Home | Bibliography | Site Map | Philosophy of Religion Page 1 of 4

Note: This page is written from the reference point of "Wittgenstein's logic of language", but it should not be taken to represent Wittgenstein's own views about the philosophy of religion.

There are very different approaches (points of view) to this subject found elsewhere on this site. The most worthwhile part of this particular page is found in the footnotes, which have been revised from time to time. What follows is my earliest thinking about this topic: I imagine that is why its tone is at times strident -- and unripe, for there are remarks here that are not now my "considered opinions". Of course you can only write from where you are at the time of writing.

Philosophy of Religion - Page 1 of 4

Preface: although these pages are titled "Philosophy of Religion", of religions there are many, and these pages are mostly, although not entirely, about the Christian religion.

In the context of that religion, one of the questions that concerns philosophy is the question of authority, of How do you know? (This has been the question of philosophy since the time of the Sophists and Socrates.)

Even in the case where there is no church dogma, no confession of faith (creed), there is the question of the Bible ["sacred scripture"] -- what is its status as an authority?

I ask this question in several contexts, one of which is Michael Prior's ("to read the Bible through the eyes of the Canaanites") [Note 1], a context in which the Bible has been used as the justification for doing terrible harm in the world, a context in which the Bible appears to run contrary to our present, hard-won standards of fundamental human rights, of equal respect for all human beings.

Authority in religion: "How do you know?" -- "How do you justify assertions here?" is the type of question philosophy asks, what it wants to understand when it talks about the Philosophy of this-or-that-Subject.

As an object of comparison in this context, M. O'C. Drury's philosophy of science asks: what is a scientific theory [i.e. what do we mean by the expression 'scientific theory'] and what justifies [the holding of] such theories? The Philosophy of Religion might ask: what do we mean by 'religious belief' [or 'faith'] and what if anything [for it is not necessarily the case that anything is required] justifies the holding of any particular religious belief?

Related pages:

Outline of Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Preliminary: My own views about Christianity [religion] have, at least in this way, been strongly influenced by Albert Schweitzer: there is no place in my life where I would want to say: "Here I do not use reason" (LC p. 59), or, "Here I believe in rather than believe". (Wittgenstein's own religious views, so far as they are known, were very different from Schweitzer's.)

With respect to my own views, the idea of life after death has always been important to me. But its expression is for me found in the possibilities presented by Socrates (Apology 40c-41c), not in religion.

With respect to ethics, I believe that right and wrong are the same in all times and in all places. But not because this is the "will of God" (LE/Notes p. 15). The "will of God" can decide nothing in ethics, because no one can surrender the responsibility for his own conscience, because man "is like the gods, knowing good and evil".

The pictures of "God as Providence" and "God as a Person" are not ones that I myself can do anything with; I find the first inconsistent with our experience of the world and the second so incoherent as to be useless. It is not that "the nature of God is a mystery" [unless by 'God' is simply meant our life], but that the logic of this language is a "mystery".

So, I would say that I if holding to such pictures is what is meant by 'religious', then I am not religious. But not all religious pictures are doctrinaire ... and those I hold to never presume on reason (as commandments to "silence reason" or "to believe despite reason" always do) or to presume on ethics, about which my own thinking is fully Socratic: ethics is rational.

But an important topic in Philosophy of Religion is the strange notion of "belief in", as in e.g. or 'I believe in a last judgment' or 'I believe in the resurrection'. Does our concept 'religion' (i.e. the rules, to the extent that there are rules, for using the word 'religion') require that someone "believe in" or have "faith" that some such proposition (e.g. 'There will be a last judgment') is true (although just what it may mean to believe that to be true is not at all clear)? If it does not, then I cannot say that I am not religious, because there are some pictures which have their origin in religion that in some way (It is not clear to me in just what way) guide my way of life and my way of thinking about life.

And why should that matter to anyone other than me? Only because I want to state from the outset that it is not my aim to support authority in anything, that the spirit of philosophy is the spirit of criticism, and that I am writing about the Philosophy of Religion from that point of view. I am not trying to solve problems that may concern the members of some community of faith e.g. That is not the context in which I write. [The Philosophy of Religion is not Theology.]

"Here I do not use reason"

What do I mean when I say that, There is no place in my life where I would like to say: "Here I do not use reason"?

Schweitzer is not the revolutionary renewer of Christianity some people seem to think. He does not pretend to any particular comprehension of the supernatural, and what is more, he is not particularly interested in it ... [Note 2]

Albert Schweitzer's view of religion was not the common one. The common view of religion pictures and expects religion to be a sort of treasure map to the beyond, to a truth revealed by God himself through the writers of Sacred Scripture and canonized by the Church in creeds. This pre-Enlightenment view regards religion as a sort of mythological metaphysics [myths about the supernatural, non-empirical, non-rational, essentially invisible].

But Schweitzer was an intellectual child of the Enlightenment (or more precisely of the Aufklärung [Note 3]): he chose reason rather than authority in [any and] all areas of thought. He subjected so-called revelation to criticism, and by that standard it was unreasonable to regard the Bible as a history text -- as if it had been written by a skeptical historiographer or even by authors with the critical standards of Herodotus -- rather than seeing it as a purely religious [and political] document. The Gospels e.g. are already theology, already religious writings, so that we cannot e.g. explain away the miracles in our quest to find the historical Jesus [Note 4].

And why should this rejection of non-reason matter to anyone but me? In the context of this page: because that was not Wittgenstein's attitude toward religion (religious "belief in"). Although he regarded some believers as "credulous", Wittgenstein did not regard even this type of religious belief with contempt (although, of course, the characterization "credulous" is not a compliment). In other words, there is a real difference here in sympathies between Wittgenstein and someone who thinks as Schweitzer did.

Wittgenstein and Schweitzer - Contrasting Views

Wittgenstein's attitude toward foreign missionaries with their idea of "saving souls" (baptizing indigenes in the thousands) may have been different from Schweitzer's (although Wittgenstein did distinguish religious faith from superstition). Although Schweitzer preached Jesus' ethics of love, he did not, nor could he, share the world-picture of John the baptizer, Jesus and his disciples (the Messianic expectation of the imminent end of this world). Schweitzer's reading of the Bible was as a critical historian (in the Aufklärung context), and in religion he accepted only what was "true and serviceable", and that meant taking Nietzsche's demand for a unity of life and thought seriously. And thus, in one of his sermons about the command "Love thy neighbor as thyself", he asked where anyone who tried to live that way would find himself after a few days (Reverence for Life, ed. Neuenschwander, tr. Fuller (1969), p. 110 [16 February 1919]), meaning that if we don't live that way, loving our neighbor as ourself, then what becomes of the religion we profess -- is our profession, our religion, no more than mouth honor? [Note 5]

Was that the view of religion that Wittgenstein reproached Drury with: "[very sternly] You mustn't pick and choose just what you want in that way." [Note 6] Schweitzer rejected "faith" = "acceptance of dogma" without exception (although he was tolerant of those who thought differently). -- But it is not a question, however, of Wittgenstein taking the opposite view here -- i.e. there is no simple "compare and contrast". Wittgenstein fully accepted dogma -- but not as dogma is commonly read; he fully accepted the symbolism as corresponding to a deep human need, but ...

