Friday, October 01, 2004

Book Review: Out of My Life and Thought

Out of My Life and Thought

Albert Schweitzer

Henry Holt, New York 1933

By Sara Bruya (c) 2004

Albert Schweitzer had earned Doctorate degrees in philosophy a
nd theology, was an acclaimed musician, an expert on Bach, and a published Biblical scholar by the age of thirty. But just before his 30th birthday, "while the birds were singing outside, I settled with myself before I got up, that I would consider myself justified in living till I was thirty for science and art, in order to devote myself from that time forward to the direct service of humanity." (p. 70) In 1905 he enrolled in medical school in Strasbourg and spent the rest of his life dedicated to the people of Gabon, creating a hospital in Lambarene that has served them to this day.

This small book has many inspiring accounts of his adventures before and after this epiphany...his development as a minister, biblical scholar, philosopher, writer, musician, organ-builder and doctor, as well as his experiences building the hospital in Gabon and as a prisoner of war in WWII.

All of this is a very interesting read. But I would direct the reader to the Epilogue-- eighteen pages
of profound and challenging ideas that we in the 21st century need to revisit. Schweitzer identified concisely (in 1933) the root causes of the spiritual crisis we are still grappling with, especially in the US; namely, that we in our daily choices and actions often forfeit the human right and obligation of thinking for ourselves.

"I stand and work in the world as one who aims at making men less shallow and morally better by making them think."
- Albert Schweitzer

"Thus, his whole life long, the man of today is exposed to influences which are bent on robbing him of all confidence in his own thinking. The spirit of spiritual dependence to which he is called on to surrender is in everything that he hears or reads; it is in the people whom he meets every day; it is in the parties and associations which have claimed him as their own; it pervades all the circumstances of his life...The m
ass of people remain skeptical. They lose all feeling for truth, and all sense of need for it as well, finding themselves quite comfortable in a life without thought driven now here, now there, from one opinion to another." (p. 171, 173)

Perhaps a life in central Africa, devoid of much of the media and corporate influence and the societal drive for career and status we experience in the "developed world," provides and ideal environment for reflecting on one's own beliefs. In Gabon, in the absence of influences that have often made choices for me, I too discovered my own thinking and it was a revelation. But we must believe it is also possible, though admittedly more difficult, to regain this capacity for real thought while living within the sphere of these influences, and by so doing, to evaluate our behavior, to make truly independent choices, and to take original, well-considered action.

"If men can be found who revolt against the spirit of thoughtlessness, and who are personalities sound enough and profound enough to let the ideals of ethical progress radiate from them as a force, there will start an activity of the spirit which will be strong enough to evoke a new mental and spiritual disposition in mankind." (p. 187)

Schweitzer's vision and insights are not only relevant to our world today--they are essential in helping us find strategies to address this kind of spiritual deficit in our modern behavior.

Read the Epilogue online at

No comments: