Today, it’s hard to understand why I wanted to do that … the first read took less than two days, the second read took over a month. I just didn’t want to pick the book up. It’s so depressing.
Why is it so depressing?
We’re used to hearing about the violence that Jews perpetrated against Gentiles back in the day, and the violence that Christians perpetrated in the Crusades, and the violence that Muslims have perpetrated against Infidels, but I’d never heard about the violence the Buddhists perpetrated against Christians in the 1600s. The four largest world religions have maimed, murdered, and tortured in the name of … umm … some higher good? Silence is story of Buddhists torturing, killing, and forcing Christians to apostatize. Depressing to realize none of the four largest organized religions are exempt form the darker side.
What themes? Here are a few:
- When one is dealing with organized religion, geopolitics is never far behind. The Portuguese and the Jesuits were the first to reach Japan. Initially they were welcomed along with the silk trade, but when the Spanish and then the English and the Dutch arrived … the seeds of conflict which led to the extermination of the Christian religion in Japan were sown.
- What does it mean to be a Christian priest/missionary/father? Why would you choose to be a missionary? Endo uses the character of Father Rodriques to pose some possible answers to that question. Does one become a missionary because one feels superior to the population whom you intend to convert? Does one become a missionary to become a martyr? Does one become a missionary to be useful? Is a missionary useful when he’s converting others to his belief system? Is a missionary useful when he’s conducting ritual sacraments and prayers? Is a missionary useful when he silently watches others martyr themselves/die for the cause?
- Who/what is the Christian God? Father Ferreira opines that “the Japanese cannot think of an existence that transcends the human”. He believes the God the Japanese Christians have faith in is not “the Church’s God” but “The Great Sun”. But throughout Silence, Father Rodrigues repeatedly sees/imagines his God as the “man whom he loved” (Christ) “a beautiful, exalted man.” So does Rodrigues's God transcend the human? And … does it really matter?
- In the face of torture and death: water punishment (being tied to a stake and slowly drowned as the tide rises) and the pit (being hung upside down with a slit behind your ears so that your blood drips drop by drop) (Really! These are the ghastly tactics used!) why would anyone become a Christian? The life of the Japanese who became Christians and practiced their faith in secrecy and isolation was limited and impoverished in the extreme. Like we can’t even imagine. They were slaves of the samurai. “The reason our religion has penetrated this territory like water flowing into dry earth is that it has given to this group of people a human warmth they never previously knew. For the first time, they have met men who treated them like human beings. It was the human kindness and charity of the fathers that touched their hearts.” That is the beautiful part of the story. Period.
- And the Big Theme: In the face of horrific persecution, why does God remain silent? And how does that silence affect the faith and actions of Christians and/or followers of other organized religions? Good question.