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THE SAXON BAPTIST CHURCH
SPARTANBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA
Less than a mile from the Saxon village there was a squatting community of the poorest of the poor. The community was called Johnston, I believe. Anyway, it was a reproduction of what was known as Hoover town in the thirties. The houses or shacks were built of scraps of lumber, tin and pasteboard. It was the worst of the white slum areas of Spartanburg. If you were too poor to live in Johnston you were too poor to exist. One day I was given the name and address of a woman in Johnston who wanted to see me. I found a woman with two or three children, no man, shivering in their well ventilated shack. They had no food, wood or coal or coats to keep them warm. I scrounged around to find enough food and coal for a day or so.
The next Sunday I told the congregation about that visit. I announced that I would not be going back to Johnston again with only a bible and a prayer: unless I could take something along to help answer their prayers for food, clothing, coal and medicine. I felt that to go up there just to read a verse of scripture and to pray was not only useless but irreligious as well. It was suggested that we start a Can-A-Week-Club. The idea was that everyone who felt able to do so, would bring a can of food, or the money to buy one, each week for the poor box. A number of people faithfully brought a can of food every week; some gave me a few dollars now and then. One young man, James Eubanks, would often give me five or ten dollars. It was not unusual for him to hand me a twenty-dollar bill. Once he gave me fifty dollars for the poor. He was in a small business of his own. He never said so, but I assume he was giving a certain percent of his income to the poor.
It did not take long for the news of our Can-A-Week-Club to spread among the poor. The request for help was always greater than our means. But we were able to give a few of the poorest some very temporary relief. Had we been able to give the total income of the church to the poor it would hardly do more than provide temporary relief. At best it would only enable the poor to continue living in poverty. We can't, with ten percent, right the wrongs we do with the other ninety percent.
Any human society, as I see it, to be worthy of the loyalty of its citizens, would have to have an economic philosophy and methodology by which to give everyone the opportunity to use whatever ability he or she might have to help provide the goods and services one needs to live in freedom from poverty and from the fear of want. Any society that provides less opportunity than that for everyone can be a society that is only free in part and must be slave in part. Will we ever learn to let the "advanced cry" of our human hearts dictate the terms by which we work together to help each other to eat and drink and enjoy ourselves while we live? To be fully human we must learn to create and maintain a society in which there is for everyone freedom from man made fears and uncertainties.
I have already confessed my ignorance, when I went to Saxon, of the conflict between the managers of organized money and the managers of organized labor. My studies and experiences, while at Saxon, led me to one conclusion that I believe is still valid - that organized labor, as motivated and operated in this country, can never solve the problems that workers wanted to believe it could and would solve. As it has turned out organized labor simply took a page out of the book of management, whose objective was to get as much out of labor as possible and give in return just as little as the traffic would bear. Organized labor just reversed or tried to, the roles of management and labor in that formula, demanding from management all the traffic would bear and giving, too often, less than an honest day's work. It must be admitted that, with few exceptions, management forced organized labor to take that position - fighting fire with fire. Management simply refused to recognize organized labor as a co-partner in the same enterprise, working together toward a mutual objective. Management has from the beginning insisted, for the most part, on thinking of organized labor as an enemy to the best interest of organized money and has tried to deal with unions as a dangerous foe.
These two essential groups of people in modern industry, those who manage the work of organized money and those who provide the labor of organized workers, have been trying to deal with each other as enemies. The enormous waste of strikes and shutouts to everybody, and the violence, hate and fear they always motivate, make it compelling, it seems to me, to find a more sensible and humane way for these two essential industrial groups to cooperate with each other. Is it not obviously in the best interest of all concerned that these two organized groups find the motivation and ways and means to work together as co-partners for objectives that are equally fair to all.
Here and there I have read about some experiments that have been tried by management and labor. Having recognize their dependence on each other, the would try to find ways and means, and the motivation, to work together in mutual trust rather than in mutual distrust - as friends rather than enemies. In the late forties Look Magazine reported on two such experiments.
In one company management and the labor union agreed to try working out together the motivation and ways and means that would make it possible for them to work together in mutual trust. In the preliminary discussions between top level management and the union it was agreed that if the union was to represent all non management personnel, it would be necessary for all such employees to join the union. The union would elect a working committee and management would elect a working committee. These two committees would unite into one company wide working committee. This committee was assigned the task of creating the ways and means by which all personnel of the company might work together in mutual trust toward a common objective.
I am writing this from memory but I think the following are the main terms finally worked out and agreed to. 1.) All the facts about the company's profits and losses, cost of operation and investments and debts were to be public knowledge to all personnel in the company. Everybody in the company was to have free access to all the facts needed to know how well or how badly the company was doing in the market place. 2.) Everybody from the president on down was to be given a salary. They did not have the vision and courage to suggest an equal salary for all, but they did work out a salary scale that was eventually agreed to by all the personnel. 3.) In addition to salary everyone was to get a certain percent of the profits. 4.) There was to be an educational program that would make sure everyone knew and understood all the details of the plan the committee was recommending. This was done before it was presented to be voted on. Also, a thorough orientation course was to be required of every new employee before one could become a permanent employee.
