In the very last sentence of chapter seven of Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, Pi expresses his feeling that, “to choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation” (Martel 28). The question one must answer is how does Pi distinguish his religious eclecticism from choosing “doubt as a philosophy of life” and is this distinction reasonable?
One must first start this argument by becoming familiar with the term agnostic. An agnostic is a person who believes that there can be no proof of the existence of God but does not deny the possibility (American Heritage Dictionary). After reading the chapter through one time, there is no evidence from the book that supports the reasoning that Pi is an agnostic. He never says there is proof. As a matter of fact, in an argument with his father he defensively claims that the religions are not separate and that they claim some of the same stories as their own. Pi later says on the similarity of the religions,
Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims. (Martel 50)
He obviously does not deny the possibility of the gods, but he never states his doubts about the lack of proof for their existence.
Pi distinguishes himself from the agnostic by believing in several individual elements of three different kinds of religion: Hinduism, Christianity, and Islamic/Muslim. He believes in the different gods of the three religions and when pressured to choose one by his mother and father, he stands his ground and continues to be faithful to all of them. He does not doubt the different religions and he does not make doubt the philosophy of his life. Rather, he accepts parts of all the different religions and cherishes them.
So, from reading the first part of the book, the reader can safely assume that Pi is not, in fact, an agnostic just because he picks and chooses different beliefs from three different religious systems to believe and follow.
Pi distinguishes his eclectic religious stance from the philosophy of doubt easily by showing that his religious views are not doubtful. He admits that there is a time when he, and everyone, is doubtful about their beliefs, but he has ensued and overcome that which he considers an obstacle along his path. He believes that agnostics chose to stand on that step and proclaim in to be their decision, more accurately described as a philosophy. Pi uses the word philosophy to describe their stance because he does not believe they have made a decision, they just ended the process in the middle and claim it to be their belief. Pi does not agree with their philosophy because living in doubt is not really living. His personal beliefs may not be traditional but he separates himself from agnostics because he considers himself to have a belief system and to him they do not. From his perspective this is a reasonable assumption. From a Christian standpoint, I also see his reasoning and consider it to be a valid one. I do not; however, think an agnostic would classify themselves as choosing a philosophy of doubt, but to a Christian that is exactly how it appears. One who has a belief in something cannot understand how a person can believe in nothing. Or how someone can spend their whole life not knowing, and not even appear to be concerned with gaining knowledge that will lead them in some direction. Just because Pi himself has overcome the stage of doubt, does not mean that everyone else should too. His personal religious accounts are not a stance in which we can judge the rest of the world. He looks down upon the agnostics more so than he does the atheists. He has respect for atheists because he claims that they have come to a decision, they have come farther in the process than the agnostics attempted.
I honestly do not completely understand this question; therefore, I do not know if I will answer it correctly. However, I do believe that the comparison between “doubt as a philosophy for life” and religious eclecticism for Pi, has to be made. First of all, religious eclecticism is the basis of making one’s own decisions and not following a single doctrine that is widely accepted. Pi does not directly say that he is against religion, in fact he states that "religion will save us"(27). As a child, Pi grew up in a household that believed in religion and ranked it a high priority. However, Pi's developing respect for Dr. Kumar begins to question his background beliefs on religion. Dr. Kumar, an honored and wise professor says, "I don't believe in religion. Religion is darkness,"(27). To him, in times of need, God was not there. God did not save him from childhood disease, medicine did. For Pi, here is a reputable source bringing about a strong opinion against religion. Thus creating an underlying feeling of indifference towards religion. Pi does not doubt his own beliefs, rather is offered a different view on the topic of religion. It is human nature to have questions about life. For example, why was I placed here? What is my mission in life? These hypothetical, yet nagging questions, fill a void in life-- creating desperate need for answers. One could consider these questions doubt. As Dr. Kumar emphasized, "There are no grounds for going beyond a scientific explanation of reality and no sound reason for believing anything but our sense experience"(27). To him, religious eclecticism is just a way for doubting people to fulfill unanswered questions in their lives. As an atheist, this is Dr. Kumar's philosophy on life. However, Pi can not accept the total avoidance of religion. Pi's philosophy for dealing with doubt is to turn to religion, "If Christ played with doubt, so must we"(28). I think that Dr. Kumar had a strong theory against religion and Pi had what he thought was a theory towards religion. But as he grows into a self-sufficent independent adult, his eyes will open up to more doubt and turn him towards theories other than just religion.
