Albert Schweitzer was born today in 1875. In 1893 he attended the University of Strasbourg and studied theology, philosophy and musical theory. In 1899, he received a Ph.D. in Philosophy, and in 1900 he received a second in theology. Between 1900 and 1905 he acted as a minister of a small church in Strasbourg. During this period he also wrote several books dealing with general philosophy and ethics, religion and the musical philosophy of Sebastian Bach. He became an expert organist, organ-builder and was recognized as one of the leading musical figures of this time.
In 1905, Schweitzer made a radical career change and decided to devote the rest of his life to the natives of equatorial Africa. He decided that he would study to become a doctor of medicine and reentered the university. In 1909, Schweitzer formulated the international regulations for organ building. In 1913, Schweitzer received his Doctorate of Medicine.
In 1915, while on a steamboat journey in Africa, he was inspired with a new way of thinking: Reverence for Life. This phrase would be the description for his future philosophy of life.
Schweitzer was saddened by the amount of misery he saw in the world. His sadness was not limited to only humans but also the animal world. The sight of an old limping horse, tugged forward by one man while another kept beating it with a stick to get it to the knacker’s yard at Colmar, would haunt him for weeks.
The sight of animals being beaten or hurt was something he could never understand or accept, from the times of his early youth. The brutality was quite incomprehensible to him, and he wondered why in his evening prayers he should pray for human beings only. So when his mother had prayed with him and had kissed him goodnight, he would add silently a prayer that he had composed himself for all living creatures. It went something like this: "O heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath; guard them from all evil, and let them sleep in peace.”
This gentle but strong willed man would spend over 50 years helping natives of Africa with their health problems. During this period in Africa, he wrote additional books on the subjects of philosophy, religion, music, art, ethics and human civilization throughout the ages. In 1953, Schweitzer would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and $36,000. He would spend all of the money for his leprosy hospital in Africa.
Schweitzer’s general philosophy could be stated as never to destroy life that breathes, unless it is unavoidable, and by going out of our way to help any living creature in distress we are helping to discharge a debt--a debt of honor--which we owe to the rest of creation for its vicarious sacrifice to our needs. It is after all the only sane and reasonable course we can adopt.