(I wrote the following article several years ago when a sweet sister in Central California encouraged me to read The Life of Pi. It is now being made into a motion picture. While the article contains “spoilers” I think it is important to consider the implications of the book as it relates to the faith in light of the fact that it is going to influence even more people through the big screen. SML)
Pi was born into a Hindu family. As a young man he embraces a form of Christianity—and then the Islamic faith. He embraces all three uncritically as if they were equally viable belief systems. The only criticism he has is the exclusive claims of each one. The story is critical of the notion that one must choose between religious options; i.e. Hindu, Christian or Muslim. Pi’s defense is, “I just want to love God.” This is classic pluralism, reducing Christianity to one of many viable ways. That’s the first part of the story.
In the second part of the story Pi is stranded in a lifeboat for over 6 months. The reader begins to doubt that Pi will ever be rescued from his lifeboat adrift in the sea—his only companions being a few wild animals that were being transported from a zoo in India to the USA.
The third part of the story occurs when Pi is rescued and insurance agents quiz him concerning the shipwreck in order to settle liability issues. Pi tells them the fantastic story the book purports to accurately record. But his auditors refuse to believe him. So, Pi tells the insurance auditors a second story that does not correspond with what happened on the boat. The second story is a very dry and uneventful account of what could have happened—but didn’t. After inventing the second scenario he says, “Neither makes a factual difference to you.” The Japanese investigators confess, “That’s true.”
“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no?” In this statement, the Piis affirming his belief that we superimpose our own subjective ideas on the way things are and “in understanding something, we bring something to it, no?” This is relativism.
Pi says, “So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer?” He then concludes, “And so it goes with God.”
When you apply this philosophy to the first part of the book it should make no practical difference whether Hinduism, Christianity, or the Muslim story is true. Pick the one you like—the one that strikes your personal fancy. Either way, you choose God, according to the author.
The important question for me is, does it make a factual or practical difference? It does make a difference. Mr. Martel still has Jesus in a grave somewhere in India. If that were true, it may not make a difference. But the writers of the New Testament base everything on the fact that they saw Jesus after his death and burial in a resurrected body.
One final point. The author confesses that chapters 21 and 22, while short, are at the core of the novel. He refers to them as, “Dry yeastless factuality,” which is a reference to a view of life void of the divine, an idea illustrated at the end of the book by the two versions of the story Pi tells the Japanese investigators. He is asking us, “What story are you going to embrace?” as if it does not matter—but it does matter.