The vast majority of the employees of the company eventually agreed to the plan. Look Magazine showed pictures of salary checks and dividend checks. It was not uncommon for the dividend checks to be larger than the salary checks. How long the plan worked I don't know. The fact that nothing is seen or heard in the news about it and it is unknown and unheard of in most communities suggests that it has been rejected by the larger companies and unions.
The fact remains that, for the most part the managers of organized money and the managers of organized labor sit across the bargaining table as enemies, each determined to use every known trick to get as much out of the other as possible and give in return as little as possible, each still refusing to try, seriously, to find a more sensible and humane way to work together. For one side even to suggest such a thing is understood by the other as a sign of weakness. This is one of the real tragedies of our economic philosophy and practices.
The other experiment Look Magazine reported on during the late forties was that of a small cotton industry, consisting of four or five cotton mills. These mills were in the south but none were in the Spartanburg area. The workers of the mills were not organized. The plan was the brainchild of the owners and managers of the mills. On the assumption the company's promises were on the up and up and the company faithfully kept them the plan struck me as having some redeeming features.
I was told by leaders of the NAACP that a few Whites made small contributions to the organization, but never attended their meetings, or the meetings the NAACP sponsored. I seldom saw another white person at a meeting sponsored by Blacks, however important the meeting might be, unless it was some White I took with me. Once the Blacks called a public meeting to protest a horrible lynching. The meeting was in the largest Black church in the city. My neighbor, Dewitt Gregory, and I went. We were the only pale faces present. The church was packed, mostly adults. We got seats on the back row. I doubt if anyone on the platform knew we were there.
The main speaker was the state president of the NAACP. After his address I thought then, and still do, that it was unfortunate that all the Whites in the state were not there to hear him. He seriously talked about the future, the immediate future that belonged to the age group of his sons. He observed that his and older generations knew how o take care of themselves. "But not our children," he said. "They cannot and will not put up with what we have lived with. Unless there are some changes for the better," he observed, "Our children will fight back. There will be blood in the streets. People will die." He said, "I have two sons studying in the north. I am afraid for them to come back to South Carolina. They cannot stand what I have stood. They cannot tolerate what I have tolerated. I don't want them to come back. We must face the hard fact and try to do something about it. Your children and mine cannot stand to live under he conditions that we have lived."
It was a desperate plea to a desperate people in search for a solution to the problem of racial injustice - a problem that they all but felt helpless to deal with. That was one of the sadder experiences of my life. Shame and a feeling of helplessness disarmed me, making my puny efforts seem insignificant and useless.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
During my Spartanburg years I wrote many letters to the editor of the daily paper. Some of them have survived in my poorly kept scrap book, some never made it to the scrap book, and some, by one way or another, disappeared from the scrap book. I have decided to quote three or four of them here, since they dealt with matters that most of my letters were about.
THE WORST OF OUR TRADITION
As reported in the paper, Mr. W. P. Baskin has declared that the leaders of the Dixiecrats are following in the steps of our distinguished leaders of the past John Calhoun, Wade Hampton and Benjamin Tillman. From what I know of these historical figures I will agree with Mr. Baskin.
Mr. Calhoun is quoted by Mr. M.B. Sinkin as declaring in 1837, "Many in the south once believed that slavery was a moral and political evil. That folly and delusion are gone. We see it now in the true light, and regard it as the most safe and stable basis for free institutions in the world."
Time has proven that Mr. Calhoun did not see slavery in its true light. Time will also prove the philosophy of the Dixiecrats is just as immoral and unsound as it proved Calhoun's philosophy to be.
The historians tell us that Mr. Tillman "raced up and down the state frankly preaching class war". The race baiting of the Dixiecrats makes them the obvious descendants of such politicians as Tillman.
The Dixiecrat's pretense that their fight is for States' Rights rather than for depriving Negroes of their human rights, reminds one of Mr. Hampton's "facade of promises calculated to reap Negro votes and placate northern public opinion, while his Red Shirts or Red Clubs organized to prevent Negroes from voting". Yes, it does seem that the Dixiecrats have inherited their share of the worst of our tradition.
We are told Mr. Calhoun in 1850, foreseeing the tragedy that was soon to come, the tragedy for which he helped to set the stage by his blind support of State Rights for the sake of slavery, on his dying bed lamented, "The South, the poor South." There is a person in our tradition whose honesty and courage we would do well to imitate. I have in mind Patrick Henry. He once said, "Would anyone believe I am master of slaves of my own purchase! I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them; I will not, I cannot justify it". The slave owning author of the Declaration of Independence also said, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever."
