Reverence For Life
Link to the PDE: On Albert Schweitzer
Reverence For Life
Words of a Great Humanitarian
With a Foreword
by Norman Cousins
Selected by Peter Seymour
Illustrated by Walter Scott
(Available from Hallmark Editions)
(c) 1971 Hallmark Cards, Inc
This is a beautifully produced
copy of the book, "Out of my Life and Thought"
which I had read many years ago. I have
"lifted" a couple of selections from
it -- it "should" be available at all
Hallmark stores (or not: et tu e-commerce?
Actually, it should be available
at ALL book stores -- throughout our world.
[Extract of the speech that
he gave at the 1954 award
of his Nobel Peace Prize
I believe that I voice the thoughts and
hopes of millions of men who live in
anxiety and in fear of future wars.
May my words reach those who live on
the other side of the barrier in the
same anxiety as we do. May they
receive my words in the sense in
which they are offered.
Let those who hold the fates of peoples
in their hands be careful to avoid
everything which may worsen our
situation and make it more perilous.
Let them take to heart the marvelous
words of the Apostle Paul:
"As much as lies in you,
be at peace with all men."
[These words] have meaning, not only
for individuals, but also for nations.
In their endeavors to preserve peace
among themselves, may nations go to
the uttermost limits of possibility,
so that the human spirit may have time
to develop, to grow strong, and to act!
In the name of all those who strive for
peace. I venture to ask all peoples
to take the first step along a new
path. Not one will have to sacrifice
a part of the authority and power he
needs for self-preservation and defense.
Thus, if we make a beginning in the
liquidation of the terrible war behind
us, some measure of trust may arise
among nations. Trust is the working-
capital for all undertakings, without
which nothing of real value can be
accomplished. It provides the condition
for beneficial developments in all spheres.
. . .
Only through a truly ethical civilization
can life take on meaning. Only through
it can mankind be saved from destruction,
from its senseless and cruel wars. It alone
can bring about peace in the world.
We are all subject to the mysterious and
cruel law by which we maintain human life
at the cost of other life. It is by this
very destruction and harm of other life
that we develop feelings of guilt. As
ethical human beings, we must constantly
strive to escape from this need to destroy
--- as much as we possibly can. We must
try to demonstrate the essential worth of
life by doing all we can to alleviate
suffering. Reverence for Life, which
grows out of a proper understanding of the
will to live, contains life-affirmation.
It acts to create values that serve the
material, the spiritual, and the ethical
development of man.
Reverence for Life
[During 1915, while on a trip up river
to attend to a missionary's wife who
had fallen ill, Schweitzer experienced
At sunset of the third day, near the village
of Igendja, we moved along an island set in
the middle of the wide river. On a sandbank
to our left, four hippopotomuses and their
young plodded along in our same direction.
Just then, in my great tiredness and
discouragement, the phrase "Reverence for Life"
struck me like a flash. As far as I knew, it
was a phrase that I had never heard nor ever
read. I realized at once that it carried within
itself the solution to the problem that had been
torturing me. Now I knew that a system of
values which concerns itself only with our
relationship to other people is incomplete
and therefore lacking in power for good.
Only by means of reverence for life can we
establish a spiritual and human relationship
with both people and all living creatures
within our reach. Only in this fashion can
we avoid harming others, and, within the
limits of our capacity, go to their aid
whenever they need us.
The philosophy 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. However it is looked
at, it remains to many a riddle.
But that does not mean that we need stand before
the problem of life at our wits' end, simply
because we are forced to renounce all hope of
comprehending the course of world events as
Reverence for Life brings us into a spiritual
relation with the world which is independent of
all knowledge of the universe. Through the dark
valley of resignation, it leads us by an inward
necessity up to the shining heights of ethical
acceptance of the world.
On a stone on the river bank an old woman whose
son had been taken, sat weeping silently. I took
hold of her hand and wanted to comfort her, but
she went on crying as if she did not hear me.
Suddenly, I felt that I was crying with her,
silently, towards the setting sun, as she was.
It is unthinkable that we civilized peoples
should keep for ourselves alone the wealth of
means for fighting sickness, pain, and death
which science has given us. If there is any
ethical thinking at all among us, how can we
refuse to let these new discoveries benefit
those who, in distant lands, are subject to
even greater physical distress than we are?
In addition to the medical men who are sent
out by the governments, and who are never
more than enough to accomplish a fraction of
what needs doing, others must go out too,
commissioned by human society as such.
Whoever among us that has through personal
experience learned what pain and anxiety
really are: Must help to ensure that those
who our there in bodily need, obtain the
help which came to him. He belongs no
more to himself alone; he has become the
brother of all who suffer.
On the "Brotherhood of those who bear the
mark of pain" lies the duty of medical
work. Work, for humanity's sake. [Thus],
medical men must accomplish among the
suffering in the far-off lands, what is
crying out for accomplishment in the name
of true civilization.
