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Dr. Albert Schweitzer's Last Letter: Reverence For Life

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  • DoctorStarman@aol.com
    Schweitzer s Struggle to Find Life s Meaning It was the dry season in usually wet equatorial Africa and slowly we crept upstream, laboriously feeling for the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 10, 2000
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      Schweitzer's Struggle to Find Life's Meaning


      It was the dry season in usually wet equatorial Africa and slowly

      we crept upstream, laboriously feeling for the channels between

      the sandbanks of the Ogowe River.


      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 life-affirmation

      and ethics are contained side by side!


      Thus, to me, ethics is nothing else than reverence for life.

      Reverence for life affords me my fundamental principal of

      morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting

      and enhancing life, and that to destroy, to harm or to hinder life

      is evil.


      Affirmation of the world--that is, affirmation of the will-to-live

      which appears in phenomenal form all around me--is only

      possible for me in that I give myself out for other life. Without

      understanding the meaning of the world, I act from an inner

      necessity of my being so as to create values and to live ethically.


      For in life-affirmation and in ethics, I fulfill the will of the universal

      will-to-live which reveals itself to me.


      I live my life in God, in the mysterious ethical divine personality

      which I cannot discover in the world, but only experience in myself

      as a mysterious impulse.


      The idea that men should ever be favored by being free from the

      responsibilities of self-sacrifice as men for men is foreign to the

      ethic of reverence for life. It requires that in some way or other

      and in something or other we should all live as men for men.

      Therefore, search and see if there is not some place where you

      may invest your humanity.



      From my childhood up, for example, I was troubled about my

      right to happiness as a matter of course and about the pain

      which prevails in the world around me.


      As long ago as my student days, it struck me as incomprehensible

      that I should be allowed to live such a happy life while I saw so

      many people around me wrestling with care and suffering.


      Out of the depths of my feeling of happiness, there gradually

      grew up within me and understanding of the saying of Jesus

      that we must not treat our lives as being for ourselves alone.


      While at the University of Strasburg and enjoying the happiness

      of being able to study, and even to produce some results in

      science and art, I could not help thinking of others who were

      denied that happiness by their material circumstances or their

      health.


      Then, one brilliant summer morning during the Whitsuntide

      holidays, I awoke with the thought that I must not accept this

      happiness as a matter of course, but must give something in

      return for it.


      That morning, with the birds singing outside, I settled that I

      would consider myself justified in living until I was 30 for

      science and art in order to devote myself from that time

      forward to the direct service of humanity. "Whosoever shall save

      his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for My

      sake and the Gospels shall save it."


      After more than a half-century in Africa, I still remain convinced

      that truth, love, peaceableness, meekness and kindness are

      the 'violence' that can master all other violence.


      Whatever you have received more than others in health, in

      talents, in ability, in success, in a pleasant childhood, in

      harmonious conditions of home life, all this you must not

      take to yourself as a matter of course.


      You must pay a price for it. You must render in return an

      unusually great sacrifice of your life for other life.


      When I am asked which modern thinkers influenced my life

      and philosophy, I invariably name two--the great German

      author Goethe and the selfless Hindu saint Mohandas Gandhi.


      Goethe's message to the men of today is the same as to the

      men of his time and to the men of all times: "Strive for true

      humanity! Become a man who is true to his inner nature, a

      man whose deed is in tune with his character."


      Likewise, Gandhi, who was the most Christian Hindu of the

      century, once acknowledged that he got the idea of "ahimsa"

      or nonviolence from the Commandments of Jesus: "But I say

      unto you that ye resist not evil," and "love your enemies...pray

      for them who despitefully use you and persecute your, that ye

      may be the children of your Father which is in heaven." In both,

      the ethic of inner perfection is governed by the principle of love.


      Anyone who has recognized that the idea of love is the spiritual

      beam of light, which reaches us from the infinite, ceases to

      demand from religion that it offer him complete knowledge of

      the supernatural.


      He ponders, instead, on the great questions: What is the meaning

      of evil in the world; how in God the will-to-create and the will-to-love

      are one; in what relation the spiritual and material life stand to one

      another; and in what way our existence is transitory and yet eternal.


      But he also is able to leave these questions on one side, however

      painful it may be to give up all hope of answers to them. In the

      knowledge of spiritual existence in God through love he possesses

      the one thing needful. "Love never faileth," says St. Paul.


      It is this principle of love that we have tried to practice in succoring

      the Negroes of West Africa.


      For example, when some poor moaning creature is brought to me

      with an inflamed appendix or a strangulated hernia, I lay my hand

      on his forehead and say to him: "Don't be afraid! In an hour's time

      you shall be put to sleep, and when you wake you won't feel any

      more pain."


      When the operation is finished, in the barely lighted dormitory, I

      watch for the sick man's awakening. Scarcely has he recovered

      consciousness when he stares about him and exclaims again

      and again: "I've no more pain! I've no more pain!" His hands feels

      for mine and will not let it go.


      I then begin to tell the patient and the others who are in the room

      that it is the Lord Jesus who has told the doctor and his wife to

      come to Gabon, and that white people in Europe and America

      give them the money to live here and cure the sick Negroes.

      Then I have to answer questions as to who these white people

      are, where they live, and how they know that the natives suffer

      so much from sickness.


      The African sun is shining through the coffee bushes into the

      dark shed, but we black and white sit side by side and feel that

      we experience the meaning of the words: "And all ye are brethren."


      Would that my generous friends in Europe and the United

      States could come out here and live through one such hour!
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