Surprised by Pi Review
I was surprised by your published review of the movie Life of Pi ("Blu-ray/Picks & Passes," March 24). The reviewer’s only religion-based criticism of the film is its religious syncretism. I’m left wondering if he watched it to its end.
The storyteller advises his apparently rather naive listener something to the effect that the story will teach the listener about God. He then relates the long, colorful, entertaining, fantastic tale about the aftermath of a shipwreck that forms most of the film.
However, he then tells another story about the shipwreck. This story is short, not at all fantastic, and much less interesting than the previous tale, but it is obviously the truth about what happened. He then asks his listener which of the two stories he prefers. The listener, apparently somewhat embarrassed, admits that he prefers the colorful, fantastic, fictional tale rather than the more prosaic truth.
The storyteller then delivers the message of the movie: That’s how it is with religion. In other words, religion presents a story that is colorful, fascinating, fantastic and fictitious; but we prefer it to the relatively dull, prosaic truth. All told, Life of Pi is a work of agnostic/atheistic proselytization. Or am I wrong?
Steven Greydanus responds: Thanks for your thoughtful response. I wouldn’t say you’re wrong, exactly, but I think Life of Pi supports more than one reading — and is meant to. You say Pi’s second, prosaic story is "obviously the truth." Is that obvious, within the narrative world of the film? I think the film means to leave viewers with an open question about which story is "the truth." Most of the atheists I know would balk at the idea that their worldview in any way suffers in contrast to a religious worldview. Certainly, atheists like the late Christopher Hitchens have argued passionately that the mysteries of religion pale in contrast to the grandeur and wonder revealed by science. Even to suggest, then, that a religious worldview is more colorful and fascinating than a nonreligious one is already to take a step away from atheism. Beauty, goodness and truth are ultimately one, and even if Life of Pi isn’t ready to make that leap, if it appreciates the beauty and color and poetic appeal of a religious worldview, that’s an opening for grace. Life of Pi is, at the very least, rife with spiritual longing. The film wants something more to be true, and it celebrates that longing in its riot of visual poetry. That certainly doesn’t make it unproblematic, and I hope my review attested my ambivalence toward the film. But it’s not a film I feel I can dismiss, either.
Freed by Truth
Excellent interview with Father Paul Check ("Loving a Child With Same-Sex Attraction," In Person, April 21 issue). Our son, an actor, had a Jewish homosexual manager. We invited the manager to live at our home. He expressed a desire to become a Catholic. He said he wanted the "Original," after I had said, "Don’t you just want to be a Christian?" My husband and I became his godparents. I took him to a diocesan presentation on HIV/AIDS, where a representative from Courage spoke. Allen told me afterwards that he had been molested by one of his mother’s five husbands. I told him God would show him his true gender identity. Gratefully, I had heard Joseph Nicolosi speak on reparative therapy.
Allen fell in love with one of our daughters before he died of AIDS. I told him, "I didn’t gain a son-in-law, but I gained a son!" I am so sorry that some of the very many stories of success in reparative therapy are not told in the mainstream media.
Regarding your continuing coverage of the attempt to redefine marriage: Pope John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (The Vocation and Dignity of Women) provides a marvelous shining light of hope and encouragement for happily married couples. His repetition of two truths provides great optimism for these couples, and I have known such a couple who mutually read it, beaming with joy, and discovered their happy marriage was even more solidly based and truly happier.
Over and over, the Pope cites the fact that Adam and Eve were created in the image and likeness of God and, even more so, refers to a sentence from Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), which asserts that we cannot know who we truly are without the sincere knowledge of self (24).
Thank you for your prominent and timely coverage of the saddening same-sex "marriage" agenda.
Responding to your report on Rhode Island’s recent approval (Nation, May 19 issue), here are three points of important precision.
First, legislative approval of same-sex "marriage" not only "legitimizes" this arrangement; it also inevitably displaces the historic and normal meaning and definition of marriage as simply one arbitrary option among others.
