The Atheist and the Monk

Some years ago, a young student had approached me and with immense hesitation, stated that he was an atheist who however wanted very much to believe but couldn’t. For years and years he had tried and had searched, but without any success. He had spoken to professors and other educated people. But his thirst for something more serious was not quenched. Someone told him about me, so he decided to share his existential concerns with me. He asked me to give him scientific proof of God’s existence.

-Do you know anything about integrals or differential equations? I asked him.

-Unfortunately, no, he replied. I am in Philosophical studies.

-Shame! Because I was aware of a proof of that kind, I said—obviously jokingly.

He felt somewhat uneasy, and for a while remained silent.

-Look, I said to him. I apologize for teasing you a little. But God isn’t an equation, or a mathematical proof. If He were something like that, then all the educated people would believe in Him. You must know that God is approached in a different way… Have you ever been to the Holy Mountain? Have you ever met an ascetic?

-No, father. But I am thinking of going there, I’ve heard so much about it. So many things… If you tell me to, I will go there, even tomorrow. Do you know any educated person that I can go and meet there?

-What do you prefer? An educated one who may bewilder you, or a saint who may awaken you?

-I prefer an educated one. I’m afraid of saints.

-Faith is a matter of the heart—go ahead and try a saint. What is your name? I asked.

-Gabriel, he replied.

I sent him to an ascetic. I described how he can get there and gave him the appropriate instructions. We even made a diagram.

-You will go there, I said, and you will ask the same thing. You will say I am an atheist and I want to believe. I want proof of God’s existence.

-I’m scared, I’m embarrassed to do that, he replied.

-Why be embarrassed and afraid of the ascetic and not of me? I asked. Just go, and simply ask him the same thing.

A few days later, he went there and he found the ascetic talking to a young man in the yard. Opposite them, there were four others sitting on some logs. Gabriel discreetly sat himself next to them. No more than ten minutes had passed, and the Elder’s conversation with the young man ended.

-How are you all, my children? he asked. Did you all help yourselves to a sweet? Did you drink some water?

-Thank you, father, they replied, with conventional, secular politeness.

-Come over here, he said, addressing Gabriel after isolating him from the others. I will go and bring the water, and you take this box of sweets. And come closer, so that I can tell you a secret: It’s fine to be an atheist, but for someone to have the name of an angel and be an atheist? Well, that’s a first for me!

Our friend nearly had a heart attack, with this revelatory surprise. How did the Elder know his name? Who revealed his problem to him? And most of all, what was the Elder trying to tell him?

-Father, can I speak to you for a minute? He could just barely mumble those words.

-Look, its getting dark; take the sweet, drink some water and go to the nearest monastery to sleep overnight.

-Father, I want us to talk—isn’t it possible?

-What is there for us to talk about, my young man? What was the reason you came here?

-On hearing this question, he told us, I immediately felt my breath relaxing, my heart being flooded with faith, my inner world becoming warmer, my queries solved without any logical argument, without any discussion, without the existence of an explicit answer. Inside me, all the ‘ifs,’ the ‘why’s’ and the ‘perhaps’ crumbled, and the only thing that was left, was the ‘what,’ from now on…

Everything that the thoughts of the educated had not given him was bestowed on him through the polite innuendo of a saintly person—a mere graduate of the fourth grade of primary school. Saints are very discreet. They perform an operation on you without anesthesia and you do not feel any pain. They perform a transplant without opening up your belly. They take you up to inaccessible heights, without the ladders of secular logic. They plant faith in your heart, without tiring your mind.

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