Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The movie Silence: An attack on God and man’s relationship with Him

Some people say you shouldn’t comment on a movie unless you’ve seen it.  Strangely those same people say that you should comment about other things you haven’t seen like the Holocaust.

The reality is that most of what we talk about is based on what we’ve read or heard.  And people often talk about movies they haven’t seen.

A movie has two main aspects; its message and its accidents.  The accidents are things like the quality of the acting, the music, the props, the CGI etc.

Not having seen the movie Silence I won’t speak about the accidents but having read the plot I feel moved to comment on the message the movie sends.

The Silence is a virulently anti-Catholic and anti-religious movie.

This commentary addresses why people of faith should not commend or support this movie.  I want to make very clear that none of the Catholic supporters of Silence endorse or agree with the offensive parts of the movie. They do however suggest that as a work of art—whatever that might be—it has merit.

Some also suggest that art should challenge people of faith.  I find the whole idea of art challenging what is good to be absurd.  But even if I'm wrong on that the reality is that we live in a world where people of faith are being constantly challenged; we don't need some random "artist"'s vision to be forced to confront our faith we can just read the newspaper or talk to relatives who have rejected God.

Spoilers to follow.

The basic plot is that two priests go to Japan and deny God[correction only one priest denies God the other dies].  The priest denies Christ in order to end the torture of some of his flock who had already denied Christ.

The priest’s denial is not some lip service thing, though that would be bad enough, but a true rejection of God. We know this because the priest marries and says that he can no longer forgive sins.

Any priest would know that the moral state of the priest does not impact his ability to forgive sins.  Hence saying that he can no longer forgive sins means that the priest no longer believes in God for even if the priest were unrepentant he could still forgive sins. That’s because it’s not the priest forgiving sins but Christ working through the priest who forgives sins.

Basically the plot seems to tell us that the priest rejects God not only to save his former parishioners from torture but also because the priest finds the “silence” of God an unacceptable condemnation of Him.  Why else would the priest continue to live as though he no longer believed even when it was no longer necessary to do so in order to avoid the torture of others?

The central story of Silence is a standard torture porn meme—think the Saw movies.

There is a villain, A, who threatens to do horrible things to victims, B, unless the “hero”, C, does some evil.

In the case of Silence the villain is a Japanese inquisitor, the victims are Japanese Christians who have denied God but who will still be tortured until the priest, C, denies God.

The premise, all too easily embraced by many, is that doing evil to avoid physical suffering for others is good.

The reality however is that C is guilty of nothing until he does the evil A asks him to do.  It is A who is responsible for the suffering of the victims not C.

Now if what A asked of C was minor and totally worldly perhaps it could be justified; if A said he’d stop torturing the victims if C had to admit his own failings for example.

But in the movie the evil act is to deny God.  Hence in Silence we’re told that the balance the priest faces is between worldly suffering and denying God.  Should we deny God in order to reduce worldly suffering is the question that must be answered.

Catholics, including the priest in question, know the answer to that question.  Jesus makes it very clear nothing in the world is worth trading one’s salvation for.  Absolutely nothing.

Even a lip service denial of faith by the priest would be horrible because it would likely lead to more Japanese Christians denying God and risking eternal damnation.

By denying Christ the priest increased the likelihood that Japanese Christians would go to Hell and the likelihood he would join them.  No reduction of worldly suffering can justify that.

If worldly suffering could justify denying Christ, and as a result having Christ deny you, all the martyrs were wrong to die. They were fools to die rather than simply deny Christ.  Yet no Catholic believes that.

But supporters of Silence say that because it was people other than the priest who were suffering it was not necessarily bad that the movie shows the priest denying Christ to help them even if the act itself was bad.  Yet if nothing else the Crucifixion of Christ tells us that all suffering has a purpose and that we should not embrace Satan, by denying God, in order to stop worldly torment.

Peter wanted to prevent Christ’s suffering and Christ chastised him for it.

The movies’ reasoning is at best saying that the ends justify the means.  At worst it’s a denial of the infinitely more important nature of faith over worldly concerns.

To someone who accepts Catholic doctrine the priest is not in fact facing a moral dilemma.  To see this let’s recast the situation just a bit.  Suppose instead of denying Christ the Japanese inquisitor had demanded the priest kill a new born baby. I suspect that many who are at least a bit sympathetic to the priest would suddenly balk.

The movie appears to advance evil by making the denial of a “silent” God appear to be not all that bad compared to say killing a baby yet denying God is every bit as bad, if not worse, than sins we commit against our fellow creatures.

A well formed movie would cast the priest as a villain but that does not appear to be the case. Instead he's portrayed as a tortured soul whose evil is like that of a soldier who breaks in combat.

At least one supporter has compared Saint Kolbe's situation to the apostate priest's; Kolbe gave up his life to save another’s and the priest denied Christ to keep others from being tortured.  While the critic acknowledges the differences he seems to ignore the fact that the comparison is without any logical support.  Kolbe gave up his worldly life—which he was going to lose eventually anyway-- to save the worldly life of another. The apostate priest gave up his eternal life, and possibly the eternal life of the victims he was supposedly trying to protect—in exchange for an end to the purely worldly suffering that the former members of his flock were enduring.

The first great crime of the movie Silence against truth then is to preach that loyalty to God is not more important than loyalty to men; that God Himself approves of denying Himself to reduce worldly suffering.

The second crime is to structure the movie so as to imply either that God approves of such an evil or that God is silent and absent from our lives.