A Philosophy of Doubt or Religious Eclecticism—What is the Difference?
Pi distinguishes his religious eclecticism from a philosophy of doubt by living a life in which he knows that there is a god, he just does not know what religion best represents him or her. He seems to believe that if you combine all popular religions that you will find the best possible religion. He also seems to think that all religions are the same in one sense that is in the sense that there is a God and we should all exalt him. Pi does not doubt god because he believes so strongly in his faith that he does not have to. To me the fact that Pi practices multiple religions makes him a hypocrite. He is living a philosophical life based on doubt—even though he says before that living a life of doubt is no way to live at all. Pi can not decided what religion to follow because he doubts each of them in different ways. Pi does not want to choose between different religions because there is no proof that any of them are right or wrong. I do not think that any one person has the right to say what religion is better than others and I think that Pi probably thought the same thing. You cannot criticize one religion because there is no proof of religion at all.
I think that there is no true distinction between religion and a philosophy of doubt, since religion is based upon doubt. Without doubt there would be no need for religion because we would not need to question anything. I think that everyone has doubt as a philosophy of life, the difference is that some choose it and do not explore within their philosophies. I don’t think that a person can live with only one philosophy; most people have different outlooks on different subjects. I may doubt God, but that I believe that I know what my morals are. I strongly believe that all people have a philosophy of doubt; it is this philosophy that sparks all religions.
Pi’s religious eclecticism is different from choosing ‘doubt as a philosophy of life’. Even though Pi practices three different religions all different in nature, he is not choosing doubt as his philosophy for life. Pi is simple fulfilling his yearning to be close to God. It would be easy to see how the differences in the religions constitute as doubt in life. However, all the religions have a similar foundation. All the religions are trying to honor a god through various practices. The three religions all focus on different aspects of their god and hold different beliefs about their god. Pi’s outlook on the religion is not in their beliefs, but rather their desire to be close to god. Pi sees the three different religions as an opportunity to be closer to god through the practice of all three. Pi expresses his view on the three religions with his statement “ Bapu Gandhi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God” (Martel 69). However, the best description of Pi’s belief is his father’s response to the three religious men “I suppose that’s what we are all trying to do- love God” (Martel 69). This is simply all that Pi wants to do. He wants to love God. Pi sees religion as a means to be close to God not as hierarchy for God. Pi does not question the existence of God. He simply wants to love God to his fullest potential.
This is a reasonable distinction by Pi. Pi’s reasons for choosing all three religions are not based on doubt about which religion is right or better. He fully acknowledges the greatness of all three of the religions in their own way. He cites his love for Hinduism is all the things involved in the religion. He also says, “It is my heart that commands me so. I feel at home in a Hindu temple” (Martel 48). His birth into Hinduism is Pi’s cause for his love of the religion. Pi cites his love for Catholicism “The more He bothered me, the less I could forget Him. And the more I learned about Him, the less I wanted to leave Him” (Martel 57). Pi’s love for Jesus, and how He bears the sins of others, draws Pi into Catholicism. Pi also describes his attraction towards Islam “I challenge anyone to understand Islam, its spirit, and not to love it. It is a beautiful religion of brotherhood and devotion” (Martel 61). Pi never questions the integrity of the three religions. He believes that all three religions are correct and genuine in their beliefs. Pi simply wants to love God and be close to God. He sees the practice of all three religions as the best way to do achieve this goal.
