Einstein described himself as a religious man though he firmly stated did not believe in immortality. Religiousness, as he defined it, was the ability to wonder and stand in awe and the beauty of the universe.
At this point the host tried to silence him by invoking the fact that even Einstein harbored religious beliefs. “It isn’t possible!” the skeptical guest said, turning to Einstein to ask if he was, in fact, religious. “Yes, you can call it that,” Einstein replied calmly. “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, 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 fact, religious.”
(The view is vaguely reminiscent of Goethe’s Eternal Feminine as described by Mahler.)
Einstein’s statements caused much confusion as to whether he actually believed in God or whether his statements were a “cloak beneath which hides the ghastly apparition of atheism.” Eventually a rabbi asked him point blank, via telegram, to answer the question in 50 words or less. He took 32.
“I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”
Einstein’s “God” seems, in essence, to be a respect for the fact we all stand childlike in the face of greatness we cannot understand. To recognize our great smallness is a humbling realisation not dissimilar to a religious experience. But it seems a stretch to call this deism as some have chosen.
Reverent atheism seems more apt.
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