Monday, May 4, 2009

Out of my Life and Thought

Out of My Life and Thought,
© 1933, Albert Schweitzer (translated and republished in 1960)
233 pages

These comments are long-overdue. Unlike The Sane Society and The Reason for God, Albert Schweitzer's autobiography doesn't require a point-by-point review. It's not that the book has nothing to say, but Schweitzer's point in writing his autobiography was not to completely rewrite worldviews. I found this book through The Book that Changed My Life. I don't know what led me to write it down was a potential read, but it was enjoyable. The book is, as mentioned, an autobiography. Schweitzer begins it by explaining that readers had interpreted previous work as his biography, and he wanted to correct that.

The book starts out rather dry, as Schweitzer simply writes about his early life. It's not exactly a riveting narrative, but soon livens up when Schweitzer drifts to discussing matters of interest to him. He will combine the story of his life with sections or even chapters devoted to subjects of interest, including Christian biblical interpretation, the art of organ-building, and lastly, philosophy. While serving as a doctor in Africa, Schweitzer muses on the tattered state of Western Civilization and takes the reader through his thinking process, finally proposing that the reason western civilization has decayed to the state it has is because it has lost a philosophical or spiritual center.

What Schweitzer says is very common among social critics of the early to mid-20th century, I've noted. It's eerie how Erich Fromm, Albert Schweitzer, and the Dalai Lama seem to be writing on the same topic and proposing the same basic solution -- a return to, or perhaps the creation of, a culture-wide worldview that is in line with our conditions. Schweitzer then analyzes various religions and philosophies, giving Stoicism and Taoism in particular high marks. What most intrigued me was that Schweitzer, despite or because of his decision to go into ministry within the Christian church, was able to criticize the organized church for its shortcomings, particularly in oppressing Stoicism, which he thought was a solid ethical system. He discusses Stoicism a little more at length, differentiating (as most do) between the early Stoics (its Greek founders) and the late Stoics (Romans like Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus). Given my philosophical disposition, I found this particular chapter highly interesting. He ends this particular theme of discussions by promoting the creation of a worldview that draws from Earth's many traditions, but begins with a reverence for life. This particular theme is developed both in his musings and in his "this is what I'm doing", as he decides to write a book on this expanded subject.

Although the book was dry in parts, it was a look at someone who appears to be quite fascinating. I think I would like to read his Civilization and Ethics. He's definitely someone to look at later on.

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