There may be some, because of their places of leadership, and others because of the rust of southern pride, who will be drawn along with the Dixiecrats because of the inconvenience of opposing them. May such ones have the honesty and courage not to try to justify their position, either by the moral laws of God or by the spirit and letter of the Constitution of these United States.
John B. Isom, Pastor of the Saxon Baptist Church
Spartanburg Journal Spartanburg, S.C.
According to a recent news report, Rep. L. Mendal Rivers has branded the report of the Civil Rights Committee as "a brazen and monumental insult to the Democratic South and the southern way of life for both white and colored".
As reported in the Journal of Oct. 29, the committee's report urged "the enactment of federal anti-lynch, anti-poll tax and fair employment practice laws." The committee declared that such laws were necessary to "guarantee the same rights to every person regardless of who he is, where he lives or what his racial, religious or national origins are".
Mr. Rivers said it grieves him that President Truman lends his name to the report. Well might all of us be grieved by the report not because the president endorses it but because the report shows that the political and economic practices of the southern way of life are brazen and monumental insults to the traditional ideals of the "American way of freedom and equality."
If Mr. Rivers is correct implying that the white people of the south will not eliminate racial discrimination in order to achieve a more perfect practice of freedom and equality, then let us confess that our political, educational and religious institutions have failed to install in us the moral attitudes and sense of values that we need to make democracy work.
Respectfully, John B. Isom, Nov. 12, 1947
OF WHAT ARE LYNCHERS MADE?
In a recent editorial on lynching you suggested it is time for all of us to give some thought as to how lynchers are made. You called our attention to the fact that some of the lynchers on trial in Greenville had not gone far in school, and intimated that they were among those neglected by our religious institutions. On the basis of such facts you led us to the conclusion that lynchers are the by products of a society that fails to provide religious and educational training.
I am convinced there is ample evidence to justify such a conclusion. On the other hand, there seem to be facts enough to prove that the unschooled and unchurched do not make first class lynchers, without the immoral influence of people who have had formal education and religious training.
In looking for the defects in a society that makes lynchers we cannot overlook the influence of educated and church going lawyers, who are cheap enough to play upon race prejudice of the unschooled. Neither can we count as naught the influence of some of our educated and church going politicians, who are selfish enough to seek the votes of the uneducated by cultivating racial intolerance and by posing as defenders of a false and ungodly racial pride. Nor should we forget the influence of some educated and church supporting industrialists who are greedy enough to try to prevent their workers from joining a labor union by appealing to their racial prejudice.
Without the immoral influence of the educated and churched, who consider it economically, politically or socially profitable for them to ignore or condone the conditions and traditions that make for ignorance and race prejudice it is doubtful if the illiterate would have the leadership ad courage to stage a lynching.
John B. Isom, Pastor of the Saxon Baptist Church
MRS. WARING'S TELEVISION BROADCAST
I heard over the WORD radio station, Feb. 21, 1950, Mrs. Waring's remarks in her television broadcast last week that is said to have jarred South Carolina. It is the truth in her remarks that make them so jarring and shocking. A still greater shock is awaiting us, "the gentle folk of the south", if and when we dare to peep beneath the blind of race prejudice and look at the dirty facts as they are.
The mental, emotional and physical suffering, imposed upon our Negro neighbors by our southern way of life, is one of the most horrible facts confronting the world today. Our southern way of life harbors, protects and promotes some of the most undemocratic, unchristian and unethical social orders in the world. The tragedy of it is that the "gentle people", who are most responsible, are ignorant of the part they play in the horrible drama of life in the south.
Before we decide that Mrs. Waring is mentally and morally sick let us read carefully the book, "The Negro in America", by Arnold Rose, and the article "The Gentle People of Prejudice", by H.A. Overstreet, in the Jan. 21, 1950 issue of Saturday Review. The truth is, Mrs. Waring is not mentally and emotionally sick but rather we who think she is.
John B. Isom. Pastor of the Saxon Baptist Church
CAN'T PREACH IN A VACUUM
I did not hear or read Bishop Oxnam's address from which Mr. John Temple Graves, in his advice to ministers in the March 14 Herald, quoted this line. "We refuse to identify the Christian Gospel with an economic order. I will bet my hat against Mr. Graves' hat that Bishop Oxnam did not mean by that statement what Mr. Graves seemingly wanted him to mean - that a preacher must keep his mouth shut about the political, economic and racial problems now facing our country.
If I understand Mr. Graves, he advises ministers to do their preaching in a political, economic and social vacuum. It just would not do for preachers even to hint that some of our racial attitudes, economic principles and political practices are inconsistent with Christian principles and motives.
After reading Mr. Graves' advice I reached the conclusion that in order to please him I would have to take the advice of a radio program "It Pays To Be Ignorant", and in case I was not totally ignorant about some important problem, pretend to be anyway.