For me too the Old Testament is a collection of Hebrew folklore [a characterization Drury had suggested] ... But the New Testament doesn't have to be proved to be true by historians either. It would make no difference if there had never been an historical person as Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels ... (Recollections p. 101)

Christianity is not based on an historical truth ... because historical proof (the historical-proof game) is irrelevant to belief. This message (the Gospels) is seized on by men believingly (i.e. lovingly). That is the certainty characterizing this particular acceptance-as-true, not something else.

A believer's relation to these narratives is neither the relation to historical truth (probability), nor yet to a theory consisting of "truths of reason" [by which I think Wittgenstein means Rationalism: propositions deduced from other propositions without regard to empirical verification, which is the method of theology]. (CV p. 32)

Schweitzer's view of religion, however, was not that of "logical positivism". Although his views may have resembled empiricism, Schweitzer applied the word 'reason' also to points of view, which (logically) must be held without grounds (e.g. his principle of Reverence for Life was an instance of a "reasonable insight"); and such deductions based on a selection of experience are more akin to rationalism. [Note 7]

Schweitzer's view of religion [his view of the role of the philosopher with respect to religion] was a "form of life" -- i.e. "a way of life" -- but not as if that way were a matter of choice: one cannot just make oneself believe the things that a dogmatic religious person believes: one can go through the motions, but that is not what we mean by 'faith'. I think we could say that Schweitzer, unlike Wittgenstein, was not capable of Biblical faith in God; and similarly, a man of such faith cannot just choose to be an atheist.

Dogma as a form or way of life

Wittgenstein looked at religion from an anthropologist's point of view: "This language-game is played" (PI § 654; also § 656: "look on the language-game as the primary thing"); a language-game is a form of life, incapable of justification (OC § 559), but requiring no justification (PI II, xi, p. 200b, "The primitive language-game which children are taught ...") But vague allusion to "religious language-games" makes nothing about religion clearer here; it is merely a reminder of Wittgenstein's point of view, which asks about logic (What is the meaning?) with indifference to verification (How do you know?) [except in the context of grammar: "If you know that a proposition is meaningless, you know something important about it, not that it is necessarily meaningless"].

Schweitzer, on the other hand, subjected religion -- like everything else -- to the same standard of criticism (critical thinking, rather than unquestioning acceptance, being Kant's mark of Enlightenment). But Wittgenstein imagined that with respect to religious belief, someone could say "Wittgenstein is trying to undermine reason", and Wittgenstein commented, "and this wouldn't be false" (LC p. 64). 'Reason' would mean 'criticism' here: because Wittgenstein described non-reason ["Here [in this area of my life] I do not use reason"] simply as a form of life.

For Wittgenstein, all forms of life are of equal value -- or more correctly: of no value: It is only within a form of life that there are values -- i.e. that the word 'value' is defined [has applications]. And so the philosophically aware life [Plato's "reflections inspired by a thoughtful philosophy"] is lived on no higher level than any other form of life. Obviously this was not Schweitzer's view (nor is it my own). But it was Wittgenstein's.

Wittgenstein deeply respected the uneducated people such as are found in Tolstoy's stories, religious muzhiks. These are people who are not used to asking questions or having their beliefs questioned (Mary Simeti): "If we don't make the Sign of the Cross over the dough, the dough will not rise"; people who don't do things because they have their own reasons but because of the traditions that have been passed on to them since childhood: "This is the way things are done"; these are people untouched by the Enlightenment. Criticism [the values of the critical point of view] is conceived by Wittgenstein as just one form of human life among many others (the caveman and the Cambridge student).

Of course by 'conception' here I mean: way of looking at things. And because there is no absolute perspective [i.e. 'absolute perspective' is an undefined combination of words] from which to judge between points of view (The "Eye of God" is not the eye of man), Wittgenstein's conception can no more be disputed than a rule of grammar [definition] can be. "Look at things this way!" the philosopher says, which doesn't mean, however, that anyone need be willing to look at things that way rather than some other (CV p. 61).

From Wittgenstein's anthropological point of view we could say that Schweitzer was not a "philosopher", if we mean by that a passive [detached, disinterested] observer. Schweitzer was of course however a philosopher in the sense of someone seeking the truth and believing that it [presuming that such truth] can be found (This is of course the tradition begun by Socrates); Schweitzer thought it was the task of the philosopher to conceive [develop] a "philosophy of life" (which would also be comprehensible to common people), a task which Wittgenstein regarded as beyond what philosophy can do.

Wittgenstein was only an observer so far as philosophy was concerned. Of course his philosophy was critical (or it would not be classified as philosophy), but Wittgenstein set the limits to philosophical criticism [his own critical attitude] differently than other philosophers: he did not pass judgment on "forms of life": they are the given, what has to be accepted (PI II, xi, p. 226c): they are like our own life [the world] -- "just there" (OC § 559). [Note 8]

Interrelationship of Religion and Philosophy

Will the philosophy of a religious man [religious believer] have to be different from the philosophy of a non-religious man? The former will have to have [logical must] a place in it for religion; his philosophy won't be able to exclude or rule out the religious way of life. Maybe we could say of Wittgenstein that because he had a religion, he did not need a philosophy [of life]: that if there were a solution to the riddle of life [existence], it would be a religious [one, and] not a philosophical one [solution] for Wittgenstein. Maybe this is the case.

We could say that Wittgenstein's view was most certainly not rationalism: philosophy could not understand life. Trying to use philosophy to understand life [the riddle of existence] showed a foundational misunderstanding. Wittgenstein held to this conviction even after he appeared to abandon the philosophical ideas [i.e. view of language] which he had said justified it (i.e. the view of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that "the essence of language is the putting together of names of things"). But he had changed his philosophy -- with respect to logic only, however -- not with respect to ethics, which he had always held not to be part of philosophy, I think because according to Wittgenstein the answer to "how to live our life" is not rational (as Socrates thought it was), but determined by "absolute values" which are not demonstrated to be true by reasoning. This was the "why" of his foundational rejection of life's "reasonableness". [Note 9]

Where did Wittgenstein set the limits to philosophy? To what he called 'philosophy'. To what he called a 'philosophical question'. And how is this different from where other philosophers set the limits? "What did they [other philosophers] get from their philosophy?" (Recollections p. 158) And why did Wittgenstein set the limits there? A philosopher's relationship to religion is very important to his philosophy. I think we could say that Schweitzer's philosophy determined his religion, whereas with Wittgenstein, it was rather as if Wittgenstein's religion determined his philosophy, determined where he set the limits of it, that is.

On the other hand, we mustn't make too much of this. Given Wittgenstein's view of the logic of foundational propositions, namely that the foundations of our life [and thought] do not themselves have foundations, it would have been contradictory for him to have set the limits of his philosophy other than where he set them. Otherwise he would have had to have spoken, as does Schweitzer (and as did Thomas Aquinas), of, by any other name, "truths of reason" (CV p. 32): that there are propositions that require no justification (e.g. "self-evident truths"). But Archimedes' magic fulcrum exists no more in philosophy than it does in physics. [This view belongs to the essence of Wittgenstein's philosophy.]

