pride, dishonesty, selfishness, or impurity, corresponding roughly to the four levels enumerated, is slowly poisoning the entire personality.
Soul Surgery: Some Thoughts On Incisive Personal Work, H. A. Walter, M.A., Oxford University Press, 1932, page 21-22.

H. A. Walter gave new recruiters these instructions:

      Only God can show a man when and where he must confess; and only He can show the personal worker when he ought to press for a confession. When he is certain that the need for confession exists, the soul surgeon must be lovingly relentless in insisting that the confession be made, when and where it is needed. It is often the kind of drastic, spiritual operation which alone can prevent a superficial repentance and unreal conversion.
Soul Surgery: Some Thoughts On Incisive Personal Work, H. A. Walter, M.A., Oxford University Press, 1932, page 52.

H. A. Walter also instructed the Oxford Group recruiters to:

      Take nothing for granted. A man may be president of a Christian Endeavor Society, superintendent of a Sunday School, an elder or vestryman in a church — yes, the secretary of a Young Men's Christian Association, a clergyman or a missionary — and still stand in need of moral surgery.   ...
Our first business at this point is to discover through the lips of the patient whether there is a sin hitherto unconfessed and unforgiven, by which the soul has been insulated from contact with the life-giving power of Christ. Our second task may be to assist in the removal of such a hindrance, however costly and difficult the process shall prove to be.
Soul Surgery: Some Thoughts On Incisive Personal Work, H. A. Walter, M.A., Oxford University Press, 1932, pages 53, 55.

Then Walter told recruiters how to hear confessions:

      Never betray an appearance of shocked surprise. Such an attitude will assuredly dry up confidence at the roots, and militate against any continuance of friendly service on our part. It usually results from inexperience on the personal worker's side, for the wider his knowledge of the real world of men and events, the less is he likely openly to stand aghast (however deeply pained in spirit) at any of the revelations that may be necessary to lay bare before him the inner life of his patient.
Soul Surgery: Some Thoughts On Incisive Personal Work, H. A. Walter, M.A., Oxford University Press, 1932, page 55.

So college students with a few months of experience in proselytizing for the Oxford Groups and hearing confessions were supposed to put on airs of being worldly and experienced — "I've heard it all before. Nothing is new under the sun..." So much for the Group's Absolute Honesty.

Also note that no real training was required before an Oxford Grouper began hearing confessions. Catholic priests spend years in a seminary to prepare them for their jobs, but not Buchmanites. Go to a few meetings, read a small book, and you are ready to hear other peoples' intimate secrets.

Speaking of priests, they are sworn to secrecy. The confidentiality of the confessional is considered absolutely sacred and inviolate. What about the confidentiality of confessions made to Oxford Group recruiters? H. A. Walter wrote:

      Finally, keep every confidence absolutely sacred. This counsel may seem superfluous because the need of observing it is so obvious; and yet we often do not realize how easily we may let slip a remark about some person into whose confidence we have come, which may reveal to another more than we think. The professional honour of the physician is of the utmost importance here, as every priest is compelled to learn. Unless people come to feel an entire reliance on our discretionary silence they assuredly will not trust us. Many a potential life-changer is severely handicapped because he (or she) has never acquired this great and costly gift of silence. They may need to pray not now for a new heart, but for a new tongue.
Soul Surgery: Some Thoughts On Incisive Personal Work, H. A. Walter, M.A., Oxford University Press, 1932, page 61.

  • So, the Oxford Group recruiters were not actually sworn to secrecy, or sworn to keep confessions confidential, and "many a potential life-changer" talked too much...
  • And what happened to those Groupers who gossiped? Apparently, nothing except that people stopped trusting them.
  • And what about the people who quit the Oxford Group and then revealed other people's secrets? What could be done in that situation? Not much.

And of course A.A. has the same problem today. What is heard in the meeting room is supposed to stay in the meeting room and be kept secret, but that doesn't always happen. Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors have even been known to blab people's confessions all over town as revenge for someone quitting A.A.

