“I don’t know,” she said, smiling. “How can precepts give joy to the heart? I think that precepts or laws would limit your joy, instead of increasing it.”
“We’ll, they’re not just anyone’s laws. They are God’s. If they’re just human laws that are being imposed upon you, I guess that would limit your joy, but since these laws are God’s laws…”
“I don’t know.” She’s still smiling. “What are God’s laws in the first place? I’m not even sure that there is a God.”
“I know where you’re coming from.”
“You’re an agnostic, right?”
“Well, I’m not entirely sure. I’d like to think of myself as an atheist, but I feel uncomfortable about it. It sounds too radical, and the name sort of has a negative connotation.” She adjusted her glasses. “That’s just between you and me, alright? Don’t tell the rest of the group.”
“I won’t,” I said.
Pelagia is a member of an atheist organization that meets in my cafe every Saturday. I don’t join their conversations. I only serve them coffee. But I listen to their weekly chats with great interest. After the meeting, she would stay and study for her class. She’s in Med School.
“Suppose God does exists,” I continued. “He would have to be morally perfect. I mean, it would be part of his nature to be morally perfect. And it would be natural for him to give commands. I mean, if he created the universe and everything in it, including intelligent life, including us, he would care about how we behave. He would care about our actions. He would care whether we do good or commit evil. These commands would be his rules, his precepts.”
“Well, what do you think they are?”
“In general, I think it would be to do good and avoid or prevent evil. To be just, loving, courageous, compassionate, excellent, and so on. But the Christian tradition in the New Testament summarized it as God’s two greatest commandments: Loving God with all your being, and loving your neighbor as yourself.”
“How would following those give you joy?”
“Well, when you do good to others, when you commit a selfless act for the sake of others, don’t you feel joyful? When you use your mind to the best of your ability, by studying medicine, for example, or when you excel in sports or some other physical activity, don’t you feel fulfilled, happy?”
“I guess. But that is if God exists. Do you think God exists? You sound like you’re a Christian, so I guess your answer is yes.”
“Yes, I do think he exists.”
“Why don’t you join us next Saturday?”
“I’d rather not.” I stood up and went to the counter. No one else was in the cafe.
“Did you say you want another brewed coffee?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Perhaps someday, I will. I have a feeling your group is quite exclusive.”
“We’re not. We’re really very inclusive and open-minded. Although I may need to talk to Jake if we could let you join us. I’m sure he will.”
“Maybe next time. For now, I’ll just listen in to your discussions.”
“Okay, if you say so.”
I took the French press and went back to her table. I re-filled her cup with coffee and walked away. She opened one of her textbooks, picked up a marker, and started reading.