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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Life of Pi: Ecumenism on a grand scale

Today is 3/14, which inspires some people to celebrate pi day on this date. Pi, the ratio between the circumference and the diameter of a circle, begins with 3.14. It goes on from there forever, because it is an irrational number, meaning that it can't be expressed as a ratio between two numbers. The Wikipedia article on Pi, or π, is the only such article I remember that has an animated graphic.



Life of Pi
, Booker Prize-winning novel by Yann Martel, is only slightly about mathematics. I'll spoil the plot, because the book's cover gives it away, anyway. A 16-year-old Indian boy, Pi Patel, survives a shipwreck. So does a large tiger. The two of them coexist on a lifeboat for several months.

Patel claims to be a Christian, a Hindu, and a Muslim, all at the same time, which, besides giving most readers some pause, is upsetting to his three spiritual guides. I can't speak for the Hindu or Muslim beliefs and practices presented, but Patel and Martel seem to comprehend Christianity, and faith in general:
I'll be honest about it. It's not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while.We must all pass through the Garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. p. 28.

And about the beginning of Pi's conversion to Christianity:
He . . . told me a story. Or rather, since Christians are so fond of capital letters, a Story.

And what a story. The first thing that drew me in was disbelief. What? Humanity sins but it's God's Son who pays the price? p. 53.

Martel also has some definite statements to make about animal behavior. Interesting statements. For example:
Whatever the reason for wanting to escape, sane or insane, zoo detractors should realize that animals don't escape to somewhere but from something. Something within their territory has frightened them -- the intrusion of an enemy, the assault of a dominant animal, a startling noise -- and set off a flight reaction. The animal flees, or tries to. p. 41.

I won't give away any more of the plot than I did in the first paragraph, other than to say that I think the period on the lifeboat lasted too long for my taste.

A good read. I'm not sorry I read the book.

Thanks for reading.

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