Another reflection on the Oxford Group recruiters — "soul surgeons" — being "lovingly relentless" in their pursuit of a confession: A contemporary warned a young Oxford Group convert about the Groupists' recruiting methods with these words:

Only do be careful of spiritual exhibitionism and self-exposure. Verb. sap. And do handle folk gently. Sometimes, on rare occasions, you'll have to use the knife I know, but don't use it unless it's absolutely necessary. Never think of yourself as a first-rate surgeon. There's a bit of the sadist, of the unconscious desire to prove our power by hurting people, in most of us, and sometimes the surgeon metaphor has been the excuse for spiritual sadism. First-year medicals aren't allowed to conduct major operations.
For Groupers Only; Being a Judgement concerning the Oxford Groups and contained in letters to Duncan Hyde, Undergraduate, sometimes Joyous Pagan and a recent convert at a House-Party, B. C. Plowright, B.A., B.D., 1932, page 51.

But all of that talk about Absolute Honesty in making confessions was actually just so much hypocrisy. Beverly Nichols, who was a member of the Oxford Groups for a short while, told how he discovered that it was all just a well-rehearsed act, and he told this story of how his attempt to sincerely follow Frank Buchman's instructions and really confess everything to the Oxford Group didn't work out at all well:

      Smith said: 'You must come to Oxford. There is an international meeting of the Group. It will be a revelation to you.'
      It was. Oxford was packed with young men and women from all nations; there must have been thousands of them — all gathered in the name of Christ, to testify to the reality of the 'change' in their lives, to carry through the world four radiant banners emblazoned with the slogans:
      The càfes were crowded with Groupers, the High Street seemed afire with shining faces, and as the comble of the festivities there was a giant meeting at which, under arc lights, young men and women from every walk of life, came forward to offer themselves in the service of Our Lord.
      I was swept in. It was heady stuff. I did not realize, at the time, how carefully staged it all was, how these apparent neophytes from the factories, the services, the stage, were actually engaged in putting on an act that was very well rehearsed. I am not suggesting that they did not believe in it, nor that they were animated by any other emotion than pure evangelism, but there is a difference between a spontaneous confession and one that is made twice nightly. Perhaps this is cavilling, for obviously, if you try to apply the technique of modern salesmanship to the teaching of Our Lord, you must borrow some tricks from the music hall.
      Public confession was Doctor Buchman's trump drawing card, and he was shrewd enough to play it with great skill. (The Groupers call it 'sharing'). I must have been exceptionally simple to have been so impressed by this farce. I listened enthralled to dozens of these confessions, some from women, some from men, all pouring out their souls on public platforms, beating their breasts and crying mea culpa — and I thought: 'How noble of them, how selfless, how cleansing to their souls!' Never once did it occur to me that they were not really pouring out their souls at all, that they were not 'coming clean'.
      For there was one little subject that was scarcely ever mentioned in these revelations, and that was sex.
      Sex — by which I mean the real stuff, raw and naked, with all of nature's arrogant obscenity — might never have troubled these people at all. They dilated at length on other shortcomings; they had been unkind to their sisters, or rude to their servants, or sharp with their tradesmen. One young man admitted that when he was a boy he had stolen a ten-shilling note, and several owned up to cheating in exams — though I noted that the exams were usually unimportant and at a convenient distance of time.
      But nobody, male or female, ever stood up and confessed to visiting a brothel, or committing adultery or even to romping too vigorously at school. One pimply young man stammered out that he had had peculiar sensations during a recent visit to the Folies Bergéres, but just when he was getting to what appeared to be the point, Doctor Buchman rang the bell and up popped a bright young Welsh miner who floated us away on a tide of high falutin stuff about the new spirit in the heart of the working man.
      Dr. Buchman, of course, had to ring the bell; if he had not done so, if he had allowed men and women to draw the curtain which veiled their real selves from the world, the meetings would have been closed by the police. This very fact robbed the confessions of any value.
      The sexual question was the occasion for the first cold glimmer of reason which pierced the rosy mist of my visit to Oxford.
      One night I decided that the time had come for me to 'share' myself. I had been dining with a number of the Groupers in the hall of one of the colleges. After dinner there was a brief meeting and some prayers, and then we split up into twos and threes and wandered about the gardens and talked. This was a recognized hour for 'sharing'; the combination of a good dinner, a summer moon and a quantity of discreet and ancient cedar trees were calculated to loosen the strings of the heart if of nothing else.
      So I decided to get it over. The decision was made with no pleasurable anticipation; it was strongly against my natural inclinations; but I was so captivated by the Buchman technique that it seemed the only thing to do. I would tell all.
      My confidante was a dark, attractive girl who had been sitting opposite me at dinner. She was ideal for the purpose; she was — or so it seemed — du monde; she claimed a fervent admiration for the works of Aldous Huxley — though she added that it was such a pity that he was not 'changed'; she even let loose a tripping allusion to the Marquis de Sade. To one with such a broad outlook, I felt, my own sexual short-comings would be very small beer.
      So I said to her: 'I'd like to talk to you.' She said: 'Of course,' and linked her arm in mine. Together we strolled over to the shade of the nearest unoccupied cedar tree.
      We sat down and I said to her: 'If you don't mind, I'd rather turn my back while I tell you this. Some of it will be difficult.'
      And she said: 'Of course.' And then she added, very brightly, 'It's always difficult.'
      'Good!' I thought. 'She's had it before. She won't be shocked. And anyway — even if she is — that's the whole point of the thing. If what one says is not shocking, it's obviously not true. So here goes...'
      And I began, speaking softly into the shadows, my hands clasped over my knees. You need not tell me that the whole scene was farcical. But at that moment it did not seem so; it seemed a part, and a beautiful part, of the Divine Comedy.
      I shut my eyes; I was searching for the truth, however shameful. And then, suddenly behind me, I heard a gasp. I paid no attention, and went on talking. The gasp was followed by a high-pitched 'Oh! Really!' There was a rustle as she sprang to her feet, and by the time that I had turned round all that was left of her was a slim shadow, fleeing in horror across the lawn.
      I saw her later that night, looking very pale, and drifting about in corners. I tried to talk to her, feeling that perhaps I ought to apologize — though why one Buchmanite should apologize to another Buchmanite for carrying the principle of 'absolute honesty' to its logical conclusion, I really do not know. But she shot away, like a frightened deer, and among her friends there was a great pursing of lips and darting of eyes.
      So much for one man's attempt to tell the truth, which really was not so very awful, between ourselves. It was an illuminating experience. It is not to be recommended, either for the comfort of the individual or for the peace of the world.
All I Could Never Be, Beverly Nichols, pages 249-251.

