In 1954, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to religious philosopher Erik Gutkind, questioning the idea of a personal God and his chosen people.
Now, you can buy the letter for yourself — but you’d better have some cash on hand. It’s expected to rake in more than $1 million when it goes up for auction at Christie’s in New York City. It can be viewed from Nov. 30 right up until the auction at 2 p.m. on Dec. 4.
At the opening of the letter, Einstein writes that he and Gutkind, a German and Jewish philosopher, shared similar goals like “striving for freedom from ego-oriented desires.” But the physicist didn’t agree with some of the religious writing in Gutkind’s book “Choose Life: The Biblical Call To Revolt.”
“The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish,” Einstein wrote. “No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change this for me.”
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Einstein also pushed back against the notion of the Jewish people being “chosen” by God, although he “gladly” belongs to the faith.
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
In a statement to Newsweek, Christie’s said it was “honored” to sell the letter, which had brought in somewhere around $3 million when it was sold on Ebay in 2012.
The letter “concerns themes that have been central to human enquiry since the dawn of human consciousness,” the statement to Newsweek read, “and it is one of the definitive statements in the Religion vs Science debate.”
As noted by The Washington Post in a 1985 article, Einstein had previously written in a 1931 essay that he “cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes its creatures, or has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves.” He decried this as a “grand puppeteer.”
“Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death,” the essay continued.
Instead, the scientist wrote he believed in a “cosmic religion” that found awe and beauty in the natural order and laws of the universe.