Endurance of Religion

Religion can get controversial really quickly. There are five religions I can name off the top of my head, each roughly speaking of the same ideals, but with different gods. Sometimes, it is like an X Factor audition, watching different religious folksmen advertise their beliefs in order to spread their gospel. That was a joke. As a science student and devout atheist, religion has never been a staple in my life personally. The same thing applies to my family. What has god ever given me that science cannot?

To answer this question, another question needs to be raised. What is the similarity between religion and science? That tiny shaded area overlapping the a venn diagram, is trust. Better phrased, faith. While I can preach my faith in science, priests around the globe can preach their own faith. Another follow up question to the question’s question, what is faith?

There is a scene in Grey’s Anatomy, where Derek Shepherd talks to a patient about his likelihood of survival during a surgery.

No, don’t close me up. If you get in and if it’s too complicated, Cut the cord. Paralyze me if you must. I survived a war. Did you know that?

No.

I survived a war where they put bodies into mass graves where there was once a playground. I survived the death of my family, my parents, my brothers and sisters. Then I survived the death of my wife and child when they starved to death in the refugee camp. I survived the loss of my country, of hearing my mother tongue spoken, of knowing what it feels like to have a place to call home. I survived. And I will survive the loss of my legs. If I have to, I’ll survive it. Okay? But, Derek.

Yes?

There is always a way. When things look like there’s no way, There is a way. To do the impossible, to survive the unsurvivable. There’s always a way. And you? You and I have this in common. We’re inspired. In the face of the impossible, we’re inspired. So if I can offer one piece of advice to the world’s foremost neurosurgeon. Today if you become frightened, instead become inspired. Hmm? Okay. I’m ready now.

It’s a long speech. Neither science nor religion had anything to do with what the patient said. This was about endurance, to believe in something so fervently that you are willing to test your life against it. For Pi, he endured his 227 days on a lifeboat with the help of religion. Think Silence and Noah, and the complete opposite of The Martian, the filmmakers of Life of Pi try to convince us to accept and at least acknowledge religion.

In the face of overwhelming odds, you need all the help you can get. The voyage to Canada for Pi’s family is supposed to be a new life, in the hopes that they can live a better life. What starts off as an immigrant’s journey quickly turns into a nightmare. Instantly, Pi loses his family in a storm.

Above all, don’t lose hope.

Commendation has to go to Pi for his resilience, yet he would accredit his survival to again, god(s). The first fish he manages to catch, is somehow Vishnu in a different form. The lightning strikes are some sort of heavenly flex. There is an obvious and highly provocative religious message throughout the film, a constant struggle between religion, and no religion. With Catholicism my closest link to religion, the film’s pantheistic worldview is not something I am accustomed to, but it was still philosophically engaging to think as a Muslim, as a Hindu, or even as a Buddhist.

One of the most fundamental points supporting religion is stated at the beginning, when Pi meets the Catholic priest. The priest gently tells Pi that God so loved the world that he sacrificed his son for the sake of humanity, and that the important thing is not to try to make logical sense of the story, but to focus on the sacrificial divine love at the heart of it. What God does may be beyond our ability to grasp intellectually, but He still embraces us in ways humans can’t possibly understand.

Shrouded in sacramental mystery, the prospect of a higher being pushes Pi towards survival, no matter how arduous it is. Of course, people can plummet his mythical Pi’s ark story about as fast as the freighter sinking, with claims that suggest human equivalencies to the animals instead. A darker-than-already-is account suggests the ship’s cook, Pi’s mother, a sailor (and his broken leg) and Pi himself. The cook kills the sailor and Pi’s mother, and cuts their bodies up for food and to use as bait to catch fish. Pi kills the evil cook, who is disgusted by what he has done. A cruel tale, at least more believable than his fantastical tale of befriending a Bengal tiger. He does mention that he struggles to tell reality apart from dreams.

Aside from the heterodoxy of Pi’s pantheism, it is equally, if not more, plausible that Pi, a sensitive boy under religious imagination, creates this show to bear, psychologically, the pain of his trials, and to find transcendent meaning in them. Whatever the case, whether it be animals or humans, 227 days at sea is still a messed up experience. The important element at play here, is not about our beliefs. Rather, it is about Pi’s.

Even when God seemed to have abandoned me, He was watching. Even when He seemed indifferent to my suffering, He was watching. And when I was beyond all hope of saving, He gave me rest, then gave me a sign to continue my journey.

If you’re an atheist, you can easily point and say that luck showed him the better side of the coin. If you’re religious, the same side of the same coin. Life of Pi makes us question if God will indeed, come save the main character. After all, if there was anyone needing more divine attention, surely it had to be Pi. Did the gods help him? Coming away from this film, I got the feeling that he was helped, indirectly. At any point in the 227 day stretch, could Pi have died. The bad stuff that happens to him, say the big ass whale, the carnivorous island or Richard Parker, are all supposed to ensure his survival at the end. Especially Richard Parker.

Like Pi, we are all survivors of shipwreck, seeking to make sense of what happened to us, and what we are supposed to do now. The film tests us, to see how far we are willing to preach the same god, even if aid does not come instantaneously to us. We endure, so that eventually, we can understand.

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