Pi and pluralism...


Over the last couple of weeks, I've done more thinking than usual. I'm getting close to my two-month anniversary of not having been to church (apart from chapel services at Garrett). I've been busy writing papers for courses, slowly working on bits and pieces of my final integrative project. I've been watching movies, cooking, walking. More than anything else, I've been having conversations. Mostly, when these conversations have pertained to my own faith journey, they've revolved around or ended up on one major topic: pluralism.

Also over the past few weeks, after going to see Cloud Atlas with Frankie and seeing the trailer for Life of Pi beforehand, I decided to read the book. I'd been getting tired of re-reading the same stories over and over (which should tell you something since, prior to this year, I hadn't read a new fiction novel in quite sometime, but instead kept reading old favorites like the Harry Potter and Ender's Game series as well as The Giver), and so I figured it would be a good one to tackle.

Without spoiling the entire story for anyone, I do want to address one particular aspect of it...

In the first part of the novel, we see Pi (the main character... clearly) going through a crisis of faith. Pi is a Hindu, both by culture and by practice. He knows the stories, goes to temple, and lives his life according to the principles foundational to his faith. While on vacation, however, he comes upon a small, rural Catholic church, and his curiosity gets the best of him. He has several conversations with the cleric, wrestling with questions about the Christian faith that stem from his Hindu understanding of divinity and the relationship between divinity and humanity. Ultimately, before concluding his vacation, he rushes up to the priest shouting his desire to be a Christian, after which the priest tells him he already is one because he has searched.

Here's the thing: Pi never renounces his Hindu faith. In fact, he has no desire to do so.

He has found God in Krishna. He has found God in Christ.

Later, Pi encounters a Muslim baker, an ordinary man who, in the middle of explaining the intricacies of making bread to Pi, is interrupted by the call to prayer, excuses himself for a few moments, and returns to the boy picking up right where he left off. Pi is so astounded by the man's devotion and humility that he feels compelled to know more. As with the Catholic priest and Christianity, he begins to explore Islam more in-depth, ultimately becoming a practicing Muslim himself.

Again, he never leaves Hinduism, and he never turns away from Christianity.

He has found God in Krishna. He has found God in Christ. He has found God in Allah.

One unfortunate day, while out for a walk with his parents, the trio encounter another, one made of up the priest, the imam, and the pandit who have served as Pi's religious guides. None of them know about the other, and all three experience a sense of shock and horror to know that Pi has been, well, triple-dipping. They're confused, and their confusion leads to outrage, which leads to questions, all of which are directed at Pi, who by this point has nearly wet himself. His mother asks for his response.

He answers, "Bapu Ghandi said, 'All religions are true.' I'm just trying to love God." (p.69)

I was awestruck. Something about Pi's words resonated so deeply within me that finding words to describe it is proving difficult.

For some time now, I've felt my faith growing and transforming, but not in the direction I expected. Questions have surfaced. Contradictions raised. Some things were making more sense, and others were making less.

After announcing my decision to leave the United Methodist Church, several friends asked me what my plans were. Would I go back to church? Would I pursue ordination elsewhere? Initially, the answer was yes. Now, in all honesty, I'm not so sure.

In my twenty-eight years of life, the vast majority of my faith journey has taken place within the confines of Christianity. Since starting seminary and studying theology, I've experienced a transformation that has far surpassed my own expectations or imagination. I'm at a crossroads, and the words of Pi have helped articulate the direction I see myself taking.

For several years, I've been superficially curious about other faith traditions and belief systems. In the past, any time I studied another faith, it was always through the lens of a Christian author, speaker, or spiritual leader. I never left the safe bubble of my own background. I am, indeed, a cultural Christian, and it's taken me this long to realize that.

I've been feeling the desire, the urge, to explore, to delve into the beliefs and practices of other faith traditions and ideologies. Not simply at a superficial level either, but in a fully immersed fashion. I'm not entirely sure what this part of my journey will look like, especially given that I still have slightly over a year left in seminary. I do know that Jesus is (and probably always will be) important to me in a more unique way than I can express. But if Jesus is God, and God is omnipresent, then there is a possibility that Jesus, or more accurately the Christ spirit (the Logos), is present in a more expansive way than I personally have ever seen or experienced. The motto of the United Church of Christ is "God is still speaking." I, for one, want to make sure I'm listening.

Pluralism is often defined as the acceptance of all religious paths as equally valid, promoting coexistence. For many, this is manifested in a sort of tolerance of other faiths, a belief that "I believe this. You believe that. We're never going to change each other's mind, so we might as well put up with each other." That's not enough for me. I never want to feel as if I'm simply putting up with another person, another human. I never want to look at them and think that, because they believe something different from myself, that they are somehow unable to truly be a part of my life. For me, pluralism is about identifying with the other, making him or her a part of myself. It's about saying, "I believe this. You believe that. We might not change each other's mind about anything, but I'm sure there's something we have in common, whether in belief or goal."

It may be that this journey will lead me right back to Christianity, albeit as a different person with a broader understanding of God, faith, and spirituality. It may lead me elsewhere. I honestly can't say for sure. But like Pi, I simply want to love God.