“The words of Dr. Schweitzer are timeless. They are not only relevant today, but they will continue to serve as an inspiration to the future.”
REVERENCE FOR LIFE
“Reverence for Life” provided Dr. Schweitzer with the philosophical and ethical basis of his life’s work for the fifty years between his “discovery” of it in 1915 and his death in 1965. It is simultaneously an extraordinarily simple and an extraordinarily complex and deep idea. James Brabazon provides some helpful background in his new and extremely useful anthology, Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings (published in fall 2005):
Reverence for Life is a translation of the German Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben, and the word “reverence” is really not quite adequate. It lacks the German word’s overtones of awe before an overwhelming force. “Ehrfurcht” is respect carried to ultimate lengths. It holds reverberations of the feelings we experience on the tops of high mountains, in a storm at sea, or in a tropical tornado. This was the element that the African jungle gave to Schweitzer’s thinking―the acknowledgement of immensity and of overwhelming power―the force of continuing life and ever-present death in the vastness of nature.
This is a poetic concept. It came to him after much diligent thought, true, but it came out of the blue, an intuition, not a logical answer to an intellectual problem. So how can he call it a product of thought, or worse still, a necessity of thought?
Many readers of Schweitzer have been troubled by this problem and have criticized him for failing to notice that Reverence for Life is not a necessity of thought, that no logical sequence of propositions compels any man to arrive at Reverence for Life. It is simply Schweitzer’s own personal view of life summed up in a phrase, and thought has nothing to do with it.
But Schweitzer’s word “denken ” carries other connotations, of meditation, of brooding absorption in a subject, which the word “thought” does not encompass. For example, in The Decay and Restoration of Civilisation, this is how he defines it: “thought is no dry intellectualism, which would suppress all the manifold movements of our inner life, but the totality of all the functions of our spirit in their living action and interaction.”
Slowly we crept upstream, [on one of the long African errands of mercy], laboriously feeling―it was the dry season―for the channels between the sandbanks. Lost in thought I sat on the deck of the barge, struggling to find the elementary and universal conception of the ethical which I had not discovered in any philosophy. Sheet after sheet I covered with disconnected sentences, merely to keep myself concentrated on the problem. Late on the third day, at the very moment when, at sunset, we were making our way through a herd of hippopotamuses, there flashed upon my mind, unforeseen and unsought, the phrase, “Reverence for Life.” The iron door had yielded: the path in the thicket had become visible. Now I had found my way to the idea in which world- and life-affirmation and ethics are contained side by side! Now I knew that the world-view of ethical world- and life-affirmation, together with its ideals of civilization, is founded in thought. (Out of My Life and Thought, pp. 185 f.)
Ethics grow out of the same root as world- and life-affirmation, for ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life. That is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil. Affirmation of the world, which means affirmation of the will-to-live that manifests itself around me, is only possible if I devote myself to other life. From an inner necessity, I exert myself in producing values and practicing ethics in the world and on the world even though I do not understand the meaning of the world. For in world- and life-affirmation and in ethics I carry out the will of the universal will-to-live which reveals itself in me. I live my life in God, in the mysterious divine personality which I do not know as such in the world, but only experience as mysterious will within myself. (The Philosophy of Civilization, p. 79.)
The fundamental fact of human awareness is this: “I am life that wills to live in the midst of life that wills to live.” A thinking man feels compelled to approach all life with the same reverence he has for his own. Thus, all life becomes part of his own experience.” (World Book Yearbook, 1964).
How can ethics become the basis for a world philosophy? When it relates to the entire world; when if forms and builds our spiritual relationship to the world. It does that only if it shows us how we are linked with all living beings. As the wave in the ocean surges forward together with all waves, so must we feel in our life the life that is around us, with its privations and anguish. Then we will have an ethical code that is meaningful and can sustain a world philosophy. I have ventured to express the thought that the basic concept on which goodness rests is reverence for all life – the great mystery in which we find ourselves together with all living things. (The Schweitzer Album, p. 40)
What we call love is in its essence reverence for life. (Indian Thought and Its Development, p. 260.)
Reverence for Life does not allow the scholar to live for his science alone, even if he is very useful to the community in so doing. It does not permit the artist to exist only for his art, even if he gives inspiration to many by its means. It refuses to let the business man imagine that he fulfils all legitimate demands in the course of his business activities. It demands from all that they should sacrifice a portion of their own lives for others. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 269.)
REVERENCE FOR LIFE AND NATURE’S CRUELTY
Reverence for life and sympathy with other lives is of supreme importance for this world of ours. Nature knows no similar reverence for life. It produces life a thousand-fold in the most meaningful way and destroys it a thousand-fold in the most meaningless way. In every stage of life, right up to the level of man, terrible ignorance lies over all creatures. They have the will to live but no capacity for compassion toward other creatures. They can’t feel what happens inside others. They suffer but have no compassion. The great struggle for survival by which nature is maintained is in strange contradiction with itself. Creatures live at the expense of other creatures. Nature permits the most hor¬rible cruelties to be committed. It impels insects by their instincts to bore holes into other insects, to lay their eggs in them so that maggots may grow there and live off the caterpillar, thus causing it a slow and painful death. Nature lets ants band together to attack poor little creatures and hound them to death. Look at the spider. How gruesome is the craft that nature taught it!
Nature looks beautiful and marvelous when you view it from the outside. But when you read its pages like a book, it is horrible. And its cruelty is so senseless! The most precious form of life is sacrificed to the lowliest. A child breathes the germs of tuberculosis. He grows and flourishes but is destined to suffering and a premature death because these lowly creatures multiply in his vital organs. How often in Africa have I been overcome with horror when I examined the blood of a patient who was suffering from sleeping sickness. Why did this man, his face con¬torted in pain, have to sit in front of me, groaning, “Oh, my head, my head”? Why should he have to suffer night after night and die a wretched death? Because there, under the microscope, were minute, pale corpuscles, one ten-¬thousandth of a millimeter long – not very many, some¬times such a very few that one had to look for hours to find them at all.
This, then, is the enigmatic contradiction in the will to live – life against life, causing suffering and death, innocent and yet guilty. Nature teaches cruel egotism, only briefly interrupted by the urge it has planted in creatures to offer love and assistance for their offspring as long as necessary. Animals love their young so much that they are willing to die for them. They have this capacity for sympathy. Yet the self-perpetuation of the species makes all the more terrible their utter lack of concern for those beings unrelated to them.
The world given over to ignorance and egotism is like a valley shrouded in darkness. Only up on the peaks is there light. All must live in the darkness. Only one creature can escape and catch a glimpse of the light: the highest crea¬ture, man. He is permitted to achieve the knowledge of reverence for life. His is the privilege of achieving the knowledge of shared experience and compassion, of tran¬scending the ignorance in which the rest of creation pines. And this understanding is the great event in the evolution of life. Through it truth and goodness appear in the world. Light shines above the darkness. The highest form of life has been attained, life sharing the life of others, in which one existence feels the pulse of the whole world and life becomes aware of its all-embracing ex¬istence. (Sermon, February 23, 1919. Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings.)
