Group read: Silence by Endo?
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As for me, I wonder that anyone has the perfect grasp of the Catholic faith that supposedly the Japanese could not grasp, yet were still willing to suffer and die for it.
Some years ago I read Endo's The Samurai, which moved me very much; how, at terrible cost, the samurai is converted by the crucifix, which he'd see here and there. The Holy Spirit moves as he wills.
Honestly, I'm not sure what to think. As a work of art, I was impressed with Silence, and I haven't been able to get it out of my mind. But, as narrative it was unfamiliar in alternately stimulating and disappointing ways. It's hard for me to put this into words, but it had a sort of minimalist distance to it that I wasn't expecting. At the same time, it sometimes violated "show don't tell" without good cause, and I'm not sure the mating of purportedly real letters and limited omniscience worked. I'm finding The Samurai has a similar feel, which is either simply Endo, or a narrative convention of Japanese novels I'm unused to—a sort of compressed, distant quality I remember from Snow Country, but I hesitate to cite it, because that's practically all I remember from reading that two and a half decades ago.
To the "issues," I have mixed feelings. Obviously, if you KNOW Christ has told you to do something, that's all there is to say. But the novel leaves room enough. There is, I feel, a significant difference between stepping on a image of Christ put there by an ignorant sadist, and doing so as a first step to a life of collaboration and renunciation of all but a very "interior" Christianity. (Yes, Rodrigues confesses Kichijiro, and you don't the sense he's writing refutations of Christianity, but he's collaborating extensively even so.) That is, if some passing terrorist gets on a bus, puts a knife to your throat and says "If you don't insult Christ I'm going to kill everyone here!" I'm not sure the best course isn't to say whatever he wants, and then help the police hunt the guy down later. I have a lot of sympathy with Japan's hidden Christians who apostatized in public, but continued to keep the faith alive in their villages.
But a real renunciation, with collaboration, and by a priest, are different. And I can't get past the basic commandment not to do a clear evil thing, even if you know someone else will do a terrible thing because of the evil you have failed to do. That is, in a "Jim in the Jungle scenario,"(1) you don't shoot the innocent people. If someone else does because you wouldn't, well, that person did an evil, not you; it's as simple as that.
More generally, the book reawakened my interest in the period and topic. I took a class in pre-Meiji Japan in college—one of the most enjoyable classes I took, because I was so at sea in it, as opposed to all the ancient history courses I took. (Simply remembering all the names, with their unfamiliar structures, made me much more sympathetic to undergraduates in ancient history courses, trying to keep Socrates, Sophocles and so forth apart.) I did my term paper on some aspect of the history of Jesuits in Japan. Fantastic stuff.
I've yet to see the movie—I'm in Turkey. I gather it's gotten fantastic reviews, and utterly bombed at the box office. Perhaps Oscar nominations will rescue it, but I doubt it. I hope it's still on some screens when I get back to the States in two weeks.
1. See http://www.sevenoaksphilosophy.org/ethics/teleology.html (paragraph starting "Another strong objection to the utilitarian approach…")
Tim, there does seem to me to be a contradiction here between this statement (which I can agree with) and your position in another thread where you seem to imply we should do an evil thing because otherwise someone else will do a terrible thing. I know the two cases are different in detail, but I'm not sure they are so different in principle.
No, because Catholic moral philosophy distinguishes between intended evil and unintended evil that is nevertheless foreseen. One can never indeed evil, and one cannot intend the good, if it's likely their unintended negative effects end up outweighing the good. But one can intend good, knowing a lesser evil may unintentionally result.
Thus, one may—I think, must—use weapons to defend yourself and others against Nazis and ISIS, even if one realistically foresee that some of your weapons will cause bad effects. Defeating Hitler will require German civilians to suffer--although, in fairness, it also involved some intentional evil too.
Or, to take an example closer to home, one may—indeed, I think, must—welcome refugee, if one may realistically foresee that, among the hundreds of thousands, a few may turn out to be terrorist infiltrators.
And here we have the two extremes of Catholicism floundering. Some are unwilling to stop genocide, because they wrongly conflate unintentional evil in a just war with intentional evil in war. Others are unwilling to help people in need, because they believe a policy that lets desperate refugees in is really an invitation to terrorism.
Here, however, we're talking about apostasy. I'm not convinced stepping on a holy image is necessarily (or, as they say, intrinsically) wrong. But in context it usually is, and, either way, collaborating in the suppression of the Church certainly is.
Another thing that got me--somehow I feel that, even at that time, no Jesuit, trained in the discernment of spirits, which presupposes a fairly hushed God, would have been quite so surprised by the "silence" of God. From the first, I wanted to shoot at Rodrigues "That's not how it works!" Perhaps at at a younger age, I'd have felt God's silence was notable. But, at this point, I don't understand how anyone can live in the world without understanding that evil triumphs over good every day of the week, inflicting suffering galore, and when it does, the birds keep singing.
I suppose it's one thing for me to say it, and another for me to know it viscerally. Perhaps when real tragedy strikes me I won't be so blasé.
>11 timspalding: I'm pretty conflicted as well with the denouement -- there was a sense of resignation afterwards that surprised me, considering the (at least subjective) mystical experience Fr. Rodrigues experiences. I expected to find some hint in the ship diary about his secretly continuing his priestly ministry, but didn't find it.
Well, Kichijiro, but yeah. I think he accepts that he's no longer a priest, and the slide into being a collaborator.