Tolstoy Marathon # 3: The Coffee House of Surat

coffeehouseIt is now my third Tolstoy’s short story, I have noticed that most of the themes of his stories  mainly deal with  religion. In fact, atheists and religious apologists have still been debating whether Leo Tolstoy is considered theistic or agnostic, or probably atheistic. Perhaps they deduce their standpoints from Tolstoy’s ‘literary writings.   In this short story, although abstract, it could be interpreted that he was agnostic.

A learned Persian theologian ended up perplexed about his religious conviction that there was no higher Reason controlling the universe after a long period of studies about the nature of  Deity  and reading and writing books.  Subsequently, he was banished from Persia when The Shah heard of this.

 The  central story began in a coffee shop when the theologian asked his slave whether there is God, which provoked  passionately heated  arguments at a time of some guests  with different religions in the same coffee house upon hearing the theologian’s opinion. But all the rage in the story is the tale of a Confucius student.

When you read it, perhaps, what Tolstoy wanted to imply in this story is that whenever a person comes to the point that he questions about the hypothetical question whether God exists or not  by virtue of idle curiosity brought about by extensive studies, reading and writing, he is bound up in agnostic views. In addition, the story simply puts that when it comes to religion, people with different religious convictions have different tongues . In other words,   there   could be many truths.

In harmony with  the story,   Richard Dawkins, the author of the best selling non-fiction,  God Delusion,   put it  bluntly, that the world is deluded with  diverse religions, here  are the excerpts from the  story above   pictures how people with completely different  convictions  tend to be at sword’s points :

A  Brahmin, on hearing the words spoken by the slave who believed that he feels the presence of God in his girdle , turned to him and said:

“Miserable fool! Is it possible you believe that God can be carried under a man’s girdle? There is one God–Brahma, and he is greater than the whole world, for he created it. Brahma is the One, the mighty God, and in His honour are built the temples on the Ganges’ banks, where his true priests, the Brahmins, worship him. They know the true God, and none but they. A thousand score of years have passed, and yet through revolution after revolution these priests have held their sway, because Brahma, the one true God, has protected them.”

So spoke the Brahmin, thinking to convince everyone; but a Jewish broker who was present replied to him, and said:

“No! the temple of the true God is not in India. Neither does God protect the Brahmin caste. The true God is not the God of the Brahmins, but of Abraham,

Isaac, and Jacob. None does He protect but His chosen people, the Israelites. From the commencement of the world, our nation has been beloved of Him, and ours

alone. If we are now scattered over the whole earth, it is but to try us; for God has promised that He will one day gather His people together in Jerusalem. Then, with the

Temple of Jerusalem–the wonder of the ancient world- -restored to its splendor, shall Israel be established a ruler over all nations.”

So spoke the Jew, and burst into tears. He wished to say more, but an Italian missionary who was there interrupted him.

“What you are saying is untrue,” said he to the Jew.


 “You attribute injustice to God. He cannot love your nation above the rest. Nay rather, even if it be true that of old He favored the Israelites, it is now nineteen

hundred years since they angered Him, and caused Him to destroy their nation and scatter them over the earth, so that their faith makes no converts and has died out

except here and there. God shows preference to no nation, but calls all who wish to be saved to the bosom of the Catholic Church of Rome, the one outside whose

borders no salvation can be found.”

So spoke the Italian. But a Protestant minister, who happened to be present, growing pale, turned to the Catholic missionary and exclaimed:

“How can you say that salvation belongs to your religion? Those only will be saved, who serve God according to the Gospel, in spirit and in truth, as bidden by the word of Christ.”


Such  discourse showing  one’s zealous devotion reminded me of the other novels  which  such indelible scenarios  I have read such as in Life of Pi by Yann Martel:bookcover lifeofpi

The priest broke it when he said , with pride in his voice, “ Piscine is a good Christian boy. I hope to see him join our choir soon.”

His parents , the pandit and the imam looked surprised.

“ You must be mistaken . He’s a god Muslim boy. He comes without fail to Friday prayer, and his knowledge of the Holy Qu’ran is coming along nicely.” So said  the imam.

His parents , the priest and the pandit looked incredulous.

The pandit spoke. “You’re both wrong. He ‘s a good Hindu boy. I see him all the time at the temple coming for darsham and performing puja.”

My  parents, the imam and the priests looked astounded.

“ There is no mistake ,  “ said the priest. “ I know this boy. He is Priscine Molitor Patel and he’s a Christian.”

“ I know him too and I tell you he’s a Muslim. “ asserted the imam.

“ Nonsense! “cried the pandit. “ Piscine was born a Hindu, lives a Hindu and will die a Hindu!

