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Faith in the Leap–Religion and Life of Pi

By William D’Angelo, VI Form

Faith in the Leap–Religion and Life of Pi

The “Leap of Faith” scares many, as it has for eons. Everyone fears the fall, the drop into the unknown. Some enjoy the rush of the unknown. The unknown has infinite possibilities, something which is hard to find in a finite life. Faith requires this fear and this rush. Those are the doubts of the leap. Faith is belief in idea regardless of one’s doubt. If there is no doubt, it is not faith–it is fact. The excitement and fear of doubt are the obverse and reverse of the same coin. They sustain each other, building off of one another. As excitement wanes, fears build. As fear ebbs, excitement crashes over one like a tsunami. In Life of Pi, Yann Martel demonstrates on various levels that faith as well as doubt are what keeps Pi alive during his
ordeal. It is not just Pi that is aided by his faith and doubt, but everyone in the world as well.

The letting go is the Leap of Faith: “Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust…” (208).  This belief in the Leap is simply another way to describe Fideism. C.S. Lewis could have been the speaker of this quote. He believed that faith alone sustains belief in God. Doubt is normal and a part of faith. What matters is the belief. Pi’s belief in God, in Richard Parker, kept him alive. Belief in the midst of suffering is the fire that tempers the blade of faith. Lewis upheld the notion that faith alone can sustain someone, and Martel insinuates in his novel that this is what happens with Pi. Ecumenical Fideism is the correct way to describe Pi’s way of belief. Faith in life is what saved Pi from death.

If suffering is the fire that tempers the blade, then doubt is the water in which you must plunge the blade to cool it. Doubt will always be part of faith, as it only serves to make faith stronger: “The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar” (284). This is the same situation Sister John faces in Salzman’s Lying Awake. Her sturdy belief is rocked to the core at her discovery of the tumor. But in her trials, she realizes that God was all she had, even when she believed she had nothing. From her doubt, faith grew stronger. When her faith overcame her doubt, she took the Leap of Faith. She brought her belief to its uppermost limits, and she knew God was still there. As with Pi, her suffering brought her closer to God.

Words can have inventive and misleading elements in them: “Isn’t telling something…already something of an invention?” (302).  So can the senses. Pi’s senses brought him nothing but despair, “a heavy blackness that let no light in our out” (208). Pi found his solitude in his mind as well as in Richard Parker. In a way, Pi is like Descartes. By discarding all previous knowledge, and relying solely on the mind, Descartes found a belief in the infinite, faith, doubt, and perfection. Perhaps the mind is the sheath in which one keeps the sword. Martel uses words such as “illusion” and “mirage” to amplify the implication of Pi’s senses being clearly deceptive. This is how Pi finds God. By relying on his mind, Pi can find his spiritual being inside, as Descartes did, and realize that suffering is irrelevant to himself. Descartes would say that Pi’s undeniable belief in God was achieved only because of the experience he had. Because his senses were so miserable, that his physical body was so tormented, he retreated into his mind, and into Richard Parker, and wielded the sword of faith against the monsters of despair.

Picture a large “U” on a scale. At the top, at either side of the “U”, is faith and doubt. The higher up you go, the more belief is present. Faith and doubt rise at equal paces with belief, and the bottom, where there is no belief, there is despair, and suffering, and cold, hard fact. This is what the Japanese men wanted from Pi; a story in which there is no doubt or faith required, just a way to “sacrifice imagination on the altar of crude reality…” (XII). This way, the men would end up “believing in nothing” (XII). Men whom believe in nothing, who desire no faith and no doubt, have restricted themselves to the horizontal plane of existence. Pi, on the contrary, moved solely vertically on his journey. Martel displayed in his writing that imagination is the key to faith, and doubt, and only with those things can one have a belief powerful enough to sustain them.

William D’Angelo is a VI Form day student from Medfield, MA. He plays football, wrestles, and is an avid reader of cracked.com.

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