The editor gave this letter the title printed at the beginning, along with this note: "The following is a letter to the editor from the Rev. John B. Isom, Pastor of the Saxon Baptist Church"
Most of the letters I quoted here are concerned with some evil of the prejudices of White People toward Black People. After the lapse of nearly forty years, to select a few letters of my Spartanburg years for this tale of my life, I had to re-read them. In doing so I discovered that 95 percent of the letters, regardless of their subject, be it economic, labor, foreign affairs or something else, some aspect of the racial problem was tangled up with the subject of a letter. The racial prejudice of the "gentle people" of the south tainted everything. There simply was no community problem that race prejudice did not make worse and its solution more difficult, if not impossible.
From what I have reported so far of my years in Spartanburg one would get the impression that the lion's share of my time and energy were given to labor, political, racial and charity activities. Actually, such activities, outside the church, consumed relatively little of my time and energy. Such matters consumed much more of my time in the studying and writing I did in preparing my sermons and selecting the materials that were printed on the programs of the church services. Mary Beth, my youngest daughter, has most of the sermons and church programs of my years in Spartanburg. In them one may find the titles and authors of the books, the magazines and articles that I read, and from which I quoted.
MY READING PROGRAM
In many ways the most enriching activity of my Spartanburg years was the quality and quantity of the reading I did during those years. Next to the support of the church, it was my reading that gave enough me the confidence and hope to try to do whatever I did that may have been worth doing. My most ambitious reading program I began in Spartanburg turned out to be the biggest flop. The idea was to do my heaviest reading, in a given year, in one established field of study - one year history, one year economics, one year some field of science, etc. The objective was to try to find out how knowledgeable people, from the various knot holes of knowledge, perceived the world and conceived the role of human life in the world of their perceptions. I would, from very authoritative sources, select four or five books and subscribe to one of the national magazines of that field of study. I never read all I planned for myself.
One year I chose to explore the intellectual world of the sociologists. I selected my books from the best sources, and subscribed to what was considered to be their best professional magazine. I discovered the books that had been suggested were highly technical, that only another sociologist, hopefully, could understand. Rarely did I find an article in the magazine that was written in an English that a nonprofessional sociologist could even understand. The books and articles by sociologists, I tried to read that year, convinced me that the professionals were so determined to reduce sociology to an absolute science, as mush so as mathematics, that they had lost sight of what they set out to do - to learn and understand the history and the essential elements that make a society what it is and then share their knowledge with the rest of us, in a language an average person could understand. I don't know if the sociologists have grown up enough by now to stop trying to reduce all human activities and concerns of a human society to a formula as rigid as a mathematical equation. Frankly, I have not tried to read a book by a sociologist for some years.
I tried such a reading program for three or more years. The fruit of knowledge I gained by it was always less than satisfying. I found myself giving less and less of my reading time to it. As time passed I learned to find, in other ways, how knowledgeable people, in the various fields of study, perceived and conceived life and the world to be from their small peepholes.
During the war years I began to read a number of books by the same author. The historical novels by Upton Sinclair were my first such reading adventure. I have continued that practice ever since when I find an author who seems to have something he is trying to say rather than just trying to write a book that will sell. Finding authors and books worth reading is not always easy. Libraries and bookstores, even small ones, depress me. They offer me thousands of books that I can never read. I can only partake of the tiniest part of the fruit of knowledge they have to offer. How to select the little helping one has time to read is a problem. What is in this store or library that is really worth reading? The author of each book before you will tell you his book is worth reading, in fact must reading, if you are to be a knowledgeable person concerning the subject of his book. Each may be right, but how important is his subject? By some means I have to decide what books time will allow me to read.
I have found a few good books by accident by just stumbling upon them. During the Spartanburg years I depended largely for my book information on the Book Reviews in the Saturday Review and a tri weekly newsletter, written and published by a freelance writer, Charles Wells. He was one of the best informed and intelligent writer has been my privilege to meet. He was in great demand as a lecturer at summer camps and retreats of a serious nature. His newsletter, "Between the Lines," consisted of the hard facts of significant news events and his intelligent comments on the serious issues of the times. There was always a four or five line review of a book and its author.
I soon learned never to hesitate to read any book he reviewed. It was through his short reviews that I found some of the truly great authors whose books I have read. I never trusted the reviews of anyone else to that degree, regardless of how important a review made a book appear to be. I learned never to waste time reading certain books, such as books about China, Russia or some other place, by an author whose source of information was only what he learned on a short visit. Before reading a book on any subject I wanted evidence that the author, due to his studies and experiences, could be expected to know a lot more about the subject than what could be learned during a short visit or by attending a few propaganda briefing sessions. Sometimes, after reading a review of a book on an important subject, I would go to the library and read the reviews on the book that were printed in the library review magazine.
