Einstein: The Passion of Pure Reason

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What can we make of Albert Einstein? He was at once Jew and World Citizen, Zionist and pacifist, rationalist and mystic, characterized by “melancholic loneliness” and by “gaiety.” In 1950, a young Irving Kristol offered a “Unified Field Theory” of Einstein, seeing the vital history of the West bound up in the complexity of the great Jewish scientist. Behold, one of Kristol’s greatest essays, “Einstein: The Passion of Pure Reason”:

When a Boston Catholic priest took it upon himself in 1929 to warn Americans of Einstein’s “atheism,” Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein cabled Einstein: “Do you believe in God?” Einstein cabled back: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all Being, not in God who concerns himself with the fate and actions of men”—a statement which so affected Rabbi Goldstein as to make him predict hopefully that Einstein “would bring mankind a scientific formula for monotheism.”

Instead of the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we have—in the tradition of Maimonides, Spinoza, and Hermann Cohen—the amor Dei intellectualis. Instead of the Lord of Hosts, we have the God of the philosophers—the Logos, the Reason which governs the universe, the incorporeal meaning behind the chaos of concreteness.

Reason, which worships the God of Spinoza, begins with the proposition “all men are mortal,” and is most interested in the immortal truth of this and other propositions. Biblical faith, which worships the God of Abraham, begins with the fact that “all men are mortal.” The truths of Reason are true even if man does not exist; they are true, as Husserl remarked, for “men, angels, monsters, and gods.” Faith is less concerned with the truths of Reason than with the fate of man—the mortal, finite creature who cannot volatilize himself into Reason. Reason is what we have gained by the eating of the Tree of Knowledge: we are like unto gods, sharing in divine omniscience. Faith is the human condition experiencing itself in its most naked actuality, for with the eating of the apple there goes the Fall, and we must surely die.

The struggle between the God of Abraham and the God of Spinoza is the central theme of the spiritual history of the Western world. Out of it there comes the Old Testament and the New, Greek philosophy and Gnosticism, medieval Scholasticism and Renaissance science, German Idealism and modern atheism.

And in this conflict the Jew is tensed and sundered. For he is of the Covenant of Abraham, whom God commanded; and he has also prominently been of the opinion of Philo and Spinoza, to whom the world is the garment of Reason.

Read the whole thing at Commentary.

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