In Wittgenstein's logic of language an expression like 'self-grounding grounds' would be a meaningless -- i.e. undefined -- combination of words. And here there is a difference with Schweitzer's views, because Schweitzer believed that philosophy should seek a foundation on which to build with certainty (one which he himself found in his idea "Reverence for Life"), although Schweitzer recognized that this certainty would only be subjective certainty -- and that the danger with all such certainty is that its loss brings a disillusionment which is profoundly destructive. [Schweitzer did not philosophize in the tradition of Parmenides and Descartes, however, whose program in philosophy was an absolute rationalism which asked only: Does it stand to reason? but not: Does it [also] stand to the evidence of experience? Pascal was to demonstrate that vacuums exist, regardless of anything Descartes' reason ("clear and distinct ideas") might conclude. Schweitzer, on the other hand, did ask both questions.]

Wittgenstein's faith [religion] was unconditional submission to [acceptance of] the will of God. He accepted the faith shown in the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his own son [Note 10]. Two years before his death, he told Drury:

I have had a letter from an old friend in Austria, a priest. In it he says that he hopes my work will go well, if it should be God's will. Now that is all I want: if it should be God's will. (Recollections p. 168; cf. CV p. 57)

If someone had difficulty with existence itself [found it problematical], this showed that he was not living in the right way, not looking at life in the right way (ibid. p. 27; cf. p. 53). Philosophizing about the mystery of existence was a mistaken application of reason [extension of reason into the realm of religion]. It is not stretching the concept [trying to extend its application] too far to say that Wittgenstein was indeed "in some sense a Christian".

Schweitzer: The spirit of philosophy must also be the spirit of religion

Above I began a comparison of the Philosophies of Religion [or perhaps views on religion and philosophy] of Wittgenstein and Albert Schweitzer, as I had tried to compare Wittgenstein's philosophy to Isaac Newton's: they invented different rules for reasoning: the type of questions that are asked; the type of answers that are acceptable. But I also questioned how far a human being's philosophy can be divorced from his religion: at times where I write 'philosophy' maybe I could as easily write 'religion' and vice versa.

Wittgenstein was tolerant philosophically of dogmatic religious belief -- so long as it was profoundly self-honest [sincere]. Schweitzer, on the other hand, had no philosophical tolerance for dogma of any kind. Wittgenstein's view of religion was anthropological [descriptions of "forms of life": the foundations of our life which do not themselves have foundations]; Schweitzer's view of religion was entirely critical. Wittgenstein might not tolerate an insincere or shallow individual believer; but Schweitzer would not tolerate an entire way of thinking. Even so, Schweitzer, a Lutheran minister, was concerned with preaching religion (Many of his Strassburg and African sermons are preserved); Wittgenstein was not a teacher [evangelist] of religion (although he did sometimes discuss religion with his philosophy students, most notably with M. O'C. Drury, he did not do this as an advocate).

Schweitzer, the spirit of philosophy and the spirit of Christianity

For Albert Schweitzer the spirit of philosophy must also be the spirit of religion. ("Must" means: here we have a rule [an imperative].) Schweitzer wrote of an old clergyman whose task it was to prepare the youngsters for Christian Confirmation:

He wanted to make us understand that in submission to faith all reasoning must be silenced. But I was convinced -- and I am so still -- that the fundamental principles of Christianity have to be proved true by reasoning, and by no other method. Reason, I said to myself, is given us that we may bring everything within the range of its action, even the most exalted ideas of religion. And this certainty filled me with joy. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, tr. C.T. Campion (1925), Chapter 3, p. 43)

If Schweitzer went further than his own father and other clergy he knew in Alsace in questioning doctrine, Schweitzer's view was nonetheless in the spirit of the religion that he had absorbed from them [Note 11]. [But I think it was also something about Schweitzer himself: Schweitzer was a born questioner as opposed to a born accepter Note 12]; not every philosophical thinker is born a questioner.] Schweitzer frequently quoted Paul the Apostle to say, "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Freedom, not only from the Old Testament's Law, but also freedom for critical enquiry (e.g. for looking at "sacred scripture" with the skeptical eyes of an historiographer).

Schweitzer created for himself what Dostoyevsky called an "image of Christ" although Schweitzer called it the historical Jesus (but there is so much discernment [choice] in historiography); his understanding was based on his reading of especially the first two Gospels (which Schweitzer believed to have been the earliest, if not in writing, then at least in content).

"... nowhere does he demand of his hearers that they sacrifice thinking to believing"

Jesus no doubt fits his teaching into the late Jewish Messianic dogma [i.e. the expectation of a time of troubles (the "temptation" of the Lord's Prayer) prior to the end of this world and its transformation into the supernatural kingdom of God].... Within the Messianic hopes his hearers carry in their hearts, he kindles the fire of an ethical faith.... But he does not think dogmatically. He formulates no doctrine. Nowhere does he demand of his hearers that they sacrifice thinking to believing. Quite the contrary! He bids them to reflect upon religion. (Out of my Life and Thought, tr. A.B. Lemke (1990), Chapter 6, p. 59-60)

Not to "sacrifice thinking to believing". Jesus often often taught in parables: you must think about the meaning of a parable. A statement like "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" is a challenge to think (about the meaning of the Sabbath and about God's relationship with man). No one could obey all the commands given in the Sermons on the Mount and Plain, so that the meaning of those commands has to be thought about as well.

A parable is a riddle. The Lord says, Solve the riddle. And that means: "Give an ear and try to understand."

Is religion without dogma religion?

My first response to Schweitzer's view of religion [Christianity] was that it simply eliminated dogmatic religion, the religion of the churches (and of most Christians). Because dogma does not face the test of reason -- nor of course does anyone claim that it must; that is why it is called 'dogma', to designate it as something that "has to be" accepted unjustified. That is, as it were, the rule of the game -- and, I said, Schweitzer is simply refusing to play that game. [Note 13]

But my second thought was that if Schweitzer's view were adopted, what would become of ethics [moral values], which also has to be accepted unjustified? Only someone who does not appreciate the ultimate groundlessness of all believing finds it easy to know what to say here, because ethics has no foundation whatever, and of course we don't want to eliminate ethics.--

[Interjection: That is, of course, an anti-rational, anti-Socratic account of ethics; it certainly is not Socrates' understanding of "Know thyself"--]

But, on the other hand, we must distinguish between and between. In what other way is ethics like religious belief? I would treat the combination of words 'ethical beliefs' as nonsense; ethics has no content [It has values, not pictures that look like hypotheses or "essentially unverifiable statements of fact"]. That [religious belief] is an entirely mistaken model of understanding ethics; indeed it is to misunderstand it.

