ethics and respect


By Leonardo Boff*

Presentation, commentary and reflections on the humanitarian ethics of the Christian missionary Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)

The production of a humorous program by the Back Door Group that would have suggested a possible homoaffective relationship of Jesus and the negative reactions of many and even a bomb attack against the group's headquarters, invite us to reflect on respect. This, respect, is one of the basic axes of the ethics of any culture and also necessary for the peaceful coexistence of differences within a Democratic State of Law.

To enrich the discussion that also concerns a STF Minister who released the humorous program after it was prohibited by another judge, it is convenient to propose the reflections of a thinker who, more than anyone else, deepened the issue of respect: Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965 ). He was from Alsace, renowned biblical exegete and a recognized Bach concertist.

As a result of his studies on the message and ethics of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, which gave centrality to the poor and the oppressed, he decided to abandon everything, study medicine and in 1913 go to Africa as a doctor in Lambarene (Togo), exactly for those regions that were furiously dominated and exploited by European colonizers.

He explicitly says, in a letter, that “what we need is not to send missionaries there who want to convert Africans, but people who are willing to do for the poor what should be done, if the Sermon on the Mount and the words of Jesus have any meaning. some value. If Christianity does not accomplish this, it has lost its meaning. After much reflection, it became clear to me: my life is neither science nor art, but becoming a simple human being who, in the spirit of Jesus, does something, however small it may be” (A. Schweitzer, Wie wir überleben können, eine Ethik für die Zukunft, 1994, p. 25-26).

In his hospital deep in the rainforest, between treating patients, he had time to reflect on the destiny of culture and humanity. He considered the lack of a humanitarian ethic to be the greatest crisis of modern culture. He dedicated years to the study of ethical issues that were embodied in several books, the main one being “Respect for life"(Ehrfurcht from dem Leben).

Everything in their ethics revolves around respect, veneration, compassion, responsibility and care for all beings, especially those who suffer the most.

The starting point for Schweitzer is the proto-primary datum of our existence, the will to live that is expressed: “I am life that wants to live in the midst of lives that also want to live” (Wie wir überleben können,73). The “will to power” (will to power) by Nietszche, Schweitzer opposes the “will to live” (Wille zum Leben). And he continues: “The key idea of ​​the good consists in conserving life, developing it and raising it to its maximum value; evil consists in destroying life, harming it and preventing it from developing. This is the necessary, universal and absolute principle of ethics” (Awe, p.52 and 73).

For Schweitzer, the current ethics are incomplete because they deal only with the behavior of human beings towards other human beings and forget to include all forms of life. The respect we owe to life “encompasses everything that means love, donation, compassion, solidarity and sharing” (op. cit. 53).

In a word: “ethics is the unlimited responsibility for everything that exists and lives”. As our life is life with other lives, the ethics of respect must always be living together and suffering (miterleben und miterleiden) with others. In a succinct formulation he states: “You must live together and preserve life, this is the greatest of the commandments in its most elemental form” (Was sollen wir tun, P. 26).

From this derives behaviors of great compassion and care. Interpelling his listeners in a homily, he urges: “Keep your eyes open so you don't miss the opportunity to be a savior. Don't pass by, unconscious, the small insect that struggles in the water and is in danger of drowning. Take a stick and remove it from the water, dry its wings and experience the wonder of having saved a life and the happiness of having acted on behalf of and in the name of the Almighty. The worm that got lost on the dry, hard road and couldn't make its little hole, pull it out and put it in the middle of the grass. 'Whatever you did to one of these little ones, you did it to me'. These words of Jesus apply not only to us humans but also to the smallest of creatures” (Was sollen wir tun, P. 55).

Albert Schweitzer's ethics of respect unites emotional intelligence with rational intelligence. Anything that impedes respect for one another weakens social coexistence. No one has the right to embarrass another with a lack of respect. All freedoms have their limit, imposed by respect.

The greatest enemy of the ethics of respect is the dullness of sensitivity, the unconsciousness of the fundamental value of unlimited respect. Incorporating respect, human beings reach the highest degree of their humanity.

If we don't respect every being, we end up not respecting the most complex and mysterious being of creation that is the human being, man and woman, particularly the most vulnerable, the poor, the sick and the discriminated against. Without respect and veneration, we also lose the memory of the Sacred and the Divine that pervade the universe and that emerge, in some way, in the conscience of each one.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian, philosopher and writer.

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