A very disturbing feature of those "Five C's" is the belief that it is okay to deceive the prospective new member in order to get his confidence and confession, and get him to join the group. The recruiting member, who is called a "Soul Surgeon," should twist the truth, mask details, tell half-truths, present only facts which will appeal to the prospect, and "confess" or "share" stories — true or untrue — telling how Buchmanism saved the recruiter from misery — basically, say anything — in order to entice the prospect to join the Group. "It's all okay," they said, "because it is all done in the service of God." The truth is, deceptive recruiting is a standard practice of most all evil cults, and so is the rationalization that the end justifies the means. And so is aggressive recruiting.

Beverly Nichols was, for a while, an enthusiastic member of the British Oxford Groups. He was deceived and converted by Oxford Group recruiters who wanted to use him for publicity purposes — they knew that he was a London newspaper reporter, journalist, and writer, and they wanted to get some good press. And their scheme worked. Besides giving them favorable newspaper coverage, Beverly Nichols also inserted an enthusiastic chapter of praise of the Oxford Groups into his current work in progress — a book of religious philosophy titled The Fool Hath Said. Naturally, that book became a favorite of the Oxford Groups. But Nichols gradually became disillusioned with the Oxford Groups. He suffered a nervous breakdown and left the Groups, and much later wrote a letter to Tom Driberg telling of his experiences with the Groups:

