Francis Adirubasamy first presents Pi’s tale to the fictional author as “a story to make you believe in God,” immediately introducing religion as a crucial theme. Pi is raised in a secular, culturally Hindu family, but as a boy he becomes more devoutly Hindu and then also converts to Christianity and Islam. He practices all of these religions at once despite the protests of his three religious leaders, who each assert that their religion contains the whole and exclusive truth. Instead of dwelling on divisive dogma, Pi focuses on the stories of his different faiths and their different pathways to God, and he reads a story of universal love in all three religions. In fact, it seems that faith and belief is more important to Pi than religious truth, as he also admires atheists for taking a stand in believing that the universe is a certain way. It is only agnostics that Pi dislikes, as they choose doubt as a way of life and never choose a “better story.”
When he is stranded at sea, Pi’s faith is tested by his extreme struggles, but he also experiences the sublime in the grandiosity of his surroundings. All external obstacles are stripped away, leaving only an endless circle of sea and sky, and one day he rejoices over a powerful lightning storm as a “miracle.” After his rescue Pi returns to the concept of faith again. He tells his interviewers two versions of his survival story (one with animals and one without) and then asks which one they prefer. The officials disbelieve the animal story, but they agree that it is the more compelling and memorable of the two. Pi responds with “so it goes with God,” basically saying that he chooses to have religious faith because he finds a religious worldview more beautiful. The “facts” are unknowable concerning God’s existence, so Pi chooses the story he likes better, which is the one involving God.
Religion and Faith ThemeTracker
Religion and Faith Quotes in Life of Pi
He took in my line of work with a widening of the eyes and a nodding of the head. It was time to go. I had my hand up, trying to catch my waiter’s eye to get the bill.
Then the elderly man said, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.”
Sometimes I got my majors mixed up. A number of my fellow religious-studies students – muddled agnostics who didn’t know which way was up, who were in the thrall of reason, that fool’s gold for the bright – reminded me of the three-toed sloth; and the three-toed sloth, such a beautiful example of the miracle of life, reminded me of God.
In the literature can be found legions of examples of animals that could escape but did not, or did and returned… But I don’t insist. I don’t mean to defend zoos. Close them all down if you want (and let us hope that what wildlife remains can survive in what is left of the natural world). I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.
The Pondicherry Zoo doesn’t exist any more. Its pits are filled in, the cages torn down. I explore it now in the only place left for it, my memory.
It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them – and then they leap.
I’ll be honest about. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane… But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.
I can well imagine an atheist’s last words… and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, “Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain,” and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story.
The pandit spoke first. “Mr. Patel, Piscine’s piety is admirable. In these troubled times it’s good to see a boy so keen on God. We all agree on that.” The imam and the priest nodded. “But he can’t be a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim. It’s impossible. He must choose…”
“Hmmm, Piscine?” Mother nudged me. “How do you feel about the question?”
“Bapu Gandhi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God,” I blurted out, and looked down, red in the face.
I didn’t have pity to spare for long for the zebra. When your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish hunger for survival. It was sad that it was suffering so much… but there was nothing I could do about it. I felt pity and then I moved on. This is not something I am proud of. I am sorry I was so callous about the matter. I have not forgotten that poor zebra and what it went through. Not a prayer goes by that I don’t think of it.
I was giving up. I would have given up – if a voice hadn’t made itself heard in my heart. The voice said, “I will not die. I refuse it. I will make it through this nightmare. I will beat the odds, as great as they are. I have survived so far, miraculously. Now I will turn miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen every day. I will put in all the hard work necessary. Yes, so long as God is with me, I will not die. Amen.”
Despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression. I thank God it always passed. A school of fish appeared around the net or a knot cried out to be reknotted. Or I thought of my family, of how they were spared this terrible agony. The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving.
Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher. Physically it is extraordinarily arduous, and morally it is killing… You get your happiness where you can. You reach a point where you’re at the bottom of hell, yet you have your arms crossed and a smile on your face, and you feel you’re the luckiest person on earth. Why? Because at your feet you have a tiny dead fish.
I was dazed, thunderstruck – nearly in the true sense of the word. But not afraid.
“Praise be to Allah, Lord of All Worlds, the Compassionate, the Merciful, Ruler of Judgment Day!” I muttered. To Richard Parker I shouted, “Stop your trembling! This is miracle. This is an outbreak of divinity. This is… this is…” I could not find what it was, this thing so vast and fantastic… I remember that close encounter with electrocution and third-degree burns as one of the few times during my ordeal when I felt genuine happiness.
By the time morning came, my grim decision was taken. I preferred to set off and perish in search of my own kind than to live a lonely half-life of physical comfort and spiritual death on this murderous island.
High calls low and low calls high. I tell you, if you were in such dire straits as I was, you too would elevate your thoughts. The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar. It was natural that, bereft and desperate as I was, in the throes of unremitting suffering, I should turn to God.
“If you stumble at mere believability, what are you living for? Isn’t love hard to believe?... Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”
“We’re just being reasonable.”
“So am I! I applied my reason at every moment… Nothing beats reason for keeping tigers away. But be excessively reasonable and you risk throwing out the universe with the bathwater.”
“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? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?”
Mr. Okamoto: “That’s an interesting question…”
Mr. Chiba: “The story with animals.”
Mr. Okamoto: “Yes. The story with animals is the better story.”
Pi Patel: “Thank you. And so it goes with God.”