Never misquote Einstein. Especially, in religion.

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in ...

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Just like why contestants in talent shows should avoid choosing songs by Mariah Carey or Céline Dion (unless their vocals are as impressive), authors should avoid using quotes by famous personalities like Albert Einstein (unless those quotes are cited with well-known sources).

This afternoon, I was in the middle of reading a book on Buddhism when I read a quote by Einstein.

The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description… If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.

The problem with quoting famous persons, whose works have been read by many, is critical readers (in this case, me) can easily find out the truth behind those quotes.

Upon reading that quote, I was overcome with suspicion. I quickly took out my HTC to search whether that quote is true or not.  And, my suspicion was proved correct.

In Tricycle Editor’s Blog of the Buddhist Review, Philip Ryan analysed the so-called sources of this quote and its variant and said this in the blog,

If you Google these quotes, you’ll find they’re all over the place on sites devoted to Buddhism, Einstein, and science, from The Buddhist Blog to theProgressive Buddhism blog (which recently had a long back-and-forth about a spurious Buddha quote [make that “possibly spurious” — see comment below] used by Paul Carus, author of the popular Gospel of Buddha.) A bogus Einsteinism also appeared in Tricycle promotional material several years back before the sagacious Kenneth Kraft set the record straight.

Bogus quotes reproduced on the web are a problem that comes up quite often. I think one of the candidates in this current, already exhausting Presidential election cycle got caught in a trap like this, and the more we rely on the web and neglect primary sources (and actual books), the more this will happen, and it may give us something much more pernicious than this Einstein issue.

So these quotes, interesting and entertaining as they are, should be shelved, or at least have the Einstein attribution removed, until someone can tell us from whence they originally came.

A statement obtained by Shubha Bala (the associate producer in the American Public Radio) from the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem summed up the origin of this quote:

The quote under discussion which I know is quite ‘popular’, could so far paraphrase of some ideas Einstein developed in an essay titled “Religion and Science” in 1930. Here he mentions the “cosmic religiosity” (not religion!), Buddhism, and a belief that avoids dogma and theology.

This experience is a classic example of letting your bias ruin your objectivity. Just because this quote is widely cited in other biased websites and sources, doesn’t mean it’s true.

Let’s be responsible writers. Always check the sources of quotes, especially if they are from famous personalities.





One thought on “Never misquote Einstein. Especially, in religion.

  1. Indeed, the development of modern Buddhism is at its cradle. The attitude of professionalism is still much lacking, if not neglected, in its adherents.

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