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Life of Pi Cover

Can we skip thinking, ignore reality, and believe something just because we like the sound of it?

The Introduction

These are irrational times. Subjectivism (noun: the doctrine that knowledge and value are dependent on and limited by your subjective experience – WordWeb) is something I believe in myself, but the idea is being misused to justify some highly questionable moral and spiritual positions. We see this in Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi. Martel is a fine writer. His book is a great read, but its message is just plain foolish.

The Moral Sense

Martel ludicrously simplifies the difficult subject of the moral sense by working the popular emotional angle: “… a quickening of the moral sense, which strikes one as more important than an intellectual understanding of things; an alignment of the universe along moral lines, not intellectual ones; a realization that the founding principle of existence is what we call love.”

What we have here is yet another tiresome example of the relentless irrational assault on reason that now pervades our faltering Western culture. Things have reached such a state that we see this “God is love” drivel as profound. It is impossible to divorce the moral sense – the ability to distinguish between right and wrong – from thought and place it in the realm of the emotions. Feelings know nothing of morality; by their very nature, they are completely thoughtless and irrational.

Emotions power lynch mobs. Shall we call a lynching moral because feelings motivated the violence? You know, we all loved Bob so much that when Harry killed him we just had to string Harry up. Or must we love Harry so much (in spite of what he has done to poor Bob) that we give him a big affectionate hug and send him on his murderous way? Clearly, the situation is too tangled and complex to be sorted out with so blunt an instrument as feelings.

If the moral sense is about love, why do we have laws and courts with lawyers and judges? Seen from Yann Martel’s perspective, we must be a bunch of unenlightened cold-hearted dummies too wedded to reason to understand that love is the “founding principle of existence.” Then again, perhaps Martel is too wedded to subjectivity and emotionalism to see that the cosmos is an IQ test. Dodos disappear.

The Agnostics

Martel’s revealing opinion on agnosticism: “the agnostic … beholden to dry, yeastless factuality …”

In other words, it is wrong to disbelieve in God because the facts (realities) supporting unbelief are rather dry! Martel’s view reveals the religious person’s usual distaste for reality, their dissatisfaction with the world as they find it, and their preference for hiding inside childlike fantasy and self-delusion. I have a taste for enchantment, but I recognize it as a mood I enjoy, one that makes life more pleasant, enhances my creative abilities, and tells me something about myself. I do not insist that only enchanting things be believable or convincing.

The Conclusion

Martel is promoting a return to humankind’s distant and primitive past, to believing whatever takes your fancy simply because you like the story. If you have two conflicting stories, choose the one you like best. If you like them both believe them both. Let us go back to the courtroom. The jury listens to the story of the defendant and that of the plaintiff. Each juror ignores “dry, yeastless factuality.” They set aside their intellect and choose the story they like best, or they choose to believe both stories.

I will leave the rest to you.