I watched ‘Silence’, and as a thought-provoking show, it did it’s job. Some people wouldn’t bother watching because it’s rather long and un-entertaining, but I felt like it’s a good thought-exercise to sit through, so it is worth that 2+hours, especially so if you are feeling rather “bleah” and uninspired about your faith during lent, just make sure you go pee first before watching. Also, it’s more of an artsy film essay, so how you feel is based on how you would have interpreted all the imagery in the film.
This goes without saying but [SPOILERS]
When I came out of the theatre I said to myself, I think I might have stepped on you Jesus. Every bone in my body knows that there is deep guilt in doing that, but I know what I would have done and felt like the most dishonourable Christian after watching this film. That earnest feeling of wanting to be a proud Christian that would die fighting for my faith – Demolished. No, I can’t just walk away beating my chest, my identity as a Christian refused to go down without a fight. I had to think this through.
Just to lay it all out there, in the film we are presented with several consequences of dying for your faith and other opting out.
To renounce your faith as a Christian:
- Step on the fumie (a tile with a Christian image on it)
- Spit on the Crucifix and call Mary names
- Write a document on why Christianity is toxic and irrelevant
If you are a Christian in Japan in the 1600s, you would eventually suffer one of the following:
- Scalded with onsen water and tortured till one dies of exhaustion
- Burnt alive
- Tied to wooden crosses and left at sea, burnt thereafter
- Hung upside down in a hole filled with blood and waste with an open wound at the head to prevent unconsciousness.
Okay. So in the climatic scene we are presented with this situation the main protagonist, Fr Rodriguez, is to decide if he would renounce his faith by stepping on the fumie or to save the lives of 5 Japanese men/women (and probably more the longer he takes to make this decision). He chooses to step on it and goes on to lead a life of ‘luxury’ and dies at 64, sent away in a buddhist rite. They don’t explain much about the type of life he lived but he basically lived as a buddhist and lived as a person who renounced his faith.
It was quite clear to me, that as a priest, I might have stepped on Jesus too. I justified it by saying that the situation was futile, if I die, Christianity in the land might die with me. I would have stepped on Jesus and tried to work the situation another way, maybe teach and preach to people so that they can bring these values with them into positions of authority and eventually change the government’s harsh stance. It makes sense if I died still trying to do something noble like this. Stepping on the fumie personally doesn’t mean I am renouncing the faith, it is easy to just detach the action and the spirit of it.
“It’s inconsistent.” Shaun says. My face drops. “To have stepped on the fumie is to make a bold and definitive statement that the last priest in Japan is giving up his faith and all the Japanese Christians will lose faith because even a priest has given in to the regime, it is futile”
I knew he was right but I wondered why I still clung on to my strategy, am I wrong? There are so many factors that could swing the outcome of the situation from one extreme to the other. Maybe he doesn’t renounce his faith and dies, but the Japanese Christians find great strength in his faith, it spreads and eventually pressures the government to stop. Or maybe it will just result in more Mass executions and Christianity ends. Maybe he renounces his faith, but takes a more conversational approach and the Japanese begin to listen. Maybe he doesn’t step on it and the government realize they can’t change his mind and they send him home to Portugal. Maybe all these don’t matter and the consequences however effective, simply don’t justify the public renouncing of faith. Denying God is a sin, but maybe like Kichijiro, we can just constantly beg mercy and forgiveness.
For me, it came down to 1 question: What exactly is apostasy; does an action truly reflect the disposition of the heart?
I had difficulty acknowledging that the fumie had any significance to me because the faith is much more than a physical object, yet some times, these physical reminders are essential in representing our faith, like how we have crucifixes and would take the trouble to bless them. Is it an act of apostasy if I don’t believe it is but the general public does?
We could debate on several scenarios and interpretations but there are just too many possibilities. It would be hard to praise or condemn that decision to step on the fumie or not, it is a challenging film, and the beautiful execution does well to begin these emotions and thoughts out from our safe and comfortable lives.
(EDIT: In another blogpost, the Priest saw it from the point of view of vocation which was interesting and something I didn’t quite think of.)
The after thought
While praying yesterday, I gave my mind a break and asked my heart why it was so troubled. Is it because I could have renounced my faith so easily? Maybe I was really struggling for Andrew Garfield’s character and wanted a happy ending for him. Maybe because I feared that people might think it’s okay to live a private faith as long as you die a Christian. What if someone walked away resigned and dejected?
The gospel from Mark 10:17-27 not only reminded me that to use God’s name in vain is to break one of the commandments, I could be using God’s name to further my own agenda of spreading the gospel. It could sound like a noble cause but it may not necessarily be what God is calling me to do. My actions, whatever they might be needs to come out from prayer, from his mouth, not mine, not solely in pursuit of what I think God is saying.
It also reminded me that we need to sell all we have to enter the kingdom. The scene where Fr Rodriguez was sorting between Christian and non-Christian artefacts seemed so mundane compared to his life fighting for the Gospel. It’s not about living a dangerous, adrenaline pumping life but one with direction. What is the point of living a safe life if it is for no purpose?
Eventually I felt like I wanted to be like the character Mokichi, he might have been able to step on a tile but to spit on the cross would also have been the line for me, maybe it is a cultural thing. Maybe he was Asian so it was a lot easier to relate (I’m so glad it was in an Asian context, Christianity always looked very western and unfortunately, foreign). Mokichi was a simple man. He prayed when his friend had died beside him and he sang songs in praise while waiting for his moment. It wasn’t a sad death. What a way to go.
This point of this film is probably to do anything but keep silent. It made me ask myself ‘what kind of Catholic am I? Are my decisions truly reflective of my faith? and exactly who is driving my life? Of which I leave you with the last lines of the gospel:
‘In that case’ they said to one another ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ He said ‘it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’
EDIT: An interesting article: http://bustedhalo.com/life-culture/uncertain-spirituality-silence