Written By: George Seaver Second Edition (Revised and Enlarged) Published: Adam & Charles Black, London 1955 Hardcover, 128 pages No ISBN Shown
Table of Contents
Seaver never really explains what he means by calling Schweitzer a "Christian revolutionary"--is Schweitzer using Christianity to revolutionize society, or is he revolutionizing Christianity itself? I suspect Seaver thinks it is primarily the former, for much of this book is a discussion of the relation of Schweitzer's ethics to those of other Western philosophers. The first edition of this book was written during World War II, when the failure of Western and particularly German philosophy to create ethical behavior was clear and raw. Schweitzer wrote The Philosophy of Civilization in the aftermath of World War I, when the collapse of civilization was equally apparent but perhaps the failure of philosophy was less clear. Schweitzer identified the lack of a firm ethical foundation as the root cause of the failures of modern civilization, and believed that only by reforming individuals rather than nations or societies will we achieve a civil society. The basis for that reformation is Reverence for Life, which establishes an ethics for individuals that nevertheless extends beyond the individuals themselves.
The first and last chapters of Seaver's book are the most interesting to those already familiar with Schweitzer's critique of ethics and philosophy. In those chapters, Seaver relates Reverence for Life to Schweitzer's Christian understanding, including some discussion of how Schweitaer believed the historical Jesus fits into modern Christian thought. Schweitzer's Jesus was very much a man of his times, which is to say He believed that time was coming to an end and the Kingdom of God was soon to be established on Earth. That's not a belief which is easily accepted some 2,000 years later, so Schweitzer relies instead on the presence of Christ, with the ethics of Jesus re-based on "life that wills to live in the midst of life that wills to live", which leads in turn to Reverence for Life.
"Schweitzer will have nothing to do with these abstract metaphysical problems. For Schweitzer the personality of Christ is no theological conundrum. Our knowledge of Him does not depend on dialectical subtleties. It comes to us directly as the impact of Life upon life. His spirit is alive and at work in the world to-day, and we can know Him, not by mystifying ourselves with speculations about His Person and His Nature, but by entering into the fellowship of His sufferings, by doing His will, by obedience to His absolute ethic of love. 'Our true relation to Jesus is in being taken possession of by Him.' His commandment, 'Follow Me', is as valid and as binding as it ever was, when it was spoken to 'those men who knew Him not' in Galilee. For He is not--for us--a figure of history; He is contemporaneous to our time."
"It is related by Barth that, on an occasion of their meeting in Munster, Schweitzer said to him, 'You and I started from the same problem, the disintegration of modern thought; but whereas you went back to the Reformation, I went back to the Enlightenment."
[Quoting a letter to Kraus written by Schweitzer] "Hitherto it has been my principle never to express in my philosophy more than I have experienced as a result of absolutely logical reflection. That is why I never speak in philosophy of 'God' but only of the 'universal will-to-live', which I realise in my consciousness in a two-fold way: firstly, as a creative will outside myself and secondly, as an ethical will within me. That is why I prefer to content myself with a description of the experience of reflection, leaving pantheism and theism as an unsolved conflict in my soul. But if I speak the traditional language of religion, I use the work 'God' in its historical definiteness and indefiniteness, just as I speak in ethics of 'Love' in place of 'Reverence for Life'. For I am anxious to impart to others my inwardly experienced thought in all its original vividness and in its relationship to traditional religion. In so doing I make no concessions to the philosophy of nature or to religion. For in both cases the result is exactly the same: renunciation of full knowledge of the universe and adoption of my inwardly experienced will-to-live as the prime factor."
"To preserve, promote and enhance life is, for Schweitzer, to act 'within the sphere of the ethical', it is a free, constructive and beneficient activity. But the circumstances of our lives are such that we are compelled to destroy life in order to preserve other life which we deem to be of higher value. The act of destruction can never be felt by a human being as an ethical act; it can only be felt as a necessity 'within the realm of experience'. In committing it he places himself consciously under the law of necessity. This conflict between the ethical and the expedient, between freedom and necessity, between spirit and nature, constitutes a perpetual tension in ourlives as inhabitants of a universe in which natural law does not correspond with spiritual law, and the world of fact is often incompatible with the world of values. It is for us to recognize the existence of this incompatibility, and to strive so far as in us lies [sic] to reduce this tension by realising our debt to other lives which we sacrifice to our own."
"Schweitzer's mysticism may therefore be defined as apprehension of Christ in obedience to His commandment. It is the principle of participation with Him in active service, and of identification with Him in the fellowship of His sufferings. For only as we dare to participate, each in our infinitesimal degree, with His work of Redemption shall we ever come to know Him truly as Redeemer."