How does the life of pi prove god?
A few months ago I went to see “The Life of Pi” at the theatre with a friend. Initially what interested me about the movie was the special effects and, to be frank, that the main character was an Indian boy (I happen to be one). What I got was a movie that kept me up all night contemplating the meaning of religion. Does the Life of Pi prove the existence of God? Not in the way you are expecting.
(Spoiler Alert*- if you haven’t seen the movie and plan to…proceed with caution)
The overall argument, as perceived by the movie, is that all religions are essentially a necessary lie (or story) that we tell ourselves to make sense of the brutal reality of life on earth. Pi, who adheres to all three major religions (Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam), gives two varying stories of the same set of events to officials who ask him about his shipwreck. The first story is mystical, powerful, supernatural and even beautiful…the ship sinks and he is the lone human survivor on a lifeboat with a hyena, an injured zebra, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger (oddly named Richard Parker). The hyena kills both the zebra and orangutan and then is eventually killed by the tiger. Pi learns to survive on the boat with the tiger, before eventually making it to land. There is a sense of triumph and beauty by the end of this story.
The second story is dismal, brutal and horrifying. Pi, his mom, an injured sailor and a devious cook are the only survivors on the lifeboat after the shipwreck. The cook kills the sailor and uses him as bait to catch fish. When Pi’s mom protests, the cook kills her as well. Eventually Pi kills the cook in vengeance for his mom and the injured sailor. We are told finally that the stories are the same. The hyena was the cook, the injured zebra was the injured sailor, the orangutan was Pi’s mother and the tiger was Pi.
At the end of the movie, the officials are asked which story they prefer to report, the mystical one with the animals or the brutal one with the people. They choose the one with the animals. To Pi, religion works the same way.
The argument made by the movie is that religion is merely mystical stories or beautiful narratives we tell ourselves to find meaning in the dark and ugly events of our lives. In essence, whether God is real or Jesus really existed doesn’t matter. What matters is how we as humans use these “stories” to find meaning in the mess of our lives. If it gives humans hope and purpose to live, does it matter whether it’s real or not? The real question is what do you prefer: the dismal reality of fatalist existence on earth or a mystical interpretation that helps give purpose to that very dismal reality?
You probably see why I don’t enjoy the moral of this story. It is wrong in three ways:
1) Religious pluralism.
Not all pluralism is bad. However, when people try to misrepresent all faiths as being essentially the same, they prove themselves ignorant. This is an age-old argument that has been debunked over and over. Rationally speaking, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, or any other religion canNOT be the same because they are inherently different in their premise.
2) Religion as the opiate to life’s problems.
Karl Marx called religion the “opiate of the masses,” numbing people to the reality of life’s pain. This movie perceives religion along the same lines, in a more positive light. Religion is merely a psychological coping mechanism.
3) Religion over relationship.
Jesus says that no man can serve two masters. Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus not merely adherence to a religion. You can’t honestly serve Christ in the way he asks of us, and be in service to another god. Christianity is not just about living in this present world and the challenges we face in it. It is about the hope of an eternal relationship Jesus.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with my interpretation of the movie?