[Silence] by [[Shusaku Endo]]
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The eagerness of the young priests to travel to Japan astounds me. They have heard the reports about Japanese torture methods and yet they still want to go to find their old teacher.
#5 It was disconcerting to go from first person to third person in Chapter 5 and then Chapter 10 is extracts from a diary of a clerk in a dutch firm with more diary extracts in the Appendix this time from an officer at the Christian residence where Father Rodrigues spent his last years.
Also from Chapter 5, Rodrigues is referred to as "the priest" and only named when another priest/father is conversing with him. The first 4 chapters are letters from Father Rodrigues to an un-named correspondent. He is betrayed at the end of Chapter 4 and captured by the Japanese authorities. He is "silenced" and can no longer communicate with the outside world from Chapter 5 on.
I love the metaphor of Japan as a swamp in which Christianity is a tree that seems to flourish initially but is actually rotting from the roots up.
There's so much in this book to think about long after you finish the book - the question of weak vs strong characters, east vs west, christianity and how strong you could be if your own faith/principles were challenged.
For most of the book, I found Rodrigues really frustrating and naive. All that "glorious martyrdom" business - sure, go ahead and sacrifice yourself for your beliefs if that's your thing, but how dare these priests let other people die for them. For that matter, how could Rodrigues expect God to answer his prayers when for most of the book, those prayers were essentially "Please, God, let me stick to the dogma and not deviate from it when the hurting part starts". Ultimately, I think, he makes the right decision, even though it is difficult when reality interferes with what you believe.
Your paraphrasing of Rodrigues' prayers made me laugh... it's spot on.
This book reminded me of Grahame Greene's Power and the Glory where catholic priests are persecuted in Mexico in the 1920s though Greene's priest makes different choices.
socialpages, I like your analysis of the shifting in the narration. Very helpful insights!
Based on a true story about the persecution and torture of Japanese Christians and foreign missionaries in 1600s Japan, Silence is a powerful book about faith (and doubt), truth, and the human spirit. What will make one person stay true to his faith, even under unspeakable torture, while another one does not? Why is God silent during suffering? These are the questions the book raises, and some would say it gives no clear answers. It is easy to say from our comfortable Western homes that we would never deny God under duress. But the Bible states that even Peter, a much loved disciple, denied Christ. What does it truly mean to stay faithful to God?
Repeating the prayer again and again he tried wildly to distract his attention; but the prayer could not tranquilize his agonized heart. ‘Lord, why are you silent? Why are you always silent…?’
This book powerfully affected me, and I’ve already sought out more books by this Japanese Christian author.
Having said that, what I found interesting about the novel wasn't just the idea of God's silence, but the silence of the individual conscience. Each believer has his own notion of God and faith that is independent of outward symbols and doctrine. I think Rodrigues comes to realize that his idea of God is as much a product of his own desires and imagination as the Church's teachings. This is why he continues to refer to his own mental image of Christ's face as being different from the iconography. Thus the poignant question: How can I expect others to die for my faith when every man's faith is his own?
On the other hand . . . I not only have difficulty comprehending this depth of faith but also, as a non-Christian, I have never been able to understand the extensive, if not extreme, proselytizing of Christianity, the need to convert as many others as possible to its beliefs. It seems patronizing to me: "we know what's best for you." These feelings colored my reading of the book because, while I was appalled by the Japanese methods of torture (although torture has certainly been practiced by those professing to be Christians too), I could understand why they wanted to keep such a foreign (and colonizing) religion out of their country. Nor do I understand the appeal of martyrdom. I also found a little peculiar the way the protagonist, Father Rodrigues, seems to compare his suffering to that of Jesus, and his betrayer to Judas. Perhaps this would not be disturbing to someone who is Christian, so perhaps this reflects a lack of understanding on my part, but it seems a little self-aggrandizing to me.
The overall question, of the silence of God, is more interesting. The 20th century, when this book was written, was a century of evil and suffering on a huge scale, and therefore this question is of even more import now than it was when Father Rodrigues traveled to Japan. Additionally, Endō, himself a devoted Catholic, alludes to the issue of how a western religion like Christianity can adapt itself to an eastern culture like that of Japan. Had he explored this more, I might have found more to like about the book.
As it is, I can only think that, throughout the centuries, not only have people of various religions persecuted and killed people of other religions but, as my grandfather liked to say, more wars have been fought over religion than for any other reason (not sure if this is strictly true). I wish I could say this book helped me understand faith more, but it left me just as puzzled.
I have yet to read this but it sits on my shelf waiting! If you want to try a less religious book by Endo try finding a copy of The Girl I Left Behind about the state of leprosy in Japan although it'll leave you frustrated at the main character's personality.
No, it isn't true. Neither Hitler nor Stalin were religious people, to say the least, nor were any of the other dictators throughout history with murderous atheistic ideologies.