Only when thinking becomes quite humble can it set its feet upon the way that leads to knowledge. (Christian Century, p. 1520)
The deepest thinking is humble. It is only concerned that the flame of truth which it keeps alive should burn with the strongest and purest heat; it does not trouble about the distance to which its brightness penetrates. (Indian Thought and Its Development, p. 257)
Thought becomes religious when it thinks itself out to the end. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 258.)
All thinking which penetrates to the depths ends in ethical mysticism. (Out of My Life and Thought, p. 235.)
Thinking which keeps contact with reality must look up to the heavens, it must look over the earth, and dare to direct its gaze to the barred windows of a lunatic asylum. (Christian Century, p. 1520.)
Truth has no special time of its own. Its hour is now – always, and indeed then most truly when it seems most unsuitable to actual circumstances. (On the Edge of the Primeval Forest, p. 174.)
The highest honor one can show to a system of thought is to test it ruthlessly with a view to discovering how much truth it contains, just as steel is assayed to try its strength. (Indian Thought and Its Development, p. viii.)
The beginning of all spiritual life of any real value is courageous faith in truth and open confession of the same. (The Philosophy of Civilization, p. 62.)
The result of the voyage does not depend on the speed of the ship, whether it be a fast sailer or somewhat slower, nor on the method of propulsion, whether by sails or by steam, but on whether or not it keeps a true course and whether or not its steering-gear remains in order. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 3.)
The world-view of Reverence for Life follows from taking the world as it is. And the world means the horrible in the glorious, the meaningless in the full of meaning, the sorrowful in the joyful. (Out of My Life and Thought, p. 235.)
It is the fate of every truth to be an object of ridicule when it is first acclaimed. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 255.)
RATIONAL AND EMOTIONAL SOURCES OF TRUTH
The following passages are taken from an interview on Radio Brazzaville in 1953, quoted in Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings:
I was always, even as a boy, engrossed in the philosophical problem of the relation between emotion and reason. Certain truths originate in feeling, others in the mind. Those truths that we derive from our emotions are of a moral kind – compassion, kindness, forgiveness, love for our neighbour. Reason, on the other hand, teaches us the truths that come from reflection.
But with the great spirits of our world – the Hebrew prophets, Christ, Zoroaster, the Buddha, and others – feeling is always paramount. In them emotion holds its ground against reason, and all of us have an inner assurance that the truth of emotion that these great spiritual figures reveal to us is the most profound and the most important truth.
The problem presented itself to me in these terms: must we really be condemned to live in this dualism of emotional and rational truths? Since my particular preoccupation was with problems of morality, I have always been struck by finding myself forced to recognize that the morality elaborated by philosophy, both ancient and modern, has been meager indeed when compared to the morality of the great religious and ethical geniuses who have taught us that the supreme and only truth capable of satisfying man’s spirit is love…
…The point of departure naturally offered for meditation between ourselves and the world is the simple evidence that we are life that wishes to live and are animated by a will in the midst of other lives animated by the same will. Simply by considering the act of thinking, our consciousness tells us this. True knowledge of the world consists in our being penetrated by a sense of the mystery of existence and of life.
If rational thought thinks itself out to a conclusion, it arrives at something non-rational which, nevertheless, is a necessity of thought. This is the paradox which dominates our spiritual life. If we try to get on without this non-rational element, there result views of the world and of life which have neither vitality nor value.
All valuable conviction is non-rational and has an emotional character, because it cannot be derived from knowledge of the world but arises out of the thinking experience of our will-to-live, in which we stride out beyond all knowledge of the world…The way to true mysticism leads up through rational thought to deep experience of the world and of our will-to-live. We must all venture once more to be “thinkers,” so as to reach mysticism, which is the only direct and the only profound world-view. We must all wander in the field of knowledge to the point where knowledge passes over into experience of the world. We must all, through thought, become religious.
MUSIC, WORSHIP, AND HARMONY
Joy, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter – to all these music gives voice, but in such a way that we are transported from the world of unrest to a world of peace, and see reality in a new way, as if we were sitting by a mountain lake and contemplating hills and woods and clouds in the tranquil and fathomless water. (Thoughts for Our Times, p. 34)
Music is an act of worship with Bach. His artistic activity and his personality are both based on his piety. If he is to be understood from any standpoint at all, it is from this. For him, art was religion, and so had no concern with the world or with worldly success. It was an end in itself. Bach includes religion in the definition of art in general. All great art, even secular, is in itself religious in his eyes; for him the tones do not perish, but ascend to God like praise too deep for utterance. (J.S. Bach. p. 167.)
Beethoven and Wagner poetize in music, Bach paints. And Bach is a dramatist, but just in the sense that the painter is. He does not paint successive events but seizes upon the pregnant moment that contains the whole event for him and depicts this in music. (Reverence for Life, p. 93)
When I hear a baby’s cry of pain change into a normal cry of hunger, to my ears that is the most beautiful music – and there are those who say I have good ears for music. (The Schweitzer Album, p. 71)
The morality we have lived by was fragmentary only. We must abandon it in favor of the complete, all-embracing love expressed in “reverence for all life.” That fragmentary moral of concern for human life alone was like a single tone floating in the air, incomplete because the base tone to produce the harmony was missing. Reverence for life gives us the full chord, the harmony. (Thoughts for Our Times, pp. 10-11)
By practicing reverence for life we are in a spiritual relationship with the universe; we are in harmony with it. (Thoughts for Our Times, p. 11)
FAITH AND SPIRITUALITY
Faith has nothing to fear from thinking, even when the latter disturbs its peace and raises a debate which appears to promise no good results for the religious life. (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, p. 376).
In modern thinking the same thing happens as in religion. Thinking drops the tiller from its hand in the middle of the storm. (Christian Century, p. 1520)
We do not have enough inwardness, we are not sufficiently preoccupied with our own spiritual life, we lack quietness; and this not only because in our exacting, busy existence it is difficult to obtain, but because, ignoring its importance, we do not take pains to secure it, being too easily contented with living our lives as unrecollected men who merely aim at being good. (Christianity and the Religions of the World, p. 43.)
One truth stands firm. All that happens in world history rests on something spiritual. If the spiritual is strong, it creates world history. If it is weak, it suffers world history. (Christian Century, p. 1483f.)
The stronger the reverence for natural life, the stronger grows also that for spiritual life. (Out of My Life and Thought, p. 270.)
