Life of Pi and Making Sense of the Bible

17 Jan

I recently saw Ang Lee’s Life of Pi at the cinema based on the original novel by Yann Martel. It’s one of those films where you’re not really sure if you’ve understood it properly and as you walk out the cinema talking about the film your friends seem to have understood it completely differently to you. Or they hated it and wished they’d been watching Ice Age 3.

The interesting things about the Life of Pi, is that the interpretation of this story is EVERYTHING.

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The story begins with Pi, the son of a zookeeper in India who becomes curious about religions and simultaneously practices Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. His father ridicules him and his mother explains perhaps this isn’t the best way to go.

The film progresses and Pi’s father decides the family should leave India for Canada in hope of a better life. They take their animals on board a boat destined for Canada, which tragically sinks due to a storm.

Pi is the sole survivor of sunken ship after a fascinating and tragic series of events.

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Eventually Pi washes up on the shores of Mexico, 227 days after the ship sank and recounts 2 versions of the story to the Japanese Owners of the boat who want to know what happened to their boat. The same facts are offered, with a different interpretation.

In the first, Pi is the sole human survivor on a lifeboat with a zebra, hyena, orangutan and a huge Bengal tiger called Mr. Parker. The second has no animals and is far more brutal. One requires suspension of disbelief; the other is “reasonable”.

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The viewer must subconsciously choose whether they are prepared to walk away from the “reasonable” to accept the better story. In other words to have faith, when to do so makes no sense even though the viewer doesn’t know for sure which story really happened.

The subjective moment of interpreting the ending of the film is intended to serve as moment of theological reflection. Are you a person who prefers to believe in things that makes sense or that you can see or are you someone who can believe in miracles and have faith to believe in things?

In the film, Pi retells the story and convinces two skeptics to overcome one of the largest barriers to faith – believing in the unbelievable. One of those characters is told the story will make him believe in God.

So why am I blogging about this film?

One of the barriers I have always had about faith was that I struggled to believe a literal interpretation or story of the Old Testament. Since I began training to be a Salvation Army Officer I decided I wanted to study this issue. I couldn’t literally believe God created the world in 6 days, that Noah gathered two of every animal and put them on a boat as the world flooded, that God seem to capable of irrational and vicious punishment, that Jonah survived being swallowed by a whale and so on. Plus I’m pretty sure the earth is older than about 10,000 years!

But I’ve learned to try and read between the lines and allow my critical (not in the negative sense) instincts to guide me in practical understanding of the Old Testament. If they weren’t written primarily to be accurately historical true the much more interesting question I have come to ask is: why did the Jewish people tell their history in the way they did?

Where I stand on this question is a bit like how I ended up interpreting Life of Pi. I think there is a third way to interpret the film being that the truth is a mix of the two stories. And so I think it is with the Old Testament. It is not primarily written for historical truth but infused with moments of historical truth. The reason they are written the way they are, apart from nation building, in my opinion, was to teach moral lessons and give explanations of complicated things – such as human origins. The stories featured some characters that did exist and events that happened but also some that probably didn’t.

Do I stop reading these books? Of course not, because suddenly they have become so much richer in their literary and theological content. I don’t think some of the stories are just untrue anymore – they have a much deeper truth. I should also add I have full respect for people who choose to believe the Old Testament completely literally. The implications of this, in terms of the Creation story for example, is that science and faith can be held together. Science investigates how the world came to be, and faith describes the why. Story telling allows us to see truth in another way.

Maybe I’ll blog about the New Testament sometime. Although my views on the Old Testament don’t carry for the New Testament – there are some interesting implications. But generally speaking when Jesus enters the frame – it’s a completely different ball game but that will keep for another day.

Let me know what you think!

Ben

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One Response to “Life of Pi and Making Sense of the Bible”

  1. Katalog Oriflame Juni 2014 August 27, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

    Having read this I believed it was rather enlightening.
    I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this informative article together.
    I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both
    reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still
    worthwhile!

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