Einstein on God and Religion

I recently came across this letter by Albert Einstein, written to Erik Gutkind, in 1954. Einstein had just read Gutkind’s book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt, and this letter was his response.

Translated Transcript (from Letters of Note):

Princeton, 3. 1. 1954

Dear Mr Gutkind,

Inspired by Brouwer’s repeated suggestion, I read a great deal in your book, and thank you very much for lending it to me … With regard to the factual attitude to life and to the human community we have a great deal in common. Your personal ideal with its striving for freedom from ego-oriented desires, for making life beautiful and noble, with an emphasis on the purely human element … unites us as having an “American Attitude.”

Still, without Brouwer’s suggestion I would never have gotten myself to engage intensively with your book because it is written in a language inaccessible to me. The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. … For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstition. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong … have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything “chosen” about them.

In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision…

Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e. in our evaluation of human behavior … I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.

With friendly thanks and best wishes,

Yours,

A. Einstein

The letter was sold at auction in May of 2008, and not surprisingly one of the bidders was Richard Dawkins.

The same site had other interesting letters by Einstein on religion. Here are the links, and all are worth a read.

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15 thoughts on “Einstein on God and Religion

  1. I like the part: “Our wonderful Spinoza,” as enlisting him as a fellow Jew, but also claiming him as a man who happily, cheerily, moved beyond the closed systems of established religions to something more–I’d say human, but it wouldn’t capture the wholeness, the Life-integratedness–of it.
    I’ve always admired Einstein for the dignity he brings to the public’s inquiries into his faith. He had the sense and playfulness to steer clear of shoals that so often seem to cause others to founder so.
    Excuse the floridness. Just finished watching ‘Volcano, An Inquiry Into The Life And Death Of Malcom Lowry.’ Unremittingly bleak, but eloquently so. Some might have rubbed off.

  2. Yet more proof of the Einstein’s brilliance. And his last sentence describes so well they way I feel about most of the religious people I’ve known – dead wrong in so many ways, yet too nice to condemn outright. Thanks for posting this!

  3. Wow! Thank you so much for passing this on. Truly wonderful. And I’m not surprised Dawkin’s wanted it—he always has to go to extremes to explain that Einstein was not “religious”, at least not in the typical sense of the word.

  4. From Fellow Blogger, Ms. Michelle Line:
    “Religion is like a penis…
    It is fine to have one.
    It is fine to be proud of it.
    But please do not whip it out in public and start waving it around.
    And PLEASE do not try to shove it down my children’s throat.”

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