Questioning Religious Philosophies
Religion is an imperative institution in the lives of many people. Its importance is derived from the fact that it attempts to justify and explain life, or at least the more significant questions caused by life. For this reason, Pi defines religion as one of many “[philosophies] of life” (Martel 28). Pi also defines “doubt as [another] philosophy of life” (Martel 28). However, Pi denounces using “doubt as a philosophy of life” as a replacement for religious beliefs (Martel 28). This assertion does not contradict his religious philosophy, because Pi’s religious beliefs counterbalance doubt with both reason and faith. Pi explains that he, like others, including atheists, does question certain aspects of his and other religions, and in this sense he does doubt these principles. However, this does not mean that Pi rejects religion entirely, as one who embraces a philosophy of doubt would. Instead, Pi examines and probes various religious beliefs “as far as the legs of reason will carry [him] – and then [leaps]” (Martel 28). This means that after using reason as a tool for questioning those beliefs to ascertain how outlandish or misleading they may be, when reason fails to provide a complete explanation but at the same time fails to refute the beliefs entirely, Pi is willing to accept those failures without losing faith in the holistic beliefs. This is important because a major concept in religion is faith, and Pi does not deny the importance of faith. Pi recognizes that faith is important because it provides for the realization that, just as some circumstances in life are beyond man’s control and must therefore be attributed to a higher power, the explanations of those and other circumstances exceed, to some extent, man’s ability to reason and understand. Therefore, faith assumes that those explanations must also be attributed to a higher power. Essentially, Pi’s religious philosophy advocates using reason to test faith for its plausibility, not necessarily its validity. Pi explains that a “philosophy of doubt” is also characterized by a questioning of religious beliefs (Martel 28). However, he also explains that this type of philosophy is characterized by a thorough questioning of all religious beliefs, and when reason fails to answer those questions and thereby validate those beliefs, any shortcomings of reasoning, along with any flaws in the beliefs are rejected entirely. Therefore, “a philosophy of doubt” with respect to religious beliefs is essentially a rejection of any beliefs that reason cannot explain completely. This also implies a lack of faith to compensate for the failures of reason. The lack of faith is the primary distinction Pi makes between his “religious eclecticism” and “doubt as a philosophy of life (Martel 28). Since faith is the cornerstone upon which religion is founded, this is a significant and valid distinction.
Eclecticism means a method of selecting individual elements from a variety of sources. This pertains to Pi’s life in one way, religiously. Pi is a young boy raised in India with his family consisting of his father, his mother, and his brother. Pi’s father is a humble zookeeper. Pi is raised in a good Hindu household. Pi’s mother is Hindu but his father takes a different approach because he does not have a religious background. When Pi reaches his middle teenage years (15-16), he starts to ask himself religious questions and seeks answers. In his quest for religious answers, Pi first approaches a Catholic priest and speaks with him and starts to go to mass on Sundays. Pi decides to become a Christian and he wants to be baptized. Then later on that year Pi speaks with a person of the Muslim faith and decides to start learning more about the Muslim faith and prayer and PI asks his mother and father for a prayer rug. Because Pi is in search of his religious answers, this could mean that not one religion meets his needs. That is why Pi, as a young boy, has decided to learn as much about each religion as he can. He doubts that any religion as it stands will supply him with the ideas and philosophies he can live by. So in that same way he is essentially adopting a philosophy of doubt. Doubt that any religion is right for him.
In my opinion, the distinction of philosophy being a doubt, in Life of Pi, is a good possibility. Pi is just a young boy looking for the guidance and security that beliefs and faith give a person. He just finds this comfort in the conglomeration of many religions, and does not want to be one or the other. So since be doubted his faith and his beliefs to begin with, that is why he searched for other beliefs that made sense to him. Pi is using ideas from other faiths (Hindu, Christianity, Muslim) and using them as his philosophy for life. I don’t think that he purposely uses doubt as a philosophy to live by. I think that he thinks that his search for other religions and his combination of those religious ideas allows him to live with some type of faith- not doubt. But actually, his refusal of all the other religions does not separate him from doubt. So I don’t think it is a reasonable distinction.
Pi believes in having a little bit of doubt but not living a life with doubt towards everything. After all, it is doubt that motivates people to look around, explore, consider different options and enable them to choose between alternatives. Doubt is what makes decision-making hard. For instance, if one was absolutely sure that a certain school is the best option for him and has no question about its appropriateness, he would not make an attempt to investigate and explore other schools. Subsequently, there would be no need for making a decision and choosing an alternative. Therefore, it is doubt that leads human beings to keep their options open and search to their ability for the best.
Although Pi believes that a little doubt is a necessity of life, he thinks that “we must move on” (28). Just like he states, to consider doubt as a philosophy of life means to choose immobility as a means of transportation (28). So, he disagrees with choosing doubt as a philosophy, which is to live a life based on absolute doubt towards every aspect. In other words, he is referring to skepticism and agnosticism, an idea to doubt and question everything. It is implausible to move on and live a life with that kind of mindset just like it is impossible to move from one point to another by not moving and choosing to stay in one spot.
