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Einstein’s God, or The Hopes for Secular Spirituality

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on February 13, 2010

By Deepak Chopra

It came as a shock when the letters of Mother Teresa, long concealed by the Church, recently came to light. Suddenly it was revealed that this saintly icon — who is on the way to becoming an official saint — had anguishing doubts about the existence of God. These doubts tormented her at the beginning, middle, and end of her career. Those who want to see Mother Teresa canonized claim that her doubts make her even more a heroic exemplar of faith. But if you take the letters literally, at face value, she had a common predicament. She tried to live according to a Christian ideal but God didn’t listen or answer. He never showed his face or his presence to Mother Teresa, and therefore she had to confront deep disappointment and (dare we say it?) skepticism about the truth of religion.

Even though she was an outsized personality and a model of immense compassion, Mother Teresa wasn’t all that different from ordinary believers who come to the conclusion that God is a myth, perhaps even a fantasy created out of whole cloth. A rash of prominent books by atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins have pounded away on the theme of delusion and fraud. Using science as their chief bulwark, they insist that religion serves the purpose of blocking reality. A rational secular society is their ideal, and their fervent hope is that religious yearning will be seen for what it is, a childish, irrational, and ultimately hopeless drive. Everyone can see the result. Neither side, the atheists or the religionists, have won the argument; they’ve simply become more entrenched in their original position.

All of which brings me to a revelatory chapter in another bestseller, Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe, which dwells on Einstein’s view of God more completely than anything I’ve read before. At first the story of Einstein’s spirituality conforms to any other twentieth-century skeptic. As a young man he rejected on logical grounds the literal truth of events recounted in the Old Testament. He moved beyond orthodox faith while struggling personally with his Jewishness. Being a scientist, he could have completed the easy trajectory then and there, ending up where Dawkins is, as a debunker of outworn superstition who saw the light of reason and used science as a weapon to combat the vestiges of belief in God.

Fortunately, Einstein was also a great mind, and his greatness took the form of a wider vision than either the religionists or the atheists who surrounded him. He continued his spiritual journey in a fascinating way. By stages he reconciled faith and science, not by offering a compromise that straddled the fence between these opposites, nor by saying that each side was right in its own sphere. Einstein took the bolder step of trying to understand if a single reality encompasses both drives in human beings, the drive to believe in a higher reality and the drive to explain Nature in terms of laws and processes that operate seemingly independent of God. Time, space, and gravity don’t seem to need God at all, yet without God the universe seems random and meaningless. Einstein expressed this dichotomy in a famous saying: “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”

I’d like to retrace Einstein’s lifelong spiritual path because what he was searching for — and never quite found — was secular spirituality, and in many ways that is our best hope today. Instead of falling back on traditional religion, which has been shattered by science and the horrors of the twentieth century, or erasing spirituality in favor of stark materialism, secular spirituality looks at the whole of life in a different way. God and reason are allowed not simply to co-exist but to fulfill a single vision. This vision is rooted in consciousness. Either we think like God or he thinks like us. If neither is true, there cannot be a connection between us. Einstein’s ultimate goal, he said, was to understand God’s mind, and to do that, the human mind must be explained first. After all, our minds are the filter through which we perceive reality, and if that filter is distorted and misunderstood, there’s no possibility of grasping God’s mind.

Einstein’s spiritual ambition was enormous but largely private. However, thanks to his world fame as the most intelligent person alive (true or not), people flocked to hear what he had to say on every great issue, scientific, religious, even political (hence his involvement in Zionism and the development of the atomic bomb). In the next few installments of this post we’ll see how he came to terms with a God that was unknown to the Judeo-Christian tradition but was still alive and real. By following a great man’s thought processes, we might find a way to escape the deadlock between faith and science ourselves.

Source: Huffington Post

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