I cannot remember the precise date of my first contact with them; I am almost certain that it was in the year 1936. However, I do recall that it came about as the result of an extremely private conversation, in the course of which I poured out my heart to one of its members, whom I prefer to leave anonymous. Like many of us, I was in a pretty distracted state at the time, because of the increasing danger of war. This is not merely a personal meandering, it is apposite to the story. After all, I was the author of Cry Havoc!, which, as you may recall, was a passionate plea for unadulterated pacifism. I was prepared to go to any lengths to prevent war, even maybe to blind myself to the essential evil in the figure of Hitler. Anyway, as a result of this conversation I attended my first meeting, and was so deeply impressed that I wrote an article about it in the Sunday Chronicle. A long telegram from Frank Buchman, congratulating me, arrived on the following morning. Odd as it may seem, I had not run into him at the meeting; indeed, I only met him once in my life, when I found him strangely antipathetic. After that, for the next few weeks — or was it months? — members of the Group were constantly calling and ringing up and writing letters, and I am bound to admit that by and large they were kind and helpful. They were aware of the tensions through which I was passing, because, at my very first meeting, I had got up and confessed that part of my hatred of war was based on simple personal physical cowardice. It was not a very sensational confession, and I hope you know me well enough to realise that this was not the sole reason for my pacifism. But though these young men did their best, I was not greatly impressed by their mental calibre. One of them, I remember, was quite shocked when I suggested that it might be a good idea if there was some moral rearmament in the actual armament industry itself: in the vast firm of Schneider-Creuzot, in Krupp's, and, of course, in our own Vickers. In Cry Havoc! I had stressed the appalling fact that there were secret agreements between these great firms of which the ultimate outcome must be war. For the weapons of war were their trade. But no member of the Oxford Group, as far as I am aware, ever thought it worth while to call on the Merchants of Death, a phrase of my own which was later attached to a best-seller in America.
      Somewhere around June, 1936, I was at the end of my tether, and I suddenly decided to motor up to Oxford to see if these kindly people could give me any personal assistance. And there I had a most bitter experience. For my original sponsor, assuming that I was now irrevocably 'one of them', blandly informed me that the first meeting which I had ever attended had been 'staged' entirely for my benefit. They had a shrewd idea of what was wrong with me, and how I could best be 'got at', and so all those first confessions had been rigged. In other words, they had put on an act for my especial benefit, hoping that I would give them good publicity, as of course I did. Perhaps there was nothing so reprehensible about this precedure, but the effect on myself at the time was devastating. It seemed to me to go completely counter to their first fundamental principle of Absolute Honesty. Feeling as I did, I decided to be absolutely honest myself, and I got up on to the platform in order to tell them how I felt about it. But I could not speak, and I left the platform with the tears streaming down my face. I left the hall by a side door, and went out to sit in my car. Nobody followed me. It was about two o'clock in the afternoon, and I stayed in the car for about half an hour, trying to pull myself together. The next ten hours were a complete blank, but shortly after midnight my servant returned to my small house in Hampstead, to find me standing in the hall, staring at nothing and saying 'I can't stop crying.' ...
      This little episode marked the beginning of a total nervous breakdown.
The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965, pages 269-272.

(Note that the sponsorship system was present in the Oxford Groups. Bill Wilson didn't invent that for Alcoholics Anonymous either.)

Beverly Nichols also described his experiences with the Oxford Groups in his later book, All I Could Never Be:

