Conversation on Religion and Antisemitism
From The Private Albert Einstein by Peter A. Bucky with Allen G. Weakland, Andrews and McMeel, Kansas City, 1992, pp 85 - 87. This book contains the record of various conversations between Bucky and Einstein over a thirty year period.
BUCKY:It's ironic that your name has been synonymous with science in the twentieth century, and yet there has always been a lot of controversy surrounding you in relation to religious questions. How do you account for this unusual circumstance, since science and religion are usually thought to be at odds?EINSTEIN:Well, I do not think that it is necessarily the case that science and religion are natural opposites. In fact, I think that there is a very close connection between the two. Further, I think that science without religion is lame and, conversely, that religion without science is blind. Both are important and should work hand-in-hand. It seems to mc that whoever doesn't wonder about the truth in religion and in science might as well be dead.BUCKY:So then, you consider yourself to be a religious man?EINSTEIN:I believe in mystery and, frankly, I sometimes face this mystery with great fear. In other words, I think that there are many things in the universe that we cannot perceive or penetrate and that also we experience some of the most beautiful things in life in only a very primitive form. Only in relation to these mysteries do I consider myself to be a religious man. But I sense these things deeply. What I cannot understand is how there could possibly be a God who would reward or punish his subjects or who could induce us to develop our will in our daily life.BUCKY:You don't believe in God, then?EINSTEIN:Ah, this is what I mean about religion and science going hand-in-hand! Each has a place, but each must be relegated to its sphere. Let's assume that we are dealing with a theoretical physicist or scientist who is very well-acquaintcd with the different laws of the universe, such as how the planets orbit the sun and how the satellites in turn orbit around their respectivc planets. Now, this man who has studied and understands these different laws-how could he possibly believe in one God who would be capable of disturbing the paths of these great orbiting masses? No, the natural laws of science have not only been worked out theoretically but have been proven also in practice. I cannot then believe in this concept of an anthropomorphic God who has the powers of interfering with these natural laws. As I said before, the most beautiful and most profound religious emotion that we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. And this mysticality is the power of all true science. If there is any such concept as a God, it is a subtle spirit, not an image of a man that so many have fixed in their minds. In essence, my religion consists of a humble admiration for this illimitable superior spirit that reveals itself in the slight details that we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds .BUCKY:Do you think perhaps that most people need religion to keep them in check, so to speak?EINSTEIN:No, clearly not. I do not believe that a man should be restrained in his daily actions by being afraid of punishment after death or that he should do things only because in this way he will be rewarded after he dies. This does not make sense. The proper guidance during the life of a man should be the weight that he puts upon ethics and the amount of consideration that he has for others. Education has a great role to play in this respect. Religion should have nothing to do with a fear of living or a fear of death, but should instead be a striving after rational knowledge.BUCKY:And yet, with all of these thoughts, you are still identified strongly in the public mind as definitely Jewish and this certainly is a very traditional religion.EINSTEIN:Actually, my first religious training of any kind was in the Catholic catechism. A fluke, of course, only because the primary school that I first went to was a Catholic one. I was, as a matter of fact, the only Jewish child in the school. This actually worked to my advantage, since it made it easier for me to isolate myself from the rest of the class and find that comfort in solitude that I so cherished.BUCKY:But don't you find any discrepancy between your previous somewhat anti-religious statements and your willingness to be identified publicly as a Jew?EINSTEIN:Not necessarily. Actually it is a very difficult thing to even define a Jew. The closest that I can come to describing it is to ask you to visualize a snail. A snail that you see at the ocean consists of the body that is snuggled inside of the house which it always carries around with it. But let's picture what would happen if we lifted the shell off of the snail. Would we not still describe the unprotected body as a snail? In just the same way, a Jew who sheds his faith along the way, or who even picks up a different one, is still a Jew.BUCKY:You were the focus of much attack on the part of the Nazis in Germany because of your Jewishness. What explanation have you come up with for why the Jews have been hated so much throughout history?EINSTEIN:It seems obvious to me that Jews make an ideal scapegoat for any country experiencing social, economic, or political difficulties. The reason for this is twofold. First of all, there is hardly a country in the world that does not have a Jewish segment in the population. And secondly, wherever Jews reside, they are a minority of the population, and a small minority at that, so that they are not powerful enough to defend themselves against a mass attack. It is very easy for governments to divert attention from their own mistakes by blamingJews for this or that political theory, such as communism or socialism. For instance, after the First World War, many Germans accused the Jews first of starting the war and then of losing it. This is nothing new, of course. Throughout history, Jews have been accused of all sorts of treachery, such as poisoning water wells or murdering children as religious sacrifices. Much of this can be attributed to jealousy, because, despite the fact that Jewish people have always been thinly populated in various countries, they have always had a disproportionate number of outstanding public figures.