Note: This post was written under the influence of copious amounts of cold medicine. I blame Tylenol, not myself, for anything that is unclear or offensive.
I sometimes think that there is a deep-seated drive within first-world Christians that looks for an angle in which everything they don’t like is somehow persecution of their faith not because it is, but because they need it to be. Let me explain a little more clearly: the Bible speaks repeatedly that Christians, people who are speaking the truth of its faith, will be persecuted. Fast-forward to contemporary America, a country in which Christianity may as well be called the state religion, and this persecution does not seem to work out so well. There’s no one killing Christians for their faith on a daily basis. Our money and pledges mention the Christian God. Most of the time, in politics, the problem is not that someone is quoting scripture, it is whether or not they are quoting it correctly. There’s a Christian Right and a Christian Left that bickers over whether Jesus was a pacifist or a gun nut. I won’t get into it any further, but it suffices to say that it is impossible to go a single day in America without running into something that it at least predominantly influenced by Christianity. So where is the persecution? Well there is not really any. What amounts to persecution now is Christians being told that they cannot force people to live by their ideology. Now when people say anything negative about Christianity’s history or how it is enacted today it is a chance for Christians to be persecuted. This seems to me to be because they feel like they need to be or they’re not doing this whole Christian thing right.
Enter Shusaku Endo and a book from 1969 that is what I would call a powerhouse. Silence is a short novel about a Portuguese Missionary who secretly enters Japan in a time of great persecution for Christians. His mission has seen several of its most trusted and esteemed priests apostatize at the hands of the new Japanese Magistrate, Inoue. The protagonist priest, Rodrigues, sees his duty to overlook the remaining Christian communities and eventually find a way to confront his mentor Ferreira, who had apostatized recently.
This is quite a difficult book to talk about without giving away major plotlines and spoilers, so instead I will simply give a few themes. The main struggle of Rodrigues throughout the novel is what Endo calls “The Silence of God” in the face of troubling persecution. He deals very forwardly with feelings of absurdism and nihilism and talks quite openly concerning the (in)existence of God. He struggles with what I would call the difference between faith in a safe place and faith in dangerous place. Endo wants to ask if all faiths are made equal. Would the preacher who leads a church even believe for a moment if it meant being suspended, upside-down over a black pit, with cuts made above your ears so you could feel yourself bleeding for hours because of faith? These are questions that Endo wants to tell you to stop pretending to have the answers.
We so often view the world in black and white that we ignore the fact that our daily situations never result in such a dichotomy. You can tell yourself all day that to apostatize is plainly the wrong thing to do, but what if apostatizing was clearly the loving thing? What if what Jesus would do turns out to be apostatizing? Endo wants to point out a purely selfish side of faith and what can clearly be called a misguidance of Christianity. At what point is keeping your faith a selfish act that is not out of love? Is there a moment in which to love God, to commit the loving act, is also to act against your own faith? Silence is a novel that calls for new definitions for central parts of Christianity that don’t translate over to a new people. It confronts the impossibility of identical belief between people. It examines the problems with the westernization of the world and the misguided ideals of the west in comparison to the east.
Silence is a book I feel that every person should read, regardless of their belief system or lack of belief system. It is powerful and dark, yet approachable. I won’t call it a page-turner or packed with action, as the book relies heavily on its reader to pay close attention to what is being said; but it is a great book that is worth the time it takes to read.
Recommended to: Those who have interest in the history of Christianity, those who think Christianity leaves no room within itself for change, and those who have need to look at the issues outlined above.
Avoid as if it were scissors and you’re paper: Those who are not ready to confront the problem of Judas, those who do not realize that there is a problem of Judas, and those who feel like doubt is something that causes the rooster to crow.