So which do you prefer / by Michael Sloyer

At the end of “A Life of Pi”, Pi poses the question, “So which story do you prefer?” He is asking the writer with whom he is speaking to decide whether he prefers the beautiful story of Pi’s survival on a raft boat with the majestic tiger Richard Parker or the more “realistic” story of his survival involving the death of his mother and his killing of the cook to avenge her death. But on a deeper level, he is asking us to consider questions of faith and logic, of spirituality and rationality. He is asking us to consider some questions with which I perpetually struggle: Does the existence of faith/logic presuppose the nonexistence of the other? Can we actively choose to have faith or is this inherent to our psyche? Is it possible to discover that we don’t actually believe what we thought we believed?

The answer to Pi’s original question is actually quite simple for me. I prefer the story with the tiger. I prefer the majestic. I prefer the spiritual. I prefer to have faith. But having a preference is the easy part. Preference involves desire and intention. Preference does not involve truly being. In fact, my personal pendulum of preference often swings away from my natural inclinations of being (I am, after all, my own harshest critic) and therefore the way I want to be can deviate from the way I am. And in this case, my inclination up until this stage of my life has leaned away from faith and toward the cold hard facts. I have tended to spend my time dwelling in the physical world rather than contemplating the spiritual. I have spent my time in reality, rather than in awe. I have spent my time questioning, rather than believing. I would like to change this, but can I?

I already hear the screams from the more rationally inclined, “Why do you aspire to be delusional? Why do you aspire to believe in something you don’t?” Well, I don’t aspire to be delusional and to be perfectly honest, I am not quite sure what I believe. I do know, however, that I aspire to lead a more fulfilling life. I aspire to be compassionate. I aspire to be loving. I aspire to be happy. And the old way doesn’t work. At least not as well as I would like it to work.

And what about God? Well, I want to believe in God, but I have always had trouble with this. I have had trouble because a belief in God has always come with so much baggage. And because I somehow felt that it required believing in an anthropomorphic old man with a beard sitting in a chair in the sky who doles out gold stars and slaps on the wrist. But the more I have read and listened to deeply introspective and intensely critical “believers,” the more I realized that the kind of God that I don’t believe in is the same kind of God that people who don’t believe in God don’t believe in. As Lawrence Hoffman says in his book about Jewish prayer, the question is not “Do you believe in God?…the question is whether God is a real presence in our lives.” He talks about how we don’t say we “believe in” some of the noblest things in life –things like love, duty, justice, hope, and care. But these things can be a real presence in our lives. They are real because they are really experienced by us. We feel them. We know them. Not all the time, but they are real. And the more I think about it, the more I “believe” God is the same.

The truth is what works. So sometimes I meditate. And that helps me to feel fulfilled and peaceful. Sometimes I contemplate the mysteries of the universe. And that helps me to feel wonder and awe. And “Sometimes,” as the Avicii/Pretty Lights/Flo Rida song goes, “I get a good feeling, yeah. I get a feeling that I never never never never had before.” And for me, sometimes I get a good feeling of faith in that which I cannot control or comprehend. And that makes me happy.