Our theme for October is “Why I Believe.”
Some of the greatest heroes of the faith for me are not named in Hebrews. They don’t have feast days and aren’t recognized as saints by my denomination or any other. In fact, my heroes of the faith aren’t even real.
Or, at least, they are not factual, or historical. They were never living, breathing people. As far as real goes, well, I chose a major that allowed me to read and write stories; I can argue about true versus factual with my eyes closed.
I heard Yann Martel speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing, sitting anonymously in the Sunshine Church sanctuary, wearing the student committee polo that I’d Febreezed that morning, and I was handed the key to my faith. The Life of Pi epigraph reads, “This is a book that will make you believe in God,” and I was hungry for that belief.
As many of you probably know, the book—now on my top-five list of favorite novels—goes on to tell the story of Pi Patel, who was shipwrecked and survived 277 days at sea with a tiger named Richard Parker. The story becomes increasingly fantastical and unlikely, and in the final section of the book Pi recounts to two Japanese investigators an entirely different account of what happened that shows the darkest reaches of human depravity (e.g. murder, cannibalism). Both stories account for the time between the shipwreck and Pi’s eventual rescue, neither explains the reason for the ship’s sinking, and either way the veracity of the story lies solely in Pi’s word. So he asks the investigators:
“So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? 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.”
It is up to the reader to decide which story is true—or if not to determine truth, at least to decide which is the story they will believe.
I struggle to find a better description of Christian belief. Facts and realism can only go so far, but it is not difficult to accept that the story of religion often tells a better story about the world than one without. For me, that promise proved enough to hang my faith on—and, in fact, revitalized it by allowing my imagination back into my belief.
This experience didn’t happen in a vacuum, though. The groundwork was laid along the way, and long before there was Life of Pi, there were the Chronicles of Narnia. There was The Silver Chair. Specifically, there was Puddleglum, who has to be one of the most lovable characters to ever exist.
I love Puddleglum when he is being glum, but I love him most when he is being hopeful, and he gives an inspiring speech that is maybe the greatest monologue in all of Narnia:
Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world.
Puddleglum is, essentially, choosing the story with the animals. He’s certainly not doing it because he’s a Pollyanna glass-half-full sort of person. He’s doing it because it is the better story, because it is the story that makes life worthwhile. He’s choosing the better story because it is why he believes.
Alissa Goudswaard Anderson (’10) lives with her husband Josh in New York City, where she is earning her Master of Divinity at General Theological Seminary. Alissa enjoys private kitchen dance parties, big Midwestern thunderstorms, and perusing other peoples’ bookshelves. For more, find her online at www.episcotheque.wordpress.com or tweet her @episcotheque.