Let me give you a definition of ethics: It is good to maintain life and further life; it is bad to damage and destroy life. And this ethic, profound, universal, has the significance of a religion. It is religion. (Christian Century, p. 1521)
Ethics alone consists in this, that I experience the necessity of practicing the same reverence for life toward all will-to-live, as toward my own. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 254.)
Ethics is…reverence for the will-to-live both within and without my own personality. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 258.)
Ethics is the activity of man directed to secure the inner perfection of his own personality. (The Decay and Restoration of Civilization, p. 94.)
The maintenance of one’s own life at the highest level by becoming more and more perfect in spirit, and the maintenance at the highest level of other life by sympathetic, helpful self-devotion to it – this is ethics. (Indian Thought and Its Development, p. 260.)
Sincerity is the first ethical quality which appears. (The Ethics of Reverence for Life, p. 230.)
No man is ever completely and permanently a stranger to his fellow-man. Man belongs to man. Man has claims on man. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, p. 95.)
Ethics alone can put me in true relationship with the universe by my serving it, cooperating with it; not by trying to understand it. (The Ethics of Reverence for Life, p. 234.)
God does not rest content with commanding ethics. He gives it to us in our very hearts. (The Ethics of Reverence for Life, p. 239.)
Humanity has always needed ethical ideals to enable it to find the right path, that man may make right use of the power he possesses. Today his power is increased a thousandfold. A thousandfold greater is now the need for man to possess ethical ideals to point the way. (Christian Century, p. 1520.)
Search and see if there is not some place where you may invest your humanity. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 269.)
We are ethical if we abandon our stubbornness, if we surrender our strangeness toward other creatures and share in the life and the suffering that surround us. Only this quality makes us truly human. (Sermon, February 23, 1919; quoted in Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings)
The presupposition of morality is to share everything that goes on around us, not only in human life but in the life of all creatures. This awareness forces us to do all within our power for the preservation and advancement of life. The great enemy of morality has always been indifference. As children…we had an elementary capacity for compassion. But our capacity did not develop over the years…To remain good means to remain wide awake…So I tell you, don’t let your hearts grow numb. Stay alert. It is your soul which matters. (Sermon, February 23, 1919; quoted in Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings.)
THE VOICE OF THE TEMPTER, AND DEEP SATISFACTION
[A] threat to our capacity and our will to empathy is nagging doubt. What is the use of it?, you think. Your most strenuous efforts to prevent suffering, to ease suffering, to preserve life, are nothing compared to the anguish re¬maining in the world around you, the wounds you are powerless to heal. Certainly, it is dreadful to be reminded of the extent of our helplessness.
It is worse still to realize how much suffering we ourselves cause others without being able to prevent it. You are walking along a path in the woods. The sunshine makes lovely patterns through the trees. The birds are singing, and thousands of insects buzz happily in the air. But as you walk along the path, you are involuntarily the cause of death. Here you trod on an ant and tortured it; there you squashed a beetle; and over there your un¬knowing step left a worm writhing in agony. Into the glorious melody of life you weave a discordant strain of suffering and death. You are guilty, though it is no fault of your own…Then comes the voice of the tempter: Why torture yourself? It is no good. Give up, stop caring. Be unconcerned and unfeeling like everybody else.
Still another temptation arises – compassion really in¬volves you in suffering. Anyone who experiences the woes of this world within his heart can never again feel the sur¬face happiness that human nature desires…And the tempter says again: You can’t live like this. You must be able to detach yourself from what is depressing around you. Don’t be so sensitive. Teach your¬self the necessary indifference, put on an armor, be thoughtless like everybody else if you want to live a sensible life. In the end we are ashamed to know of the great experience of empathy and compassion. We keep it secret from one another and pretend it is foolish, a weakness we outgrow when we begin to be “reasonable” people.
These three great temptations unobtrusively wreck the presupposition of all goodness. Guard against them. Counter the first temptation by saying that for you to share experience and to lend a helping hand is an ab¬solute inward necessity. Your utmost attempts will be but a drop in the ocean compared with what needs to be done, but only this attitude will give meaning and value to your life…The small amount you are able to do is actually much if it only relieves pain, suffering, and fear from any living being, be it human or any other creature. The preservation of life is the true joy.
As for…the fear that compassion will involve you in suffering, counter it with the realization that the sharing of sorrow expands your capacity to share joy as well. When you callously ignore the suffering of others, you lose the capacity to share their happiness, too. And however little joy we may see in this world, the sharing of it, together with the good we ourselves create, pro¬duces the only happiness which makes life tolerable.
And finally, you have no right to say: I will be this, or I will be that, because I think one way will make me happier than another. No, you must be what you ought to be, a true, knowing man, a man who identifies himself with the world, a man who experiences the world within himself. Whether you are happier by the ordinary standards of happiness or not doesn’t matter. The secret hour does not require of us that we should be happy – to obey the call is the only thing that satisfies deeply.
(Sermon, February 23, 1919; quoted in Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings)
When you portray me it should be not merely as the doctor who ministers to the sick. It is my philosophy that I consider my primary contribution to the world. (The Schweitzer Album, p. 169)
[Referring to gifts from distant supporters…]: Something has to happen in someone’s heart before anything happens in Lambaréné. (The Schweitzer Album, p. 60)
Everyone has his Lambaréné. (The Schweitzer Album, p. 176)
The school will be the way! From the time they start school, young people must be imbued with the idea of reverence for all living things. Then we will be able to develop a spirit based on ethical responsibility and one that will stir many. Then we will be entitled to call ourselves a humanity of civilization. (The Schweitzer Album, p. 146)
Start early to instill in your students awareness that they are on this earth to help and serve others; that is as important to pass on to them as knowledge. (Thoughts for Our Times, p. 12)
The most important thing in education is to make young people think for themselves. (Thoughts for Our Times, p. 12)
As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible but more mysterious…The beginning of all wisdom is to be filled with the mystery of existence and of life.” (The Schweitzer Album, pp. 167 and 171.)
YOUTH, MATURITY, AND IDEALISM
The epithet “ripe” applied to persons always did, and does still, convey to me the idea of something depressing. I hear with it, like musical discords, the words, impoverishment, stunted growth, blunted feelings. What we are usually invited to contemplate as “ripeness” in a man is the resigning of ourselves to an almost exclusive use of the reason. One acquires it by copying others and getting rid, one by one, of the thoughts and convictions which were dear in the days of one’s youth. We believed once in the victory of truth; but we do not now. We believed in goodness; we do not now. We were zealous for justice; but we are not so now. We trusted in the power of kindness and peaceableness; we do not now. We were capable of enthusiasm; but we are not so now. To get through the shoals and storms of life more easily we have lightened our craft, throwing overboard what we thought could be spared. But it was really our stock of food and drink of which we deprived ourselves; our craft is now easier to manage, but we ourselves are in a decline.