Second, as part of the common good centered on the integrity of the human person, normal marriage should be defended and affirmed on the distinct ground of reason, even as we also appeal to Church teaching based more on Divine revelation. The audience is all persons of good will. And because the general citizenry’s freedom of religion is affected by state-endorsed same-sex "marriage," we might note that the Second Vatican Council based its "Declaration on Religious Freedom" not on revelation, but directly on the nature and destiny of the human person and the personal right, therefore, to "immunity from coercion" by the state and others in matters of religion (as this "freedom" is actually defined).
And third, while a Washington state florist (which the Register also recently covered) is being sued "for turning away business from a same-sex couple," the very interesting truth is that, over the years, the florist has actually accepted thousands of dollars’ worth of business from the clients named in the state attorney general’s lawsuit, but she now declines on personal religious grounds to provide flowers specifically for their "marriage" ceremony. Framed correctly in this way, the suits (and countersuit) of Arlene’s Flower Shop will bear watching for, likely, years to come.
Peter D. Beaulieu
Food for Thought
I have to admit the Register is good at providing food for thought, and I was gratified to see the article titled "Turning-Table Jesus" and the article "Americanism" (In Depth, May 19 issue) side by side. Nothing new under the sun, as the prophet says.
I am glad Father Dwight Longenecker came into the Church and is giving his life to the Church. However, his conclusions about why Jesus overturned the money-changing tables and that Jesus "mocked" the religious leaders shows some of the old-time religion he received as a boy leaking out. I believe that at the heart of the matter is what Jesus is always about: the why. The money changers were thieves, and Jesus was teaching the followers: When you give alms, pray and fast; do it for the glory of God, not your own.
In "Americanism," we see that Americans do, in fact, have a can-do spirit that can sometimes try to push the Church aside. If I look at my own heart and look at my own parish, I’m sure I can find plenty to address without looking at Rome. The idea that all we need is "me" and God is usually the root of the problem.
Another Wake-Up Call
Pertinent to "Hope Reigns in Boston" (page one, May 5 issue): Should we now devise an anti-bomb law after the terrorist attack? It would be as helpful as all the anti-gun laws being passed.
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many people have prayed for this nation, that God in his mercy would keep us safe. Now, we are not allowed to pray in schools or at public events, and crosses or religious symbols are considered offensive and are being taken down.
The First Amendment is under attack, and this administration is forcing Christian institutions and businesses to comply with regulations that are forbidden by their beliefs.
In Philadelphia, abortionist Kermit Gosnell ran a lucrative business for 20 years, where he performed thousands of abortions in deplorable conditions. A woman died. And when abortions were unsuccessful, he murdered living babies by cutting their spinal columns with scissors. The media didn’t cover this story at first because they are pro-abortion. If it had been cute puppies he killed, the mainstream media would have been all over it, led by PETA.
In the wake of Boston, it was okay to pray! People were kneeling in the streets praying. Folks were going to church, asking God for help. Everyone interviewed in the media, even media personnel, were talking about praying. Hopefully, this second wake-up call will last longer than it did the first time — and spread all the way to Hollywood.
Congress needs to do its job and save the Constitution of the U.S. and the Bill of Rights — rights given to us by God, and not rescindable by politicians.
Our Humble Pope
Regarding "Pope Francis and the Reform of the Priesthood" (In Depth, April 7 issue): As a 57-year-old Catholic, and for 20-plus years a teacher, I have been around to see a few popes in action.
In witnessing the blessing of our new Pope, I want to shout to all that we must never give up on the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis is proof that the Holy Spirit is alive! Who would have ever guessed that a pope would resign? Not to deny that Pope Benedict XVI had his place and time — I am sure he desired, just as every genuine Catholic does, to minister God’s plan of love for all humanity — but the minute I saw Pope Francis greet his flock and ask us to pray for him as Shepherd over the Church, something deep inside moved me.
I felt God’s holiness. I felt God’s mercy. I saw a humble man, reflecting Christ, renewing our Church.
In reading this article, I experienced confirmation of his ministry as Pope. I thank God for sending us a spiritual leader who lives Christ’s mission to serve those less fortunate, to live simply and to offer Christ’s love and forgiveness to the world.