Opinion | Why is Chapman obsessed with Albert Schweitzer?

Albert Schweitzer

Gracie Fleischman, Opinions Editor

Chapman has a small obsession with Albert Schweitzer. There’s the Albert Schweitzer Institute, a philosophy class called “Albert Schweitzer: His Life and Thought” and a scholarship and award of excellence named after him. His bust is immortalized on the front steps of Argyros Forum and the second floor of the building features artifacts and framed photos of him.

Why does Chapman love Schweitzer so much? Although he is mainly known for his studies in ethics and theology, as well as for founding a hospital in Africa, Schweitzer was also a known racist, white savior and colonizer.

It is known that he spoke to adult Africans like they were children and often referred to them as “primitives.” Even though many Africans called him “le grand docteur,” others covered his village with signs that said “Schweitzer, Go Home!” His hospital in French Equatorial Africa, now known as the Gabonese Republic, was segregated by race, and he gave a higher quality of care to his white patients.

[Related: Students bust out in statue dispute]

Schweitzer also believed that education was wasted on the people of Africa, saying, “at this stage, (they) have little need for advanced training.” Schweitzer thought Africans only deserved to attend school for a few hours a day so they could head back to work in the fields.

Albert Schweitzer

At Chapman, there’s the Albert Schweitzer Institute, a philosophy class called “Albert Schweitzer: His Life and Thought,” a scholarship and award of excellence named after him, and his bust is immortalized on the front steps of Argyros Forum. Photo by Gracie Fleischman

He liked to tell this very disparaging story to illustrate his disdain for Africans: “I let the Africans pick all the fruit they want. You see, the good Lord has protected the trees. He made the Africans too lazy to pick them bare.”

He often expressed his dislike of Islam as a religion, saying that it was only regarded as a “world-religion” because of how many members it has. Schweitzer said, “(Islam) never produced any thinking about the world and mankind which penetrated to the depths.” He also said that, if any new idea was proposed in Islam, “it was suppressed in order to maintain the authority of traditional views.”

No matter the time or place, racist and colonizing actions are never acceptable and should be treated as such.”

Schweitzer received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his humanitarian work – but Nobel Peace Prizes can actually be awarded to people who weren’t peaceful at all.

In fact, Adolf Hitler was nominated in 1939. Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State who ordered the bombing of many people during the Vietnam War, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. The United Nations Peacekeeping Forces was awarded the prize in 1988 despite being accused of sexually abusing and prostituting women and children, as well as ignoring the Rwanda genocide.

While Schweitzer did revolutionize the way we learn philosophy, theology, medicine, music, peace, philanthropy and service, that doesn’t mean he deserves to be honored at Chapman. If everyone knew the truth behind his actions and the way he regarded people of color, I would hope that a large statue of his head wouldn’t greet me every time I enter Argyros Forum.

In a 2014 article in the Orange County Register, President Emeritus Doti referred to Schweitzer’s statue as “the biggest, baddest bust on campus,” quoting a Chapman distinguished scholar. Doti also refers to him as a “guiding spirit” for Chapman and recounts his various accomplishments. He acknowledges that some do see Schweitzer as a representative of colonialism, but he breezes past this and continues to wax poetic about the late “humanitarian.”

Some may say Schweitzer’s actions weren’t so bad given the time period, or that his actions were justified because everyone behaved that way. To those people, I say this: No matter the time or place, racist and colonizing actions are never acceptable and should be treated as such. If we all accept evil behavior because it’s common, I fear for the future of our campus.