I listened, in my youth, to conversations between grown-up people through which there breathed a tone of sorrowful regret which oppressed the heart. The speakers looked back at the idealism and capacity for enthusiasm of their youth as something precious to which they ought to have held fast, and yet at the same time they regarded it as almost a law of nature that no one should be able to do so. This woke in me a dread of having ever, even once, to look back on my own past with such a feeling; I resolved never to let myself become subject to this tragic domination of mere reason, and what I thus vowed in almost boyish defiance I have tried to carry out. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, pp. 97 ff.)
The ripeness that our development must aim at is one which makes us simpler, more truthful, purer, more peace-loving, meeker, kinder, more sympathetic. That is the only way in which we are to sober down with age. That is the process in which the soft iron of youthful idealism hardens into the steel of a full-grown idealism which can never be lost. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, p. 100.)
It is through the idealism of youth that man catches sight of truth, and in that idealism he possesses a wealth which he must never exchange for anything else. We must all be prepared to find that life tries to take from us our belief in the good and the true, and our enthusiasm for them, but we need not surrender them. That ideals, when they are brought into contact with reality, are usually crushed by facts does not mean that they are bound from the very beginning to capitulate to the facts, but merely that our ideals are not strong enough; and they are not strong enough because they are not pure and strong and stable enough in ourselves. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, pp. 99 f.)
The power of ideals is incalculable. We see no power in a drop of water. But let it get into a crack in the rock and be turned to ice, and it splits the rock; turned into steam, it drives the pistons of the most powerful engines. Something has happened to it which makes active and effective the power that is latent in it.
So it is with ideals. Ideals are thoughts. So long as they exist merely as thoughts, the power latent in them remains ineffective, however great the enthusiasm, and however strong the conviction with which the thought is held. Their power only becomes effective when they are taken up into some refined human personality. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, p. 100.)
The knowledge of life which we grownups have to pass on to the younger generation will not be expressed thus: “Reality will soon give way before your ideals,” but “Grow into your ideals, so that life can never rob you of them.” If all of us could become what we were at fourteen, what a different place the world would be! (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, p. 102.)
INDIVIDUALITY AND CONFORMITY
To the individual Goethe says: Do not abandon the ideal of personality, even when it runs counter to developing circumstances. Do not give it up for lost even when it seems no longer tenable in the presence of opportunistic theories which would make the spiritual conform only to the material. Remain men in possession of your own souls! Do not become human things which have given entrance to a soul which conforms to the will of the masses and beats in time with it. (Goethe Gedenkrede, pp. 48 f.)
Not only in the intellectual sphere, but in the moral also, the relation between the individual and the community has been upset. With the surrender of his own personal opinion the modern man surrenders also his personal moral judgment. In order that he may find good what the mass declares to be such, whether in word or deed, and may condemn what it declares to be bad, he suppresses the scruples which stir in him. He does not allow them to find utterance either with others or with himself. There are no stumbling blocks which his feeling of unity with the herd does not enable him to surmount, and thus he loses his judgment in that of the mass and his own morality in theirs.
Above all he is thus made capable of excusing everything that is meaningless, cruel, unjust, or bad in the behavior of his nation. Unconsciously to themselves, the majority of the members of our barbarian civilized states give less and less time to reflection as moral personalities, so that they may not be continually coming into inner conflict with their fellows as a body, and continually having to get over things which they feel to be wrong.
Public opinion helps them by popularizing the idea that the actions of the community are not to be judged so much by the standards of morality as by those of expediency. But they suffer injury to their souls. If we find among men of today only too few whose human and moral sensibility is still undamaged, the chief reason is that the majority have offered up their personal morality on the altar of their country, instead of remaining at variance with the mass and acting as a force which impels the latter along the road to perfection. (The Philosophy of Civilization, p. 19.)
Regarding the question of property, the ethic of reverence for life is outspokenly individualist in the sense that goods earned or inherited are to be placed at the disposition of the community, not according to any standards whatever laid down by society, but according to the absolutely free decision of the individual…Reverence for life places all its hopes on the enhancement of the feeling of responsibility in men. It defines possessions as the property of the community, of which the individual is sovereign steward. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 266)
Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. Hope is renewed each time that you see a person you know, who is deeply involved in the struggle of life, helping another person…Those not tied down by suffering are called to help those who are chained by suffering. But they should not think, “Behold, I am giving an example” – that spoils it. Anyone who thinks of the example he will give to others is occupied with things he ought not be doing. He has lost his simplicity. Only as a man has simplicity can his example influence others. (Thoughts for Our Times, p. 51)
I decided that I would make my life my argument. I would advocate the things I believed in, in terms of the life I live and what I did. (Letter to Norman Cousins, 1958)
Much that has become our own in gentleness, modesty, kindness, willingness to forgive, veracity, loyalty, resignation under suffering, we owe to people in whom we have seen or experienced such virtues at work, sometimes in a great matter, sometimes in a small. A thought which had become act sprang into us like a spark, and lighted a new flame within us. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, p. 90.)
I do not believe that we can put into anyone ideas which are not in him already. As a rule there are in everyone all sorts of good ideas, ready like tinder. But much of this tinder catches fire, or catches it successfully, only when it meets some flame or spark from outside, i.e. from some other person. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, p. 91)
IDEALISM AND REALISM
An idea is, in the end, always stronger than circumstances. (J.S. Bach, p. 36)
It is through the idealism of youth that man catches sight of truth, and in that idealism he possesses a wealth which he must never exchange for anything else. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, p. 99).
The idealism that I preach is no nebulous thing; it has stood the test of practical achievement. (Revue des Deux Mondes, p. 404.)
I place at opposite extremes the spirit of idealism and the spirit of realism. The spirit of idealism means that men and women of the period arrive at ethical ideals through thinking, and that these ideals are so powerful that men say: We will use them to control reality. We will transform reality in accordance with these ideals. The spirit of idealism desires to have power over the spirit of realism. The spirit of practical realism, however, holds it false to apply ideals to what is happening. The spirit of realism has no power over reality. If a generation lives with these ideas, it is subject to reality. This is the tragedy which is being enacted in our age. For what is characteristic of our age is that we no longer really believe in social or spiritual progress, but face reality powerless.
(Christian Century, 1483.)
There are two kinds of naivité: one which is not yet aware of all the problems and has not yet knocked at all the doors of knowledge; and another, a higher kind, which is the result of philosophy having looked into all problems, having sought counsel in all the spheres of knowledge, and then having come to see that we cannot explain anything but have to follow convictions whose inherent value appeals to us in an irresistible way. (Christianity and the Religions of the World, p. 71f.)