Christianity cannot take the place of thinking, but it must be founded on it. In and by itself it is not capable of overcoming thoughtlessness and skepticism. Only an age that draws its strength from thought and from an elemental piety can recognize the imperishable character of Christianity. (Out of My Life and Thought, Epilogue, p. 240)

"Christianity cannot take the place of thinking, but it must be founded on it." What Schweitzer meant here, I think, was that "Reverence for Life" is a foundation in reason for Jesus's ethic of love; it founds Christianity on reason. The "must" I take to mean that this is an ethical imperative (Man must use his reason is the Enlightenment [as well as the Socratic] demand). Schweitzer reconciled what we feel to be true [religion] with what reason says is true [philosophy]. (There may be wisdom to be found in all the world's religions, but none of them can take the place of reason, not, that is, if religion is to be a source of "the true and the serviceable" for us.)

From my youth I have held the conviction that all religious truth must in the end be capable of being grasped as something that stands to reason. I, therefore, believe that Christianity, in the contest with philosophy and with other religions, should not ask for exceptional treatment, but should be in the thick of the battle of ideas, relying solely on the power of its own inherent truth. (Christianity and the Religions of the World, tr. Powers (1923; repr. 1939), p. 3)

That is not to say that Schweitzer regarded the religion of Jesus to be entirely reasonable, because in that religion "God stands to a certain extent in contrast with the forces of Nature, however great may be the difficulties which this involves for human reasoning" (ibid. p. 25), and Jesus leaves these difficulties unresolved [unanswered].

God hath placed by the side of each a man's own Guardian Spirit, who is charged to watch over him. [Crossley's note: "To the Stoics the Guardian Spirit was each man's Reason."] (Discourses i, 14)

Epictetus was a teacher of Socratic ethics, not of Christian ethics. Socrates was, of course, a deeply religious man, but he did not allow faith to take the rightful place of reason (nor of course vice versa).

Wittgenstein, the relative powers of Religion and Philosophy

The important distinction for Wittgenstein would be between, on the one hand, religious symbolisms and expressions of religious feeling (including the most primitive), and, on the other hand, superstition and "theology" (making a "philosophical system" out of dogma). So from this point of view, the distance between Wittgenstein and Schweitzer is not so great. However, where there is a deep difference between them is over Schweitzer's embracing of the Aufklärung's thorough-going (universal) application of reason, and Wittgenstein's view that philosophy (reason rather than grace) is unable to change men's lives.

Wisdom is cold and to that extent stupid. (Faith on the other hand is a passion.... Wisdom is like cold gray ash, covering up the glowing embers.) (CV p. 56 [from 1946])

"Wisdom is gray." Life on the other hand and religion are full of color. (ibid. p. 62 [from 1947])

Wittgenstein wanted more to become, in his own eyes, a good human being -- to "set his life to rights" -- than to solve the problems of philosophy. The Apostle Paul wrote to the converts in Corinth (if I remember correctly and if I understand, which I may not):

I did not come to you with learning (the wisdom of the Greeks), but with the power of the Holy Spirit to change men's lives. (cf. 1 Cor. 2.1-6)

And this is what Wittgenstein wanted, that his life be changed. [But how can this be what Paul meant if he himself had to say that he was a mystery to himself: "I do the very things I hate." If the Spirit could change man's life, then why hadn't it changed Paul's? If Paul is speaking about "faith" ("believing in"), still this is an inconstant faith (power). It is nothing like our belief that fire will burn us.]

[Christianity] says that all wisdom is cold; and that you can no more use it for setting your life to rights [changing your life or the direction of your life] than you can forge iron when it is cold. (CV p. 53 [from 1946])

"Faith on the other hand is a passion." And religion must have the power of a passion if it is to bring about my redemption, because 'my redemption' means that the direction of my life (as manifested by a rejection of sin [Augustine's "Make me chaste, but not yet"]) must change; and the power [self-control] to make that change in my way of living requires the certainty of faith [Subjective certainty about something non-reasonable is certainly a passion]. It is not my intellect [alone] that requires redemption -- i.e. I may well recognize that some behavior is sinful but nonetheless continue in it; it is me as an ethical human being -- i.e. a being who chooses not to sin -- that needs to be redeemed. (I think this is what Wittgenstein was saying here: "Because it is my soul with its passions, as it were with its flesh and blood, that has to be redeemed, not my abstract mind." [ibid. p. 33; MS 120 108 c: 12.12.1937])

Wittgenstein expressed his view of the value of his life's work (philosophy) when four years before his death he wrote:

I am not certain I would prefer for others to continue my work to a change in the way people live that makes all these questions superfluous. (cf. ibid. p. 61 [from 1947])

In the Tractatus (1918 Preface) Wittgenstein had said that even once the problems of philosophy were all solved (i.e. the logic of our language understood) little was accomplished. But on the other hand, his last words to Drury were: "Don't stop thinking" (Recollections p. 170). So ...

[Philosophy of Religion - Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4]


Note 1: Michael Prior, The Bible and Colonialism: a moral critique, Sheffield Academic Press: 1997 (The Biblical seminar; 48). [Michael Prior (1942-2004)].

Religion is, like science and technology, everywhere human beings are, so that whether we think of ourselves as religious or not, we should not pretend to ignore religion but should try instead to come to a philosophical understanding of it.

My page is an unfinished revision of a rough draft, which means that the ideas here are not thought [all the way] through; the dust, which is still gathering, is taking a long time to settle. But ideas should be taken slowly: "This is how philosophers should greet each other: "Take your time!"" (CV p. 80; cf. ibid. p. 34) Philosophy cannot be done in a rush.

Note: as often happens, I have since revised many of the ideas on this page -- but those revisions are found on other pages of this site (and especially in these footnotes). [BACK]

Note 2: Werner Picht, Albert Schweitzer: Leben und Bedeutung, tr. Edward Fitzgerald (both as "The Life and Thought of Albert Schweitzer" and "Albert Schweitzer: The Man and His Work", 1964), p. 195.

On the other hand, Picht's remark has to be limited to [qualified by, tempered by]: if Christianity is taken to be a religion essentially preoccupied with the supernatural. Because Schweitzer gave this account of his book The Kingdom of God (as Norman Cousins remembered it from his conversation with Schweitzer), and from this point of view Picht's remark about "the revolutionary renewer of Christianity" is false:

The thesis [of the book] is that Christianity has veered away from Christ. Christianity has constructed an elaborate dogma but it has not really comprehended that the mission of Jesus was to enable every man to discover the Kingdom of God in himself. Jesus wanted to prepare man for the Kingdom of God; it was his dominant concern. But Christianity, as it has developed, has been more concerned about the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection than it has been about the thing that was closest to Jesus -- the fact that mankind must understand the meaning of the Kingdom of God [-- i.e. must understand the meaning of "The Kingdom of God is like ..." in his beatitudes and parables, maybe]. Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah ["The Messianic consciousness of Jesus cannot therefore consist in a belief that he is the Messiah while he is still a man, but only in the view that he is the one who will be revealed as Messiah at the coming of the Kingdom" (The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity [ca. 1950-1951] 2, iv, tr. Garrard, p. 103)]. He claimed to be none of the things that have been claimed for him. He claimed only to know the reality of the coming of the Kingdom of God. (Dr. Schweitzer of Lambaréné (New York: 1960) p. 124; Cousins, at best, understood only in part what Schweitzer said to him.)

