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The Coffee-house Of Surat
by [?]

(After Bernardin de Saint-Pierre)

In the town of Surat, in India, was a coffee-house where many travellers and foreigners from all parts of the world met and conversed.

One day a learned Persian theologian visited this coffee-house. He was a man who had spent his life studying the nature of the Deity, and reading and writing books upon the subject. He had thought, read, and written so much about God, that eventually he lost his wits, became quite confused, and ceased even to believe in the existence of a God. The Shah, hearing of this, had banished him from Persia.

After having argued all his life about the First Cause, this unfortunate theologian had ended by quite perplexing himself, and instead of understanding that he had lost his own reason, he began to think that there was no higher Reason controlling the universe.

This man had an African slave who followed him everywhere. When the theologian entered the coffee-house, the slave remained outside, near the door, sitting on a stone in the glare of the sun, and driving away the flies that buzzed around him. The Persian having settled down on a divan in the coffee-house, ordered himself a cup of opium. When he had drunk it and the opium had begun to quicken the workings of his brain, he addressed his slave through the open door:

“Tell me, wretched slave,” said he, “do you think there is a God, or not?”

“Of course there is,” said the slave, and immediately drew from under his girdle a small idol of wood.

“There,” said he, “that is the God who has guarded me from the day of my birth. Every one in our country worships the fetish tree, from the wood of which this God was made.”

This conversation between the theologian and his slave was listened to with surprise by the other guests in the coffee-house. They were astonished at the master’s question, and yet more so at the slave’s reply.

One of them, a Brahmin, on hearing the words spoken by the slave, 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 every one; 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.”