The trip that Fowler and Pyle make to Tanyin inspires questions about religion and faith. Fowler, who is an atheist, feels suspicious of Caodaism, both because it is a relatively new religion and because its followers express the articles of their faith in generalized maxims. Pyle, who is a Christian, is more readily accepting. When Fowler dismisses Pyle’s trite platitude about trust, he does so because it sounds just like the platitude about faith and truth that he’d heard a Caodaist deputy say earlier in the day. For Fowler, platitudes like these attempt to make the world seem less complex. However, platitudes do more than just simplify reality hey also idealize it. Fowler finds this idealizing tendency dangerous, because it serves to manipulate easily convincible people like Pyle and his wife, Helen, who is also a committed Christian. When Fowler explores the Caodaist cathedral, he observes the images of Buddha, Christ, and Confucius and thinks that all three figures are “play-acting” for the sake of “ambition Therefore, when individuals succumb to the “convincingness” of these figures, they are succumbing to “trickery” rather than to truth. This argument is very like the one Fowler makes about intellectual versus experiential knowledge.

One motif that relates to the problem of faith is that of the planchette, an object to which Fowler refers twice in this chapter. A planchette is a small triangular or heart-shaped board with casters at two points and a vertical pencil at the third. Much like in the game of Ouija, planchettes are used in automatic writing, which is said to be produced not by a writer’s conscious intention but by some occult or subconscious agency. Trusting the words produced by planchette therefore requires faith in something invisible, a belief that the instrument can allow one to see beyond the veil of ordinary reality. Given Fowler’s resistance to spirituality, it comes as little surprise that his references to the planchette are ironic. For instance, while contemplating faith in the Caodaist cathedral, he reflects that in his career as a reporter he has never encountered anything and hence he has never had a need for faith. To drive this point home, he claims any phenomenon that seems to channel an invisible agent, there is always a concrete mechanism that is actually responsible for it.

Although Fowler does not believe in God and thinks faith is a sham, he does believe in the complexity of the real world and that it is important to reckon with this complexity. This is a philosophical argument more than a theological one. Fowler suggests as much in his conversation with Pyle about “mental concepts.” Fowler denounces mental concepts because they are separate from material reality. When Pyle asserts that Fowler must have mental concepts that he believes in, Fowler insists that he only believes in actual reality. More specifically, Fowler claims not to be “a Berkeleian.” Here, he refers to the Irish philosopher George Berkeley (1685–1753) and his notion of subjective idealism. According to Berkeley, only ideas (i.e., mental concepts) are real, and hence material objects do not exist independently of thought. Fowler rejects this claim, and in fact argues the exact opposite point: only material reality is real, whereas mental concepts are abstract and hence do not really exist. Fowler’s argument is important in that it extends his critique of faith. It also cements his self-identity as a reporter who communicates objective facts rather than subjective opinions.