Beaudine on Albert Schweitzer

Daily Dabble in the Classics, Robert F. Beaudine, On Albert Schweitzer

I am a fan of few things popular, even popular sayings. “Those who refuse to learn history are condemned to repeat it,” I find trite. History is far more important than that. Without a broad intensive study of history, much of the present day will remain a mystery, because everything that exists today developed in the past. All our traditions and institutions were at one historical moment given life and bequeathed its fundamentals. These fundamentals have been in a state of flux ever since, which would go unnoticed without knowledge of its history. History also reveals how our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus interact with humanity and stand above history. History, too, provides an exponentially larger pool of role models to emulate. In today’s unenlightened society, this pool is sometimes the only one to dip into for inspired living.

Anyone looking for inspiration from the 20th Century would do well to study Albert Schweitzer. He was a Bach scholar and organist, received a PhD in both philosophy and theology, and could have enjoyed a popular life of financial independence and leisure if he so chose. Instead, at the age of 30, he then spent 7 years studying medicine and became a medical missionary, a doctor in Gabon Africa, where he lived out his life serving the underprivileged as he served our Lord.

In “The Philosophy of Civilization” he wrote:

We have drifted out of the stream of civilization because there was amongst us no real reflection upon what civilization is.

When once the spirit of superficiality has penetrated into the institutions which ought to sustain the spiritual life, these exercise on their part a reflex influence on the society which they have brought to this condition, and force on all alike this state of mental vacuity.

How completely this want of thinking power has become a second nature in men today is shown by the kind of sociability which it produces. When two of them meet for a conversation each is careful to see that their talk does not go beyond generalities or develop into a real exchange of ideas. No one has anything of his own to give out, and everyone is haunted by a sort of terror lest anything original should be demanded from him.

The spirit produced in such a society of never-concentrated minds is rising among us as an ever growing force, and it results in a lowered conception of what man should be. In ourselves, as in others, we look for nothing but vigor in productive work, and resign ourselves to the abandonment of any higher ideal.”

In the movement of civilization which began with the Renaissance, there were both material and spiritual-ethical forces of progress at work side by side, as though in rivalry with each other, and this continued down to the beginning of the nineteenth century. Then, however, something unprecedented happened: man’s ethical energy died away, while the conquests achieved by his spirit in the material sphere increased by leaps and bounds. Thus for several decades our civilization enjoyed the great advantages of its material progress while as yet it hardly felt the consequences of the dying down of the ethical movement. People lived on in the conditions produced by that movement without seeing clearly that their position was no longer a tenable one and preparing to face the storm that was brewing in the relations between the nations and within the nations themselves. In this way our own age, having never taken the trouble to reflect, arrived at the opinion that civilization consists primarily in scientific, technical and artistic achievements, and that it can reach its goals without ethics, or, at any rate, with a minimum of them.”

Our whole spiritual life nowadays has its course within organizations. From childhood up the man of today has his mind so full of the thought of discipline that he loses the sense of his own individuality and can only see himself as thinking in the spirit of some group or other of his fellows. A thorough discussion between one idea and another or between one man and another, such as constituted the greatness of the eighteenth century, is never met with now. But at that time fear of public opinion was a thing unknown.”


The Moral Liberal Associate Editor, Robert F. Beaudine, has written authoritative articles on public education, the financial crisis, and the myth of global warming. He’s also the author of the life-affirming novel, “Based Upon a Lie,” a theological conspiracy thriller. He resides in the upstate of South Carolina.

Copyright © 2011 Robert Beaudine.

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