Life of Pi – The Book

A few weeks ago I posted comments about the acclaimed motion picture, “Life of Pi.” Now that I have read some of the book, I can add comments about that rendition of “Pi.”

(Spoiler alert: I’m going to discuss the way the book ends, though I’ll only include as much detail as is necessary to make my point.)

In the final scenes Pi talks with two Japanese officials who are investigating a maritime disaster in which Pi was cast adrift in a lifeboat. He tells them an incredible tale about sharing this little boat with a tiger and other animals. They express skepticism about the veracity of this account, and Pi replies:

“I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want a dry, yeastless factuality.” (Yann Martel, Life of Pi, p. 381.)

Pi then presents them with an alternate version of the maritime disaster and its aftermath, recounting this grim, depressing tale in a flat, straightforward manner.

He also suggests that it’s impossible for them to know which story is correct, and that knowing which is correct would not make any practical difference whatsoever. They agree. He then asks:

“‘Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?’ Mr. Okamoto: ‘That’s an interesting question …’ Mr. Chiba: ‘The story with animals.’ Mr. Okamoto: ‘Yes. The story with animals is the better story.’ Pi Patel: ‘Thank you. And so it goes with God’” (pp. 398-99).

Earlier in the book, Pi prepares us for this crucial scene by implying that a theory of reality that has God in it is “the better story” compared to “yeastless factuality.”

“I can well imagine an atheist’s last words: ‘White, white! L-L-Love! My God!’ – and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, ‘Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain,’ and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story” (pp. 80-81).

So this is the challenge to secular humanists – to write a better story, or at least a darned good one. I’m reminded of Steve Martin’s rip on humanism, “Atheists Ain’t Got No Songs” (

The challenge for theists on the other hand is to see that there are many “good stories” about life and the cosmos. Thus they can draw strength from the story which is beloved by their faith community without ridiculing other foundational tales – including the ones that creative humanists are writing this very minute.

Roger Christan Schriner

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Life of Pi – What’s the Main Message?

In a recent post I asked readers how they interpreted a key statement in the award-winning film, Life of Pi. Toward the end the protagonist remarks, “And so it goes with God.”

I don’t pretend to have “the” correct interpretation of this comment, but here’s what it means to me. In dealing with the biggest questions and deepest mysteries of life, people have concocted all sorts of fanciful stories, such as the creation myths of the world’s religions. Now science offers another sort of account, focusing on physical facts and the disciplined use of experiment and evidence.

Science has been stunningly successful in giving us greater prediction and control of physical reality. But we still, as a species, prefer more fanciful interpretations.

The film includes a reality-based story that contrasts with Pi’s fanciful tale. It is told in a flat, straightforward manner, reminding me of Sergeant Friday in the old Dragnet show – “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.” The story is tawdry, depressing, disturbing.

Must that be the emotional impact of the scientific world-view? I don’t think so, but no world-view will gain wide acceptance unless it appeals to human feelings, human imagination, human longings.

How can we present science in a way that inspires us instead of boring or depressing us? So far the best attempt I’ve seen is what Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow call “The Great Story.” Check out these sites to see what I mean:

Intellectuals used to refer to homo sapiens as the rational animal. Given all that we’ve learned about our own irrationality, that phrase seems pathetically inaccurate today. But homo sapiens as the imaginative animal? The story-telling animal? The meaning-maker? Yes indeed, for better and for worse. Our task, then, is to use our astonishing imaginations to write reality-based stories that heal and empower us. That, to me, is the main message of “Life of Pi.”

Roger Christan Schriner

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Life of Pi and Belief in God

Last night I saw the academy-award-winning film, Life of Pi. I don’t want to spoil this intriguing movie for anyone who has not seen it, but I do want to invite comments about its theological implications.

At one crucial point, the protagonist says to the fellow who’s been interviewing him, “And so it goes with God.” (Some moviegoers hear, “And so it is with God.”)

Without giving away details of the story, if you have seen the film how do you interpret that statement?

I would prefer to limit this conversation to comments on the film rather than bringing in what the book says. The book and the film are two separate artistic works, and our discussion might become muddled if we bring in data from both of them.

Roger Christan Schriner

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