Friday, December 28, 2012

God and Life of Pi

I love the book and the recent film, The Life of Pi.   It is a delightful story.  I especially enjoy that point in the book when Pi is discovered by his parents and the religious leaders as a Christian, a  Muslim, and a Hindu.   I used this scene in a sermon several years ago when my congregation was reading the Qur'an cover to cover.   Pi is found out and told that he cannot practice all three religions.

“Bapu Gandhi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God,” I blurted out, and looked down, red in the face.

It is the story a shipwrecked boy who survives in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.   The story is told in the first person. It isn't until the end of the novel and the film that the main character admits that the tiger part was a story.  He tells then another much more brief story about other people in the lifeboat who do not survive.   But what is the better story, the one with the tiger or the one that seems more likely?  Such is God.  The author, Yann Martel interpreted The Life of Pi  in this interview:

"Life is a story. You can choose your story. A story with God is the better story."

The Life of Pi is a parable in a sense about God and about faith in God.  It is also about interpretation of reality.   In another interview, Martel said:

"What I was trying to do in this book was try and discuss how we interpret reality - most secular readers will read the book and say 'Ah, okay, there's one story told and actually something else happened, and Pi 'invented' this other story to pass the time, or make his reality bearable. That's the secular. The other one, the more religious interpretation, would just be the story you're reading and that's what happened..."

That seems to me to be a helpful way to to understand God.   God is a matter of interpretation.   Faith is choosing your story.  Would that satisfy orthodox Christians?   Perhaps.  He goes on to say:

"Reality isn't just "out there", like some block of cement: reality is an interpretation. In a sense we co-create our reality. And we do that all the time, every day. One day we wake up and we're in a great mood, the city we live in is a beautiful city, the next day it's an ugly city. That's just the way we interpret things. We're not free necessarily to choose the facts of our life, but there is an element of freedom in how we interpret them."

I loved the book and film and I am intrigued by the philosophy.  It is only with appreciation that I write the following.   I am not sure that I agree at the end of the day that in regards to life that "a story with God is the better story" at least for me.    I come at this with a lifetime of personal experience with God including twenty years in the ministry.

The story of God in my experience has been a story that has silenced other stories.   God vs. science, for instance.   God and hell and sin and punishment, vs. personal growth for another instance.  God and superstition vs. personal responsibility for yet another.      In all of these cases I have had to take leave of God for that which has been for me more real, more beautiful, and more satisfying.

For those who will tell me that I just have the wrong God story, I hear you.   I am glad your God story is better.   But I don't think I am alone in this.  I know I am not.  The God story for many of us, in fact, I might say the dominant God story in our country is a story that is a far worse story than the secular story.
I will take the story of natural selection any day over Genesis 1-3 as a better story.   The God story there includes all kinds of sin and guilt that I am grateful to have left behind.   I will take the story of the Universe that began 13.7 billion years ago and will continue long after the last human being has breathed her last over against the God story of Revelation and of the Second Coming of Jesus.    I like the science story a lot more than I like the God story.    It is the science story that has made the universe beautiful, holy, and sacred to me. 

I like the secular story of Jesus and the Bible more than I like the pious story of Jesus and the Bible.   I far prefer the historical Jesus to the Christ of faith.   I far prefer the Bible as a human product than as the word of God.  I far prefer God as a human creation than humans as a creation of God.   I like some of the stories of God.  Some are interesting.   All are creative.   I see them all as human creations.

That is the whole point of Life of Pi, isn't it?   We get to choose our story.

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