Schweitzer certainly wanted Jesus's understanding of the meaning of the "Kingdom of God" to be accepted, and for Christianity to be renewed in the way that Schweitzer himself understood and accepted it. That way was why he had gone to Africa.

The operation is finished, and in the hardly-lighted dormitory I watch for the sick man's awakening. Scarcely has he recovered consciousness than he stares about him [and cries out:] "I have no more pain!..." His hand feels for mine and will not let it go. Then I begin to tell him and the others who are in the room that it is the Lord Jesus who has told the doctor and his wife to come to the Ogowe [River in western Equatorial Africa], and that white people in Europe give them the money to live here and cure the sick negroes. (Quoted from Schweitzer's written response to a request by Nathaniel Micklem for information for a biographical sketch for Micklem's "Foreword" to Schweitzer's Christianity and the Religions of the World, tr. Johanna Powers (1923; repr. New York: 1939), p. xii-xiii; cf. On the Edge of the Primeval Forest & More from the Primeval Forest (1947 [written 1914]), tr. C.T. Campion, Chapter 5, "January to June, 1914", p. 62-63)

It is easy to forget that Schweitzer was a missionary. He chose to do that work not by preaching alone, however, but by being a doctor to the sick Africans. Schweitzer found the meaning of his own life in serving other human beings; and as the kind of missionary he was, he did not have to say what his life showed: "Now go and do the same" [Luke 10.37].

[Here we see a different meaning of the word 'Lord' than Wittgenstein's; the latter's meaning does concern the supernatural (i.e. belief in Jesus's resurrection and "Second Coming" to judge the living and the dead).]

Schweitzer was not a renewer of received Christianity -- i.e. of an ancient and medieval world-picture [eschatological, mythological] expressed in Christian dogmas about the supernatural; but Schweitzer did regard his "Reverence for Life" as a natural development of Jesus's teaching and as an example of the way forward for Christianity: "The ethic of Reverence for Life is the ethic of love widened into universality. It is the ethic of Jesus, now recognized as a logical consequence of thought" (Out of my Life and Thought, tr. Lemke, Epilogue, p. 235).

Schweitzer and Tolstoy

The title of Schweitzer's book The Kingdom of God reminded me that Tolstoy wrote a book by that name -- The Kingdom of God is Within You: Christianity not as a mystic religion but as a new theory of life/concept of life/life conception (1893) -- which alluded to Luke 17.20-21 where Jesus answers the question of when the Kingdom will come by saying: "The Kingdom of God is within you." (Or "in your midst", because apparently the Gospel's words are ambiguous.)

Given his condemnation of "Lives of Jesus" not thoroughly grounded in historical research in The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A History of Research on the Life of Jesus (tr. Montgomery (1910), p. 235), I thought that Schweitzer could not have thought well of Tolstoy in the sense that Tolstoy was not a biblical scholar -- and yet Tolstoy claimed to know "what Jesus really meant" [Note]. But I was very wrong, because Schweitzer wrote in his Civilization and Ethics, Part II of The Philosophy of Civilization (The Dale Memorial Lectures, Oxford University, 1922), tr. C.T. Campion, 2nd rev. ed. (A. & C. Black, 1929), Chapter 14, p. 163):

In Russia, Count Leo Tolstoi (1828-1910) let loose the force of the ethical thinking of Jesus. [Tolstoy] does not, like others, interpret [Jesus's] words as teaching a social idealism focused on the service of systematic purposive effort, but allows them to be the commands to the absolute, uncalculating devotion which their author [Jesus] meant them to be. In his Confessions, which in the eighties were read throughout the world, the lava of primitive Christianity pours itself into the Christianity of modern times.

The explanation for this is found in Schweitzer's Quest:

There was a real danger of [modern theologians] thrusting ourselves between men and the Gospels, and refusing to leave the individual man alone with the sayings of Jesus. (p. 400) Jesus as a concrete historical personality remains a stranger in our time, but his spirit, which lies hidden in his words, is known in simplicity ... The very strangeness and unconditionedness in which he stands before us makes it easier for individuals to find their own personal standpoint in regard to him. (p. 401)

[Schweitzer cites only Tolstoy's My Confessions and What then shall we do? in his footnote: "The fact that Tolstoi's ethical Christianity associates itself with contempt for civilization brings it near to primitive Christianity. But the all-important question, how the power of the ethical thoughts of Jesus are to work in the temper and circumstances of modern times, it does not answer. Tolstoi is a great stimulator but no guide." (ibid. p. 163n2)

[What did Schweitzer think of Tolstoy's pacifism, which Gandhi said had had a deep affect on him, as a guide? Schweitzer cited the collection of Tolstoy's works titled The Kingdom of God and Peace Essays in his 1952 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture. When in 1935 Schweitzer wrote about Gandhi in Indian Thought and its Development ("The World-view of the Indian Thinker: Mysticism and Ethics"), he criticised the principle of passive resistance: the issue for Schweitzer is the use of force itself, not whether the force used is violent or non-violent (Eng. tr. 1956, p. 231-232), and he was also deeply troubled by the communal violence that followed the British withdraw.] [BACK]

Tolstoy's "The Gospel in Brief"

Note: Tolstoy did not write a life of the historical Jesus; he was not concerned even with the events of Jesus' life as told by the four Gospels. He was concerned only with the teachings of Jesus, and all other questions Tolstoy set aside. For the teaching of Jesus standing alone by itself stands up to the test of showing the meaning of our life.

I sought a solution of the problem of life, and not of a theological or historical question; and that is why I was indifferent to know whether Jesus Christ is or is not God ... to know when and by whom such and such a Gospel was written, and whether such and such a parable came from Jesus Himself or not.

... misinterpreters call Jesus God; but the recognition of His divinity does not make them recognize a greater importance in His words and teaching than in the words of [the New Testament apart from the four Gospels and the Old Testament] or even the decisions of the Councils and the writings of the Fathers [Tolstoy calls that "the religion of the Holy Spirit", not that of Jesus].

The justness of a conception of this kind [i.e. "the true understanding of the teaching"] is better proved, not by arguing particular points, but by its own unity, clearness, simplicity, fullness, as well as by its harmony with the inner feelings of all who seek truth. (Tolstoy, "Introduction", The Gospel in Brief, tr. Isabel Hapgood) [BACK]

Note 3: I use the German word because "die Aufklärung" suggests Kant (1724-1804) [Kant is its representative]. Whereas the English expression "The Enlightenment" suggests Voltaire, who was clever, perhaps daring, but not profound [deep], and Voltaire is not what is intended here. Beethoven quoted Kant to this effect: "The starry sky above and the moral law within"; Voltaire knew nothing of that. By the standards of "the Enlightenment" mysticism is no more than self-mystification; I don't believe that Schweitzer (1875-1965) accepted that view of mysticism [religious experiences].