SERVICE, WORK, AND HAPPINESS
Anyone can rescue his human life, in spite of his professional life, who seizes every opportunity of being a man by means of personal action, however unpretending, for the good of fellow men who need the help of a fellow man. Such a man enlists in the service of the spiritual and good. No fate can prevent a man from giving to others this direct human service side by side with his lifework. If so much of such service remains unrealized, it is because the opportunities are missed. (Out of My Life and Thought, pp. 112 f.)
I came on the real Goethe when it struck me in connection with his activities that he could not think of any intellectual employment without practical work side by side with it, and that the two were not held together by their character and object being similar, but were quite distinct and only united through his personality. It gripped me deeply that for this giant among the intellectuals there was no work which he held to be beneath his dignity, no practical employment of which he ever said that others on account of their natural gifts and of their profession could do it better than he, and that he was always ready to prove the unity of his personality by the union of practical work with intellectual activity. (Goethe Gedenkrede, p. 686.)
You ask me to give you a motto. Here it is: SERVICE. Let this word accompany each of you throughout your life. Let it be before you as you seek your way and your duty in the world. May it be recalled to your minds if ever you are tempted to forget it or set it aside. It will not always be a comfortable companion but it will always be a faithful one. And it will be able to lead you to happiness, no matter what the experiences of your lives are. Never have this word on your lips, but keep it in your hearts. And may it…teach you not only to do good but to do it simply and humbly. (Letter to Students of a School for Nurses, The Schweitzer Album, p. 74)
The interior joy we feel when we have done a good deed, when we feel we have been needed somewhere and have lent a helping hand, is the nourishment the soul requires. Without those times when man feels himself to be part of the spiritual world by his actions, his soul decays. (Thoughts for Our Times p. 15)
Sometime or another all of us must have found that happy events have not been able to make us happy, nor unhappy events to make us unhappy. There is within each of us a modulation, an inner exaltation, which lifts us above the buffetings with which events assail us. (The Ethics of Reverence for Life, p. 229.)
Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly if they even roll a few more upon it. A strength which becomes clearer and stronger through its experience of such obstacles is the only strength that can conquer them. Resistance is only a waste of strength. (Out of My Life and Thought, p. 112.)
WAR AND PEACE
We cannot continue in this paralyzing mistrust. If we want to work out way out of the desperate situation in which we find ourselves another spirit must enter into the people. It can only come if the awareness of its necessity suffices to give us strength to believe in its coming. We must presuppose the awareness of this need in all peoples who have suffered along with us. We must approach them in the spirit that we are human beings, all of us, and that we feel ourselves fitted to feel with each other; to think and to will together in the same way. (On Nuclear War and Peace, p. 178)
The awareness that we are all human beings together has become lost in war and through politics…Now we must re-discover the fact that we – all together – are human beings, and that we must strive to concede to each other what moral capacity we have. Only in this way can we begin to believe that in other peoples as well as in ourselves there will arise the need for a new spirit, which can be the beginning of a feeling of mutual trustworthiness towards each other. The spirit is a mighty force for transforming things.
(On Nuclear War And Peace, p. 178)
That the reign of peace will eventually come to pass…has been discounted as “utopian,” but the situation today is such that it must in one way or another become reality if humanity is not to perish. (On Nuclear War And Peace p. 195)
We tolerate mass-killing in wartime – about 20 million people died in the second world war – just as we tolerate the destruction by atomic bombing of whole towns and the populations…When we admit to ourselves that they were the direct results of an act of inhumanity, our admission is qualified by the reflection that “war is war” and there is nothing to be done about it. In so resigning ourselves, without any further resistance, we ourselves become guilty of inhumanity. The important thing is that we should one and all acknowledge that we have been guilty of this inhumanity. The horror of that avowal must needs arouse everyone of us from our torpor, and compel us to hope and work with all our strength for the coming of an age when war will no longer exist. (On Nuclear War And Peace, p. 197)
As one who tries to remain youthful in his thinking and feeling, I have struggled against facts and experience on behalf of belief in the good and the true. At the present time when violence, clothed in life, dominates the world more cruelly than it ever has before, I still remain convinced that truth, love, peaceableness, meekness, and kindness are the violence which can master all other violence. The world will be theirs as soon as ever a sufficient number of men with purity of heart, with strength, and with perseverance, think and live out the thoughts of love and truth, of meekness and peaceableness. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth.)
When people deal with atomic weapons, no one can say to the other, “Now the arms must decide,” but only, “now we want to commit suicide together, destroying each other mutually.” (On Nuclear War And Peace, p. 170)
If in our time we renounce nuclear arms we shall have taken the first step on the way to the distant goal of the end to all wars. If we do not do this we remain on the road that leads in the near future to atomic war and misery. (On Nuclear War And Peace, p. 174)
We are constantly being told about “a permissible amount of radiation.” Who permitted it? Who has any right to permit it? (On Nuclear War And Peace, p. 176)
Our purpose in expressing the argument that atomic weapons contradict international law is to arm the hands of the opponents of atomic weapons, or their mouths, in order that they may shout it all over the world. It is evident that atomic weapons are contrary to international law. People will believe it because of its evidence and because it is based on human and moral reflections. (On Nuclear War And Peace, p. 179)
All negotiations regarding the abolition of atomic weapons remain without success because no international opinion exists which demands this abolition…In all propaganda against atomic weapons…I speak of the necessity of a strong public opinion in the world.
(On Nuclear War And Peace, p. 190)
It would be of immense importance if America in this hour of destiny could decide in favor of renouncing atomic weapons, to remove the possibility of an eventual outbreak of an atomic war. The theory of peace through terrifying an opponent by a greater armament can now only heighten the danger of war. (On Nuclear War And Peace, p. 195)
AFRICA AND MISSIONARIES
The following is excerpted from a sermon Dr. Schweitzer preached on Sunday January 6, 1905, at the morning service of St. Nicolai’s Church in Strasbourg, just before his 30th birthday. While he had decided that he would devote the rest of his life to medical training and then service in Africa, he had not yet told anyone.
…Our culture divides people into two classes: civilized men, a title bestowed on the persons who do the classifying; and others, who have only the human form, who may perish or go to the dogs for all the “civilized men” care.
Oh, this “noble” culture of ours! It speaks so piously of human dignity and human rights and then disregards this dignity and these rights of countless millions and treads them underfoot, only because they live overseas or because their skins are of different color or because they cannot help themselves. This culture does not know how hollow and miserable and full of glib talk it is, how common it looks to those who follow it across the seas and see what it has done there, and this culture has no right to speak of personal dignity and human rights.
A man once said to me, “We need money for all the good that needs to be done at home. I won’t give a dime for missionary work.” Knowing him well, I asked him whether he gave more for good causes at home, since he did not send anything abroad, and how much he contributed every year to these worthy causes. We continued our walk, and he remained silent. So did I. But since then, the missions have been getting money from him.
