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Albert Schweitzer: To say yes to life
by Rene Wadlow
2018-01-14 10:12:39
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To say yes is to agree with our natural inclination,
to say yes invites us to want to be at home in the world and inspires us to act...
Only an ethic allied with the affirmation of the world can be natural and complete...
Meditating on life, I find the obligation of respecting all desire of life around me
as equal to my own, as vulnerable and mysterious.   
Albert Schweitzer

At a time when there are acute tensions and violence against groups of people because of their religious identity as we see in Myanmar, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere as well, it is appropriate to recall the reflections on ethical values of Albert Schweitzer whose birth anniversary we mark on 14 January.  Schweitzer was concerned with finding a universal ethic on which all of humanity could base its actions in order to live together in relative harmony.

sweiz01_400This issue of a universal ethic was brought home to Schweitzer as an Alsatian as the war broke out between Germany and France in 1914.  Alsace was culturally German but had been part of France until annexed by a unifying Germany in 1871.  The territory was a strong political issue between Germany and France, and the tension was reflected in the attitudes of the people living there as well as with the Alsatians who had left in 1871 to live in France so as not to fall under German rule.

Schweitzer had gone to Lambaréné in the in the French colony of Gabon in April 1913, already well-known in Europe for his theological reflections on the eschatology  background of Jesus' thought as well as for his study of the music and life of Bach.

When the war broke out, he was considered an "enemy alien", and he was first restricted to the Protestant missionary station.  The center of the missionary station was near Lambaréné, but there were a number of smaller outposts along the Ogowé river.

He recounts how he was going down river to Ngomo, a missionary outpost with a small clinic.  In those days there were steam boats on the Ogowé, and seated on the deck, he had been trying to write all day.  After a while, he stopped writing and only watched the equatorial forest as the boat moved slowly on.  Then the words "reverence for life" came into his mind, and his reflections had found their affirmation of the good.  Schweitzer saw that he was "life which wants to live, surrounded by life which wants to live.  Being will-to-life, I feel the obligation to respect all will-to-life about me as equal to my own.  The fundamental idea of good is thus that it consists in preserving life, in favoring it, in wanting to being it to its highest value, and evil consists in destroying life, doing it injury, hindering its development."

This concept Erfuet fur das Leben -reverence for life is not static.  There is an inner energy which pushes all to a higher state - a will to self-realization.  This inner energy can be called spiritual.  As Schweitzer wrote "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."

Schweitzer was confident that n ethic impulse was in all people and would manifest itself if given the proper opportunity as relatedness, care-giving, and responsibility.  We still have challenges to develop a caring world society, but Schweitzer has clearly set out the ethical base for the effort.


Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens

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