      Ever since my return from Palestine I had been tortured by insomnia.   ...   After a week or so of this you neither feel nor look very pretty.
      It was in this sort of state that I had come to Oxford; I thought that perhaps the Group might help me.  ...
      But the first meeting of the Group was quite dreadful. Dr. Buchman reminded me more than ever of an American dentist, or rather, of a salesman of dental appliances ('use our special brushes and your teeth will last for ever'; 'use our special doctrine and you'll gain eternity').
      What happened after the meeting was even worse. For I said to my chief Grouper friend — one of Buchman's right-hand men: 'I do hope that when we meet again there will be some "witnesses", like last year — you know what I mean, people who will get up and tell how their whole lives have been changed.'
      To which he replied, with a bright laugh: 'Oh, but those people you heard were our star turns. We put them on specially for you.'
      Why this should have shocked me so much I do not know; the fact remains that it did. I had thought that those men and women whom I had heard the year before were speaking as the spirit moved them, almost as though they were 'speaking with tongues'. Now it seemed that they had only been the high-spots in an evangelistic vaudeville. Surely that was not 'absolute honesty', which was the first of the four principles of the Group?
      Such was the question I asked myself, sitting in that dingy hotel, waiting till it was time to go to the next meeting....
      But as I left the hotel to go to that last meeting I was in no mood of acceptance; my nerves were strung so tightly that I felt like snarling at everybody.
      The little hall was crowded with about two hundred people. There was a large percentage of young women, and today they seemed to me strangely repulsive; they were both repressed and complacent; their virginity was not a flaming militant purity, but an asset to be smug about, like money in the savings bank. 'My virtue is still intact' — 'My bank balance is still on the credit side'; one felt that they would make those two statements in exactly the same tone of voice.
      There was the same air about the young men. God forgive me if I were ever to sneer at any man's effort to keep himself clean, but true purity is creative, it is a form of shining self-expression; it has, indeed, a quality of passion about it.
      Here there was no radiance — one had rather the sense that the young men were trying out purity as they might try out a new sort of pill, and the results were sadly unbecoming... unbecoming in the most obvious physical sense. These young men were ugly. They were pale and spotty and twitchy, and the palms of their hands were wet. Their hair was untidy. Their whole appearance lacked lustre.
      Except Dr. Buchman himself. There he was on the platform, and he was lustrous enough. His pink cheeks sparkled; his spectacles glittered; his protuberant cuffs were dazzling white; his dark blue trousers were beautifully creased; and his shoes were bright as mirrors.   ...

In the King's Head pub, West Ham, Buchman meets with his local "team".
Top right: Bill Rowell, alleged to be "a leader of London's unemployed". (What on earth was that? Do the unemployed people form unions and elect leaders?)
Below him, Tod Sloan (with the curly hair, reading), watchmaker, former labor activist, and friend of Ben Tillet — and also allegedly a "leader of London's unemployed".
On Buchman's right, Bill Jaeger, a student who "pioneered the work".
Seated left, Mrs. Annie Jaeger, his mother, who sold her shop in Stockport to go and help him in East London.

[I find this photograph to be striking: It's the closest thing I've seen to a modern Heironymous Bosch painting.]

      I sat down at the back and stared around me. All the members of the audience had little notebooks in which they were busily scribbling their 'guidance'. One or two of the young women, recognizing me, handed me their notebooks for my autograph, giggling as they did so. In a sort of dream I signed them — and I remember that as I signed the last one I wrote my name just below the pencilled phrase 'Stop Sunday Express and take in the Observer.' So God was guiding the journalistic tastes of His followers too! I had an urge to scribble underneath: 'But don't believe a word of the dramatic criticisms of either of them.'
      And then the voice of Dr. Buchman:
      'Shall we have a few moments' Quiet?'
      Instantly the scribblings and the whisperings ceased. The eyes of Dr. Buchman closed behind their sparkling glasses. The eyes of many others closed. Mine remained open, and in them the tears began to gather. I head the birds singing outside, I knew that there were roses in bloom and green lawns and a river running; but how far away they seemed! I was a prisoner. I was in a lunatic asylum. I had gone mad, stark, staring mad. All these people were mad too. It would not matter if only I weren't so tired — so unutterably tired, because then I could escape.
      Once more, I managed to pull myself together.
      It was for the last time.

