Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Book I Just Finished: Silence

I just finished listening to this book.  The Audible version has an excellent narrator.  For anyone who enjoys listening to books, I'd certainly recommend the audio version.   It gives nothing away to say that it's a very powerful and interesting book on the silence of God, apostasy, and the figure of Judas (strong foreshadowing of all this at the beginning of the novel as well as in the forward by Martin Scorsese.)  But I'm not sure what to make of it and intend to read some reviews about it and talk to others who have read it.  Spoilers below the fold.

Daniel McInerny refers to the message of the book as sinister.  I'm inclined to think that is quite possible, although I suppose that Endo is not himself speaking in the voice of the narrator and intends the audience to think of the narrator's perspective as sinister.  Or perhaps Endo is himself conflicted and leaves the message open ended.  Certainly the book presents no easy answers.  The crux of the problem is whether and why it is worse to trample on an image of Christ and renounce Christianity--in this case by a priest--so that others are not tortured either to death or into renouncing their faith.  But the poor farmers--the exemplars of virtue and Christianity throughout the book--do not renounce their faith; rather they are tortured to the death.  The protagonist priest Rodrigues (protagonist at least through much of the book)--as McInerny notes in the article above--ultimately tramples on the fumie of Christ and the Virgin and apostatizes.  He claims to hear Jesus himself say to "trample!"  His primary justification is the suffering of others that will result if he does not trample on the image and apostatize.  McInerny suggests this is in fact Satan who says this.  That would make some sense, especially since a major theme of the book is the silence of God.  If God doesn't speak throughout the book, why think he spoke then?  Perhaps we should then think of Rodrigues not like Christ, but like the "Jesus" of The Last Temptation of Christ succumbing to temptation and self-deception at the end when God was in fact silent.  In that case, McInerny is wrong in thinking that the message is sinister.  The message is not to be like Rodrigues who engages in self-deception and succumbs to temptation.

Regardless of the intended message (if there is one), I think that we should think of Rodrigues as either not loving Christ or as having a defective love for Christ.  He says that he still loves Christ but that his love changes, and perhaps we should take him at his word, in which case we opt for a defective love rather than none at all.  His love is defective because he has valued this temporal life and lack of temporal suffering (good things no doubt)--for himself and others--to the eternal, and he thinks that his love is the love of Christ.  But Christ never renounces God for others.  Christ's shame with which Rodrigues comes to identify after apostatizing,  is the shame heaped upon him by others and not the shame as the result of denying God.  Rodrigues also seems in the end to adopt the Japanese cultures' fatalism which influences his understanding of Judas' relationship to Christ as well as his own.  He comes to see Christ as commanding Judas to betray him, or at least to get over and done with what is inevitable.  This probably helps Rodrigues to mitigate his own sense of shame for his ultimate failure much like the ancient Stoics invocation of the Fates.  His only shame, in the end, is the shame heaped upon him by his fellow priests and other Japanese.  Rodrigues never confronts his tormentors when they are invoking their fatalist dogmas to insist that they are in fact free not to torture the farmers.  Instead he comes to believe that it is he, and he alone, who is responsible for their suffering.  It is he who hold the power.

The book still leaves unanswered the question of what is wrong with trampling on an image of Christ and saying that one denies Christ even if one loves Christ, believes he is the savior, knows that others will suffer if one does not, and so on.  It's not hard to imagine, for instance, that a father would tell his children to trample on an image of him and say that they do not love him if it would save them from being tortured by a terrorist!  It's not hard to see how a father could do this out of love.

But then we are not God.  And what about the children's love for their father? Could it be that perfect love is inconsistent with expressing what one believes is false about one's love for another?  And could it be that perfect love is always required of God even if not always required of us to each other?

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