That is how I decided to read a book that turned out to be an important book on China. The name of the book and author I no longer remember. Long ago I lost the book by loaning it out to someone who forgot to return it. The author was a reporter and wrote about military matters for one of the major New York newspapers, the New York Times, as I remember it. That experience and his other qualifications convinced me that he was capable of writing the book he had written
In late 1947, or shortly before the communists began their major offensive moves to take over China, the author managed to slip through or around all the check points and find the general headquarters of the communist army. He then was able to persuade the communists to let him stay with the Red Army as it overran the armies of Chiang Kai Shek and established a communist government. It was an eye witness report of an important revolution, during the final months in its long and rugged march toward victory, as well as a description of the activities behind the battles that made the revolution, for better or worse, a successful one.
Another way I looked for good books was by simply asking friends what great books they had been reading. It was in a conversation with another minister that I was introduced to a great author and two of his great books, the reading of which had proved to be a great educational experience for the minister. The books were "The Brothers Karamazov", and "Crime and Punishment", by Fyodo Dostoyevsky. I found other great authors and their books through the references to books and authors in books I had read, books that had been an inspiration to them. In reading books by Gandhi I learned that a book by Tolstoy had made a lasting impression on Gandhi during the early years of his struggle against race prejudice in Africa. It was a book Tolstoy wrote after he got religion, gave away his possessions, and took up the mantle of Saint Francis of Assisi in an effort to overcome the evils of humankind as a penniless and homeless preacher. Because of its influence on Gandhi I looked the book up and read it. I was, at that time, reading everything I could find written by or about Gandhi. I was trying to discover the advance cry of his being. The reading of that book got me interested in other books Tolstoy wrote, including his novels, written while he was a gentleman of ease and plenty.
A dozen years ago I re-read, in one week, "War and Peace" so I could watch more intelligently the Russian's eight hour movie of the book that was coming to town. Yes, believe it or not, all the things Tolstoy said in that book were in the movie that an anti-communist would have bet his last dollar would not be there.
The other book I read because of its influence on Gandhi was "To The Last", by John Ruskin. (If you have not read Ruskin's essay, "Traffic", you have missed reading what I claim to be the greatest essay in English literature). Gandhi read "To The Last" on an all night train ride through Africa. At the time he was publishing a newspaper for the Indians living in Africa. Under the influence of Ruskin's book, Gandhi got off the train, went to the office of the paper, called a meeting of all the employees, and sold them on the idea of joining him in buying a farm, earning their living farming and publish the paper as a hobby. One may find a report of that experiment in Gandhi's autobiography, which is, perhaps, the most honest autobiography ever written.
Gandhi has to be one of the truly great humans who have lived on the earth. He was not the scholar or the logical thinker that Schweitzer was, but the non-violent method he developed and used, to combat evil and violence, remains unequaled before or since. At the heart of his method was absolute honesty with those he had to oppose. The British needed no spies to find out what Gandhi was planning, or to learn when and where his next attack might be. Gandhi was always careful to inform the British authorities when, where, why and what he felt he had to do next. The British had no fear that Gandhi would ever surprise them and catch them off guard. Gandhi was worthy of the trust of his enemies, and proved it. I can't help but dream of the difference it might make if the Russian government and the government of the United States were equally as worthy of each other's trust. Think about that. What if one of them proved to the other of being worthy of the other's trust?
In the next issue of "Between the Lines", after Gandhi was killed, there were these lines in a one column box set off with dark lines: "On whom will Gandhi's mantle fall? Albert Schweitzer is the most worthy one." That was the first time I ever heard of Schweitzer, or saw his name in print, even though his greatest books were published in English before I started to high school. Anyone worthy of Gandhi's mantle, I thought, was worth finding out about.
ALBERT SCHWEITZER AND HIS "QUEST FOR THE HISTORIC JESUS"
Immediately, I went to the city library. All I could find was George Seaver's tiny book about him. The book was hardly more than a fourth of an inch thick, cover and all. What Seaver revealed about Schweitzer's life and thought impressed me. Fortunately the book included a list of the important books Schweitzer had written. All unsold books by Schweitzer had long since been sent back to the publisher. Nothing by him could be found in the bookstores. From what Seaver had said about "The Quest for the Historic Jesus", and "The Philosophy of Civilization", I gathered they were his most important books. I wrote to the publisher who had published the second English edition of "The Quest for the Historic Jesus", and was the distributor of the British edition of "The Philosophy of Civilization". I received the "Quest for the Historic Jesus", and the first volume of "The Philosophy of Civilization". No copy of the second volume was to be found here or in England.
The publishers sent me the name and address of a rare bookstore that might have a copy. The first volume was small, containing only Schweitzer's perception of the condition of human life and thought at the time. "Ethics" was the subtitle of the second volume, and by far the most important of the two. The rare bookstore sent me a copy with an outrageous bill. When I paid the bill I reminded them of the title of the book and asked them if they could ethically charge me that much for the book. I suppose they could. They didn't return any of the money I sent. About that time something brought Schweitzer back into the news around the world and there was a new demand for his books. In less than three years a second edition of all his books were published along with some new ones.