      The nasal twang of Dr. Buchman broke the silence.
      He called for 'witnesses'.
      A smartly dressed woman rose to her feet. She began, in a thin, sugary voice. 'I have been having a great deal of trouble with my maid. It seemed to me that she was lazy and didn't look after my clothes properly. And that worried me because nowadays I suppose no woman can have quite as many clothes as she wants.' (Polite laughter.)
      'Then the Group came into my life and I was "changed", and I found I hadn't been really honest with her. I had told her, for instance, that I had bought two black dresses because I wanted them for mourning, whereas I really only wanted them because they were becoming to me. So we started "sharing", and she told me that once when I was away, she had worn my clothes (which I had always suspected), and I told her I was jealous because her figure was better than mine, and now we're the greatest of friends. I think it only shows how God works in us if we will only allow Him to.'
      She sat down. There was applause. Dr. Buchman beamed. 'That is a fine thought,' he said (pronouncing 'thought' as though it were spelt 'thot'). 'God works in us if we will only allow Him to! Make a note of it, friends.'
      At this injunction there was much scribbling in the notebooks. During the scribbling a young man had risen to his feet. In an exaggerated Oxford drawl he observed:
      'It came to me the other day, when I was reading a book on the early history of electricity, that God is using the Oxford Group to release the spiritual forces of the twentieth century just as He used the scientists to release the electrical forces of the eighteenth.'
      This pompous and highly questionable statement elicited much applause. We were all told to write it down. The young man was asked by Dr. Buchman, if any equally impressive 'thots' had come to him, but God, apparently, had felt that He had given him enough for one day, so no more were forthcoming.
      But a great deal else was forthcoming. Young women who had been cross at breakfast, but had now been 'changed', and were cross no longer. Business men who had drunk port in the afternoon to the detriment of not only their souls but their business. Now they were 'changed', the port was a thing of the past and trade was booming. Authors (unpublished), and artists (unhung), whose work had deepened and broadened beyond recognition, though not apparently to the extent of selling. Pettiness after pettiness, folly after folly — suddenly the whole thing was unbearable to me. I could stomach it no longer.
      If I had been in a normal condition I should have begun to laugh uproariously. As it was, I was in the first agonizing stages of a nervous breakdown, and I began to cry. I cried, silently, but I knew that at any moment I should be sobbing out loud.
      With the tears streaming down my face, I staggered to my feet, stumbled over a number of astonished people, and somehow or other got out of the room. Nobody followed me.
      ...   How I drove that car to London must always remain a mystery. Some queer automatic mechanism of the brain must have guided the wheel and used the brakes. (On the following morning the car was discovered undamaged, with its lights on, in a side-street about two miles from Hampstead Heath. Presumably the automaton which was then in control of me had some reason for leaving it there.)
      When I 'came to' it must have been nearly midnight, and I was standing under a bright light in the little hall of the house in Hampstead, staring at the front door, waiting for it to open.
      At last there were steps outside. The door opened, and I saw the cheerful face of Gaskin. He stared at me as if he had seen a ghost.
      'Whatever has happened, sir?'
      'I can't stop crying, Gaskin.'
      Nor could I. It was useless to try to sleep, with those great sobs tearing me to pieces. I spent the night roaming the Heath on the arm of a friend, trying to walk myself into a stupor. But the sobs would not stop. When the doctor came in the morning it was quite impossible to tell him what was the matter. He murmured, 'Acute nervous exhaustion', rang up a nursing home and booked a room. An hour or two later a specialist was jabbing me in the knee and shining bright lights into my eyes. I heard the gentle voice of a nurse. 'Just roll up your sleeve,' she said. There was the sting of ether on my arm. 'It won't hurt — just a prick.' A few moments later I went to sleep, and for three days and nights I was out of the world.
      It is popularly supposed that nervous breakdowns are a luxury for the idle rich.
      The Oxford Group taught me otherwise.
All I Could Never Be, Beverly Nichols, pages 262-271.

Ken Ragge, in his book More Revealed, stated:

The extraction of Confession was considered of ultimate importance and great effort was made to get it.

When he is certain that the need for confession exists, the soul surgeon must be lovingly relentless in insisting that the confession be made... (18)

This "loving relentlessness" takes on a rather sinister air when the group's "hospital work" is considered. An alcoholic patient, locked away in a hospital, would be given only a Bible to read and was allowed only Groupers for visitors during the "Oxfordizing" period.* The poor victim was under steady pressure, perhaps for days, weeks, or months, to accept Oxford Group interpretations of the Bible and Oxford Group's will as God's will. Even outside of hospitals, the grouper's techniques sometimes led to severe emotional damage including nervous and mental breakdowns.(19)

* All cults use some method to separate their target from outside sources of information.

18. Walter H. A., Soul Surgery   The Oxford Group, Oxford: 1932
19. Driberg T., The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament: A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement   Secker & Warberg London: 1964

More Revealed, Ken Ragge

You will notice that Frank Buchman just loved lists of "principles" or "procedures" or step-like things. Frank had:

  • The Four Absolutes,
  • The Five C's,
  • The Five Procedures of the Sane,
  • The Six Basic Assumptions,
  • and The Six or Seven "Principles" or "Practices of the Sane".

