Pi and the Modern Religion

A Book Review in Brief

Life of Pi
Yann Martel

Life of Pi is an enjoyable if cheesy work of fiction from a philosophy major. As such, it addresses some very serious questions in a very modern way. Pi is an idiosyncratic pluralistic religious boy who the author paints as the scourge of his elders. He is firmly devoted to God, and his devotion might be called blind. He feels from a very young age that God is real and that he must be worshiped. He then finds something acceptable and good in nearly every major religious tradition in both the West and East. Which is fair enough! But he continues to assert that none of the different understandings of God make any difference whatsoever. He sees no contradiction between saying Jesus is God and also saying that Vheissu is God. And so the point of the story begins to reveal itself.

After the initial theme is established in the first few chapters, the author tells a marvelous tale of survival which is a quite enjoyable read. This lasts nearly the entire book and there are lots of lame attempts at symbolism along the way. The story is so well told that the cheesiness is easily forgiven. In the final pages, the author retells the entire story and the reader is left to decide which story is true for him or herself. And the author sneaks into the narrative and reveals himself most clearly when Pi declares, “And so it goes with God.” You see, the point of this “soul-sustaining” (LA Times) novel is really quite simple. The most important part about life is that you create your own story – we all know that nothing can be objectively true, so make up a good meta-narrative for yourself. If it’s an entertaining story, why care whether or not it’s actually true! This is actually a good argument for believing in Santa Claus, but I digress.

I can summarize the theme and indeed the book quite eloquently with a quote provided to me by my girlfriend who attributed it to a Professor: “Pi is an irrational number from which rational answers are drawn.” It’s a cool idea, but ultimately wrong.

That said, there is much to salvage in this story. In the first place, it deals quite openly with a modern notion of truth, and this is worth exploring especially in contrast to a traditional understanding of the idea. Secondly, it contains a thinly veiled critique of rationalism and scientific dogmatism that modern readers would do well to heed. And so in the end, the book was surprisingly good. It’s not a classic, but it is entertaining and thought provoking.

- Zach

1 comment:

Catherine! said...

i still think i'm right.