The three wise men stared at each other, breathless and disbelieving.


And this is how each brainwashed  perplexed Piscine:

Piscine, can this be true?” asked the imam earnestly. “ Hindus and Christians are idolaters . They have many gods.””

And Muslims have many wives, “ responded the pandit.

The priest looked askance at both of them.

“ Piscine, “ he nearly whispered , “ there is salvation only  in Jesus.”

“ Balderdash! Christians know nothing about religion, “ sad the pandit.

“ They strayed long ago from God’ path, “ said the imam.

“ Where ‘s God in your religion?” snapped  he priest. “ You don’t have a single mirace to show for it.  What kind of  religion I sthat, without miracles?” 

“ It isn’t a circus wth dead people juping out og tombs all the time, that’s what! We muslims stick to he essential miracle of existence. Birds flyin, rain falling, crops growing- these are miracles enough for us.”

“ Feathers aan drain are all very nice,  but w elike to know that God I strully with us.”

“ Is that so ? Well, a whole lot of good it did God to be with you- you tried to kill him! You bagged  him to a cross with great big nails. Is that a civilized way to treat a prophet? The prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him- brought us the word of God without any undignifies nonsense and died at a ripe old age.”


And in this part on how each  slandered one another”

“ God is universal,” spluttered the priest.

The imam nodded strong approval. “ There is only one God .”

“ And with their one god Muslim are always causing troubles an provoking riots. The proof of how bad Islam is, is how uncivilized Muslims are, “  pronounced the pandit.

“ Says the slave-driver of the  calf lovers. They kneel before cows, “ the priest chimed in.

“ While Christians kneel before a Whiteman! They are the flunkies of a foreign god. They are the night mare of all non-white people.”

“ And they eat pigs and are cannibals. “ added the imam for good measure.

What it comes down to, “ the priest put out with cool rage , “ is where Piscine wants real religion- or myths from a cartoon strip.”

“ God – or idols, “ intoned the imam gravely.

“ Our gods- or colonial gods, “ hissed the pandit.


Admit it , the two scenarios  above usually occur in a place and among people  with different religious convictions.

Since it is now my third Tolstoy marathon, the longer I read his other short stories, the more it comes to me that Leo Tolstoy’s religious viewpoints, probably suppressed by his restricted atmosphere then, were sublimated through writing novels, novellas, or short stories. Thus, I may infer ,  in my humble opinion, that probably Tolstoy was an agnostic.

Rating: 3/  5 stars


Tolstoy Marathon # 2 : The Candle by Leo Tolstoy

thecandle  “…We all know that it is wrong to kill a good man, but even God would take that way the life of such a dog as he is. It is our duty, if we have any love for mankind, to shoot a dog that  is mad. It is a sin to let him live. If, therefore, w e are to suffer at all, let it be in the interests of the people…”

-Leo Tolstoy, The Candle

An uprising among the serfs is about to break out when the lords of  the land   keep on turning their  backs on their human rights.  One serf  has at last spoken up due to the arrant cruelties he has  experienced suggests that Michael Simeonovitch, the superintendent, be killed. But Peter Michayeff, a pacifist,  stopped them , for commiting such a crime leads to condemnation. Paranoid he may be, Michael sends an elder man to spy on the secret rancorous meeting  of the serfs. When the elder man reports to the superintendent, Michael  realizes , with the  insistent platitude  of his wife, that he is prone to perdition. To change the life he leads, he goes to the village to reconcile. Unfortunately, he falls off his  horse and dies. Upon hearing the horrible accident and the cruelties befall  the serfs , the noblemen freed their serfs.

“ The power of God is manifested not in Evil, but in goodness. “

The story deals with   cruelties among the slaves with their suppressed feelings they can no longer stand, a factor which can trigger revolutionary act; the moral question when it is an evil  to kill a person;  or when  the humility  or turning –the-other-cheek  biblical teaching  is a perpetually necessary mean to put an end to an animalistic  slavery; and  all in all, how God plays a role in such a  realistic scene of human life.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Tolstoy Marathon # 1 : The Emperor’s Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy : A Book Review

emperor's questionsAfter reading Anna Karenina ( 5 /5 stars )  a few years ago , the time when I was still looking for a job; plus  this recent  A Confession ( 4 /5 stars ), and  being  borne upon the fact that Leo Tolstoy is  considered by prominent literary lovers from different aspects of society as  the  unparalleled best novelist in  the world  , I promised myself that I would read all his books at my disposal , more even so that  we  can have now an access to any classics  in the internet.  Since I cannot  splurge on his other books yet , that I want to collect in my  own library someday, I would begin with his short stories as one of my friends on Goodreads put it and thus I would call this  mission from now on :  “ Tolstoy Marathon”.

Tolstoy Marathon #  1 The Emperor’s Three Questions or simply  known as The Three Questions 

An emperor   philosophically existentialistic would give a great reward to whoever could   best answer his three a la riddle  questions :

 First: What is the best time to  do each thing?

Second: What is the most important people to work with?

Third: What is the most important to do at all time?

 Unsatisfied with the answers of the persons who had at once made way to the palace , the emperor turned to a hermit  living in a far forest. As the emperor only saw the  small forest of the forest, he ended up realizing the answers based on his experience with the said hermit and a persecutor.

 The emperor learned  that :It is important to live at the present time, with whom the people you are , and how to make them happy.


Somehow enlightened, the Emperor promised  that he would apply the insight by heart. As he wanted  to have a second opinion, it occurred  to him that there was one person known throughout his kingdom he had not turned to yet: the bookworm , living in a house  filled with  books to the rafter somewhere in Timbuktu.

 Reaching the book lover’s dwelling place, the emperor found him sitting on a sofa, burying himself in a voluminous book   and around him was  the  musty stacks of books he had to keep up with.

 “ It must be  a novel by James Joyce  “, thought the emperor.

 When the bookworm saw the emperor, he nodded his head in greeting and continued to immerse himself in the book.

 The emperor approached him and said, “ I have come here to ask your second opinion with three questions:

 When is the best time to do each thing?

Who are the most important people to work with?

What is the most important thing to do at all times?”

 Hearing these, the bookworm  put down the book; his eyes  popped out, sparkled with interest in the questions. He looked as though he had not gone  to bed yet, for he had been reading the whole night.

 “ Your Majesty, just read and read and read.”

 Blushed by the answer, “ How about the most important people to work with? “

 “ Your Majesty, make friends with the other bookworms and be part of their book clubs.”

 Noticing the bookworm unmoved from his crossed- sitting position ,and  his eyes backed  to the book, for he was used to being paid homage.

 ” Seriously, what is the most important thing to do at all times?”

 “Share your ideas you have learned from the books with the people .”

 Weird he looked for the Emperor and stifled   an air of  disappointment,  off he went leaving the  bookworm with his business.

 Rating: 4/5 stars





A Confession by Leo Tolstoy: A Book Review


I have been an avowed atheist   for two years. I  had mustered up enough courage to abandon the Christian life after a long battle  of shattering the  doubts. I was not able to do so because of the fear instilled in me that I would go to hell or not be saved from the Judgment Day. At that time, I was still  an utter simpleton believing in something beyond logic. After reading some said  heretical books such as of Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion , Sam Harris’ A Letter to a Nation  and An Atheist Manifesto ,  Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great , and George H. Smith’s  Atheism: The Case Against God ,  I have been awoken to the reality as though the experience  was a rude  awakening. So, do  not dare lecture me that I must be veering  off my faith because faith is another argument of foolish illusion. By the same token, I have  read  one apologetic  book to defend  the sides of  the Christianity  . Still, the side of the atheists  stands for me. For sure, I would be the subject to the brick brat here on Goodreads. Like  or unlike this , it is  neither here nor there.

This book deals with  Leo Tolstoy’s  midlife crisis in his spirituality and existentialism. Like  what the atheists above experienced , Tolstoy came to the point that he questioned the religious teachings foisted upon him since he was still young. To find the answer, he went on a pilgrimage until he thought he had  found the answer to his questions: He concluded that God does not exist.  Still, not completely  convinced , he  had the persistent and obtrusive  realization that there may be Supernatural unknown which can be called God. His experience was like backsliding to his delusion. In other words, Tolstoy ended up as agnostic- a question which has been a debate among religion and atheism apologists.

If Tolstoy  had existential crisis  in his 50’s ,  it may be ridiculous  for others if I say that I have had come to it  in my 20’s .Perhaps, information  in the internet is now accessible to everyone.

Tolstoy, as a rule,  is considered as  the world’ best novelist . His writing for others is considered  flawless. No doubt in this book, every sentence is beautifully written-  the  aftereffect of his emotional impact, an experience  bears  half resemblance to  Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore and AntiChrist by Nitzsche. Probably   the big credit is to its English translator.

As a bright philosopher put it that there are many kinds of truth  since there are many kinds of beholders, you might misunderstand that Tolstoy’s’ intellectual  hubris is conveyed in the sentences. In this book, Tolstoy said that people who believe in something beyond logic are not intellectual. Come to think of it. Do not be  carried out by your deep-seated beliefs.

Rating : 4/ 5 stars for  Leo Tolstoy’s beautiful sentences.