Schweitzer was my greatest discovery during the years in Spartanburg. In fact, other than my discovery of that invisible part of me that shamed me for the way I treated an opossum when I was a child, Schweitzer was my greatest religious, philosophical and intellectual find during my entire life.
When I went to Spartanburg, as I have already confessed, I had some serious doubt about some things I was expected to believe and teach as a Baptist minister. I knew then that I had no hard evidence to justify me believing some of the very basic assumptions which were essential to the Christian faith of Baptists and most other Christian believers, such as the Bible being the holy word of a supernatural being called God, who created the heavens and the earth and all life therein; the supernatural events associated around the birth, life and death of Jesus; Heaven and Hell as places for the eternal abode of all human beings. By the time I read "The Quest for the Historic Jesus" I knew I had no evidence for believing such assumptions. All I had left was a very dim hope that such evidence might still be found. After reading "The Quest for the Historic Jesus" that dim hope was no longer possible. There are a number of reasons why that book made me face up to the truth of my disbelief in the basic essentials of the faith as taught in most Christian churches.
What made the book so convincing and compelling was more than just the fact that the book was Schweitzer's confession of his own disbelief in the Jesus the Christian church had made him out to be. There are three things that gave his book such weight and authority - his massive accumulation, understanding and appreciation of the research and study that went into the creation of the book; Schweitzer's own Christian heritage and respect for that heritage, and his solid belief in the ethics expressed in he sayings of Jesus, whoever he may have been.
Schweitzer had a mind capable of collecting and absorbing huge amounts of knowledge. He was a student of the religious, philosophical and ethical thought of the eastern world as well as the western world. He was a great biblical scholar. It was his scholarly study of the gospels that raised some puzzling questions that motivated him to set out on his long search of the historic Jesus. That search demanded more of him than just a comprehensive and detailed knowledge of the contents of the bible. He had to know all that could be known about the authors of the books of the bible and the society in which each did his thinking. His quest required that he learn all that was knowable about the make up of the society in which Jesus was born and lived and a knowledge and understanding of the trends of thought, beliefs and world and life views of the first century B.C. In addition to all the research and study such matters required, Schweitzer made a study and appraisal of every biography of Jesus, of any significance, that had been written up to the time he began preparing the book for publication.
What made the conclusions in "The Quest for the Historic Jesus" so difficult for the traditional Christian believer to ignore and dismiss, without serious consideration, was the fact that Schweitzer was a devout Christian. Schweitzer's father was a Lutheran minister. Albert was taught the traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus from his youth. By the time he was ten years old he was playing the organ for his father's church services. From early childhood his mind and heart had been attracted to the love ethics expressed in the sayings of Jesus. He became a minister himself. When he began his search for the historic Jesus he was hoping he would find the historic Jesus to have been the same Jesus his father's church pictured him to have been, and in whom the young Schweitzer devoutly believed. As his quest progressed however, that hope slowly faded as one cherished belief about Jesus after another was made painfully unbelievable by the facts he found, the truth of which he could not deny. Finally, with deep regret, filled with pain and sadness, he knew and had to say that the Jesus taught and preached during the first decade of the 20th century never existed.
In the last short chapter of the book he sums up the results of his "Quest for the Historic Jesus". Bowing to the truth he knew he said what he hoped he would not have to say when he began his quest. Here are the first few lines of that chapter:
"Those who are fond of talking about negative theology can find their account here. There is nothing more negative than the result of a critical study of the life of Jesus. "The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethics of the kingdom of God, who founded the kingdom of heaven on earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence. His is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism and clothed by modern theology in a historic garb."
Schweitzer goes on to affirm that the eternally valuable thing in the Jesus story is not who the historic stranger of Galilee was, not his theology, nor his world and life view; but the ethics expressed in the sayings of Jesus - the ethics of love. It is this "spiritual Jesus", as Schweitzer called him, who has something to say to the people of the 20th century and to those of all centuries to come.
Out of his respect and appreciation for his Christian heritage, and having associated the ethics of love with Jesus from his youth, Schweitzer may have exalted his "spiritual Jesus" higher than the truth could justify, more highly than he meant to, as his own beliefs expressed elsewhere would indicate, especially in his "Memoirs of Childhood", and Schweitzer may have confused, if not misled some who read his book.
To identify love with a "spiritual Jesus" might be an inspiration to us of the Christian heritage, but it would be a mistake to think of the spirit of Jesus, whoever he was, as being the invisible reality of love itself. His spirit could only be a powerful expression of that reality. I have to believe that is the role his "spiritual Jesus" played in Schweitzer's thinking. However in re-reading the last chapter of "The Quest for the Historic Jesus" I can see how a reader could get the impression that Schweitzer's "spiritual Jesus" is the intangible reality of love itself, rather than just a great expression of it.
