Friday, November 13, 2009

Anyone up for Pi?

I recently read a novel called The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It took me a while to get to because it seemed like the typical Old Man and the Sea/Castaway sort of story. And it was. Sorta. The protagonist Pi, is lost at sea when the merchant ship he, his family, and most of their zoo livestock is traveling on very suddenly sinks. Pi is left in a 24 foot lifeboat with a Bengal tiger that manages to survive with him. What follows is a story of the boy’s struggles and attempt to tame the tiger enough to survive, and his faith enough to persist. I will not give the end of the story, but suffice it to say his tale of survival breeds a number of skeptics.
The conversation then goes on as to what the true difference is between what he claims and what people are willing to believe. In Pi's mind, the "better story" is the only one worth hearing anyway because our skepticism of God (caused by the “dry, yeastless story”) strips any possible value from the experience in the first place. Now Pi is a pan-religious sort of person, accepting Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity as far as they can all go without overt contradictions. Essentially, he claims they all make an attempt at and contribute to explaining who God is and how all things are connected through him. He loves the inclusion of Hinduism, the discipline and focus of Islam, and the humanity and compassion of Christianity. I can see how many can turn this story into some attempt to thread religions together, and with this I take some issue; however, as I finished the story something very telling occurred to me about Christianity today.
As many have started noting, there has been a sort of pacification and accommodation epidemic that has swept through Christianity. As the world at large has assaulted Christianity's ways and words, Christians have taken to toning things down, to keeping the peace in fear of offending others. One of the things I did get out of Life of Pi was this short conversation about the difference between how an atheist would react on his death bed to how an agnostic would respond. Pi argues that the atheist is more likely to make the "leap of Faith" when seeing the warm blanket of light, while the agnostic, who has never committed would search for an explanation, but is never really sure. The point the book seems to be making here is that those who fail to make a choice, still make a choice. Christianity has, from it inception, been an active faith. One cannot just avoid doing evil and call themselves good as a result. Good is active. Good is purposeful.
I have, as of late, seen Christianity moving more towards a generic religious identity than a true cultural and spiritual foundation. It's sort of like cultural Judism in that sense. Christians may live by a code, may choose not to steal, swear, tell dirty jokes, cheat, abuse, murder, or whatever the Bible discourages, but these things are just the basics. To say you are a Christian nowadays is much like voicing a rather unpopular political affiliation. I believe Jesus fully revealed God's character so that we may emulate it, not just know and admire it. It is heart-wrenching to see the passivity that our culture tolerates among its members. Such simple actions of kindness nowadays seem to cause such shocked looks as if the person performing the act is a bit crazy for making the effort. Somehow we seem to feel that we will be left alone to carry on in limbo if we make no effort to reveal our supposed convictions. Even Ghandi, in all his passiveness, knew that it took action to get his point across. So... what's our point?

I am convinced we are fighting a war. It is a war of moral versus intellectual, of passive versus active, of tolerance versus love. It has raged on for a while and we have slowly backed down, lost ground, and lost blood. So I ask, when will we pick up our weapons? When will we actively demonstrate the spirit of Christ that was placed in our hands? It seems a greater tragedy to have the weapons, not fight, and slowly be assimilated into the enemy than to raise our voices and arms and be cast down by the enemy's hands. I hope that soon our members will be held to account, and that they will begin to march upon the plague of passivity, and make it so before the trumpet sounds.

On a last note, I understand that I, myself, while seeing these issues, do also stand accused. It is, as I’ve heard it described, my struggle. Why this topic probably gets to me so much is that I fully understand the fear that accompanies these actions. I am still afraid of approaching the edge, so to speak. I am also afraid of outwardly affirming my theological discrepancies in the face of those with more biblical background. I don’t want to be wrong, and I also don’t want to lose hope in light of conflicting views of God’s nature. Ultimately, the very core of this topic is sacrifice, and the understanding of the proportionality of sacrifice to reward/redemption. This will likely be a lifelong lesson, but even the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Just as in science, the most energy needed spiritually is that which is used to get the ball rolling.