A man must not try to force his way into the
personality of another. To analyze others
--- unless it be to help back to a sound
mind someone who is in spiritual or
intellectual confusion. To do so, is a rude
commencement, for there is a modesty of
the soul which we must recognize, just as
we do that of the body. The soul, too has
its clothing of which we must not deprive
it, and no one has a right to say to
another: "Because we belong to each other
as we do, I have the right to know all your
Not even a mother may treat her child in
that way. All demands, of that sort are
foolish and unwholesome. In this matter,
giving is the only valuable process; it is
only giving that stimulates. Impart as
much as you can of your spiritual being to
those who are on the road with you, and
accept as something precious what comes
back to you from them.
Two things cast their shadows over my life.
One is the thought of the world inexplicably
mysterious and full of misery. The other is
that I have been born in a time of the
spiritual decadence of mankind. I am, however,
competent for handling both through the
ethics of world-affirmation and life-affirmation
which proceeds from the idea of reverence
for life. In this way, my life has been
given firm foundation and clear direction.
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.
However much it struggles against it,
ethics arrives at the religion of Jesus.
It must recognize that it can discover
no other relationship of love. Ethics is
the maintaining of life at the highest
point of development -- my own life and
other life -- by devoting myself to it
in help and love, and both these things
We happen to believe that man's life is
more important than any other form which
we know. But we can not prove any such
comparison of value from what we know
of the world's development. True, in
practice, we are forced to choose. At
times we have to decide arbitrarily which
forms of life, and even which particular
individuals, we shall save, and which we
shall destroy. But the principle of
reverence for life is none the less
One realizes that he is but a speck of
dust, a plaything of events outside his
reach. Nevertheless, he may at the same
time discover that he has a certain
liberty, as long as he lives. 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
There is within each of a modulation, an
inner exaltation, which lifts us above
the buffetings with which events assail
us. Likewise, it lifts us above dependence
upon the gifts of events for our joy;
it is qualified by our spiritual freedom.
Therefore, when we speak of resignation
it is not sadness to which we refer, but
the triumph of our will to live over
whatever happens to us. And to become
ourselves, to be spiritually alive, we
must have passed beyond this point of
Life-affirmation is the spiritual act in
which a man begins to live reflectively
and begins to give himself to his life
with reverence in order to realize its
true value. Life-affirmation is a
deepening and an exaltation of the will
The fundamental fact of human awareness
"I am life that wants to live
in the midst of other life
that wants 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. From such a point of
view, "good" means to maintain life, to
further life, to bring developing life to
its highest value.
A man is ethical only when life, as such,
is sacred to him, that of plants and animals
as that of his fellow men, and when he
devotes himself helpfully to all life that
is in need of help. Only the universal ethic
of the feeling of responsibility in an ever-
widening sphere for all that lives --- only
that ethic can be founded in thought. THe
ethic of the relation of man to man is not
something apart by itself: It is only a
particular relation which results from the
There slowly grew up in me an unshakable
conviction that we have no right to inflict
suffering and death on another living
creature unless there is some unavoidable
necessity for it, and that we ought all of
us to feel what a horrible thing it is to
cause suffering and death out of mere
thoughtlessness. And this conviction has
influenced me only more and more strongly
with time. I have grown more and more
certain that at the bottom of our heart
we all think this, and that we fail to
acknowledge it and to carry our believe
into practice chiefly because we are
afraid of being laughed at by other people
as sentimentalists, though partly also
because we allow our best feelings to
get blunted. But I vowed that I would
never let my feelings get blunted, and
that I would never be afraid of the
reproach of sentimentalism.
At the station at Tarascon, we had to
wait for the arrival of our train in a
distant goods shed. My wife and I,
heavily laden with baggage, could hardly
get along over the shingle between the
lines. Thereupon a poor cripple whom I
had treated in the camp came forward to
help us. He had no baggage because he
possessed nothing, and I was much moved
by his offer, which I accepted. While
we walked along side by side in scorching
sun, I vowed to myself that in memory of
him, I would in the future always keep a
lookout at stations for heavily laden
people, and help them. And this vow I
As I have come to know men, it has become
clear to me that many more idealistic
desires are present among them than
become visible. Just as the waters of
the visible stream are small in comparison
to those which flow underground, so is
also the discernable idealism among men
in comparison with that which is unreleased
or just barely expressed in their hearts.
We must not allow cruel national thinking
to prevail. The abolition of atomic weapons
will become possible only if world opinion
demands it. And the spirit needed to achieve
this can be created only by reverence for
life. The course of history demands that
not only individuals become ethical
personalities but that nations do so as well.
The important thing is that we are a part
of life. ... We possess the capacities to
bring still other lives into existance. In
the same way, if we look into a microscope
we see cell producing cell. So nature compels
us to recognize the fact of the mutual
dependence, each life necessarily helping
other lives which are linked to it. In the
very fibers of our being, we bear within
ourselves the fact of the solidarity of life.
. . .
Seeing its presence in ourselves, we realize
how closely we are linked with others of our
kind. We might like to stop here, but we
can not. Life demands that we see through to
the solidarity of ALL life which we can in
any degree recognize as having some similarity
to the life that is in us.