Einstein’s Famous Letter Where He Criticizes Religion and the Idea of God to go on Sale

“The word God is for me nothing but the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of venerable but still rather primitive legends...”

A handwritten letter in which the Nobel Prize laureate in Physics Albert Einstein disagrees with the concept of religion and his own Jewish faith will be auctioned in New York. The letter is expected to sell at a price nearing $1.5 million dollars.

The auction house Christie’s has explained that the so-called “Letter of God”, written by Einstein in 1954, will be publicly displayed in San Francisco and New York before being auctioned on December 4.

The 1954 letter written by Einstein, in which he pushed back on religious ideas like a personal God, is set to go up for auction and sell at around $1.5 million. Image Credit: Christie's Images Limited
The 1954 letter written by Einstein, in which he pushed back on religious ideas like a personal God, is set to go up for auction and sell at around $1.5 million. Image Credit: Christie’s Images Limited

The letter, written in German to the religious philosopher Eric Gutkind, is considered a key text in the debate on science and religion and is the clearest statement of Einstein’s views on the universal search for the meaning of life.

The scientist and philosopher wrote the letter a year before his death in 1955 and will be sold by a private collector.

“The word God is for me nothing but the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of venerable but still rather primitive legends,” Einstein wrote (translated into English).

“No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change anything about this.”

In the letter the German genius also criticizes Judaism and its pretensions of prodigal sons of a God: “The Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me does not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples,” he wrote.

“As far as my experience goes, they are in fact no better than other human groups, even if they are protected from the worst excesses by a lack of power. Otherwise, I cannot perceive anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

The Nobel Prize in Physics 1921 was awarded to Albert Einstein “for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.”

And although Einstein rejected the idea of a personal God concerned about the fate of human beings, he did not consider himself an atheist.

In fact, his strictly agnostic stance earned him some criticism and accusations of being a believer.

In that sense, when diehard atheist Alfred Kerr asked him if he was religious, Einstein replied: “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent, I am, in point of fact, religious.”

Here below is the Translated Transcript of the letter:

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. What struck me was this: 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. This unites us as having an “unAmerican 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 change this for me. 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, and whose thinking I have a deep affinity for, 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 the privilege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolization. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.

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 evaluations of human behavior. What separates us are only intellectual “props” and “rationalization” in Freud’s language. Therefore 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

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