A Christian Wrestles With Scorsese's The Silence
The Silence is a complex complex dialogue within the Christian Church about what it is they truly believe and what really matters. Oh, it's also a huge downer of a movie.
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A Christian Wrestles With Scorsese’s The Silence

I’ve been talking about movies here on THinc. for years now. Like 7 years? 10 years? I left facebook because I just couldn’t deal with the inanity anymore and I went in search of a place to discuss things that were actually more interesting, more in depth, and more important. And stood this place up, and it sucked for years. Until I found my niche. Realized that I loved movies more than anything else in the world. And I loved talking about them in such extraordinary detail that most family and friends politely nod their heads and walk away.

But with this movie, I’m going to dump my normal format and instead just gut this thing like a fish… pig? Gut this thing like a water fowl? I have no idea how the saying goes right now. Anyway, I’m going to give you a very personal view of how I, as a Christian, view the complexities of this movie. Of which… there are many.

This one will have a lot of discussion about the Christian faith. If that isn’t your thing, expand your horizons, and read it anyway. Heck, if you decided to write a review of a movie from your own Agnostic, Atheist, Scientologist view point, I’d find that very interesting and would appreciate your sending me the link! Especially if the movie is about Scientologists… or what have you. Which this movie isn’t. BUT! It happens to be about Christians… which, I am one. And so this topic is very much in my wheelhouse.

I started this like three hour slug fest on my way to Cancun a couple weeks ago. And I finished it on my way to Haiti. The guy sitting next to me on the way to Haiti must have been extraordinarily confused as I fast forwarded through the first two thirds of the film. Anyway, if you’ve never heard of Scorsese’s The Silence – I’ll play this, and then you can exeunt. Capiche?

The Silence a High Level Walk Through

So here’s where I’ll dump the normalcy, and just tell you the high level overview of what Scorsese is going after here. Ok? Basically the plot recounts the story of two Jesuit priests who are searching for their Jesuit brother – Brother Ferreira, who they have been told has recanted. To recant, is to give up the faith. To walk away from God. They know for a fact that their brother couldn’t possibly have walked away as he was the most devout Christian they had met. And so they head into the throws of danger in order to figure out what really happened to him. The danger is that in 17th century Japan, Christians were hunted, tortured and killed for their faiths.

But along the way, before they find their brother, they watch as many many Christians get tortured to death, all because they are on this search for their brother. And to make matters worse? They are explicitly told, that to save these people, the priests just have to recant themselves. There is one particular Japanese Christian that is continually recanting. And continually coming back to the priest to give confession.

And as the movie heads towards its ending, we actually find the lost and recanted Jesuit brother, played by Liam Neeson, and learn he really has recanted. And not on that, but Father Rodrigues also recants in order to save other’s lives. As the movie ends, Rodrigues dies after living his life in Japan as a recanted Christian. And here is the complicated bit, when his body is burned, we see that he is holding a cross that his wife gave him.

Two Sides To A Complicated Story

This movie very realistically portrays the Christian walk. The good and the bad both. And it is telling in that this walkthrough is exceedingly difficult to write in a cogent and coherent way that non-Christians will be able to understand.

But first you must know, that theologically, there are two sides to this story feuding with one another. I’ll give a detailed view of each position so you can understand the fury bouncing around within the Christian community about this movie. Or, heck, maybe you didn’t even know! NEWS FLASH NEWS FLASH!! FURY BOUNCES AROUND XIAN COMMUNITY OVER SCORSESE’S MOVIE THE SILENCE!! GET YOUR PAPERS HERE!!

A Dog Returns To His Own Vomit Side of the Argument

The Christians definitely did not show up for this movie like they have many other movies in the last year or two. We all remember when Christians the world over came out for The Passion of the Christ and amount of money they can generate in support of a movie. But they definitely are not turning out for The Silence… but why? Why wouldn’t church leaders want to support a highbrow Christian movie for a change? (I mean, God’s Not Dead, by Steve Taylor… is anything but quality film making.)

Well, one reason might possibly be that Christians see this movie as completely heretical. Here’s the crux of the problem that the church has with this movie… most believe that if you recant your faith it’s bad. Like eternally bad, kind of bad. I don’t believe that the average Christian on the street really understands why, or could quote verses from the Bible to you as to why. But there is just this general feeling that it is about as bad as it gets. And even though, the modern Church believes in Grace and in forgiveness of sins through Christ, this is the one exception apparently.

That Grace May Abound Side of the Argument

But there are some Christians that are coming out in support of this film, and they all have a very grace based view of this movie and the world. They basically are positing that Christ came to the world to die for our sins. And that also includes screwing up while our feet are literally being held to the fire. I mean! If God can forgive me for killing someone, why couldn’t he forgive me for recanting? I mean really?!?

The Theology of Both Sides

If you are not a Christian, allow me to give a quick primer of what I believe Christianity is all about… just so we are all on the same page. When sin was introduced into the world, our DNA (literally) was infused with the repercussions of this evil. We were actually intended to be perfect sons and daughters of God, meant to live in communion with Him. But when we introduced sin into the world, the planet changed. Death was introduced. And we couldn’t just hang out with God like Adam and Eve did while they walked with Him in the cool of the morning. And that is because a Perfect God cannot commune with imperfection. Ok? So how do we mend that gap? Mend that which was rent from the beginning?

Well, in the Old Testament (or the Testament if you are Jewish) this was taken care of temporarily by the blood of animals. It covered over the blight, it allowed for forgiveness for a time. But it wasn’t the perfect solution to the problem of sin in the world. God had a bigger plan. And all of the Old Testament points in the direction of this perfect plan. But the permanent plan was for Christ to come and to live a perfect life… and then to die for our sins. Thus the perfect atonement that lasts forever, for everyone.

So, now… these Jesuit Priests are obviously Christians. They pray regularly and they really really struggle with knowing God’s will daily. So these Christians, who have been given God’s grace, and forgiveness, have been forgiven for all their past sins, and also future sins. They were, are, and will continue to be forgiven. Ok? So, forgiven, then what is the big hubbub all about then?

Great question. Really good. So good, I don’t know what side of this argument I fall on.

Let’s thought exercise this thing for a second. Let’s say that this blog post really pisses you off. And you do about 3 minutes of google searching, and find my house. You drag me out into my backyard and you begin to systematically torture me with baseball bats and knives. Welp, that didn’t work for you, because all throughout I am witnessing to you. I tell you that even if you were to cut me into little pieces, ever piece would scream out that God loves you.

But wait! You get the clever idea!! I have children. (Currently 3, but soon to be 5.) Oh! And a wife! And you hall them out, and say to me, that unless I recant, you are going to torture each one of my family members to death. Ah… now you have some serious leverage.

In my own mind I remember back to Paul in Romans when he says, “For I wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race.” Ok, that might not be clear to all of you. Basically he is saying, if he could become a non-Christian, and go to hell so that the rest of the Jews might believe, and be saved, he would do it. It’s a bit of hyperbole. But it’s still a verse that might spring to mind in the midst of you beating on my daughters.

There are also verses talking about the unpardonable sin, which could cause me pause. (This is really really complicated stuff I’m kinda just throwing out at you all, but I want you to have a full picture of the real complexities that go through Christians minds when they encounter movies that discuss those that recant.) The unpardonable sin is a widely debated topic throughout the Church for the last 2,000 years. And while there are 4 or 5 options as to what this unpardonable sin might be, one of the options is someone that basically says that Christ is not God then they will not be allowed God’s grace (It’s actually how I see this theological conundrum – which if you’d like to discuss this SOMEWHERE ELSE, like, I don’t know, the phone, or email, GREAT! But let’s not discuss this point here please.)

There are four or five scriptures that support this view, the most clear might be 2 Peter 2. Which basically says, if someone escapes the corruption of this world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and are again entangled in it they are worse off than they were at the beginning. That they would be better off to not have ever known the way of righteousness than to have turned their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. “As a dog returns to its vomit”…

Ok? Most Christians that I know disagree with me on this point though. Which, is fine. They believe that once a Christian is saved, they are sealed for all time, and nothing, not angels, not demons, not heights, not depths, nor anything else in all of creation can separate us from the love of God (I was just summarizing Romans 8 if you are interested.

But regardless of where I stand, or where other Christians stand, it’s not something to mess around with. So let’s head back to my back yard. I would tell my Children, and my wife, that God loves them so very much… and that He may just intervene on their behalf like he did on behalf of shaddrack, Meshach and Abednego who were thrown into a fiery furnace… BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, God loves them, God loves them. Just like God loves you, my accoster. And then I’d let you kill them. And then hopefully you’d kill me soon after.

The Foolish Things Of This World

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1)  And with that I would die. And it is with this ‘foolishness’ that you see the problem of Scorsese’s The Silence. He is pushing a theological message which many Christians may accidentally agree with. (Again, most of my Christian friends disagree with me on that point about being able to walk away from God.) And yet, sociologically speaking, Christians just don’t mess with that theological question.

But why?

Well, why do Christians venerate the martyrs? Why do we have a book called Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, that retells the stories of the early church’s first martyrs? Why do we look back in amazement at Peter’s crucifixion upside down? Andrew’s scourging and crucifixion from where he preached to those passing by as he died? Thomas’ being run through by a spear?  By stonings. By skinning alive. Why? Because it speaks of their belief. It speaks of their commitment to what God has given to them.

Would another Christian recant in order to save their children? Yeah, maybe. Maybe many would. I really don’t know. And do I think they’d go to hell for doing so? Haha, I wouldn’t even venture a guess. That is 100% up to God, and I yield the floor completely. But personally, I wouldn’t want to even mess with the possibilities. But also, what impact would that have on you, my internet stalker, to see my children be chill with you going ape on them? What would it do to you to see me expressing my love for you, even in spite of your evilness?

Well, in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs there are several stories of Roman soldiers who were ordered to stand watch while Christians were stripped and sat naked on a frozen lake to die. And in these stories it tells of them listening to them sing and worship God. And then it tells of the Roman guards taking off their armor and joining them out on the ice. Damn. Now if that isn’t a witness, I don’t know what is. My own personal prayer is that my life can be a witness to those around me. Witness of God’s love. Witness of God’s forgiveness.

My Conclusions On The Silence

I literally didn’t know how I felt when I first started this review. Like, theologically how I felt about the movie. But it was as I wrote (and wrote and wrote) that I came to my own conclusions about the film. Which is that I personally would not have recanted to save the Japanese Christians being tortured. But who cares what I think theologically. The question really is all about why this movie flopped after it took Scorsese something like 30 years to make this movie. Well, this blog post should in and of itself tell you why it flopped. The theology of Christians being tortured and killed is complicated. Normally we see Christians silently dying for their faith in movies. But to see them give up their faith in God? Only to maybe get it back again at the end of their life? Meh, just not a good story from a Christian standpoint. (And I mean, who else really cares? I doubt many atheists or agnostics will make it this far (I am at 3,000 words pre-editing so far! hahah.) And if he didn’t hit his core demographic, who will he market this movie to instead?

I personally enjoyed the movie in that it got me to think through this complicated theological problem. But I didn’t really enjoy much else about this movie. What did you think of it?

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One Response

  1. Quinn

    Scorsese’s film is a loose adaptation of Shusako Endo’s book “Silence”. The 1971 movie directed by Masahiro Shinoda is also based on the book “Silence”; its plot was simpler, yet profound.

    Those things aside, Scorsese could’ve added a dark history lesson inasmuch as to present and inform movie goers of the real events which happened around 1633 (as told in movie’s narration).

    For instance, no mention about the dreaded, horrific Inquisition going on in those times the Portuguese started in 1536; the Spanish earlier in 1478. In one instance, 3,000 New Christians in 1506 were massacred in Lisbon.

    In contrast, Hideoyshi tortured and killed 26 Christians in 1587 as a warning after he had issued the first edict expelling Christian missionaries. History further shows the Japanese trying to prohibit Christianity in 1613 by expelling Christian missionaries. In 1624 the Spanish were expelled; in1638 Portuguese expelled.

    Being expelled, banished is a lot different than the barbaric trials, torture, and consequent death thousands faced during the many years of the Christian Catholic Inquisition. The Scorcese film’s story is fiction and makes the Japanese culture of that time period seem worse than the Inquisition and the Padre characters like sweet lambs of God.

    This film doesn’t adequately present how an advanced society, logical and polite, dealt with religious fanatics who came from their “dark age” civilization of the Inquisition and kept sneaking in to their country when asked to leave.

    Scorcese’s ending of the movie may seem like devout Christianity prevails but the viewer should question further. What did the viewer learn? What would the viewer choose? Adhering to strict vows to save souls no matter the challenges faced; or, denouncing strict vows to save lives? History shows it appears the Japanese took action against the true, merciless Inquisitors of those times other cultures hadn’t and they ended up massacred by the thousands for not proving themselves Christian enough.

    What the Spanish/Portuguese thought about and did to their New Christians:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Christian

    This link is from a Christian academy regarding Japanese culture, history time lines in brief:

    http://acad.depauw.edu/~mkfinney/teaching/Com227/culturalPortfolios/japan/worldview.htm

    Interesting history not presented in the film:

    http://peopleof.oureverydaylife.com/japanese-ruler-expelled-christian-missionaries-5573.html

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