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‘Childish superstition’

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This is in response to the claim that I have misquoted Albert Einstein in using the term “childish superstition” ( >Einstein misquoted by Abdul Khader, The Hindu, Open Page October 13, 2013 ). The term is taken from a letter written by the great scientist in January 1954, just a year before his death. It was handwritten (in German) to philosopher Erik Gutkind after reading his book, Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt, and made known his views on religion. I have reproduced the entire passage so that I am not accused of quoting out of context. All emphases are mine.

“…The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honourable, 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 …”

I am an ardent fan of Einstein, and consider him my Guru. In order to give the reader some idea of his (unequivocal) views on religion, I reproduce below a passage from his autobiographical notes — in fact, the only autobiography he wrote. It was written (in German) at the age of 67, and is published in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist as part of the series, The Library of Living Philosophers (Open Court). “… Thus I came — despite the fact that I was the son of entirely irreligious [Jewish] parents — to a deep religiosity, which, however, found an abrupt ending at the age of 12. Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic [orgy of] freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Suspicion against every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude towards the convictions which were alive in any specific social environment — an attitude which has never again left me, even though later on, because of a better insight into the casual connections, it lost some of its original poignancy.

“It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the “merely-personal”, from an existence which is dominated by wishes, hopes and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned like a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in devoted occupation with it. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of the given possibilities swam as highest aim half consciously and half unconsciously before my mind’s eye. Similarly motivated men of the present and of the past, as well as the insights which they had achieved were the friends which could not be lost. The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has proved itself as trustworthy, and I have never regretted having chosen it.”

( The writer’s email:

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 12:18:55 PM |

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