Book Review: Reverence for Life: The Ethics of Albert Schweitzer for the Twenty-First Century
“We never acknowledge the absolute mysterious character of nature, but always speak so confidently of explaining her, whereas all that we have really done is to go into fuller and more complicated descriptions, which only make the mysterious more mysterious than ever.”
“The spirit of the age loves dissonance, in tones, in lines and in thought. That shows how far from thinking it is, for thinking is a harmony within us.”
Intriguing title; intriguing work. First published in 1965, it draws on Albert Schweitzer’s life as a medical missionary in what is now the nation of Gabon. He lived his philosophy, though some will find his words and actions out of step with current style, even allowing for his age.
“Every ethic has something of the absolute about it, just as soon as it ceases to be mere social law. It demands of one what is actually beyond his strength.”
Schweitzer, like many great names of the twentieth century, have faded into caricature, if remembered at all. Einstein, Lenin, Roosevelt, Gandhi, Hitler, King have all faded into myth. Schweitzer is especially opaque to us because he thought and wrote in the style of the nineteenth century.
“Whatever the fundamental rights of man are, they can only be fully secured in a stable and well-ordered society. In a disordered society the very well-being of man himself often demands that his fundamental rights should be abridged.”
This is a short book, but it is slowly read and slowly digested. Some I rejected, but even more that challenged me to reflect, not just agree or disagree.
“All their suggestions thus far have been impotent to create the mutual trust which is necessary for a total renunciation of atomic weapons. Trust is a matter of spirit It can be born only of the spirit. It can come about only when the spirit of reverence for life arises in all nations.”
At least he tried. At least he HAD a moral code that he followed. His agenda didn’t include damage. My memory of him will always be of a humanitarian willing to put his life on the line.