His ideology of “doubt as a philosophy of life” is somehow similar yet distinct from his religious eclecticism. He says, “It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics” (28). An atheist is one who does not believe in the existence of God or a supreme being. On the other hand, an agnostic is one who is not committed to the belief of existence or the non-existence of God. Hence, an agnostic has doubt towards both ends whereas an atheist is at least committed to doubting or not believing in the existence of a supreme being. Therefore, Pi believes that an agnostic chooses doubt as a philosophy of life, where everything is doubtful and questionable forever. This is the similarity between his religious eclecticism and his doubt ideology. However, he does not hold anything against an atheist as he mentions in the quote. It is perfectly acceptable not to believe in the existence of god. This is the distinction between the religious morals and doubt. In other words, Pi does not consider the idea of atheism immoral, because that could be a religion on its own, although he disagrees with the belief. Yet, he finds agnosticism problematic and perceives it as choosing doubt as a philosophy of life.
I do not think that Pi believes that choosing a life of religious eclecticism and choosing “doubt as a philosophy life” are compatible. He believes that are they are opposite ends of the spectrum. To Pi, religious eclecticism is a choice, almost like its own separate religion. On the other hand, “choosing doubt as a philosophy of life” is lack of choice. On does not choose anything; One just doubts everything. It would be easy for someone to elect to choose not to believe in anything. As reference to religion, it would not be difficult to be an agnostic. It would be easy for anyone to doubt, and question, the presence of a superior being. It is harder, however, to believe that there is someone higher than you with omniscient power. Pi views his religious eclecticism as the ultimate lack of doubt. Not only does he believe in one religion, but he believes in multiple. Instead of doubted everything he chooses to believe many things. He takes from the different religions what he feels is important.
I think that this is an accurate distinction. I feel that is easy to doubt and ask questions. I have found myself many times asking questions like why and how. However, these are not doubtful questions; they are questions out of curiosity. I believe that choosing to Jewish is a harder decision than choosing to be skeptical of everything. Choosing to be Jewish is a big part of what makes me the way I am. This is why I feel that Pi’s distinction is accurate. In his case, following multiple religions makes him more of a complete person. It just adds to “The Life of Pi.” I think that partaking in a “philosophy of doubt” would leave one feeling empty. There would be nowhere to turn to for the questions of why and how. A life full of doubt would have one believe in nothing. There would be no reason to anything and no life to fulfill. My view that Pi believes that religious eclecticism is the opposite of “doubt as a philosophy of life” may be tainted because it is how I differentiate between the two; but, Pi lives his live by these differences. Following Pi’s life has me seeing the big gap between the two in terms of beliefs. I think the Pi rightfully makes these distinctions.
In the book, Life of Pi, Yann Martel describes a very interesting young man’s journey to find himself. Named after the French word for pool (piscine) Pi’s life is extremely unique. Pi is a young man in search of something to believe. Initially, his mother raises Pi in the traditional ways and practices of Hinduism. He knows of no other way of worshiping a higher being or deity than to practice his first and initially only religion. When Pi decides to start searching for the answers to his own personal religious questions he first decided to speak with a Catholic priest. Afterwards he decides that he wants to become baptized as a Christian. Later that year, Pi, by a strange twist of fate decides that the Muslim faith better suits his needs and answers more of the questions that he has. He asks his parents for a prayer rug and in a way asks them in turn to condone his change in religion from his Hindu background. By constantly changing his religions Pi assumes a believing philosophy rather than a philosophy of doubt. Pi decides that instead of doubting in a religion he keeps an open mind. In fact, Pi’s mind is so open that he finds himself torn between the three religions. His mind was overwhelmed by the possibility that any of his religions could be the one that changes his life for the better. I believe that there is a very reasonable distinction between his philosophy and the philosophy known as a philosophy of doubt. Pi decides that any of the things he learns about could be the ‘correct’ way and therefore was not able to doubt anything he learned about. By keeping an open mind, Pi was forced into indecision about his religions. His philosophy of belief was one that forced him to be true to any belief system that could possibly be the correct course for him. Pi could not deny the possibility of a higher deity nor the fact that the means to worship that deity as well as improve himself could involve any of the belief systems he had adopted. Pi’s distinction between his philosophy of life and the philosophy of doubt is very reasonable indeed.
