I was supposed to write an essay on this for History of Asia, but then we kind of got to the end of class and the professor let us off the hook. In a way, I’m annoyed that I had to read it for no reason; but on the other hand, I’m glad I did read it, even if it didn’t exactly leave me with any good feelings.
Silence is the tale of a priest who goes to Japan in the midst of the great persecution in the 1600’s. Fr. Rodrigues arrives at a tiny fishing village to minister to the Hidden Christians there, along with his fellow priest Garrpe. After a peaceful, if tense, time of performing those rites that the Christians there have missed since the beginning of the persecution, they are betrayed by one of their own, a Gollum-esque man well versed in the ways of the persecutors. The shogun demands that Rodrigues demonstrate his loyalty to their laws, rather than to the faith, by trampling upon an icon of Christ. He refuses, but that is not the end of his trials, nor the trials of those around him.
This book was a very affecting one. The big question revolves around why Rodrigues’ mentor, Ferreira (a real-life priest who committed apostasy during the persecution and who eventually wrote a treatise against Christianity) turned his back on the Church, and why the Japanese, hitherto tolerant of other religions, have suddenly begun this horrible treatment of Christians. It is painful to see what Rodrigues goes through; even more painful when we reach the inevitable, horrible conclusion. The persecution in Japan happened just when the Japanese were trying to extricate themselves from Chinese culture, and to more firmly establish their own national identity. By this time Buddhism had become mixed up with Shintoism and was acceptable as a Japanese religion; but all others were scorned. In other words, the persecution was mainly political. In one of the many verbal showdowns with the shogun, the shogun insists that Japanese cannot really understand Christianity, as it is a Western religion. This is an interesting viewpoint, given that Endo was a Catholic as well as Japanese and writes from a very unique perspective. However, the reader, like Rodrigues, cannot deny some truth to it. In the end, it is not so much a criticism of either viewpoint, but a consideration of each, and the consequences when two very different worldviews collide.
Initially, I left the book feeling depressed, and annoyed; but after considering it and thinking it over, I’ve found that view has soften. Certainly it still is somewhat saddening, but in a different way. The problem isn’t that no one can understand the other; the problem is that no one wishes to understand the other, because to understand the other may lead to a painful understand of oneself. This is what Rodrigues experiences. This is not a tale about one view being superior to the other. It is a tale of what one man will do to save others.