I will not enumerate all the crimes that have been committed under the pretext of justice. People robbed native inhabitants of their land, made slaves of them, let loose the scum of mankind upon them. Think of the atrocities that were perpetrated upon people made subservient to us, how systematically we have ruined them with our alcoholic “gifts,” and everything else we have done…We decimate them, and then, by the stroke of a pen, we take their land so they have nothing left at all…
If all this oppression and all this sin and shame are perpetrated under the eye of the German God, or the American God, or the British God, and if our states do not feel obliged first to lay aside their claim to be “Christian” – then the name of Jesus is blasphemed and made a mockery. And the Christianity of our states is blasphemed and made a mockery before those poor people. The name of Jesus has become a curse, and our Christianity – yours and mine – has become a falsehood and a disgrace, if the crimes are not atoned for in the very place where they were instigated. For every person who committed an atrocity in Jesus’ name, someone must step in to help in Jesus’ name; for every person who robbed, someone must bring a replacement; for everyone who cursed, someone must bless.
And now, when you speak about missions, let this be your message: We must make atonement for all the ter¬rible crimes we read of in the newspapers. We must make atonement for the still worse ones, which we do not read about in the papers, crimes that are shrouded in the silence of the jungle night… (Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings, in press.)
For me the whole essence of religion is at stake. For me religion means to be human, plainly human in the sense in which Jesus was. In the colonies things are pretty hopeless and comfortless. We – the Christian nations – send out there the mere dregs of our people; we think only of what we can get out of the natives…in short what is happening there is a mockery of humanity and Christianity. If this wrong is in some measure to be atoned for, we must send out there men who will do good in the name of Jesus, not simply proselytizing missionaries, but men who will help the distressed as they must be helped if the Sermon on the Mount and the words of Jesus are valid and right. (Letter to music critic Gustav von Lupke,, as Schweitzer was privately deciding about going to Africa, exact date uncertain.)
In the parable of Jesus, the shepherd saves not merely the soul of the lost sheep but the whole animal. (Out of My Life and Thought, p. 270.)
ANIMALS AND NATURE
As far back as I can remember I was saddened by the amount of misery I saw in the world around me…One thing that specially saddened me was that the unfortunate animals had to suffer so much pain and misery…It was quite incomprehensible to me – this was before I began going to school – why in my evening prayers I should pray for human beings only. So when my mother had prayed with me and kissed me good-night, I used to add silently a prayer that I had composed myself for all living creatures. It ran thus: ‘O heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath; guard them from all evil, and let them sleep in peace…’ (Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings, in press.)
A deep impression was made on me by something which happened during my seventh or eighth year. Henry Brasch and I had made catapults for ourselves out of strips of india-rubber, with which we could shoot small stones. It was spring and the end of Lent, when one morning Henry said to me, “Come along, let’s go on to the Rebberg and shoot some birds”. This was to me a terrible proposal, but I did not venture to refuse for fear he should laugh at me. We got close to a tree which was still without any leaves, and on which the birds were singing beautifully to greet the morning, without showing the least fear of us. Then stooping like a Red Indian hunter, my companion put a bullet in the leather of his catapult and took aim. In obedience to his nod of command, I did the same, though with terrible twinges of conscience, vowing to myself that I would shoot directly he did. At that very moment the church bells began to ring, mingling their music with the songs of the birds and the sunshine. It was the Warning-bell, which began half an hour before the regular peal-ringing, and for me it was a voice from heaven. I shooed the birds away, so that they flew where they were safe from my companion’s catapult, and then I fled home. And ever since then, when the Passiontide bells ring out to the leafless trees and the sunshine, I reflect with a rush of grateful emotion how on that day their music drove deep into my heart the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”
From that day onward I took courage to emancipate myself from the fear of men, and whenever my inner convictions were at stake I let other people’s opinions weigh less with me than they had done previously. I tried also to unlearn my former dread of being laughed at by my school fellows. This early influence upon me of the commandment not to kill or to torture other creatures is the great experience of my childhood and youth. By the side of that all others are insignificant. (Albert Schweitzer, Essential Writings)
To the man who is truly ethical all life is sacred, including that which from the human point of view seems lower on the scale. (Out of My Life and Thought, p. 271.)
A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellowmen, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help. (Out of My Life and Thought, p. 188.)
The countryman who has mowed down a thousand blossoms in his meadow as fodder for his cows should take care that on the way home he does not, in wanton pastime, switch off the head of a single flower growing on the edge of the road, for in so doing he injures life without being forced to do so by necessity. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 264.)
In the past we have tried to make a distinction between animals which we acknowledge have some value and others which, having none, can be liquidated when and as we wish. This standard must be abandoned. Everything that lives has value simply as a living thing, as one manifestation of the mystery that is life. And let us not forget that some of the more evolved animals show that they have feelings and are capable of impressive, sometimes amazing, acts of fidelity and devotion. (The Schweitzer Album, p. 42)
From the natives I buy a young fish eagle, which they have caught on a sandbank, in order to rescue it from their cruel hands. But now I must decide whether I shall let it starve, or whether I shall kill a certain number of small fish every day in order to keep it alive. I decide upon the latter course. But every day I find it rather hard to sacrifice – upon my own responsibility – one life for another. (Reverence for Life, p. 76)
Those who test medicines or operating techniques on animals or who inoculate them with illnesses in order to help mankind through the results they hope to obtain in this way must never quiet their conscience with the general excuse that in practicing these cruel methods they are pursuing a lofty purpose.
In every individual case they must ascertain whether it is really necessary to impose such a sacrifice on the animal for the sake of humanity. They should take a very particular care to reduce suffering as much as is within their power.
How many crimes are committed in laboratories where anesthesia is often omitted to save time or trouble! How many more are committed merely when animals are subjected to torture merely to demonstrate to students things long known to be facts! Precisely because the animal has, by serving in the realm of experimentation, made it possible for such precious information to be obtained for suffering humanity – but at the cost of its pain – a new bond of solidarity has been created between the animal and us.
Each of us has, as a result, the obligation to do as much good for these creatures as he can. When I come to the aid of an insect in distress, I am doing nothing more than trying to pay a part of the forever-renewed debt of man to beast. (The Schweitzer Album, p. 49)
PRIVACY AND INNER LIGHT
No one should compel himself to show to others more of his inner life than he feels natural to show. We can do no more than let others judge for themselves what we are inwardly and really are, and do the same ourselves with them. The one essential thing is that we strive to have light in ourselves. Our strivings will be recognized by others, and when people have light in themselves, it will shine out from them. Then we get to know each other as we walk together in the darkness, without needing to pass our hands over each other’s faces, or to intrude into each other’s hearts. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, pp. 93 f.)
GOD, NATURE, AND LOVE
Have no fear of natural science – it brings us nearer to God. (Christian Century, p. 1520.)
