Albert Einstein: Hatred and Persecution in Religion, Religious Ideology

Why Do Religious Believers Hate, Persecute, Kill Each Other?

The long history of hatred and persecution in religion can hardly be denied, but acknowledging that it exists doesn't do much to explain why it occurs so frequently in religions that ostensibly preach love. Albert Einstein, who denied both the existence of traditional, "personal" gods as well as the religions built up around them, recognized this problem and thought he might understand the answer.

Although no scholar of religion, Albert Einstein believed that religious hatred and persecution stem at least in part from people being absolutely convinced of the correctness of their ideology. The ensuing attitude towards non-believers starts out as pity but quickly degenerates into hatred and persecution.

In a letter to Rabbi Solomon Goldman of Chicago's Anshe Emet Congregation, Albert Einstein writes:

A man who is convinced of the truth of his religion is indeed never tolerant. At the least, he is to feel pity for the adherent of another religion but usually it does not stop there.

The faithful adherent of a religion will try first of all to convince those that believe in another religion and usually he goes on to hatred if he is not successful. However, hatred then leads to persecution when the might of the majority is behind it.

In the case of a Christian clergyman, the tragic-comical is found in this: that the Christian religion demands love from the faithful, even love for the enemy. This demand, because it is indeed superhuman, he is unable to fulfill. Thus intolerance and hatred ring through the oily words of the clergyman.

The love, which on the Christian side is the basis for the conciliatory attempt towards Judaism is the same as the love of a child for a cake. That means that it contains the hope that the object of the love will be eaten up...

- quoted in: Einstein's God - Albert Einstein's Quest as a Scientist and as a Jew to Replace a Forsaken God (1997)

Albert Einstein certainly makes some good points here, but there are still a few important questions that go unaddressed. Scientists are no less convinced about the truth of the Earth's orbit around the sun than Christian priests are of their theology, but you don't see scientists going to war against each other.

Mathematicians don't fly planes into buildings and biologists don't blow themselves up in crowded marketplaces. What's the difference?

It's not just that religious leaders are convinced of the truth of their ideology, but also that it's a moral evil to disagree. A person who denies that the Earth orbits the sun is wrong, even deluded, but not immoral. They are committing no sins against cosmology or physics. This is an important factor in why disagreements about religion lead to so much more violence than disagreements in science or math.

Albert Einstein is also making a good point about the impossibility of the sort of love being demanded in Christianity. It's good to have high ideals, of course, but in some cases placing demands too high can lead to a backlash and the opposite effect of what is intended. More realistic expectations that people can actually meet might actually lead to better results.