Sunday, November 19, 2017
It took me a while to watch this movie. I had heard it was not that great. It the story of some Jesuit priests in Japan who suffer persecution and eventually apostatise. That is they give up the Catholic faith entirely and start working to oppose it. Such people did exist. They shocked Europe. Jesuits folding under persecution was unheard of. Yet we never really fully understood why. This movie offers one scenario I guess.
One thing that seems implausible about this movie is the priests never remind me of real Jesuits. Now the actors went to Father James Martin, a modern Jesuit, and tried to learn something of Jesuit spirituality. The trouble is modern Jesuit spirituality is very different from 17th century Jesuit spirituality. Modern Jesuits would apostatise in a New York minute. In fact, Father James Martin is know for arguing very liberal views. Some might say he has already come close to apostasy without much persecution at all. Just a little social pressure from the liberal academic elite and he folds like a house of cards.
These characters are like that. It does not take any pressure at all to get them to question their faith. They express very serious doubts very early in the movie before any real persecution has happened. Even the title of the movie, Silence, comes from there repeated confusion over God being silent. I have never heard a priest talk like they do. So the shock that is supposed to take place when the apostasy occurs is just not there. We more have the feeling of why are these spiritual weaklings being sent into this very hard assignment with no support?
The thing that really bothered me about this movie is how pro-persecution it was. There was this constant narrative that Christianity was causing problems for Japan and nothing good was coming from it. That Japan was totally justified in using torture and murder on a large scale to deal with this problem. That religion can be effectively stamped out by getting the leaders to publicly oppose the cause of Jesus. Even when you do this using the worst forms of torture those turned leaders will still be effective in opposing the faith.
This is scary in today's day and age. Atheism is on the rise and one wonders how quickly our society can forget about freedom of religion. We have a society where many talk about how annoyed they are that Christians seem to cling to their beliefs. How could we deal with that? Could western society turn to violence to try and stamp out Christianity. If you are looking for movies that try and suggest that then you will like this one. It is all about how great it is when the state bans Christianity.
These Jesuits make none of the arguments you expect Jesuits to make in this situation. So many lame objections to the faith remain unanswered. You look at a Jesuit like St Edmund Campion who articulated the faith so well under the persecution of Queen Elizabeth I. Even a Jesuit like St Francis Xavier who founded the Catholic church in Japan and deserves a movie much more that these guys.
One idea that goes unchallenged in the movie is that the brutally violent rulers who stamp out the faith will suddenly become nice benevolent rulers once Christianity is gone. That state sponsored torture and genocide will stop on its own and human rights will start to be respected because these people gave up their faith. Nothing could be less likely. Evil does just go away. The way to defeat evil is the encounter Jesus. Without Him government brutality would continue without limit.
The movie does show the heroic martyrdom of many Japanese Christians. It repeatedly points out that they are simple peasants. Suggesting the problem is the people who have planted such ideas in their minds. The people actually doing the killing are not seen as the problem. Yet the beauty of their faith still comes through. You wish for the priest to find such courage but he never does.
If they theory is right and the reason the priests apostatised was because their faith was really not the Catholic faith but actually a 17th century version of the modernist heresy. If such a thing is even possible. If that is what happened in Japan then it is a sobering warning of what could happen in the west. The worldwide Catholic church cannot be destroyed but major countries can have the church wiped out for centuries at a time. Could that happen here? Could our clergy become open to the idea that the Christian faith is not something we should die for but rather something we should be pragmatic about? That there might be a better strategy to improve society than offering the word and sacraments of Jesus Christ? You would hope that with so many more priests and bishops that at least some would stand up to the pressure. Still the conversations between the Japanese inquisitor and Jesuit priest are not that hard to imagine happening in the west with liberal priests and secular politicians.