The Four Absolutes – A beginner’s guide to Spirituality?

The Four Absolutes can be traced back to the turn of the 20th Century in a book by Robert Elliot Speer entitled ‘ The principles of Jesus’ and were seen as a set of moral principles that would loosely define spirituality.

These principles were adopted by ‘The Oxford Group’ in the early 20th century. This was a non-denominational Christian organization founded by Frank Buchman in the US. He travelled to the UK and specifically Oxford University where the organization flourished hence the name. The Oxford Group was established in 1931.

How did AA get involved with the Oxford Group?

The Oxford Group played a significant part in the early evolution of AA. Its earliest Association can be traced to an Alcoholic by the name of Rowland Hazard. He was a chronic alcoholic and despite visits to Carl Jung in Switzerland, he was unable to stay sober. Jung  viewed Hazard as hopeless although he had seen Alcoholics recover through what he described as a ‘Vital Spiritual Experience.’ Jung suggested that he seek such an experience and on his return to the United States he joined the Oxford Group. Hazard later described the ‘Spiritual Conversion’ that he went through and how that was vital in maintaining his sobriety.

Ebby Thacher was an old drinking partner of Bill Wilson and he found himself in court after one of his benders. Rowland Hazard was one of three gentlemen who appeared on Ebbys’ behalf and requested the court release them into his custody which they duly did. Ebby managed to stay sober and became Bill W ‘sponsor’.

In November 1934 Ebby visited his old mate Bill Wilson who was anticipating a drinking session. Instead, Ebby turned up fresh-faced and sober, declined a drink and admitted to ‘having got Religion’.  And so the initial connection was established.

How did Bill W and Dr Bob meet?

Bill became a member of the Oxford Group using its basic tenets as a framework:

  • A Complete deflation.
  • Dependence on God.
  • A Moral inventory.
  • Confession.
  • Restitution.
  • Continued work with others in need.

He began to sustain recovery through the Oxford Group and found himself on a business trip in Akron. It hadn’t gone well and the thought of a drink became more attractive. In an effort to maintain his sobriety and remembering the Tenets he reached out to a local priest, He asked if he knew of anyone that needed help from Alcoholism. Ultimately this led to the first meeting between the two founders Bill and Dr Bob Smith. Bob was also a member of the Oxford Group.

How was AA born?

Together they managed to keep sober and under the umbrella of the Oxford Group sought to find other alcoholics to help.

Slowly the Ideologies grew apart primarily on the Oxford Groups’ belief that Alcoholism was a moral failing. Bill and Bob saw it as a state of insanity rather than a state of sin.

They also found the ‘Religious constraints’ of the Oxford Group prohibitive to its membership and adopted a spiritual perspective that allowed the individual to ‘choose their own conception of a higher power’.

They decided to separate from the Oxford Group and AA was born.

Did Oxford Group influence AA?

The direct influence of the Oxford Group is obvious and apparent. The six Tenets were used as a template to create what became known as the 12 Steps. These steps were used as a practical program to recovery and are the backbone of the multitude of associated fellowships that have sprouted up since this time.

The Oxford Group had also adopted the Four Absolutes:

Absolute Purity

Absolute Honesty

Absolute Unselfishness

Absolute Love

These absolutes provided a firm structure upon which a spiritual life could be built and Bill W stayed very close to this in his early years.

What do the Absolutes mean?


This asks the question. Is it right or is it wrong?
I think we know….But practising the right decision is not as straightforward. Our fears can play a part in our decision making….even more so with the alcoholic.


During our active addiction honesty can become a foreign concept
And the ramifications of that dishonesty contributed to our sickness. We were unable to accept the dishonesty and the shame that accompanied it.


We had become accustomed to putting ourselves (and our addiction) first. The final tenet of the Oxford group was ‘ continued work with others in need’ and this became the 12th step and the backbone of long term sobriety.


This was a foreign concept to many of us in our addiction. Love had always been a trade-off.. What do I get out of loving someone? Love is not a decision.

The 12 Steps of AA promise ‘a spiritual awakening’ to those that give themselves to this program. That has certainly been my experience. The Absolutes provide a decision-making formula that keeps my spirituality in check.

Don Lavender

Don specialized in addiction studies, earning an MDiv and a master's in Management, Administration, and Counseling. As a priest, he supported Step 5s in local treatment centers for nearly 40 years, excelling in "family systems work" in the addiction field.

Additionally, Don pioneered equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) in the US and UK during the 1990s. He authored "Equine Utilized Psychotherapy: Dance with those that run with laughter" and gained media recognition, including appearances on 'the Trisha Show' and features in The Daily Telegraph.

In the early 2000s, Don and his wife, Meena, founded Camino Recovery in Spain, providing tailored addiction treatment programs aimed at fostering happier lives.

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