No, neither the historic Jesus, whoever he might have been, nor Schweitzer's "spiritual Jesus" was or is the father of the invisible reality we call love. Love, as everything else, no doubt, "came slowly into the world", arriving long before Jesus came. We find expressions of it in the literature of many cultures and religions hundreds of years before Jesus was born. We are not dependent upon the "spiritual Jesus" to give or bring it to us, or teach it to us, however much his expressions of it may inspire us to listen and obey love's demands.
The invisible reality of love is not far from each of us. In fact it is an indigenous part of each of our beings. Because of the significant religious and philosophical suggestion it makes to me, I must quote here a passage from a book of the bible, Deuteronomy 30:11-14, written according to the dates given in the King James Bible, in 1451 B.C.
"The commandment which I command you this day, is not hidden from you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven that you should say, who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it to us that we may hear it and do it? Neither is it beyond he sea that you should say, who shall go over the sea for us and bring it unto us that we may hear it and do it. But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it.".
I have no idea what the author may have meant by the "word" he spoke of as being in the mouth and heart of those to whom he was writing. Whatever it was, he made it plain that you did not have to go to heaven or across the sea to get it, or send somebody to fetch it to you. Whatever it was he made it clear that it was to be found in you. I have always assumed the author meant that what is most worthy to be the ultimate ethical judge of your life is within you, and from childhood I have believed that to be the intangible reality of our being that we call love; that there is nothing in heaven or earth, within the reach of our knowing, that has anything better to suggest than the love reality within us.
We must look within for our own salvation. If the human race can be saved from war and the fear of war, from hate and malice, from poverty and the fear of want, it will be through our obedience to the invisible reality of our nature that demands us to treat others, all others, as we want others to treat us. That is the straight and narrow gate, the only one, through which we may enter into the heaven of our hopes and dreams.
Schweitzer's "Quest for the Historic Jesus" so affirmed my doubts that I was left without a thread of hope of ever finding any evidence to justify believing the basic assumptions of the world and life view of Christian theology. I no longer had any excuse for postponing further the responsibility of facing the truth of my situation: that of being expected to believe and to teach what I did not and could not believe to be true. To have continued in that situation would have been irreligious of the worst sort; an hypocrisy that kills from within, robbing one of his own integrity. Later I shall tell how the good people of the Saxon Baptist Church, with great patience and loving kindness, helped me get out of that situation. However, before doing that we must take a lengthy detour through the wilderness of theology and philosophy.
THE WILDERNESS OF THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY
I will begin the detour by telling you what I mean by two term s "world and life view", and "basic assumption". Each of us has a "world and life view" and our "basic assumptions" are what enable one to believe his or her world and life view, however poorly one may be able to describe such intangible possessions. A person's world and life view is his perception of the universe, or earth and sky, and his conception of how he is involved in the universe of his perception. A basic assumption is something that one has come to believe to be as true as 1+1=2. It is something you have accepted as being so true that it never occurs to you to doubt that it is true.
If you are a true Christian believer your world and life view is a perception of the universe and a conception of life as taught by some Christian group or denomination. However, regardless of your denomination, the odds are that the following are the basic assumptions of your Christian world and life view.
Assumption 1: There is a God all powerful, all-knowing, and ever present; the creator of heaven and earth and all life therein; a heavenly father who even takes note of a sparrow that may fall, who holds the whole wide world in his hands, and every "little baby in his arms".
Assumption 2: All human creatures are sinners. After God created Adam and Eve they sinned, that is, fell short of God's expectation of them; that Adam and Eve's descendants in time, created such a cruel and corrupt way of life that God could not stand it any longer, and proceeded to drown everybody, save the best family, he thought, with whom to start over. However, Noah's children and theirs did no better than those of Adam and Eve. By 1 A.D. Noah's descendants had created a world of masters and slaves and wars and rumors of wars. A world, in God's sight, was on the edge of destruction.
Assumption 3: God so loved his sinful human creatures, whom he made in his own image, he sent his only begotten son into the world to offer all who would believe and trust him eternal life in heaven, condemning all others to an eternal hell of burning sulfur.
Assumption 4: Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, lived some thirty-three years on earth as a man, revealing his supernatural nature by such miracles as healing the sick, making the blind to see, the deaf to hear and raising to life a man who had been buried three days and by his resurrection three days after he was crucified, and after meeting with his disciples, over a period of thirty days, he ascended into heaven promising to return soon for all who believe.
With some variation the above basic assumptions are the world and life view of all Christian churches, be they Catholic or Baptist, or whatever. There is one other basic assumption that is essential to all Christian groups: the assumption that the bible is God's holy word, revealed, or dictated, by God to the authors who wrote the books of the bible, thus making the Bible the infallible word of God. It is by this underlying basic assumption that all the basic assumptions of the Christian world and life view are proven to be true. You can see how important this assumption about the Bible is to Christians.