When one has seen whole populations annihilated by sleeping sickness, as I have, one ceases to imagine that human life is nature’s goal. In fact, the Creative Force does not concern itself about preserving life. It simultaneously creates and destroys. (The Ethics of Reverence for Life, p. 227)
Why do the laws of nature and the laws of ethics diverge so sharply?…God is the power that sustains the universe. Why is this God who reveals himself in nature the denial of everything we feel to be ethical? How can a force rationally create life and irrationally destroy it at the same time? How can we reconcile God as a force of nature with God as ethical will, the God of love as we must conceive him when we have risen to a higher ideal of life to reverence for life, to empathy and compassion?…It is a great misfortune for mankind that we cannot offer a harmonious philosophy of life. (Sermon, February 23, 1919; quoted in Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings)
To have reverence in the face of life is to be in the grip of the eternal, unoriginated, forward-pushing will, which is the foundation of all being. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 223.)
All living knowledge of God rests upon this foundation: that we experience Him in our lives as Will-to-Love. (Out of My Life and Thought, p. 277.)
The highest proof of the Spirit is love. Love is the eternal thing which men can already on earth possess as it really is. (Out of My Life and Thought, p. 249.)
The essential element in Christianity as it was preached by Jesus and as it is comprehended by thought, is this, that it is only through love that we can attain to communion with God. All living knowledge of God rests upon this foundation: that we experience Him in our lives as will-to-love. (Out of My Life and Thought, p. 277.)
Jesus as a concrete historical personality remains a stranger to our time, but His spirit, which lies hidden in His words, is known in its simplicity, and its influence is direct. (Quest of the Historical Jesus, p. 399.)
A Christian is one who has the spirit of Christ. This is the only theology. (The Schweitzer Album, p. 37.)
An injured patient arrived in a boat one day. “Refuse him, Doctor,” urged a hospital attendant. “He was here before and stole the very drugs he was healed with and sold them in the village. A thief he is and has no claim on us again.” Schweitzer responded:
What would the Lord Jesus have answered when someone came to Him in pain? Quick, waste no time. Get him to the operating room. “Whatever you do unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” [Gospel of Matthew 25:40] This is my image of the Kingdom of God — not the Apocalypse — only this is the right meaning. (The Schweitzer Album, p. 38)
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is. (Concluding paragraph, Quest of the Historical Jesus.)
How is Jesus alive for us? Do not attempt to prove his presence by formulations, even if they are sanctified by the ages. Of late I have very nearly lost my temper when some pious soul has come to me saying that no-one can believe in the living presence of Jesus if they do not believe in his physical resurrection and the eternal existence of his glorified body. Jesus lives for everyone whom he directs, in matters great and small, as if he were here among us. He tells them ”Do this or that.” And they answer, quite simply, ”Yes!” and go about their job, humble and busy… The fact that the Lord still, in our days, gives his orders, proves to me – and for me it is the only proof – that he is neither a ghost nor dead, but that he lives.
If you will let me explain in my way this living presence, I will say to you: ”The eternal body of Jesus is simply his words; for it was about them that he said ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away!’ ” (Sermon preached on November 19, 1905; cited in Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings.)
HEAVEN AND HELL
Sometimes it seems as if I had arrived beyond clouds and stars, and could see the world in the most wonderful clarity. And therefore the right to be a heretic! To know only Jesus of Nazareth; to continue his work as the only religion, not to bear what Christianity has absorbed over the years in vulgarity. Not to be afraid of Hell, not to strive for the joys of Heaven, not to live in false fear, not the fake devotion that has become an essential part of our religion…Last night before I went to sleep, I read the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, because I especially love the verse: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are my brothers, you did it to me.” But when it came to the last judgment and the separation of the “sheep from the goats” I smiled: I do not want to belong to the sheep, and in heaven I would certainly meet quite a lot whom I do not like: St. Loyola, St. Hieronymus, and a few Prussian church leaders – and to be friendly with them, to exchange a brotherly kiss? No, I decline. Rather to Hell. There the crowd will be more congenial. With Julian Apostate, Caesar, Socrates, Plato, and Heraclitus one can have a fruitful conversation. Yes, I serve him, because of him, only because of him – because he is the only truth, the only happiness. (Letter to Helene, May 1, 1904.)
When a man feels the shadow of death upon him and has an urge to speak with his loved ones about it to help him to understand it and face up to it, they stop him from doing so. They play a comedy, pretending that such a prospect is out of the question, keeping up the pretense to the very end. They believe they are doing him a service by persuading him not to think about it. But all they have done is to make him lonely. In this conspiracy of silence, death asserts its rule over modern man. (Thoughts for Our Times, p. 56)
Only familiarity with the thought of death creates true, inward freedom from material things. The ambition, greed, and love of power that we keep in our hearts, that shackle us to this life in chains of bondage, cannot in the long run deceive the man who looks death in the face. (Thoughts for Our Times, p. 59)
Something deep and sanctifying takes place when people who belong to each other share the thought that every day, each coming hour, may separate them. In this awareness we always find that the initial anxiety [about death] gives way to another deeper question:…Have we given each other everything we could? Have we been everything we might have been to one another? What a different world this would be if men dared to look deeply at each other, if they kept in mind the prospect of being torn from each other. Each would then become sacred to the other because of death. (Thoughts for Our Times, p. 61)
Thinking about death in this way produces true love for life. When we are familiar with death, we accept each week, each day, as a gift. Only if we are able thus to accept life – bit by bit – does it become precious. (Thoughts for Our Times, p. 59)
Why do I forgive anyone? Ordinary ethics say, because I feel sympathy with him. They allow men, when they pardon others, to seem to themselves wonderfully good, and allow them to practise a style of pardoning which is not free from humiliation of the other. They thus make forgiveness a sweetened triumph of self-devotion. The ethics of reverence for life do away with this crude point of view. All acts of forbearance and of pardon are for them acts forced from one by sincerity towards oneself. I must practise unlimited forgiveness because, if I did not, I should be wanting in sincerity to myself, for I would be acting as if I myself were not guilty in the same way as the other has been guilty towards me. Because my life is so liberally spotted with falsehood, I must forgive falsehood which has been practised upon me; because I myself have been in so many cases wanting in love, and guilty of hatred, slander, deceit, or arrogance, I must pardon any want of love and all hatred, slander, deceit or arrogance which have been directed against myself. I must forgive quietly and unostentatiously; in fact I do not really pardon at all, for I do not let things develop to any such act of judgment. Nor is this any eccentric proceeding; it is only a necessary widening and refining of ordinary ethics … It is not from kindness to others that I am gentle, peaceable, forbearing, and friendly, but because by such behaviour I prove my own profoundest self-realisation to be true. Reverence for life which I apply to my own existence, and reverence for life which keeps me in a temper of devotion to other existence than my own, interpenetrate each other. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 260.)
