Albert Einstein is rightly considered one of the most important scientific thinkers of the modern age, but what were his true thoughts on religion, which he artfully dodged throughout his life? That it is largely a “product of human weakness,” according to a private letter written by the theoretical physicist, which hits the block in a single-lot offering at Christie’s in New York on December 4.
Penned from Princeton on January 3, 1954, the so-called “God Letter,” which is written in German, was sent to philosopher Eric Gutkind, whose book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt prompted Einstein to commit to paper his own thoughts on religion, his Jewish identity, and the meaning of life. And in doing so, he did not mince words. Just take a look at this passage from the letter’s second paragraph:
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. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change anything about this. These refined interpretations are naturally very diverse, and have virtually nothing to do with the original text. For me the unadulterated Jewish religion is, like all other religions, an incarnation of primitive superstition. And 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. 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.
“Written a year before Einstein’s death at age 76 in 1955, the letter remains the most fully articulated expression of his religious and philosophical views,” says Peter Klarnet, a senior specialist and head of sale in the books and manuscripts department at the house. While the missive has been nicknamed the God Letter, he says, a better name for the letter might be “Anti-tribals Letter.” “He is making a strong statement not only about his own understanding of God, and his disbelief in God, but he is putting his own people on the same plane as everyone else in responding to Gutkind’s assertion that Judaism belonged on a pedestal, that it was something special that should be a beacon to the world, which is something Einstein strongly disagreed with.”
Although pieces of Einstein memorabilia often come on the market, the God Letter, which carries an estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million,*** says Klarnet, is a rarity rivaled only by Einstein’s August 1939 letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt—in which the physicist laid out the means by which the United States could develop the atomic bomb. That typed letter, which hailed from the collection of Malcolm Forbes, sold for $2,096,000 at Christie’s in New York in March 2002.
***The letter sold for $2,892,500, nearly double its $1.5 million high estimate.