No, we are not yet out of the wilderness of theology and philosophy. If you will just hang in there and tag along we will finally emerge on the other side of the wilderness into my new world and life view that still seems believable to me.
By 1900, about the time Schweitzer began his search for the historic Jesus, there was some theological, or rather Christological dispute concerning some of the assumptions of Jesus' world and life view. None of the assumptions above was seriously involved in that dispute. The people of the major Christian groups still believed or wanted to believe those assumptions were true.
Up until well after the Middle Ages, in fact, until after the impact of the "Age of Enlightenment" of the 18th and 19th centuries, the people of the Christian world believed that the teachings of Jesus affirmed that the human society was beyond redemption; that human beings were incapable of creating a society that would be worthy of God or of the human beings whom God created them to be; that Jesus came not to save the sinful world of man but rather to save those who believed in him from the world before God destroyed this cruel and wicked world that man, through his wicked ways, had turned into a hopeless "travail of tears". That is to say, Jesus had a pessimistic worldview and of life in it. Such was the prevailing Christian view of life on earth for more than fifteen hundred years after Jesus ascended into heaven, leaving his disciples the promise to return. By their faith in the promise of Jesus the Christians lived though the centuries in hope and expectation for Jesus to return and save them from the wicked world and take them to live in a beautiful place in heaven "not made with hands".
After the Middle Ages, new inventions of production, transportation and communication, the discovery of the Americas and other new places and peoples in the world, and new knowledge about the nature of the universe and of life, began to give rise to a period of optimistic thinking and feeling about a better life in this world. This period of human history came to be known as the "Age of Enlightenment". By 1900 this new way of thinking gave birth to a widely shared hope and belief that the world might be saved, and transformed into a human world more worthy of God and man.
By 1900 most Christian groups had adopted the optimistic worldview of the "Age of Enlightenment" and had replaced the more pessimistic view of the world in the Christian communities. Christians still believed that by their faith they, in their time, would be raised from the dead to meet Jesus when he returned and go with him to live forever in the heavens. However, most Christians had ceased to expect Jesus to return in their lifetime and they began to hope for a better life while they lived in this world. They ceased to think of Jesus as a pessimistic savior who came to earth just to save a few believers from a corrupt world marked for destruction. They began to think of Jesus as the Christ who came to earth not to condemn the human world but to save it, to transform it into a kingdom of God on earth.
The ethics of love found in the sayings of Jesus, and summed up in the saying: "love your neighbor as you do yourself", and the Golden Rule, were no longer just for the rules of conduct while you waited for Jesus to return to save you from a condemned world. The ethics taught by Jesus were now believed to be the moral and ethical guidelines by which human beings might create the kingdom of God on this earth. How completely this optimistic Christian view prevailed is suggested by one of the affirmations of the Christian Unitarians early in the 20th century - "We believe in the progress of man, onward and upward forever". It may be that most Christians were not that optimistic, but they were not much less so.
It was the optimistic Jesus, who had come to earth, not to condemn the world but to save it, to transform it into the kingdom of God, that Schweitzer learned to believe in as he grew up in his father's church. When his studies, as a ministerial student, confronted him with some evidence and arguments that the historic Jesus, the son of Mary, was not optimistic but rather pessimistic about the human world and life therein, Schweitzer was disturbed. Disturbed because he had come to believe that an optimistic world and life view was essential to the moral and material improvement in human beings and their society. No doubt he began his search for the historic Jesus with the hope that the actual Jesus of history would be the optimistic Jesus to whom he was introduced in his father's church. But by the time he published what his search revealed in 1910, just a few months after I was born, that hope had been blown away by the winds of truth. Schweitzer then realized that the Christians of the 20h century had no rational assumptions to support or make rationally believable the ethics in the sayings of Jesus, the ethics that were essential to an optimistic world and life view if the activities, stimulated by such a view, were to improve the quality of human life and society.
Schweitzer then began another long search. It was a search for a rational foundation consistent with the knowable facts to justify and sustain the belief that love - as expressed in the sayings of Jesus, and in the sayings of other religious thinkers of our human heritage, the kind of love that an intangible reality of our human nature confronts us from within, human love if you will - as being the absolute or ultimate source for the ethics essential to an optimistic word and life view. (Hopefully, the above sentence will make some sense if you read it enough times and think about it long enough.)
Schweitzer's search for rational assumptions to sustain the ethical authority of love took him through the books of the human world, books in which the authors had seriously discussed the subject of ethics. He explored, in depth, the thinking and conclusions of the Chinese and Indian thinkers on the subject of ethics, as well as those of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and of course every modern philosopher and theologian who seriously explored the subject of ethics. What he found in that search and the basic conclusions he reached were published under the title, "The Philosophy of Civilization", twelve years after publishing his "Quest for the Historic Jesus".
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