Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dr, Albert Schweitzer

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During the 20th century missionaries were looked upon as religious people whose job was to spread Christianity. This was thought to be a good thing. What's wrong with trying to bring enlightenment to non-Christian people?

Now, at the start of the 21st century, missionaries in our history are looked upon as not politically correct. Once they were considered to have personally sacrificed for the benefit of  heathens, but now they are considered to have been pushy evangelical Christians trying to convert everyone in sight. Hey, this can't be right!

Dr. Albert Schweitzer was a hero of mine. He was one of the first "green" philosophers I learned about in school. Dr. Schweitzer had a clinic somewhere in deep dark Africa among a community of backward tribal people.  He was a Medical Doctor and able to provide a level of health care for them.  He was also an accomplished organist able to play the complex classical music of the day, and a profoundly well educated man. But his single attribute I firmly remember is what he called "reverence for life". 

Schweitzer believed and practiced tolerance for all living things including plants and animals. The concept boggled my elementary school mind, but I have carried it with me some 70 years and it still affects how I look at the world. I do not carry it to the extremes that he did, but I do view life with reverence, especially animal life.

Dr. Schweitzer was called a missionary, but I've never been certain that he tried to sell Christianity to his native community. No matter. The point is that all missionaries between 1900 and 2000 may not have been trying to promote Christianity,  and those who were doing so may not have been the heroes I once thought they were. It is politically correct now to question the arrogance of assuming Christianity to be a superior religion to an indiginous one.

I say I am a Christian largely because I was born into a Christian family. I suspect that many Muslims are Muslims because they were born into an Islamic family.

Today we have examples of Muslim Imams (missionaries) telling their audiences that anyone who does not believe in the Islamic faith should be killed.

There is obviously a huge disconnect here.

More later . . .

1 comment:

Rain said...

Fundamentalism within any religion has more in common with other fundamentalists than the religion they claim to practice even when the beliefs might be very different. That's what I think we need to call out-- the fundamentalists because it is that character quality more than what religion they claim that seems to lead to trouble for others.

Having been in a Christian church for a lot of years, I heard the heroic stories of missionaries also but now question exactly whether it was good or not. Probably a mix of both depending on the individual missionary. Some were just fronts for a culture coming in to exploit and others probably did do good. Some basically enslaved the indigent peoples. It's one of those things that we would like boxes that are tidy but they usually aren't.