From the services in which I joined as a child I have taken with me into life a feeling for what is solemn, and a need for quiet and self-recollection, without which I cannot realize the meaning of my life. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, Chapter 3, p. 44-45.)

"Come away to a lonely place and rest awhile," Jesus told his disciples (Mark 6.31). It would be easy to underestimate the depth of Schweitzer's own religious feeling [One must never overlook the position Bach's religious music held for Schweitzer], or to imagine that he thought religious feeling to be unimportant -- i.e. to see/regard him as an advocate of reason at the expense of religion (religious feeling), which is surely a wrong/mistaken view of him.

Schweitzer's piety as "experiencing life religiously" (Franck)

After supper at the hospital, Schweitzer would read aloud a chapter from the Bible and later, after reading the Lord's Prayer, comment on it (Frederick Franck, Days with Albert Schweitzer, a Lambaréné Landscape, New York: 1959, p. 30):

If there is anything specifically "religious" about his commentary it is that he always stresses the fundamental value of religious experience which to Schweitzer is so much more important than dogma. "Dogmas divide denominations, but the spirit unites them. There are Catholics who have the spirit as well as Protestants. We Protestants can split up in as many sects as we may wish; it does not matter as long as the spirit is alive. That is all that counts." He uses the German word Frommigkeit when speaking of this essential ingredient. But I feel it should not be translated as "piety" [-- A lexical alternative is 'devoutness' --] but somehow as the act of experiencing life religiously. (ibid. p. 31)

Ideologies divide the Christian Churches, but the spirit of Christ unites Christians

The unity of Christians will emerge not in the realm of ideologies but only in the realm of the spirit.... If all churches strive to live in the spirit of Christ, then they will all be fundamentally one. That is what I expect of the future. The spirit is one. It can be the same in the various ideologies. They are worth as much as the spirit imbuing them. (Letter from Lambaréné, 19 November 1956, in Albert Schweitzer, Letters 1905-1965, ed. Bähr [1987], tr. Neugroschel (1992), p. 267)

I have always been interested in the unification of the Christian churches. Each has its special feature, each its justification. What should unite them is the spirit of Christ. If they are guided and spurred on by this striving, then they are spiritually united, which means more for them and the world than a unification based on agreements that will always remain a patchwork. (Letter from Lambaréné, July 1957, p. 271)

... the religion of love taught by Jesus has been freed from any dogmatism that clung to it with the disappearance of the late Jewish expectation of the immediate end of the world [Jesus world-picture, "which seems fantastic to us now", was an "expectation of the end of the world and the appearance of a supernatural Messianic Kingdom"].... We are now at liberty to let the religion of Jesus become a living force in our thought, as its purely spiritual and ethical nature demands.... We hold fast to the Church with love, reverence, and gratitude. But we belong to her as men who appeal to the saying of the Apostle Paul, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty," and who believe that they serve Christianity better by the strength of their devotion to Jesus' religion of love than by the submission to all of the articles of faith. If the Church abides by the spirit of Jesus, there is room in her for every form of Christian piety, even for that which claims unrestricted freedom. (Out of my Life and Thought, tr. Lemke, Chapter 6, p. 60 [Chapter 10, p. 107])

... Jesus, when He called His disciples, required from them nothing more than the will to follow Him. (ibid. Chapter 11, p. 114)

Schweitzer, "the only theology"

A Christian is one who has the spirit of Christ. This is the only theology. (The Schweitzer Album (1965) p. 37)

Something of the spirit of Jesus is always to be found in any true work of love ... (Letter from Lambaréné, 1926, p. 85)

Schweitzer once said, "This question of whether animals have a soul or not is difficult to settle. One thing is certain: in order to find out, you have to have one yourself!" (Days with Albert Schweitzer p. 129)

Schweitzer regarded his idea of Reverence for Life as a "mystical" insight (although it occurred to him when he was on an African river launch with his eyes wide open [Out of my Life and Thought, Chapter 13, p. 155]), but one which was the result of self-consistent thought taken to its ultimate conclusion (The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization, Part I of The Philosophy of Civilization (The Dale Memorial Lectures, Oxford University, 1922), tr. C.T. Campion, 2nd rev. ed. (Adam & Charles Black, 1932), Preface, p. xii): religion does not come at the expense of reason either.

When we step back from the preoccupations of our daily life and try instead to relate our life to eternity [Kant: "the starry sky above and the moral law within"], this -- rather than some unheard of mental state that the word 'mystical' seems to suggest -- is the sense of the word 'mystical' that Schweitzer meant:

We are always in the presence of mysticism when we find a human being looking upon the division between earthly and super-earthly, temporal and eternal, as transcended, and feeling himself, while still externally amid the earthly and temporal, to belong to the super-earthly and eternal. (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, tr. Montgomery (1931), p. 1, quoted in Joy's An Anthology (1956), p. 222)

Viewing the world sub specie aeterni... is [the] mystical. (TLP 6.45)

The word 'piety' is not used very often nowadays. What did Schweitzer mean by it, because this is of course an essential question if we want to understand Schweitzer? At the very least I think we can say that by 'piety' Schweitzer did not only mean faithfulness in fulfilling one's moral obligations (as in Plato's Euthyphro) -- but also: the interiority, the state of mind or attitude that we call: reverence, respect, humility, depth, seriousness, solemnity, devotion, awe. [cf. Schweitzer's view of Bach]

The distance between someone who has "a feeling for what is solemn" [or is deeply troubled by human injustice and suffering], and someone who laughs life off with remarks about nature being a "capricious step-mother" could not be greater. Some human beings are not only not religious, they are irreligious [Perhaps like the canine form of life or even "life form"): "still unable to form a particular concept" (CV p. 73)]. There are solemn atheists and there are scoffing atheists (Of course, this can be conceptualized [i.e. looked at] in many ways). This is why I would call Schweitzer representative of the Aufklärung rather than of the Enlightenment, why I would choose one word rather than the other.

"... experiencing life religiously." Wittgenstein said to Drury: "I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view" (Recollections p. 79); that is surely part of this, although perhaps only the ethics part.

What Schweitzer means by "thought"

If rational thought thinks itself out to a conclusion, it comes to something non-rational which, nevertheless, is a necessity of thought.

All valuable conviction is non-rational and has an emotional character, because it cannot be derived from knowledge of the world but arises out of the thinking experience of our will-to-live, in which we stride out beyond all knowledge of the world [and think our way to a conclusion about how we must live]. The way to true mysticism leads up through rational thought to deep experience of the world and of our will-to-live. We must all venture once more to be thinkers, so as to reach mysticism, which is the only direct and the only profound world-view. We must all, through thought, become religious. (Preface to Civilization and Ethics, 2nd rev. ed. (1929), tr. C.T. Campion, p. xv-xvi)

That is the paradox of reason, according to Schweitzer, I think. And it is because "the forces at work in Nature are in so many ways different from what we would expect them to be": reason can find no meaning of our life in them. [BACK]

Note 4: Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer suggested at least a partial history of Jesus, his own answer to the question of who the historical Jesus was; so it should not be inferred that he, as do I, regarded the historical question as such to be mistaken [illusory].

