Martin Scorsese’s newest film, Silence, takes a heart-wrenching look at the 17th century Jesuit missionary work in Japan. Two priests are faced with the troubling news that one of their own denounced God in the face of persecution. In response, they head to Japan to retrieve the truth. Silence, beautifully captures the real life struggles of faith under persecution in a manner that I haven’t seen in a movie before. While I recommend that you stop reading this article to go see it for yourself, here are some of my thoughts after seeing the film myself.
An accurate look at persecution
American Christians simply aren’t faced with persecution. For example, the removal of the ten commandments from a small town courthouse lawn is not persecution. Nor is a public school teaching its students that the big bang started the universe. Silence opens with a scene of Japanese officials tying Christians to crosses and slowly burning their naked bodies with ladles of hot, acidic water from hot springs. This being done in an effort to get them to denounce their faith in Jesus. There are scenes of Christians hung upside down with incisions made in their necks to cause them to bleed out. Throughout the film these Japanese Christians must gather, worship, and pray under the veil of night out of fear of being captured and tortured by the officials trying to root out Christianity.
These scenes provide a realistic view of what persecution actually entails. As I watched, these scenes play out, I found myself imagining what I would do if I were ever faced with that kind of persecution. (I hope and pray I never am.) How would I respond if presented with a guarantee that I would live if I only denounced my faith? How would I respond if I knew that I would be martyred if I clung to my faith? What would happen to my family in a climate of persecution? Is my faith strong enough to sustain me. These questions are all ones that every Christian should be asking themselves on a regular basis. Even if we aren’t faced with persecution today, tomorrow can bring a different set of circumstances that can challenge our faith in ways we can’t imagine.
A thought-provoking example of denominational infighting
The most memorable scene for me involved the Inquistor, a Japanese official overseeing persecution and Father Rodrigues, the movie’s main character. The Inquisitor shares a story of four concubines who stirred up great trouble for their house out of jealousy for one another. He then drew a parallel to Japan, where missionaries from England, Portugal, Spain, and Holland all were vying to establish their Christianity as the “correct” version for Japan. According to the Inquisitor, this was creating significant turmoil with Japan.
I though about how this jockeying for influence still happens within Christianity today. There are unspoken rivalries between churches, even between denominations of almost identical ideology. There’s frequent criticism sent back and forth between Catholics and Protestants. Denominations slander one another over things like the style of worship music played or the clothing that the clergy wears when they preach. This infighting drastically reduces the effectiveness of those trying to share and advance the gospel. Silence provides an excellent example of how destructive this can be.
Hard-to-swallow truth about how Christianity is often spread
There are several poignant scenes in Silence involving Father Rodrigues and the interpreter assigned to him by the Inquisitor. The interpreter confronts Rodrigues with the Japanese view of missionary work happening in their country. It’s not the positive, well-digging missions work we seen broadcast by NPOs today. The interpreter points out that many missionaries had no interest in understanding Japanese culture or learning the language. They were only interested in introducing Christ and creating converts. He also pointed out the missionaries argued that the Japanese governors were twisting the minds of their people through persecution, but that the same could be said about the missionaries. To Christians, these conversations are embarrassing and frustrating reminders that missions work often lacks tact and cultural sensitivity. Sometimes it’s arrogant and rude. While, missionaries shouldn’t withhold truth from people they try to reach, anyone evangelizing other people should start by listening and understanding.
A realistic falling from faith
*SPOILER ALERT* Silence’s main character Father Rodrigues, eventually succumbs to the same fate that as Father Ferreira, the man he was sent to find. Both Rodrigues and Ferreira were overwhelmed with the brutality they witnessed towards Japanese Christians and gave into the temptation to apostatize. For people who expect happy conclusions and moral victories, it’s a sad storyline to watch unfold. However, it’s a necessary storyline. Persecution is not something that everyone can or does navigate without giving up their faith. Jesus taught his disciples that many would be called, but few would be chosen to come into the service of the Lord for this reason. Jesus also taught his disciples that they would be hated because of him. Silence caused me to assess the state of my own faith, forcing me to ask how I would navigate persecution. I’m not satisfied with my answer right now. With that said, Silence forces Christians to consider how they would deal with hardship and persecution.
With all that said, I consider Silence to be the best film on Christianity I’ve ever seen.
If you’re a Christian you absolutely should go see Silence. If you are not a Christian, you should absolutely go see Silence (it’s beautifully made).
Once you see it, let me know what you thought of it by dropping me a line below.