Einstein’s Cosmic Religion

(updated May 27 2021)

What did Albert Einstein mean by Cosmic Religion? You may be surprised at his take on it. Perhaps you think a great scientist like him would be dismissive. Not so. Einstein’s religion is a cosmic experience that he believes central to the highest achievements in both science and religion.

“The cosmic religious experience is the strongest and the noblest driving force behind scientific research.”
As a Jew, he was deeply affected by the Nazi Holocaust and supported a homeland where Jews could be responsible for their fate. He renounced the dogma of both Judaism and Christianity as well as that of the scientific beliefs of his time. Perhaps this skepticism freed his mind for a jump in scientific advancements and his personal religious perspective.

The unconstrained Einstein came to deeply feel “a unity full of significance”, a phrase echoing mystics of all religions. In his 1954 book “Ideas and Opinions,” Einstein wrote about his thoughts on religion.  He believed there were three levels:

  1. Fear;
  2. Morality;
  3. Cosmic.

Level 1. Fear

“In primitive peoples, it is fear, first of all, that awakens religious ideas-fear of hunger, of wild animals, of illness, and of death.”

Level 2. Morality

“The longing for guidance, for love and succor (help), provides the stimulus for the growth of a social or moral conception of God.

This is the God of Providence, who protects, decides, rewards, and punishes. This is the God who, according to man’s widening horizon, loves and provides for the life of the race, or of mankind, or who even loves life itself. He is the comforter in unhappiness and in unsatisfied longing, the protector of the souls of the dead. This is the social or moral idea of God.”

He notes, “But we must avoid the prejudice that regards the religions of primitive people as pure fear religions and those of the civilized races as pure moral religions. All are mixed forms, though the moral element predominates in the higher levels of social life. Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of the idea of God.”

Level 3. Cosmic Sense

Here are some of his thoughts on cosmic religion:

“Only exceptionally gifted individuals or especially noble communities rise essentially above this (second) level; in these, there is found a third level for religious experience, even if it is seldom found in a pure form.”

“This is hard to make clear to those who do not experience it since it does not involve an anthropomorphic idea of God; the individual feels the vanity of human desires and aims, and the nobility and marvelous order which are revealed in nature and in the world of thought.”

“He feels the individual destiny as imprisonment and seeks to experience the totality of existence as a unity full of significance.”

Einstein believed “The most important function of art and science is to arouse and keep alive this (cosmic) feeling in those who are receptive.”

“The religious geniuses of all times have been distinguished by this cosmic religious sense, which recognizes neither dogmas nor God made in man’s image.”

Einstein’s level 1 is the carrot and stick aspect of religion, using hell to frighten people into behaving while promising heaven to those who do. Level 2 is religion’s use for social control, whether to bring people together or to manipulate them.
Einstein comments that “the only deeply religious people of our largely materialistic age are the earnest men of research.”

Please leave your thoughts on the following questions in the comments below.
Are today’s earnest men (and women) of scientific research the only deeply religious people? Are there paths to higher consciousness other than Einstein’s? Meditation? Love? Did Einstein experience bursts of experience or a stabilized consciousness?

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