Comment: When this book was selected by my book club, I did not want to read it. Christians being tortured in 17th century Japan. Also, it seemed very Catholic to me and I am not a Catholic. It just didn't sound good. When I finally overcame my reluctance and started to read it, I found myself mesmerized by the beautiful writing, the sense of time and place and, surprisingly by the story itself. By the time I finished the book, I found myself profoundly moved and forever changed by the questions and conclusions it posed. A book that I did not want to read has become one of my all-time favorite books. I suspect I will still be thinking about it until the day I die.
Summary: A great, but somewhat repetitive story.
Comment: A simple but a great story that explores some very important issues. Do you wonder why God is silent while people suffer and die? This book explores that issue, and I think it does offer some worthwhile insight.
Summary: quickly to my door
Comment: The book was in great condition and arrived promptly to my door. For me, the typeset was a bit small, but the book appeard to have been brand new. Silence has been very thought provoking. A must read for anyone of Catholic background.
Summary: The Honor of God
Comment: How proud is God? How should God's people uphold his honor? How exactly should the gospel transform human society?
These questions lie at the heart of Silence. Written in the wake of World War two by the Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo, Silence tells the story of the persecution of Christians in seventeenth century Japan.
Although proselytizing efforts by Francis Xavier had been successful in the previous century, the 1600s brought about ecclesiastical quarrels between Roman catholic and protestant missionaries. These squabbles often went hand in hand with political and military shenanigans between competing European powers in Japan. Japan's leadership came to view Christianity as an essential part of this distasteful western mess, and severe persecution quickly became standard fare for the newly budded Japanese church.
Endo's protagonist, the young Portugese priest Sebastian Rodrigues, enters Japan secretly in the midst of these persecutions, along with a monastic colleague, Francis Garrpe. They encounter crude but strong faithfulness among the Japanese believers, who undertake great sacrifice in order to protect the padres from the authorities.
Eventually, however, they are betrayed by a weak-willed Japanese Christian, and their trials begin in earnest. Rodrigues's faith is tested to limits which comfortable modern western Christians may never be able to properly understand. His captors torture him psychologically in order to make him renounce his faith. This is not a simple temptation or test of honor; it is not Rodrigues's mere conscience at stake. If he submits to the authorities by trampling on Christ's portrait, his peasant flock goes free. If he does not, they will be tortured to death.
This test is one of the most soul-churning passages of literature I have read. What will Rodrigues do? Will he apostatize? How important is his honor? How important is God's? As the pastor of these simple peasants, is it better to renounce his faith to save their lives, or better to embrace martyrdom and doom them?
Initially, I found myself cheering for Rodrigues's perseverance and martyrdom, but by the novel's end, I was shaken and unsure. In the West, Christendom has a long and hallowed tradition of persecution stories, from the early believers in Jerusalem, to the church in Rome, and in various places throughout the centuries. Although Christ gives approbation to those who are persecuted for his sake, human sinfulness, such as it is, can even distort the meaning and value of martyrdom. Even the brightest lights in Christian history sometimes succumb to an unspiritual triumphalism. With the benefit of time, we often come to see some of Christendom's triumphs as accreted with sin and pride.
The first believers in Japan did not have this cultural background narrative to inform their consciences. They had only an immediate pagan background confronted with the fresh, non-accreted startling news that God has suffered, endured shame and humiliation, and forgiven their sins. This gospel surely would have motivated them to endure great persecution, but at the same time, the gospel is the story of a man who suffered in order to release his friends from condemnation. In that light, martyrdom for its own sake is dubious at best.
What is true religion? The bible maintains that true religion consists in looking after orphans and widows in their distress, and keeping oneself from being stained by the world. Those two mandates, it seems to me, should never be at odds with one another. If Rodrigues had refused to trample on the fumie (the term for the sacred image of Christ), he would definitely not have been looking after orphans and widows, but rather sending them to certain doom. However, would his simple act constitute "being stained by the world?" Would he be a Judas and an enemy of the gospel? There is a prominent strain of Christianity, very much in the tradition of the western theology of glory, which says "yes". Endo's answer, more in tune with the theology of the cross, is "no".
I am inclined to agree with the latter.
Summary: Overestimation of natives vs. Underestimation of foreiners
Comment: As author stated in the preface of "The Life of Jesus", he is for "Japanese readers who have no Christian tradition of their own and who know almost nothing about Jesus"
1. Two Roman Catholic priets/missionaries from Portugal crossing dangerous oceans to reach Japan. Then giving up everything:Pride,
faith, freedom, and love(?)
2. Courageous Native Christians. Accepting their martyrdom with silence.
There is no balance between these two. There is no reality.
This is a book written by a Japanese for Japanese readers.