There is a saying here: Mountains and rivers can be moved, but man’s nature cannot be moved… We find our original nature in Japan. Perhaps it’s what’s meant by finding God.
– Father Ferreira
I recently watched the new Martin Scorsese film, Silence. It is based upon the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō. Silence holds a special significance for me since I have studied, and at times embraced, both Christianity and Buddhism. The film explores the lived experiences of faith and religion through the historical context of 17th century Jesuit priests on a mission to Catholicize Japan.
Father in Heaven, praised be Thy name. I’m just a foreigner who brought disaster. That’s what they think of me now.
– Father Rodrigues
While on foreign soil the Jesuit priests encounter a culture that they cannot understand, yet presume to. In much the same way, the Japanese struggle to understand Christianity and Western values. The priests, along with secret Japanese Christians, attempt to remain hidden as an inquisition sweeps the land purging itself of Catholicism. Worldviews and values clash as the priests are inevitably found, captured and forced to recant their beliefs.
Inquisitor: The doctrine you bring with you may be true in Spain and Portugal, but we have studied it carefully, thought about it over much time, and find it is of no use and of no value in Japan. We have concluded that it is a danger.
Father Rodrigues: But we believe we have brought you the truth. And the truth is universal. It’s common to all countries at all times. That’s why we call it the truth. If a doctrine weren’t as true here in Japan as it is in Portugal then we couldn’t call it the truth.
Inquisitor: I see you do not work with your hands, Father, but everyone knows a tree which flourishes in one kind of earth may decay and die in another. It is the same with the tree of Christianity. The leaves decay here. The buds die.
As nihilism encroaches upon the West and the death of God is both celebrated and denied, Silence offers a unique and insightful perspective on religion and the faithful. Myriad thoughts came to mind while I was watching the film. I was frequently reminded of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Nishitani, Jesus and Buddha. Sometimes I even veered in the direction of considering the missionaries as part of a national psychological operation geared toward global domination via the poison of ideology. In the end, though, I am reminded only of my own suffering at the hands of Christianity and the false hope it once offered.
I feel so tempted. I feel so tempted to despair. I’m afraid. The weight of your silence is terrible. I pray, but I’m lost. Or am I just praying to nothing? Nothing. Because you are not there?
– Father Rodrigues