Kevin and I went to see Life of Pi last weekend. Several years after having read the book, it still stands out in my mind, and I’d say it’s probably on my Top Ten List of Best Books I’ve Ever Read. The movie was a visually stunning (largely computer generated) adaptation of the book that did an excellent job of sticking to the original story. Kevin and I both enjoyed it very much.
If you don’t know the story – and without giving too much away (read the book! It’s really good) – here’s a synopsis: A teenage boy and his family set sail from their homeland of India, en route to Canada to start a new life. Pi’s father owned a zoo in India, and they are bringing the menagerie with them to Canada to sell. En route, the Japanese cargo ship on which they sail sinks, leaving Pi to survive aboard a lifeboat for many weeks, his only companion a Bengal tiger. Pi’s story of survival is touted as “a story that will make you believe in God.”
There comes a point in the story, when Pi and the tiger have been adrift at sea for a very long time, starving and losing hope, when their lifeboat lands on a mysterious island populated by meerkats. By day, the island is lush, overgrown with shade trees, a mysteriously fresh water pond, and plenty to eat. By night, the island itself transforms into something sinister and carnivorous, and Pi realizes that it’s not the oasis it appears to be, and he must leave it. So he and Richard Parker (the tiger) reboard the lifeboat and again set off to sea.
It is at this point that Pi, narrating his story, explains that he knew God was with him, he felt God’s presence and mercy, and he was thankful.
It bothered me. Much as this sort of sentiment bothers me in “real life” – I realize that Life of Pi is a fictional story, but this is certainly something that is expressed prolifically among the Christians I know.
In the story, Pi feels God’s presence and mercy presumably because he has survived an almost unfathomably harrowing experience. What about his family, though? His brother and parents, as well as everyone else on the ship, were not spared. Why would a merciful god pick and choose like that? If this god that people believe in has the power to save people, why doesn’t he save everyone? Why would he have allowed the ship to sink to begin with?
It’s just a big mystery, isn’t it? God is too complex for mere mortals to understand, right?
It seems to me that this is something that is missing among believers: the rational questioning. If you believe that God works in your life – that he actually intervenes on your behalf – then by the very same logic, you must believe that he totally screws other people over. If it’s by the grace of God that your sister made it through that surgery, or that you found a job just when the money was running out, or that the storm missed your house, then how can you also not believe that God is a twisted fucker who does allow other people to die in surgery, or not find a job and live in poverty, or lose their homes and possessions and lives to catastrophic storms? How can you believe that God keeps your children safe but allows other children to suffer and die under horrific circumstances?
I know I’ll get a slew of comments from believers trying to explain it all to me, but really, I’m not looking to be convinced. I have my answer: it’s not that God is a mean, mercurial, favorite-playing son of a bitch, it’s that there is no God (it’s okay, I’ve been calling God names for years, and I haven’t been struck by lightning yet, and I won’t go to hell, because there is no hell, friends). I just wonder if people ask themselves these questions, and if so, what answers they come up with to keep themselves believing. I will also say that in all my years of being a believer myself, I never thought to ask such questions. I just took it for granted that all the good was attributable to God, and the bad, well … not. Which is super convenient, to say the least.
I loved the story, but it didn’t make me believe in God, for what it’s worth.