Albert Schweitzer was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his Reverence for Life philosophy. What was that philosophy? What did Schweitzer and others say about it? Here are a few select quotations on reverence for life.
What does Reverence for Life say abut the relations between [humanity] and the animal world? Whenever I injury any kind of life I must be quite certain that it is necessary. I must never go beyond the unavoidable, not even in apparently insignificant things. The farmer who has mowed down a thousand flowers in his meadow in order to feed his cows must be careful on his way home not to strike the head off a single flower by the side of the road in idle amusement, for he thereby infringes on the law of life without being under the pressure of necessity.
Thought cannot avoid the ethical or reverence and love for all life. It will abandon the old confined systems of ethics and be forced to recognize the ethics that knows no bounds. But on the other hand, those who believe in love for all creation must realize clearly the difficulties involved in the problem of a boundless ethic and must be resolved not to veil from [humankind] the conflicts which this ethic will involve [us], but allow [us] really to experience them. To think out in every implication the ethic of love for all creation — this is the difficult task which confronts our age.
Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting, and enhancing life and that to destroy, harm, or to hinder life is evil. Affirmation of the world — that is affirmation of the will to live, which appears in phenomenal forms all around me — is only possible for me in that I give myself out for other life.
Ethics cannot be based upon our obligations toward [people], but they are complete and natural only when we feel this Reverence for Life and the desire to have compassion for and to help all creatures insofar as it is in our power. I think that this ethic will become more and more recognized because of its great naturalness and because it is the foundation of a true humanism toward which we must strive if our culture is to become truly ethical.
A Humanist Code of Ethics:
Do no harm to the earth, she is your mother.
Being is more important than having.
Never promote yourself at another’s expense.
Hold life sacred; treat it with reverence.
Allow each person the digity of his or her labor.
Open your home to the wayfarer.
Be ready to receive your deepest dreams;
sometimes they are the speech of unblighted conscience.
Always make restitutions to the ones you have harmed.
Never think less of yourself than you are.
Never think that you are more than another.
The Hopi Indians of Arizona believe that our daily rituals and prayers literally keep this world spinning on its axis. For me, feeding the seagulls is one of those everyday prayers.
If there is to be a human future, we must bring ourselves into balanced relationship with one another and the Earth. This requires building economies with heart.
To those who followed Columbus and Cortez, the New World truly seemed incredible because of the natural endowments. The land often announced itself with a heavy scent miles out into the ocean. Giovanni di Verrazano in 1524 smelled the cedars of the East Coast a hundred leagues out. The men of Henry Hudson’s Half Moon were temporarily disarmed by the fragrance of the New Jersey shore, while ships running farther up the coast occasionally swam through large beds of floating flowers. Wherever they came inland they found a rich riot of color and sound, of game and luxuriant vegetation. Had they been other than they were, they might have written a new mythology here. As it was, they took inventory.
I see the day in our own lifetime that reverence for the natural systems, the oceans, the rainforests, the soil, the grasslands, and all other living things — will be so strong that no narrow ideology based upon politics or economics will overcome it.
Our true reality is in our identity and unity with all life.
We need to build millions of little moments of caring on an individual level. Indeed, as talk of a politics of meaning becomes more widespread, many people will feel it easier to publicly acknowledge their own spiritual and ethical aspirations and will allow themselves to give more space to their highest vision in their personal interactions with others. A politics of meaning is as much about these millions of small acts as it is about any larger change. The two necessarily go hand in hand.
Instead of a bottom-line based on money and power, we need a new bottom-line that defines productivity and creativity as where corporations, governments, schools, public institutions, and social practices are judged as efficient, rational and productive not only to the extent they maximize money and power, but to the extent they maximize love and caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and our capacities to respond with awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation.