About that

by theidi0t

Myshkin:  “One morning I was traveling on a new railway line and spent four hours talking on the train with a certain S., having only just made his acquaintance. I had heard a good deal about him before and, among other things, that he was an atheist. He’s really a very learned man, and I was glad to be talking with a true scholar. Moreover, he’s a man of rare courtesy, and he talked with me as if I were perfectly equal to him in knowledge and ideas. He doesn’t believe in God. Only one thing struck me: it was as if that was not at all what he was talking about all the while, and it struck me precisely because before, too, however many unbelievers I’ve met, however many books I’ve read on the subject, it has always seemed to me that they were talking or writing books that were not at all about that, though it looked as if it was about that. I said this to him right then, but it must be I didn’t speak clearly, or didn’t know how to express it, because he didn’t understand anything…

In the evening I stopped to spend the night in a provincial hotel where a murder had taken place the night before, so that everyone was talking about it when I arrived. Two peasants, getting on in years, and not drunk, friends who had known each other a long time, had had tea and were both about to go to bed in the same little room. But, during the last two days, one of them had spied the silver watch that the other wore on a yellow bead string, which he had evidently never noticed before. The man was not a thief, he was even honest, and not all that poor as peasant life goes. But he liked the watch so much and was so tempted by it that he finally couldn’t stand it: he pulled out a knife and, while his friend was looking the other way, went up to him cautiously from behind, took aim, raised his eyes to heaven, crossed himself and, after praying bitterly to himself: ‘Lord, forgive me for Christ’s sake!’—killed his friend with one blow, like a sheep, and took his watch.”

Rogozhin: “Now that I like! No, that’s the best yet! The one doesn’t believe in God at all, and the other believes so much that he even stabs people with a prayer … No, that, brother Prince, couldn’t have been made up! Ha, ha, ha! No, that’s the best yet!…”

Myshkin: “The next morning I went out for a stroll about town and I saw a drunken soldier staggering along the wooden sidewalk, all in tatters. He comes up to me: ‘Buy a silver cross, master. I’m asking only twenty kopecks. It’s silver!’ I see a cross in his hand—he must have just taken it off—on a worn light blue ribbon, only it’s a real tin one, you could see it at first glance, big, eight-pointed, of the full Byzantine design. I took out twenty kopecks, gave them to him, and put the cross on at once—and I could see by his face how pleased he was to have duped the foolish gentleman, and he went at once to drink up his cross, there’s no doubt of that. Just then, brother, I was under the strongest impression of all that had flooded over me in Russia; before I understood nothing of it, as if I’d grown up a dumb brute, and I had somehow fantastic memories of it during those five years I spent abroad. So I went along and thought: no, I’ll wait before condemning this Christ-seller. God knows what’s locked away in these drunken and weak hearts.

An hour later, going back to my hotel, I ran into a peasant woman with a nursing baby. She was a young woman, and the baby was about six weeks old. And the baby smiled at her, as far as she’d noticed, for the first time since it was born. I saw her suddenly cross herself very, very piously. ‘What is it, young woman?’ I say. (I was asking questions all the time then.) ‘It’s just that a mother rejoices,’ she says, ‘when she notices her baby’s first smile, the same as God rejoices each time he looks down from heaven and sees a sinner standing before him and praying with all his heart.’ The woman said that to me, in almost those words, and it was such a deep, such a subtle and truly religious thought, a thought that all at once expressed the whole essence of Christianity, that is, the whole idea of God as our own father, and that God rejoices over man as a father over his own child—the main thought of Christ! A simple peasant woman! True, she’s a mother … and, who knows, maybe this woman was that soldier’s wife. Listen, Parfyon, you asked me earlier, here is my answer: the essence of religious feeling doesn’t fit in with any reasoning, with any crimes and trespasses, or with any atheisms; there’s something else here that’s not that, and it will eternally be not that; there’s something in it that atheisms will eternally glance off, and they will eternally be talking not about that.”

-Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.

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