Zeno’s Conscience: quotes (11)

It was obvious that if I had agreed to think about it with him, I would have given him consolation. But, on the contrary, as long as my father was alive, I felt combative (afterwards no longer); and I replied with one of those trite remarks heard every day in the cafés around the University: “For me religion is merely an ordinary phenomenon, something to be studied.”
“Phenomenon?” he said, disoriented. He groped for a ready retort and opened his mouth to utter it. Then he hesitated and looked at the second dish, which at that moment Maria was offering him. He didn’t touch it. Then, to gag himself, he stuck into his mouth a cigar stub and lighted it, allowing it to go out at once. He had granted himself a kind of interval, to reflect calmly. For an instant he looked at me resolutely: “Surely you don’t mean to laugh at religion?”
Like the perfect idle student I had always been, I replied, with my mouth full: “Laugh? No, I study it!”