The Love of Albert Schweitzer

Albert SchweitzerLots of birthdays today. And I was so tempted to just leave the whole article at that last sentence. But there are some really great people who were born today. But I’m going to have to get through this in pieces. Are you ready? I’m not. Hang on a second… Okay. Here we go.

On this day in 1841, the great impressionist Berthe Morisot was born. I don’t think she gets enough credit as an important member of that movement. Her style is quite distinct from the others of the movement. I think people tend to dismiss her because of her close association with Manet. But as far as I can tell, she influenced him at least as much as he influenced her. Regardless, her work is incredible. I remember when I was very young going to the impressionist show that was touring the country (and probably the world), The New Painting. And it was Morisot that most impressed me—especially in the early years. Since that time, I’ve come to appreciate other people more, but there is no doubt of the quality of her work and her importance.

The great singer-songwriter Maury Muehleisen was born in 1949. He is best know as Jim Croce’s side man. But before he was, Croce was his sideman. And Croce learned a great deal from Muehleisen. Basically, he allowed Croce to move from the pure 3-chord folk songs he was writing to more classical and jazz based chord progressions. Anyway, to give you just a small taste of Muehleisen, here is the first song of his I ever heard sung by him (really, it’s a nice song; listen to it):

Other birthdays: the great French painter Jean-Baptiste van Loo (1684); polymath Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806); French painter Henri Fantin-Latour (1836); creator of Dr Dolittle, Hugh Lofting (1886); anti-Nazi theologian Martin Niemoller (1892); great film producer Hal Roach (1892); feminist writer Tillie Olsen (1912); “humorist” Andy Rooney (1919); musician Allen Toussaint (76); actor Faye Dunaway (73); musician T-Bone Burnett (66); actor Carl Weathers (66); film director Lawrence Kasdan (65); generally over-rated film director Steven Soderbergh (51); actor Mark Addy (50); probably liberal, probably gay Fox News host Shepard Smith (50); actor Emily Watson (47); musician LL Cool J (46); and actor Jason Bateman (45).

The day, however, belongs to the great Albert Schweitzer who was born on this day in 1875. There is so much to say about Schweitzer. What I like about him is his theological writings. But the truth is, I just don’t have the energy to look the stuff up. But the main thing I remember about him was his belief that if you were being good so you could get into heaven, then you weren’t really being a Christian. That wasn’t what it was about. If you have Jesus in your heart, then you simply want to do what is right. And this whole modern idea of being “born again” would have repelled him. As did the idea that all you had to do was “believe” in Jesus as though he were the Great Pumpkin. (It is of note that Schweitzer also believed that Jesus and St Paul thought the second coming was coming real soon—like in Paul’s lifetime. I’m not sure quite how you believe that and still continue being a Christian. Humans are amazing animals.)

Schweitzer is probably most remarkable for doing what imperialists always say they are doing: going to help the people. He was a doctor and he did what he thought was best for the people of Gabon. I know that like all of us, he was a man of his time and place. He no doubt was paternalist toward the natives. On the other hand, he was against imperialism. He worked to help the people, not exploit the people. He was a great and a good man.

Happy birthday Albert Schweitzer!

6 thoughts on “The Love of Albert Schweitzer

  1. Well, the Schweitzer point is the point of atheists, really. Or at least my point. It’s not like I know what anybody else thinks.

    "How," theists will ask, "can you have morality without God?"

    How, I wonder, can you have morality with God?

    Imagine what most of us would take to be a moral act. Say, a blind person stumbles in the street and you help them recover their footing, and pick up their cane. We can pretty much agree that helping this person is more moral than standing oblivious on the sidewalk, or rifling the blind person’s pockets for cash.

    Now, imagine someone has a gun to your forehead and says, "help the blind person who stumbled or I will shoot you." If you help the blind person because of that threat, is this good? Sure it is. Is it moral? Not remotely.

