Albert Einstein was born in Ulm in what is now modern-day Germany. His family moved often and he grew up in Munich, Germany, Milan, Italy, and Zurich, Switzerland. Einstein died in Princeton, New Jersey of internal bleeding caused by an aneurysm in his abdomen in 1955. He is reported to have said before he died:
I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.
Einstein was raised in a Jewish family, and despite his true religious views, he always identified with Jewish culture.
Einstein would be considered a deist. That is, he was not an atheist but didn’t believe in the personal God of most major monotheistic religions. He said:
I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own – a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.
However, Einstein was a great scientist and as such, he realized that there is quite a bit more we don’t know about the universe than we do know, and God might be in there somewhere. He said:
I’m not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is.
Despite all this, Einstein felt that religion offered humanity necessary moral and ethical frameworks, as is reflected in one of his most famous quotes:
Religion without science is lame, science without religion is blind.
Einstein and his brilliance existed in an important and fascinating historical context. During the rise of Nazism, before the real horrors began, Einstein was one of only a few German scientists to vocally oppose the Nazis. Naturally, this made him rather unpopular in his home country and he emigrated to the United States in 1933, just as Hitler officially took power.
Einstein’s politics revolved around equality. This fixation ultimately led him to become an unabashed socialist. He once said:
The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil… I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals.
Einstein weighed-in on numerous issues of his time. He opposed the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki–particularly because of his role in developing nuclear technology. While he favored the creation of a Jewish state, he did not advocate for a theocratic, official nation, saying:
I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical consideration, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest.
Such views often put him at odds with the political elite of his adopted country of the U.S. and the FBI had an “agitator” file on Einstein. But perhaps Einstein represented the true American political ideal–that of democracy, equality, and tolerance. He once proclaimed:
My political ideal is democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized.