Sunday, June 25, 2006

"Silence" by Shusaku Endo Review, Part 7 (Final)

There are many other elements of the book I could address, but I think our time is best served by concentrating on Ferreira, the chief of the Jesuit mission whose apostasy stimulated the sending of Rodrigues and his companion Garrpe to Japan. Given Endo’s stated motives in writing – to tell the story of the apostates and the weak and to re-tailor Christianity to fit a more “maternal” image so that it will not be so harsh and so like a typical Japanese father so as to endear it more to Japanese people – Ferreira is an interesting mishmash of ideas which seem to be Endo’s own and other elements which he seems merely to put forward as suggestions for discussion. There is no doubt that Ferreira’s statement that “surely Christ would have apostatised for” the suffering peasants is Endo speaking. Perhaps another of Endo’s proxy opinions is seen in Ferreira’s discussion with Rodrigues over just why Ferreira apostatised. Interestingly, Rodrigues spends most of the book under the impression that Ferreira apostatised because he endured personal torture, yet that is not the case at all. Just before convincing Rodrigues to trample the fumie, Ferreira reveals that other people had been hung in the pit instead of him, and he was told that the officials would let them go if he trampled, which ends up being the same temptation that conquers Rodrigues. Amazingly, Ferreira characterises the trampling of the fumie as “the most painful act of love” that Rodrigues will have ever performed, and Endo’s Jesus agrees.
With these main ideas presented, other elements of the description of Ferreira’s character seem to be point to Endo’s distancing himself a bit from Ferreira. An example is the Dutch secretary of Chapter 10 who is sympathetic to mission work yet frustrated by Ferreira’s often effective opposition, calls Ferreira “blackhearted”. A quote from Ferreira: “prayer does nothing to alleviate suffering” (can be taken several ways). In the same conversation, Ferreira reveals that he was “no longer able to give praise to God” because of the suffering of those hung in the pit. Finally, Ferreira also informs Rodrigues that he should not let heavenly long-term concerns get in the way of pragmatic short-term ones (my paraphrase).
I will make a final comment on Rodrigues’ apostasy. Both Ferreira and Rodrigues pray that God will do something to relieve them of the awful choice (and it is certainly awful) of choosing not to apostatise versus doing so to set the pit-hung prisoners free, and understandably so. Rodrigues even tearfully accuses Ferreira of not praying during his own night of trial, and Ferreira responds that of course he did, and God did nothing. God was silent. A cutting accusation against God, and yet do not Ferreira, Rodrigues, and indeed Endo himself realise that people are suffering all over the world every day? Do they believe that somehow these persecutions in Japan are worse than any other that will ever have been endured by the martyrs of the church of Jesus Christ? Shall we deny God because He has decreed that times of suffering come upon His Bride in order to purify her? Shall we challenge God’s infinite knowledge and His judgment to know better? Arrogance in the face of an infinite God is never advisable.
All this talk of “changing the face of Christianity for Japan” and “a more maternal Jesus for the losers and dirty in society” sounds noble until we examine the outcomes in the lives of Rodrigues and Ferreira in the last chapters of the book itself. Is it noble to work actively against the dissemination of the very words of life to the people of Japan, the people for whom they (and Endo) claim to care so much? Is it noble to put into writing a formal denunciation of the faith of Jesus Christ so that more people in society can read and be driven further from the only remedy for their sins? Is it beautiful to live one’s life with no other purpose than to strive to be “useful to society” in some vague sense? Is it laudable to participate with the enemies of the faith, those who killed so many faithful believers, to condemn others, to prevent the conversion of others, and to drive those believers who remain further into isolation, into the continuation of syncretistic, heretical practices and the continuation of their development into heresy? Clearly Endo would have us think his vision a commendable one and offers this novel as a call to change. The book’s self-importance is overshadowed by its misplaced faith in a product of the very syncretism that it calls out as the reason why Christianity cannot survive in Japan.
The reader may come to the conclusion that the many questions I have posed in this review are nothing more than rhetorical, yet I am not so sure that Endo himself would not answer many of them in a way that we would (probably rightly) identify as blasphemous, heretical, or simply wrong-headed. Allowing a bit for my personal penchant for painting things on the extreme side, I believe that a reading of this book and a perusal of Endo interviews and history will at least mostly justify what I have presented here. I thank both of my readers for their patience.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Thanks for the link. I enjoyed your review and had similar sentiments when reading the book. I pointed out to a friend that the "great" dilemma for Rodriguez can only look legitimate in a religious pluralist framework.

It's crazy that a book with such a shallow grasp of the centrality and importance of the gospel can receive such universal acclaim from Christians, as you put it. But perhaps not surprising.

P.S. Martin Scorsese is supposedly adapting it into a movie.