    Religion may claim that it makes us "good." It cannot for a second, if it holds to doctrines of reward and punishment, pretend to make us "moral." A person with a gun to their head is not making a moral choice. They are making an expedient choice.

    And all of us make expedient choices every day. I could find ten people in my building and ten people on the bus who are mentally ill, who need somebody to look after them, and if I dedicated myself to helping, I could make their suffering lesser. I wish I was Awesome Superman and able to do this. I’m not.

    Conservatives love stories of personal charity, of heroism, of rising above selfishness to assist others in need. They berate liberals for being lazy, wanting government to fill that selfless role. Well, somebody has to! I can do it for maybe one, two people in my life! I can’t fix all the mentally ill people in my building or on the bus! For fuck’s sakes, I have to try to pay the rent! Can’t I rely on my tax dollar to, you, know, put clean water in my tap and direct paid experts to alleviate some godawful human misery from time to time?

    Done ranting, now!

  2. @JMF – That’s it exactly. Schweitzer hated the idea of [i]quid pro quo[/i] salvation. He, like most of the theists I admire, might as well have been an atheist. He believed in trying to create the kingdom of heaven on earth.

    The reason that conservatives don’t want to spend tax money on the poor and weak has nothing to do with freedom. The rich only believe ins [i]quid pro quo[/i] charity. Even if they are listed as "anonymous" on the sign outside the new library, they know it is them. But taxing is just throwing all your money in a pool. How does that stroke their enormous egos?

  3. The bigger the ego, the more fragile it can be. I’m always at my wrongest when I think of myself as unassailably right.

    Maybe it’s appropriate that conservatives worship Reagan. He was really so nucking futs that his ego was beyond damaging. And Murdoch, our modern Goebbels, seems pretty immune as well.

    Hearst was evil. And Welles could get under his skin with a total cheap shot at his girlfriend (whom, I understand, was probably the only remotely honorable person in Hearst’s stratosphere of orbit. I also understand the cheap shot was mostly Manckiewicz’s, and Welles, being young and cocky, went "yes, I totally love this, he’s a dick.")

    More Hearsts and Palins and Christies, please. The ones so unimaginably crazy that they can’t be ever hurt, only challenged, the Reagans and Murdochs and Kochs, spook me the fuck out.

  4. @JMF – I don’t think that Welles and Manckiewicz meant to go after Marion Davies, but they sure the hell were going after Hearst. And it [i]looked[/i] like they were going after Davies. But Hearst really did destroy what was a very promising career–out of love, but still. And if you look at the film, the Davies character (Susan Alexander) is about the only sympathetic character in the film. In the end, she’s the only one who gives a damn that Kane’s dead.

    I don’t see Murdoch that way. With [i]Fox News[/i], just like with everything else, he saw a niche to pander to and he did. It is all about money to him. Not that he isn’t conservative, but he’d do the same thing for liberals if they were the sheep that conservatives are. The true modern Goebbels is Roger Ailes or maybe Karl Rove. Although neither of them take their jobs as seriously as Goebbels. The one thing I’ll give Goebbels is that he was a true believer–so much so that he almost became the Nazi Trotsky. I don’t think Hitler believed all that bullshit; it was just about power for him. But Goebbels, as vile and pernicious as the ideals were, believed in them.

    As I was writing earlier today: we wanted to form a more perfect union and I think we did. But as every day goes by, I think we become a less perfect union. It doesn’t take Goebbles and Hitler, it just takes a nation too tired and desperate to even vote.

  5. I was going to suggest you write about Albert Schweitzer. I don’t know much about him except that he had a great deal of compassion. There is a story about him that he was so considered that if he was holding a cat in his favored arm, he would fill out his paperwork with the hand on his non-favored arm. I think I would like to read some of his books. He is one of the people on my list, the one where we pick anyone living or dead we’d like to have dinner with.

    • As I noted, it’s mostly his theology that fascinates me. He was what a Christian should be. The religion has been so debased this last century. At least the Christians of past centuries who tortured people really believed. For most Americans anyway, Christianity is a cheap religion.

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