The Twelve Steps and The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous are just another couple of iterations of the same old list-making routine.

(But note that Buchman never exactly called them "Steps" — although Sam Shoemaker talked about "taking the next step". "Steps" was more Bill Wilson's terminology. When Earl T. wrote in his Big Book story, He Sold Himself Short, that the early A.A.'s were using a 6-step program [on page 292 of the 3rd edition, and on page 263 of the 4th edition], that was a slight misnomer. It was Buchman's 6-step program all right, but Buchman called it something more like "the six principles" or "The Six Practices of the Sane".)

The Five Procedures included:

  1. giving in to God,
  2. listening to God's directions,
  3. checking guidance,
  4. making restitution, and
  5. sharing one's sins openly.

The Six Basic Assumptions were that

  1. men were sinners,
  2. men can be "changed",
  3. confession is necessary to "change",
  4. the "changed" person has direct access to God,
  5. the age of miracles has returned,
  6. and those who have been fortunate enough to be "changed" should seek to "change" others.
    (Those who had been converted to Buchman's beliefs were called "the changed", and those who proselytized and recruited for the Oxford Groups were called "life changers" or "Soul Surgeons".)

The Oxford Group manual Soul Surgery (page 4) lists "The Principles Of Personal Evangelism" ("the Five C's") as:

  1. Confidence — Get the trust and confidence of the targeted victim.
  2. Confession — Confess something to the victim, and get him to confess something about himself in return.
  3. Conviction — Turn the victim's confession back upon him and amplify and exaggerate it and make him convict himself of all kinds of sins.
  4. Conversion — Offer religious conversion as the only way out of the guilt.
  5. Conservation — Send the new convert out to get other victims by using these same practices on them.

As a matter of fact, we can very easily translate the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous backwards into Buchmanite so-called "principles" or "procedures", by changing the word "alcohol" to "sin", like this:

  • 1) We admitted that we had been defeated by sin, and were powerless over it.
  • 2) We came to believe that only God could restore us to sanity.
  • 3) We surrendered our wills and our lives to the control of God.
  • 4) We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • 5) We confessed our sins to another person and to God.
  • 6) and 7) We humbly, on our knees, begged God to remove our sins.
  • 8) We made of list of persons we had harmed.
  • 9) We made direct amends to them.
  • 10) Repeat steps 1 through 9 endlessly, and constantly declare that we are wrong.
  • 11) We prayed for Guidance and the power to do God's Will.
  • 12) We recruited more members by carrying the message to those who were still defeated by sin, and also swore to practice these principles in all of our affairs.

Notice the similarity between those steps, and the practices of the Oxford Group — "the Six Practices of the Sane":

1) Admission of personal defeat by sin.
2) Taking of personal inventory.
3) Confession of one's sins to another person.
4) Making restitution to those one has harmed.
5) Helping others selflessly [going recruiting for the cult].
6) Praying to God for Guidance and the power to put these precepts into practice.

Also, the A.A. steps 2, 3, and 11 are covered by the Buchmanism concept of "Guidance". The adherent is supposed to surrender to Guidance, which is the same thing as surrendering to God, which is the same thing as surrendering to God-control, which, according to Buchmanism, will restore one to "sanity".

And A.A. Step 12 is the same as Buchmanism's "Conservation" or "Continuance", which means "go recruit more members." It is also the same as Buchman's earlier seventh principle, "carrying the message" to those "still defeated by sin." And it is also the same thing as the Sixth Basic Assumption: "Those who have been fortunate enough to be 'changed' should seek to 'change' others." And it is the same as the "Fifth C". And recruiting is also strongly implied in Buchman's practice 5 here — "Helping others selflessly" really means working hard to convert everybody else to Buchmanism so that they, too, can go to Heaven.

You can get much more detailed descriptions of the practices of the Oxford Group from these two documents. Both are free downloads.

  1. Soul Surgery, by H. A. Walter, The Oxford Group, Oxford: 1932
  2. What_Is_The_Oxford_Group, by "The Layman with a Notebook", Oxford University Press, New York, 1933.

Next: The Cult Characteristics of the Oxford Groups

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Last updated 25 December 2014.
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