Life of Pi: Why Faith and Reason Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee, puts two schools of thought in direct competition: the objective sciences and religion.

Before you continue reading, please understand that the next several paragraphs contain major spoilers that are necessary for analysis.

The movie begins with a grown Indian man named Pi who uses his childhood stories to try to convince an atheist into believing in God. Pi describes the time he and his family needed to move from India to Canada via a Japanese freighter. The freighter was shipwrecked and teenage Pi, along with some zoo animals, were the only ones to get on a life boat and survive. On the boat, Pi witnessed a hyena kill a zebra and then an orangutan. But a tiger jumped out and killed the hyena, leaving Pi alone with the tiger.

Older Pi discusses how he and the tiger began to develop a relationship which helped them to miraculously survive a 227 day long journey out in the middle of the Atlantic. Both of them were able to live alongside each other and survive through completely unbelievable means.

First, Pi began to realize the tiger had a soul, almost as if it were a person he could depend on emotionally. Then, Pi found morale by finding ways to connect and live with the tiger. The audience can only believe this was how Pi survived only if they have “faith” in these stories.

When Pi eventually reached the shores of Mexico, Japanese men from the freighter corporation asked him how he survived. Pi told them he overcame death because of his emotional tie with the tiger. The tiger allowed him to grow as a person, and by doing so, allowed him to continue living. The men were in absolute disbelief. They couldn’t believe an animal kept a boy alive for such a long time. They instead asked for the “truth.”

Pi then personified the hyena, the orangutan, and the zebra. They represented a human chef, sailor, and mother. In the story, the chef killed the sailor and then the mother to eat their flesh and survive, just like the hyena did in the beginning. Pi, the last person on the boat, said he killed the chef just like the last animal on the boat, the tiger, killed the hyena. This time, the Japanese men reacted with disgust. They paid close attention to the raw evil (and cannibalism) committed on the boat and were simply in shock.

In the present day, Pi asks the atheist, “Which story do you prefer?” And by doing so, Pi essentially asks whether or not the atheist would rather believe in an objective but completely unpleasant “reality,” or have faith in a miraculous story. The atheist states he prefers to have faith. To put all of this in another way: Pi convinces the atheist into believing in something unbelievable. Pi convinces him that it is completely reasonable to believe in God.

So why do people, such as the atheist of this movie, choose to believe in stories that are scientifically unbelievable? Because these stories have worth. To many, religion is worth believing in because it provides an extra dimension of beauty in life. Life no longer becomes an endless cycle of eating, sleeping, or even killing for pure survival–like in Pi’s “realistic” story. It becomes a time in which we are able to use God’s gifts (such as the tiger’s companionship) in order to change, grow, and improve.

According to science, life is about finding the basic means for survival. According to religion, life is about survival in addition to connecting with others and finding ways to overcome the toughest of situations. It is therefore possible that both of Pi’s stories–both faith and reason–are compatible with one another and exist simultaneously. One simply builds upon the other.

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