The word God is the product of human weakness

The word God is the product of human weakness


In January of 1954, just a year before his death, Albert Einstein wrote the following letter to philosopher Erik Gutkind after reading his book, “Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt“, and made known his views on religion. Apparently Einstein had only read the book due to repeated recommendation by their mutual friend Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer. The letter was bought at auction in May 2008, for £170,000; unsurprisingly, one of the unsuccessful bidders was Richard Dawkins.

Translated transcript follows.

(Source: David Victor; Image: Albert Einstein,via.)


Translated Transcript

Princeton, 3. 1. 1954

Dear Mr Gutkind,

Inspired by Brouwer’s repeated suggestion, I read a great deal in your book, and thank you very much for lending it to me. What struck me was this: with regard to the factual attitude to life and to the human community we have a great deal in common. Your personal ideal with its striving for freedom from ego-oriented desires, for making life beautiful and noble, with an emphasis on the purely human element. This unites us as having an “unAmerican attitude.”

Still, without Brouwer’s suggestion I would never have gotten myself to engage intensively with your book because it is written in a language inaccessible to me. 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. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change this for me. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions isan 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.

In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the privilege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the firstone. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolization. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.

Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e; in our evaluations of human behavior. What separates us are only intellectual “props” and “rationalization” in Freud’s language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.

With friendly thanks and best wishes,


A. Einstein

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A Brief History Of Priestly Rage

The priests who denounced the Bengal CM as a ‘beef-supporter’ have forgotten that their forebears had welcomed ‘beef-eater’ Lord Mountbatten

A. K. Biswas


History stands witness to the twists and turns of pol­itical fortune the Puri Jagannath temple has been embroiled in over the centuries. The protests voiced recently against West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s entry into the temple to offer puja is in line with the politics the servitors of the deity have always dabbled in. Pre-Mughal Muslim rulers introduced pilgrimtax in India. Emperor Akbar abolished it and Shah Jahan continued this liberal policy. Aurangzeb, however, went back to levying it. Interestingly, the tax continued to be extracted by the Hindu Peshwas who ruled Orissa in the 18th century. Later, the East India Company actually systematised it: a regulation was passed in 1806, classifying pilgrims into four categories, with tax rates varying from Rs 2 to Rs 10 per head. Some Bengali zamindars were known to have visited Puri with a retinue of 2,000 men by paying pilgrim tax.

It was in September 1803 that Wellesley’s army took Orissa—in 14 days flat, without even a shot being fired or a drop of bloodshed. The army marched right up to the outskirts of Puri and camped at Pipili, four miles off the temple town. A delegation of high priests from Puri called on the commanding officer of the victorious army in his camp. Swami Dharma Teertha (1893-1978), whose pre-ascetic name was Parameswara Menon, wrote in History of Hindu Imperial­ism(1941): “The oracle of the Puri Jagannath Temple proclaimed that it was the desire of the deity that the temple too should be controlled by the Company, and the latter under took to maintain the temple buildings, pay the Brahmans and do everything for the service of the deity as was customary.” In the very first year, the institution yielded a net profit to the Company of Rs 1,35,000, the swami wrote. Puri was not the only temple town under the British tax net. The Company earned tax of some two to three lakhs from Gaya. Huge tax in flows also came in from other pilgrimage centres like Tirupati, Kashipur, Sarkara, Sambol etc—the net revenue amounted to anaverage to £75,000 and upwards annually.

By Regulation XI of 1809,the Company banned the entry of the Lolee (or Kasbee), Kalal (or Sunri), Machua, Namasudra (or Chandal), Gazur, Bagdi, Jogi (or Narbaf), Kahar Bauri (or Dulia), Rajbansi, Pirali, Chamar, Dom, Pan, Tior, Bhuimali and Hari castes or sub-castes into the Jagannath temple. The Piralis, considered degraded Brahmins, was the lineage into which Rabindranath Tagore was born. In 1810, the ban against Piralis was revoked. This exercise—the exclusion of many and inclusion of some—was guided by the political wisdom of the priests. The pecuniary gains of the Company, the priests and others concerned were phenomenal. Official reports disclosed that, during the period 1806-32, pilgrim tax collected grossed at Rs 24,57,655 whereas expenditure stood at Rs 12,36,034. The Company treasury swelled during this period by Rs 12,16,174, as quoted in Col Laurie’s article ‘Puri and the Temple of Jagannath’ in The Calcutta Review, September 1848. The average annual gross tax collection aggregated at Rs 1,11,711 and expenditure at Rs 56,183. In Orissa Vol 1(1872), William Hunter wrote that “not less than 20,000 men, women and children live directly or indirectly, by service of Lord Jagannath”. No contemporary industrial establishment, either on the west or east of the Atlantic, perhaps boasted such a large population dependent on a single institution for subsistence.

The Company shared a portion of the pilgrim tax with some stake holders. Ten per cent of the gross tax collected from pilgrims of Gaya (Rs 26,078) was paid to the Maharaja of Tekari, who had jurisdiction over the Vishnupad temple, wrote James Peggs in Pilgrim Tax in India (1830). The favour was returned in kind too. On the outbreak of the 1857 revolt in Bihar, a delegation of priests from Vishnupad temple waited on the Gaya district magistrate, Alonzo Money, and offered of 3,000 lathials (club-men) who would defend the Englishmen, their families, treasuries and government properties in that engulfing crises. Money immediately communicated the novel initiative to the Government of Bengal, Calcutta. Dabbling in politics, thus, has hardly been an unknown phenomenon among temple priests in the country over the ages.


Who’s In, Who’s Out ?

Ambedkar was denied entry into the Puri temple, while Lord Mountbatten was welcomed; Tagore’s clan too was barred entry during 1809-10

Madhu Dandavate, who was railway minister in the government headed by Morarji Desai and finance minister under V.P. Singh, while deposing before the Backward Classes Commission with B.P. Mandal as chairman, stated that Lord Mountbatten, accompanied by Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the Governor-General’s executive council member, visited the Jagannath temple once. The British Paramount was accordeda red carpet reception by the Jagannath temple, while Dr Ambedkar was denied entry.Was Mountbatten a vegetarian? Did he not prefer beef as his staple diet? Then what leg do they have to stand on, this section of the servants of Jagannath who denounced the West Bengal chief minister, who has only defended the freedom of dietary choice for the people of India?

(The writer is a retired IAS officer and former vice-chancellor, B.R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar.)

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