Princeton, 3. 1. 1954
Dear Mr Gutkind,
Inspired by Brouwer’s repeated suggestion, I have read a great deal in your book in the last few days: thank you very much for sending it to me. What struck me particularly was this. We are largely alike as regards our factual attitude to life and to the human community: an ideal that goes beyond self-interest, with the striving for release from ego-oriented desires, the striving for the improvement and refinement of existence, with an emphasis on the purely human element, by which inanimate things are to be perceived purely as a means, to which no dominant function is to be attributed. (It is especially this attitude that unites us as an authentically “un-American attitude”).
Nevertheless, without Brouwer’s encouragement I would never have brought myself to engage at all closely with your book because it is written in a language which is inaccessible to me. The word God is for me nothing but the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of venerable but still rather primitive legends. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change anything about this. These refined interpretations are naturally very diverse, and have virtually nothing to do with the original text. For me the unadulterated Jewish religion is, like all other religions, an incarnation of primitive superstition. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me does not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples. As far as my experience goes, they are in fact no better than other human groups, even if they are protected from the worst excesses by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot perceive anything “chosen” about them.
In general, it pains me that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a human being and an internal one as a Jew. As a human being you claim to a certain extent a dispensation from the causality which you otherwise accept, as a Jew a privileged status for monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as indeed our wonderful Spinoza originally recognized with absolute clarity. And the animistic conception of natural religions is in principle not cancelled out by monopolization. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception; but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. Quite the opposite.
Now that I have expressed our differences in intellectual convictions completely openly, it is still clear to me that we are very close to each other in the essentials, that is, in our evaluations of human behavior. What divides us is only intellectual padding or the “rationalization” in Freudian language. So I think that we would understand each other very well if we conversed about concrete things.
With friendly thanks and best wishes,