The difficulty of choosing a criterion [standard, yardstick] for the deselection of biographical material. For example, if there is no scriptural reason (e.g. no Old Testament prophesy for it to fulfill [although in this case there is (see Micah 5.1)]) for the Messiah to have been born in Bethlehem, then Jesus' birth there should be regarded as historical (historiography: "what really happened"). On the other hand the Last Supper command in Luke, "Do this in memory of me", being an echo of the Exodus command to commemorate Passover, should be regarded as ahistorical. -- What is to be said? Yes, we might use this criterion and others like it. However, whichever criterion we choose, our choice may seem "fantastically arbitrary" to anyone who is not inclined to accept it. [BACK]

Note 5: No one lives according to the Sermon on the Mount ("If someone steals your cloak ..." etc.), nor could he. Some have found ways to follow Jesus's command to "take up thy cross daily and follow me", but it is the rare human being who willingly lives at that level of self-sacrifice, martyrdom really ["I die daily," Wittgenstein quoted the Apostle Paul as saying (Recollections p. 138)].

At his hospital in Africa, Schweitzer held a service outdoors on Sunday:

I found preaching a great joy. To be allowed to preach the sayings of Jesus and Paul to people for whom they were quite new was a wonderful experience. (Albert Schweitzer, Out of my Life and Thought, Chapter 13, p. 142)

I felt it as something wonderful that I was allowed to address a congregation every Sunday about the deepest questions of life. (ibid. tr. Campion (1949), Chapter 3, p. 25)

But Schweitzer did not preach those "sayings" dogmatically. He did not seek to impose what Rudolf Bultmann called "the wonder world of the New Testament" (with its miracles and eschatology) on his African hearers: the supernatural mythology of the New Testament was not what Schweitzer found "true and serviceable" in the Christian religion.

... all ethical piety is superior to any pantheistic mysticism, in that it does not find the God of love in nature, but knows about Him only from the fact that He announces Himself in us as the will to love. The First Cause of Being, as He manifests Himself in nature, is to us always impersonal. (ibid., Epilogue, p. 241)

Paul establishes the supremacy of the ethical in religion for all time in the saying: "And now abideth faith, hope, and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love." He demonstrates this ethical view of what it is to be a Christian by his complete dedication to service. (ibid., Chapter 20, p. 218)

What Schweitzer found "true and serviceable" in the Christian religion was its ethic of love. It was this ethic, above all, that led Schweitzer to become a doctor in Africa.

Related page: Albert Schweitzer's Christianity, his personal statement. [BACK]

Note 6: If the Bible is treated as just another document -- i.e. not as "Sacred Scripture, the Word of God, the Holy Bible" -- then one can pick and choose, retaining only what is "true and serviceable". But if the Bible is regarded as Holy Writ, then one cannot choose: one must accept everything [the whole thing] without exception. (I do not know if this is why Wittgenstein reproached Drury; it may be as if Wittgenstein had said: faith demands acceptance of the whole book; you must struggle (CV p. 86) but accept it when it pulls you in contrary directions: these various ideas are not there for nothing.)

But on the other hand, "picking and choosing" is how Christians have read the Old Testament from the very beginning. For example, when Jesus quotes Isaiah that he has come to bring "good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners" (Luke 4.18-19), the words are the same words (sounds) as those found in Isaiah (61.1-2) but their meaning is different -- in the sense that when Isaiah goes on to talk about a God who returns bad for bad, Jesus does not repeat those verses (and indeed will talk about doing good even to those who hate you). So Schweitzer is I believe correct, at least in this instance.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, practices what Prior calls liturgical censorship of the Bible. [BACK]

Note 7: During the years (1905-1912) when he was studying to become a medical doctor (He was already an academic doctor of both theology and philosophy), Schweitzer developed his view of thought ("reason"):

I became aware more than ever of the extent to which truth in thought is justified and necessary, side by side with truth that is established by facts. No doubt something subjective clings to the knowledge that results from the creative act of the mind. But at the same time such knowledge is on a higher plane than the knowledge based on facts alone. (Out of my Life and Thought, Chapter 10, p. 103)

I do not believe that I myself would be willing to extend our concept 'reason' in that way, nor our concept 'knowledge'. (And yet, Schweitzer has a point; only it can't be made this way.)

A "principle of reason" is that: The only necessity is logical necessity: what is justified (by facts) is not necessary (in logic), and what is necessary (in logic) is not justified (by facts). Of course, this "principle" is a matter of definition, not of dogma: we often use definitions to make distinctions: Statements of fact are true or false; statements of logic are consistent or inconsistent.

Are there statements of fact [empirical statements] that are necessarily true? -- This is not a question, although it has the form of one -- i.e. the expression 'necessarily true' is undefined with respect to empirical statements: what would we want it to mean (Z § 259) if we called an empirical statement 'necessarily true'? That reality must correspond to it? [Wittgenstein: such a claim would seem presumptuous (OC § 554).] And what is 'must' to mean here?

[If the meaning is the practice, then ... But this is not a matter [question] of practice: here we are talking about distinctions that are only made in philosophy ["the view from outside"]. Neither we in everyday life nor scientists in their calculations ask questions about empirical statements being necessarily true, unless by that we mean that some empirical statements are very well-established inductions [generalities] or that some statements can be deduced from such inductions -- i.e. all we are asserting is our confidence in the uniformity of nature [a confidence based on our past experience], that at least some events are governed by "laws of nature" [i.e. what we experience are patterns, regularities]. It is only philosophers who ask: ah, but do these "necessary empirical statements" have the same necessity as the necessity of statements in logic? And of course the answer is: No -- by definition: or in Wittgenstein's jargon: the type of necessity is the type of language-game (cf. PI ii, xi, p. 224e). Statements in logic have the force of rules, of conventions behind them, not the force of experience.

Are there logically necessary statements that are empirically true? What are do we mean by 'logically necessary statement' -- i.e. what are our examples? Surely not: if p, then p [A = A]. If we mean, "can a statement that necessarily follows from other statements ...?", then the answer is that if such deduced statements [deductions] are empirically true, that is not because of logic but because they can stand [up to] comparison with reality.

[What would we mean if we called something "a necessary fact"? (Synthetic a priori)]

What Schweitzer called "truth in thought", I would call [classify as] points of view -- which is not to say that these may not be the most important thing in our lives [Indeed, I would say that they are], but only to say that we do not regard them as being somehow "necessary truths". [BACK]

Note 8: At this level of generality, the concept 'form of life' is too vague to be a very useful tool (Indeed, Wittgenstein himself left it vague): we would need to look at particular examples to see whether we know what we are talking about or not. What I want to distinguish here are very different attitudes toward religion, religious belief. [BACK]

Note 9: [Denial that there is a rational solution to the problem of life.] However Schweitzer too said: "Whatever our point of view the world will remain for us an enigma." (Out of my Life and Thought, Chapter 18, p. 204) [BACK]

Note 10: Wittgenstein shared Kierkegaard's view that Christianity is not an easy and cosy faith. God is more a severe judge rather than a loving father. What Wittgenstein saw in Abraham's willingness to sacrifice: the demonstration of a profoundly [uncompromisingly] serious attitude toward life (toward the way one lives one's life).

The story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son [Ishmael] is also of special importance in Islam, because it demonstrates Abraham's unconditional submission to [acceptance of] the will of God. The word 'Moslem' means: one who submits. (This is the meaning of the 'slm' in the words 'Moslem' and 'Islam' and 'Jerusalem' e.g.)

Abraham, in the Catholic Mass, is called "our father in faith", and Jesus is referred to in many contexts as a sacrificed lamb. In Christianity the will of God is never questioned: what God has commanded must be done, whatever it is [The "Amen" comes before God speaks]. It is as if the Garden Story were forgotten: mankind has learned to distinguish good from evil, and therefore why is "the will of God" exempted from this judgment? It is as if mankind were never allowed to grow up, but must remain in eternal childhood. [BACK]

Note 11:

Christianity as a religion men can "understand with their minds and affirm with their hearts"

Like his father, Albert was inclined toward the liberal wing of the [German Lutheran] State Church, a minority group represented by old-line German intellectuals and Alsatian Free Church members ["The Alsatian Protestants ... had descended from Zwingli and the radical wing of the Reformation"].... His father represented the position that Christianity was a religion men could understand with their minds and could affirm with their hearts. Out of the life of the mind came the life of the spirit. (Marshall, Poling, Schweitzer: A Biography, 1971, p. 16-17 [p. 3])

Signing a certificate of baptism at Lambaréné in 1956, Schweitzer identified himself and his religious denomination as pasteur de l'Église de la Confession d'Augsburg d'Alsace ("minister of the Church of the Augsburg Confession of Alsace" or "minister of the Alsatian Church of the Augsburg Confession"). [BACK]

Note 12: Er liest, daß die Drei Könige mit Gold und Geschenken nach Bethlehem kommen. Aber, so fragt er sich, warum sind Maria und Josef immer noch arm? (Goedsche, Glaettli, Schweitzer, rev. ed. 1966) As a boy Schweitzer reads that the Three Kings came to Bethlehem with gold and gifts. "But, then he asks himself, why are Joseph and Mary still poor?" [cf. Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, p. 14; Schweitzer was eight years old.] Few children ask this question -- why? So we learn that the Gospel writers include myths in their narratives. But why should this scandalize us? Jesus's parables could all begin with the words "Once upon a time ..." It would be a childish [naive] reading of the story of the prodigal son that read that story as if it were the recounting of an historical event. Stories are told for many reasons, and fictions can state profound truths.

The question is, of course, that once you begin regarding particular texts as myths [didactic stories], how do you decide where you should end?

[Reimarus (1694-1768) recognized] that the solution of the problem of the life of Jesus calls for a combination of the methods of historical and literary criticism. He felt that merely to emphasise the part played by eschatology would not suffice, but that it was necessary to assume a creative element in the tradition, to which he ascribed the miracles, the stories which turn on the fulfilment of Messianic prophecy, the universalistic traits and the predictions of the passion and the resurrection. (Quest, tr. W. Montgomery (1910), p. 24)

The Gospels were after all written after the fact, whatever the fact may have been. [BACK]

Note 13: In Schweitzer's view, Jesus taught that "the ethical is the essence of religion" (Out of my Life and Thought, Chapter 6, p. 60), and "believing in" dogma, I think, would mean: thoughtlessly [uncritically] obeying the letter of the Law, as if refusing to eat scavengers could make you a good human being. [Not that Wittgenstein would have rejected that criterion: if dietary laws are what God commands, then following those laws makes a person "good", because good is by definition whatever God commands: God is like the metre standard in Paris.]

Why does Law come to dominate the Spirit -- is that the outcome of any religion with a "Sacred Scripture"? With the letter of the Law people think they have found a formula: to please God and thus win redemption (meaning: a happy, eternal life), you have only to do this, this and this. The Spirit asks: but why are you to do this, this and this? If you fast during the day to remember what the lives of the poor are like, does it make sense to feast after sunset, because the poor cannot feast after sunset. I think this is the kind of question the Spirit asks, but which the letter of the Law ignores.

Why specifically was "Jesus's ethic of love" debased to dogma, ritual and magic, however? Suppose we answered that, because the end of this world in its replacement by the kingdom of God that the Jesus of the synoptic Gospels had expected to be brought about by his death and resurrection -- did not happen, the degradation -- indeed, the very creation of a Christian Church -- as opposed to the Judaism which Jesus was to be, not the replacement of, but the fulfillment of -- was bound to follow. Because if this world did not end, then what could be done with Jesus's teaching? How should it be understood?

If "the true and the serviceable" in Christianity is the kingdom of God (Jesus's ethic of love), as Schweitzer judged it to be, rather than its Primitive-Christianity and Medieval world-pictures, then what becomes of "salvation history" and all the other baggage of Christian mythology? But what does 'salvation' mean? Does it not mean 'to be united with the love of God'? And if "things are done as they should be done" -- i.e. if one always acts from love (Augustine), then one already is united with the love of God. What other salvation is there to be sought than precisely that one.

The man whose life is charity will come to live in God and with God; so doing, he will possess the only thing that really matters. (Quoted by Jacques Feschotte in Albert Schweitzer: an introduction, tr. John Russell (1955), p. 74-75)

To always act from love is to have found salvation. What would another world accomplish? "I hope to see my loved ones again." Well, that is part of it, the reason for the persistence of that picture [doctrine]. Another, of course, is a thirst for the supernatural kingdom of Heaven that Jesus described, a kingdom found in this world only within the human heart (although perhaps there are occasional outposts of it here and there: "This hospital is therefore a village of the Kingdom of Jesus").

During the first year of work at his mission-hospital in Gabon Schweitzer wrote:

Evenings I go to bed dead-tired ["At the end of the day you are amazed that you are still on your feet after all the misery you have seen" (from Cape Lopez, 16 June 1913)], but in my heart I am profoundly happy that I am serving at the outpost of the Kingdom of God!... The days are devoted to helping in the name of Jesus, to fighting for the Kingdom of God -- actions I call "practical eschatology". (Letters 1905-1965, tr. Neugroschel (1992), p. 28 (from Lambaréné, April 1913; the emphasis in the letter is Schweitzer's own) [p. 32], p. 37 (from Lambaréné, 15 October 1913))

"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." That is, I think Schweitzer meant, those who serve for the Kingdom of God, those who do good in Jesus' name (23 July 1913, p. 33), are blessed. [BACK]

Site copyright © September 1998. Send Internet mail to Robert [Wesley] Angelo. Last revised: 22 December 2012 : 2012-12-22 (Original revision 22 October 2004)

The URL of this Web page: https://www.roangelo.net/logwitt/logwit26.html

Back to top of page

Wittgenstein's Logic of Language - Introduction and Table of Contents | Bibliography | Site Map | Site Search