Group Read, July 2015: Silence
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I also somehow feel like his characters would be more focused on Christian ideas and less on the mechanics of the church and conversion, but maybe this is what being a Jesuit missionary was like. I just don't feel the passion that drives them into danger, only a kind of insanity, which shouldn't be right.
I lived in Japan for 6 years and read quite a bit about the time period leading up to and while the country was closed i.e. the setting for Silence. As a Christian, I was particularly interested in how both the Jesuit missionaries and the indigenous Kirishitans behaved. I read Silence toward the end of my time in Japan and nothing seemed out of place to me.
Incidentally, another great book for the era is Shogun which I read when I was a teen. The Jesuits there act in a very similar manner to those in Silence.
I'm close to finishing the book. For those who may be debating whether to join the Group Read I would point out that this is an easy (in the sense of straightforward language) page-turning read about a period in history that I previously knew nothing about (the persecution of Christians in 17th century Japan and the European priests who risked their lives to keep in contact with the Christians there).
From a theological perspective I find it a little naïve. I am a church-going Catholic and these days a priest would have a pile of answers to the question of the "silence of God" in the face of brutal persecution of Christians. However 17th century theologians would likely believe in a more directly/obviously interventionist God and therefore Rodrigues' questioning is perhaps understandable.
Some of the more peripheral characters are interesting and complex in their actions and with 60 pages to go I am still in suspense as to how this will all resolve itself (I suspect, "not well"....!)
I am finding this easier to read than I thought it would be from the introduction, though. I am very interested in the time period and historical elements since I know absolutely nothing about this period in Japan (or much about Japan at all).
There were two ideas that I wish had been further developed. One was the way that the Japanese morphed the Christian religion to suit their culture and daily life. Ferreria makes this argument to Rodrigues to convince him to apostatize, saying that the Japanese Christians aren't even praying to the Christian God anyway. I would have been interested in more detail about that. I also thought that there could have been more discussion of the aftermath of apostatizing - is a Christian who verbally apostatizes truly no longer a Christian at heart?
Anyway, I'm glad I read this because it taught me a lot and gave me quite a bit to think about, but it was a bit too far outside my comfort zone to be a 5 star favorite.
Pieter Col never gave away the location of his employer's painting. Martyrs never renounced their faith. Divine intervention rarely occurred (St. Catherine & St. Sebastian got off a few times, but not in the end, for instance). An actual voice from the heavens? Only Saul, telling him to stop with the persecutions -- but he became a saint, it was not a normal thing.
So I think that Endo's descriptions reflect a 20th-century idea of what kind of suffering, or watching others suffer in the silence of God, would be unbearable; but it's not historically accurate.
Like many above, I have quite mixed feelings on the book. As an atheist, but one brought up with Christian traditions, I have left aside a number of the more overtly religious books, but that does not mean I discount them out of hand (I recently read and enjoyed Ben Hur).
The book intrigued me, I remember studying a little bit of this topic as an aside to the Portuguese voyages of discovery, but the narrative made connection more human. At the time Japan was a country closing itself off from the influences of the outside world and the Jesuit priests and their converts were heavily penalised for their foreign faith. Father Rodrigues goes to Japan to find out what really happened to Ferreira, his mentor and apostate. Rodrigues is on a journey, treacherous in the political climate and also eye-opening as he sees first-hand how Christianity has evolved in a new land. The torture of the priests and the converts is brutal and heinously creative, but it is also psychological as they are forced to renounce their god and trample on an image of Christ. For the priests they are given the choice of renouncement or the Christians they are with will be killed. In this situation, there is certainly room for introspection, a time for questioning faith, with the victims becoming ever more tired and isolated.
The style is good, I found it page-turning and thought provoking. The characters were human, rather than stylised saints in waiting. It is also easy to judge episodes in history, but not always easy to remember they were different times. I oscillated between anger at people being tortured for their faith and also understanding the fear of another faith coming in and taking over an indigenous one.