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from Lamin Sanneh, Disciples of All Nations, p. 140

The courageous if forlorn career of Dr. Albert Schweitzer . . . is testimony to the reach as well as the gulf of advanced technology and cultural sophistication. The author of the highly influential study, Quest of the Historical Jesus, and the recipient in 1952 of the Nobel Peace Prize, Schweitzer propounded a New Age philosophy of “reverence for life” that took little account of African ideas of God or of the Africans themselves, whom he kept at arm’s length though he lived among them. . . .

The strange controversy that Schweitzer represented happened to be perfectly consistent with the European idea of religion as reason unimpeded by intercultural understanding. Schweitzer did not believe in evangelizing Africans, only in doing good for them and being somewhat indifferent to their homage and gratitude. For him, Africans lacked the capacity for abstraction . . . and it was the duty and mission of Europeans to remedy that cultural inadequacy without requiring Christianity. It was a strange idea for him that Africans could become Christian without being European, or without possessing the European capacity for universal rationalization. . . . In effect, Europe’s high intellectual tradition was not transferable even by proximity, and so the very idea of Christian mission was an oxymoron. On the other hand, colonialism might bestow upon the tribes the benefits of modern science and technology without superstitious religious distractions.

Schweitzer’s lean prescription of religion as reverence for life—free of creed and sacrament—appealed to the modern mind because of its elegance, its clinical brevity, its inclusive simplicity, and its self-direction, but it left him with no obligation to learn from Africans. It is little surprise that Africans could not otherwise claim him, though they respected him and protected him as a stranger among them.