Dag Hammarskjöld’s "This I believe"
The audio recording of Dag Hammarskjöld’s memorable contribution in November 1953 to Edward R. Murrow’s radio program, "This I believe", is available online here
. The text of that compact talk, entitled "Old Creeds in a New World", has been in print for decades. However, the audio recording remained elusive. There are many recordings of Hammarskjöld’s voice—but just one of him saying these things.
Dag Hammarskjöld’s statement as it appeared in print is slightly longer than the audio version. Either he had to abridge to match a time frame or he chose later to add a few thoughts. At thisibelieve.org
you’ll find a transcription of the spoken text. Here is the print version:
The world in which I grew up was dominated by principles and ideals of a time far from ours and, as it may seem, far removed from the problems facing a man of the middle of the twentieth century. However, my way has not meant a departure from those ideals. On the contrary, I have been led to an understanding of their validity also for our world of today. Thus, a never abandoned effort frankly and squarely to build up a personal belief in the light of experience and honest thinking has led me in a circle: I now recognize and endorse, unreservedly, those very beliefs which once were handed down to me.
From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father’s side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country—or humanity. This service required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions concerning what was right and good for the community, whatever were the views in fashion.
From scholars and clergymen on my mother’s side I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our masters in God.
Faith is a state of the mind and the soul. In this sense we can understand the words of the Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross: "Faith is the union of God with the soul." The language of religion is a set of formulas which register a basic spiritual experience. It must not be regarded as describing, in terms to be defined by philosophy, the reality which is accessible to our senses and which we can analyze with the tools of logic. I was late in understanding what this meant. When I finally reached that point, the beliefs in which I was once brought up and which, in fact, had given my life direction even while my intellect still challenged their validity, were recognized by me as mine in their own right and by my free choice. I feel that I can endorse those convictions without any compromise with the demands of that intellectual honesty which is the very key to maturity of mind.
The two ideals which dominated my childhood world met me fully harmonized and adjusted to the demands of our world of today in the ethics of Albert Schweitzer, where the ideal of service is supported by and supports the basic attitude to man set forth in the Gospels. In his work I also found a key for modern man to the world of the Gospels.
But the explanation of how man should live a life of active social service in full harmony with himself as a member of the community of the spirit, I found in the writings of those great medieval mystics for whom "self-surrender" had been the way to self-realization, and who in "singleness of mind" and "inwardness" had found strength to say yes to every demand, which the needs of their neighbors made them face, and to say yes also to every fate life had in store for them when they followed the call of duty, as they understood it. "Love"—that much misused and misinterpreted word—for them meant simply an overflowing of the strength with which they felt themselves filled when living in true self-oblivion. And this love found natural expressions in an unhesitant fulfillment of duty and in an unreserved acceptance of life, whatever it brought them personally of toil, suffering—or happiness.
I know that their discoveries about the laws of inner life and of action have not lost their significance. (Public Papers II, 194–96)
A Hammarskjöld letter about this statement survives, written to his friend the artist Bo Beskow about a year after the program aired. Hammarskjöld refers in it to two medieval Christian mystics whose writings meant a great deal to him.
The pages of "This I Believe" that you happened to see are not polite statements but deeply engaged ones, partly in self-criticism. They were written sometime last autumn but the last part says what I would say today: the counterpoint to this enormously exposed and published life is Eckhart and Jan van Ruysbroeck. They really give me balance and—a more and more necessary—sense of humor. My salvation is to "take the job damned seriously but never the incumbent"—but it has its difficulties. The roads to a basic conviction that in the deepest sense is religious can be most unexpected. (Beskow, 32)