BEAUTY SIDE BY SIDE WITH MISERY
I saw a man lying on the ground with his head almost buried in the sand and ants running all over him. It was a victim of sleeping sickness whom his companions had left there, probably some days before, because they could not take him any further. He was past all help, though he still breathed. While I was busied with him I could see through the door of the hut the bright blue waters of the bay in their frame of green woods, a scene of almost magic beauty, looking still more enchanting in the flood of golden light poured over it by the setting sun. To be shown in a single glance such a paradise and such helpless, hopeless misery, was overwhelming… but it was a symbol of the condition of Africa. (On the Edge of the Primeval Forest, pp. 168 f.)
THE FELLOWSHIP OF THOSE WHO BEAR THE MARK OF PAIN
Pain is a more terrible lord of mankind than even death himself. (On the Edge of the Primeval Forest, p. 92.)
The Fellowship of those who bear the Mark of Pain. Who are the members of this fellowship? Those who have learned by experience what physical pain and bodily anguish mean, belong together all the world over; they are united by a secret bond. One and all they know the horrors of suffering to which man can be exposed, and one and all they know the longing to be free from pain. He who has been delivered from pain must not think he is now free again, and at liberty to take life up just as it was before, entirely forgetful of the past. He is now a “man whose eyes are open” with regard to pain and anguish, and he must help to overcome those two enemies (so far as human power can control them) and to bring to others the deliverance which he has himself enjoyed. The man who, with a doctor’s help, has been pulled through a severe illness, must aid in providing a helper such as he had himself, for those who otherwise could not have one. He who has been saved by an operation from death or torturing pain, must do his part to make it possible for the kindly anesthetic and the helpful knife to begin their work, where death and torturing pain still rule unhindered. The mother who owes it to medical aid that her child still belongs to her, and not to the cold earth, must help, so that the poor mother who has never seen a doctor may be spared what she has been spared. Where a man’s death agony might have been terrible, but could fortunately be made tolerable by a doctor’s skill, those who stood around his deathbed must help, that others, too, may enjoy that same consolation when they lose their dear ones.
Such is the Fellowship of those who bear the Mark of Pain.
(On the Edge of the Primeval Forest, pp. 173 f.)
OPTIMISM, PESSIMISM, AND SUFFERING
We are always walking on loose stones which overhang the precipice of pessimism. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 224.)
True optimism has no connection whatever with overindulgent judgments of any kind. It consists of conceiving and willing the ideal, as this is inspired by profound and self-consistent affirmation of life and of the world. (Civilization and Ethics, p. 17.)
To the question whether I am a pessimist or an optimist, I answer that my knowledge is pessimistic, but my willing and hoping are optimistic.
I am pessimistic in that I experience in its full weight what we conceive to be the absence of purpose in the course of world-happenings. Only at quite rare moments have I felt really glad to be alive. I could not but feel with a sympathy full of regret all the pain that I saw around me, not only that of men but that of the whole creation. From this community of suffering I have never tried to withdraw myself. It seemed to me a matter of course that we should all take share of the burden of pain which lies upon the world. Even while I was a boy at school it was clear to me that no explanation of the evil in the world could ever satisfy me; all explanations, I felt, ended in sophistries, and at bottom had no other object than to make it possible for men to share in the misery around them, with less keen feelings. That a thinker like Leibnitz could reach the miserable conclusion that though this world is, indeed, not good, it is the best that was possible, I have never been able to understand.
But however much concerned I was at the problem of the misery in the world, I never let myself get lost in broodings over it; I always held firmly to the thought that each one of us can do a little to bring some portion of it to an end. Thus I came gradually to rest content in the knowledge that there is only one thing we can understand about the problem, and that is that each of us has to go his own way, but as one who means to help to bring about deliverance. (Out of My Life and Thought, pp. 279 f.)
I believe that there is reason for hope. Hope is there like a small band of light on the sky before the sunrise. There begins to stir in the world a new spirit, a spirit of humanity.
(Thoughts for Our Times p 14)
With a little reason and much heart, one can change many things, or move mountains.
(Thoughts for Our Times, p. 11)
The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live. He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything. (Thoughts for Our Times p. 16)
When I look back upon my early days I am stirred by the thought of the number of people whom I have to thank for what they gave me or for that they were to me. At the same time I am haunted by an oppressive consciousness of the little gratitude I really showed them while I was young. How many of them have said farewell to life without my having made clear to them what it meant to me to receive from them so much kindness or so much care! Many a time have I, with a feeling of shame, said quietly to myself over a grave the words which my mouth ought to have spoken to the departed, which he was still in the flesh.
For all that, I think I can say with truth that I am not ungrateful, I did occasionally wake up out of that youthful thoughtlessness which accepted as a matter of course all the care and kindness that I experienced from others, and I believe I became sensitive to my duty in this matter just as early as I did to the prevalence of suffering in the world. But down to my twentieth year, and even later still, I did not exert myself sufficiently to express the gratitude which was really in my heart. I valued too low the pleasure felt at receiving real proofs of gratitude. Often, too, shyness prevented me from expressing the gratitude that I really felt. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, pp. 87 f.)
We ought all to make an effort to act on our first thoughts and let our unspoken gratitude find expression. Then there will be more sunshine in the world, and more power to work for what is good. But as concerns ourselves we must all of us take care not to adopt as part of our theory of life all people’s bitter sayings about the ingratitude of the world. A great deal of water is flowing underground which never comes up as a spring. In that thought we may find comfort. But we ourselves must try to be the water which does find its way up; we must become a spring at which men can quench their thirst for gratitude. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, pp. 88 f.)
TASKS FOR TODAY
There is this one hope: we must return to the main road, from which we have wandered…We must substitute the power of understanding the truth that is really true, for propaganda; a noble kind of patriotism that aims at ends that are worthy of the whole of mankind, for the patriotism that is current today; a humanity with a common civilization, for idolized nationalisms; a restored faith in the civilized state, for a society which lacks true idealism; a unifying ideal of civilized man, for the condition into which we have plunged; a concern with the processes and ideals of true civilization, for a preoccupation with the transient problems of living; a faith in the possibility of progress, for a mentality stripped of true spirituality. My conviction has not changed. These tasks are our tasks today. (Interview with Melvin Arnold in Lambaréné, 1947.)
FAITH IN HUMANITY
Our humanity is by no means so materialistic as foolish talk is continually asserting it to be. Judging by what I have learned about men and women, I am convinced that there is far more in them of idealist will power than ever comes to the surface of the world. Just as the water of streams we see is small in amount, compared to that which flows underground, so the idealism which becomes visible is small in amount, compared with what men and women bear locked in their hearts, unreleased or scarcely released. To unbind what is bound, to bring the underground waters to the surface: mankind is waiting and longing for such as can do that. (Out of My Life and Thought, pp. 113 f.)
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