The priest prays but God doesn’t appear in the sky to answer him.  Yet the reality is that God already answered the priest’s question.  A Jesuit would know of how the Church, and hence Christ, addressed the issue of apostasy during the Roman persecutions.

It was always a horrible sin to deny Christ for any reason; because Christ said so.  But because God is infinitely merciful those who denied Him but repented could be forgiven.

Hence the priest knew that denying Christ was wrong yet he did it.  Should we condemn him for it?  Of course not because we have no idea of what we would do in those circumstances. Only God can judge any of us. But we must condemn what he did.

The second great crime Silence commits against truth is to imply that the priest would have any doubt about what Christ asked of him.  That God does not equip us to deal with what the world throws at us.  We may reject His wisdom and Grace and go with the superficially compelling narrative that the world invokes but it’s not because God was silent.  The movie would appear to claim that God does not offer us the Grace we need to endure the trials He allows us to have.

I’m on less certain ground for the third great crime since I’m relying on a critic’s commentary for it.  The critic says the movie raises the question of whether Christ’s Truth is in fact universal.  The critic writes:

“Rodrigues contests this: Christianity in Japan flourished for generations, he says, before the soil was poisoned by persecution. But what does Rodrigues know about Japanese Christianity? Silence hangs us on the horns of an unsettling dilemma: On the one hand, can a Christianity that is culturally European have meaning in Japan? On the other, if Christianity has changed in Japan, is it still the same faith proclaimed by the missionaries?”


No Catholic who truly understands what the Church teaches can argue that Christ’s message is without meaning to any people in any culture.  All men are equal when it comes to God’s Truths.

While it’s true that the way to express those truths can vary in order to address different cultures in ways they can understand the meaning never changes.  Despite differences in the culture Catholicism is the same faith everywhere because Jesus is the one True God who is present everywhere. The Eucharist and the sacraments aren't culturally conditioned and neither is Christ's death on the Cross or His resurrection. That's why even "European" Catholicism has been accepted across a huge spectrum of cultures.

Perhaps the critic doesn’t mean what his words seem to say but the movie apparently does.

Hence if this critic is right the third great crime of the movie Silence against truth is questioning whether Christ’s message is in fact universal in nature.

Silence's fourth great crime against truth is that by not showing what the eternal consequences of apostasy are it leaves out the most important part of the drama it claims to portray.  As Jesus said what profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?

By being silent on man's spiritual dimension and addressing only his physical reality the movie essentially recasts a spiritual conflict into a purely worldly one.  As a result the viewer is effectively led away from truth just as a man who is shown a floor plan of a building with no idea of how many stories it has is led away from understanding what the building actually looks like.

By taking a problem that can only be viewed in light of man's physical and spiritual nature and recasting it as a purely worldly issue Silence leads the audience away from an honest appreciation of the issues.

Like the modern media which constantly talks of the reformed perpetrators but never of the now silent victims Silence effectively denies the reality of what the priest did.

Silence is also a movie that should not have been made because it portrays God as being silent.  I spend a reasonable amount of time trying to evangelize atheists. When I say that God loves them and that even atheists have a chance to be saved, as Pope Francis has pointed out, they respond by saying “If God loves me why doesn’t He appear to me? Why is He silent?”.

By portraying a God who didn’t in any way answer a priest’s cry for help Silence bolsters atheists disdain for God and for those who follow Him.  In reality however God answered the priests question before the priest ever left for Japan; He answered it when He spoke of those who would deny Him.

But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. Matthew 10:33

Silence also effectively attacks the Catholic Church because it’s quite reasonable to assume that evangelicals who have little knowledge of Church history or teachings will walk away saying “See Catholicism is a cult; no Baptist would deny Christ like that”.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the priest’s apostasy was not mere lip service but a true denial of God.  He marries and declares that he is no longer a priest that can only mean he’s embraced the world and denied God.

Silence’s supporters argue that it was based on fact and hence the movies message is valid.

I see several major problems with that.  First history is written by the winners and we can’t know that the priests did in fact deny Christ the way the movie shows or that the priests were in fact as good as the movie shows them to be prior to their torture.

But even granting that the story is true why would anyone make a movie about failures?

We are in a war with the world, a war that has been waging for 2000 years. Why would we make a movie that highlights and tries to generate sympathy for those who reject the God who so loves them? Why support a movie that ignores the spiritual consequences of worldly actions?

 At least one supporter of the movie has written:

“It’s worth remembering that Silence has outraged many Japanese Catholics with its empathic portrayal of persecuted Christians who avoided martyrdom by trampling on fumie (literally “stepping-on picture”) — images of Christ or the Blessed Virgin that suspected Christians were required to step on to express apostasy or repudiation of Christ.”

In WWII no film tried to generate sympathy for soldiers who were cowards.  There were cowards in films but only if they redeemed themselves were they shown in a positive light.

In the 1960’s safely removed from the threat of Nazi domination “artists” started producing sympathetic portrayals of those who put themselves ahead of their obligations. It’s true that we now know that under the stress of war brave men can break and so we no longer execute them. That was known in WWII as well but common sense ensured that those who failed were not extolled or given an easy excuse precisely because doing so would increase the number of men who simply gave in to fear which in turn would lead to losing the war.

If we wish people to win the race and be saved producing movies that attack God, attack the Church, and try and justify those who put themselves, or others, ahead of God is not a good idea.

But of course we can’t stop others from making such movies. We can however reduce the likelihood of further films of this ilk by not patronizing this one.

So I suggest that the responsible approach to Silence is condemnation and avoiding providing any financial support to the movie by buying tickets or renting it online.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saving me the cost of tickets.