Einstein professed that his God was the God of Spinoza. His exact words were:
I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind …
In other words, Spinoza’s God is indifferent to human suffering, and is manifest through imminent existence. In fact, Spinoza says that the very essence of God is existence – this strange state of affairs we find ourselves part of, and which we take for-granted. Spinoza was very clear on this, and in several quotes dismisses the idea that humanity occupies any special place in the scheme of things. In part one of The Ethics he states:
I confess, that the theory which subjects all things to the will of an indifferent deity, and asserts that they are all dependent on his fiat, is less far from the truth than the theory of those, who maintain that God acts in all things with a view of promoting what is good. For these latter persons seem to set up something beyond God, which does not depend on God, but which God in acting looks to as an exemplar, or which he aims at as a definite goal.
If God were “good”, then he/she/it would be subject to a superior law – the law of goodness, and as such God would not be God. And I should explain here that those who object to the word God can replace it with the word Nature. The capitalization is vital since Spinoza correlates Nature with the power of manifestation, and nature with things manifest. So when he is talking of God as Nature he is not talking about birds, trees, and babbling brooks, but of the potentiality of existence – but let’s not get hung up on the convoluted rhetoric. For Spinoza and Einstein God is above manifestation and wholly indifferent to it.
Spinoza goes on to say that as long as we identify with “stuff” or the manifest universe, we will suffer. Everything is impermanent and subject to decay – a very Buddhist sentiment. And so Spinoza asserts:
But love towards a thing eternal and infinite feeds the mind wholly with joy, and is itself unmingled with any sadness, wherefore it is greatly to be desired and sought for with all our strength.
Well, it all sounds fine and dandy, should we be able to leave behind our identification with temporal existence and somehow merge our awareness with something immortal and infinite. The problem is that almost no-one can – and not for the lack of trying. However, while Spinoza wishes to point us toward the infinite and immortal, these being characteristics of God, he also admits that this impersonal force called God or Nature is the cause of our suffering. Again, in part five of his Ethics he is very clear:
… in so far as we understand God to be the cause of pain, we to that extent feel pleasure.
This quote is one of the most potent and revealing statements in the whole of The Ethics in my opinion. He is stating that this indifferent universe can, and does, cause humanity to suffer along with all sentient creatures. But the claim that we can experience pleasure from understanding the nature of suffering is extraordinary, and the key to a great deal. While God may be the cause of pain, our power of understanding trumps the mechanical suffering we might experience. Such knowledge is a topic in its own right, and you can find a podcast that I produced on Youtube if you want further explanation.
Spinoza is also clear that God does not and cannot love or hate, and that the love we can develop toward God is intellectual. I think most people would accept that the power of the universe does not manifest human traits, although the notion of an intellectual love is incomprehensible for most of us.
Finally, Spinoza puts humanity in its place in his Theological-Political Treatise:
… for nature is not bounded by the laws of human reason, which aims only at man’s true benefit and preservation; her limits are infinitely wider, and have reference to the eternal order of nature, wherein man is but a speck …
In summary, both Einstein and Spinoza intuited something very big – something that caused them to see humanity as almost an irrelevance. Spinoza tries very hard to communicate this, but in reality, very few people will go where he went. The rest of us do the best we can, but oddly it liberates us to realize we are of no significance whatsoever. As Spinoza points out in the above quote, if we are going to make life more pleasant and tolerable then we need to use our reason to do it – God doesn’t, and cannot, give a shit. He is not that kind of guy/gal/thing.