Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Reverence For Life

Link to the PDE: On Albert Schweitzer
Reverence For Life by Albert Schweitzer
The Inspiring 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 (for 1952)] 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 a revelation...] 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 having meaning. 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 thoughts." 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 are connected. 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 universal. 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 unhappy. 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 resignation. 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 to live. The fundamental fact of human awareness is this: "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 universal one. 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 have kept. 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.
Back to the Cloister's Main Page

To the INDEX !

Back to the m-a-c page. To the HOME page