Pi takes belief in God to the extreme by practicing numerous religions in order to worship God more fully. Rather than doubting the existence of any higher being, Pi believes in the veracity of a variety of religions and concepts of who and what God is. The incorporation of elements of varied religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism allows Pi to worship God in his own unique manner by choosing the elements of each religion which he finds most satisfying.
There is no indication in the text that Pi participates in multiple religions due to a lack of confidence in the validity of any particular one. On the contrary, Pi seems to genuinely believe in every single one of the religions which he becomes involved with. This genuine belief is reflected in the enthusiasm and dedication with which Pi practices the various religions that he takes on as part of his personal canon.
One cannot say that Pi subscribes to a “philosophy of doubt” in his life, because such a philosophy stipulates that one live a life of constant doubt and questioning as to whether or not one’s actions are correct. Pi, on the other hand, is very decisive in his actions. When visiting a new type of religious establishment and learning of the theology associated with the religion, Pi is quick to try it out and assimilate the rituals which he finds to be effective in bringing him closer to God. Thus, Pi does not show a trace of doubt in his beliefs about worshiping God, but rather is so firm in his beliefs and the feeling that worship provides him that he does not even think twice about his practices when others look down upon him for being different. Pi shows his steadfastness when he is not deterred by acts of discrimination such as the following incidents: “An oaf chased me away from the Great Mosque. When I went to church the priest glared at me so that I could not feel the peace of Christ. A Brahmin sometimes shooed me away from darshan” (Martel 71).
The act of practicing multiple religions which are usually viewed as incongruous might be mistakenly judged as a sign of uncertainty in any one religion, but Pi proves that it does not have to be so. His zeal for doing anything he can to feel a connection with God is commendable. Pi simply follows his own heart and soul in deciding how to worship without worrying about the constraints imposed by formal religions. It is very admirable that Pi is unconcerned with society’s view of him when it comes to following his personal beliefs about religion.
I think that his decision can be taken both ways, but I ultimately made a decision after analyzing both views. It was a reasonable distinction, because mainly that is what Pi believes is “correct” in his view and our ideas or suggestions will not change that. Pi believes in religion and implies that if you do not have a religion then you are living a life that is meaning-less. “To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation 28.” His basis of religion is based on this quote that I just mentioned. For example I may say that someone is not a Muslim if he/she eats pork and drinks wine, but that does not mean they are atheist; they could be Christians. What I mean is that Pi is stating his religion through the view of the things that are not allowed to be done in his religion rather than what people usually do by stating the beliefs of that specific religion. This is clearly acceptable but difficult to understand since he is approaching religion from an opposite perspective.
I also believe that his distinction could be viewed as unreasonable. The definition of religion according to www.dictionary.com is; A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion. The point I am trying to make is that to choose doubt as a philosophy of life is a belief. According to some people having doubt as a philosophy of life could be defined as a religion.
An atheist according to www.dictionary.com is; One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods. I would agree with Pi that an atheist would have no meaning for life. Although I do not support his remark; “To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation 28.” The reason I do not agree with him is because choosing doubt as a philosophy of life does not signify that a person is not religious; it means they have different beliefs.
In conclusion I think that Pi did not have a reasonable distinction. It seems to me as if Pi is prejudice towards other religions and finds it difficult to accept the fact that there are different religions than his. He is basically denying that one has a religion because they have different views and beliefs than his.
I think that there is definitely a distinction between the two. First
eclecticism is not dealing with doubt. Eclecticism is the theory or practice
of an eclectic method, as Webster’s defines it. Eclectic is selecting what
appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles; or composed of
elements drawn from various sources. Now that the definition is known is it
very clear that they are not the same. The very first and very plainly thing
that makes them different is that with religious eclecticism you have to
select from what appears to be the best from various doctrines. Yes, it is
possible for you to choose doubt every once and a while as a way to decided
which one to choose but to pick it as a way of life does not help you.
Pi talks about how doubt can help you, but only if you move and decided
on a solid course of action after you have had time to think about it. On page
28 he says: “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”. What he is saying is that doubt can
help us think about things in order to make a better decision but eventually
we have to make one. So, we are allowed to have doubt, but we need to move
forward afterwards to help us accomplish something in life.
The real distinction comes because you can not have “doubt has a
philosophy of life” and select which doctrine works best for you. If you have
a life, filled with a true form of “doubt has a philosophy of life” then you
could never really make a choice on which religious doctrine because you would
forever doubt your choice, your religion, and all the other ones around you.