Einstein’s “God Letter” – An English translation
Posted by doctore0 on October 8, 2012
Princeton, 3 January 1954
Dear Mr. Gutkind!
Inspired by Brouwer’s repeated suggestion, I have been reading a great deal in your book in the last few days, and I thank you for sending it to me. What particularly struck me was this. With regard to our actual attitude to life and to human society we are broadly similar: an ideal beyond the personal that strives for freedom from self-centred desires, strives to make existence more beautiful and enriched, with an emphasis on the purely humane, where inanimate things are only seen as a means to which no dominant role should be granted. (It is this attitude in particular that unites us as a truly “un-American attitude”)
Still, had it not been for Brouwer’s encouragement, I would never have brought myself to delve into your book in any way, as it is written in a language that is inaccessible to me. For me, the word God is nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable but still exceedingly primitive legends. No interpretation, however subtle, could change that (for me). These rarefied interpretations are by their nature extremely manifold and are in almost no way related to the original text. For me, the unadulterated Jewish religion, like all other religions, is an incarnation of primitive superstition. And the Jewish people, to whom I gladly belong and whose mentality I am deeply embedded in, for me, possess no dignity distinct from all other peoples’. In my experience, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst excesses by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot discern 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 human being and an internal one as a Jew. As a human, you claim to a certain extent a dispensation from otherwise accepted causality, as a Jew a privilege for monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza was the first to incisively recognise. And the animistic conception of nature religions is, as a matter of principle, not nullified by monopolisation. Such walls will only lead us to certain self-deceit; but our moral efforts are not advanced by them. Rather the contrary.
Now that I have quite openly expressed our differences in intellectual considerations, it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in what is essential, i.e. in our evaluations of human conduct. What separates us is only intellectual embellishment or “rationalisation” in Freudian language. Therefore, I think we would get along quite well when discussing concrete matters.
With kind thanks and best wishes,
Yours, A. Einstein