Silence

Directed by Martin Scorsese and staring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson, Silence is a film about 17th century Jesuit Priests seeking to spread their faith in Japan. The film depicts their persecution and struggles as the Japanese hierarchy sought to uproot Christianity in Japan.

Japan’s resistance to foreign influence was strong, and Christianity was no exception. The story of Silence centers around two Priests who set out to find one of their mentors after his letters from Japan cease and rumor is heard of his denial of Christianity. The Priests seek to spread their faith and find their lost mentor while hiding from Japanese authorities. A story of loyalty and betrayal, belief and unbelief, and faithfulness and unfaithfulness follows.

Silence is a deep and heavy film to watch. It explores cultural conflict, compares and contrasts faiths, poses deep theological and philosophical questions, and challenges the definition of truth. Is truth universal, international, national, cultural, or personal? Is truth dependent upon the circumstances that surround the truth seeker? Is it permissible for a person to repeatedly publicly deny his or her faith while privately believing that faith to be right and true?

Silence is a great precursor to the philosophical question – Is it right or permissible to lie in defense of self or others? While harder to justify in defense of self, lying for the protection of others is often considered a right thing to do. Modern Biblical theologians might argue the forgivable nature of denying one’s faith, but modern theologians did not have to be faced with the challenges of 17th century Jesuit Priests.

Silence also has a lot to say about belief in a higher power in general. As the title suggests, God is never depicted as having an audible voice in the film. There are rare suggestions of God’s presence, but the Priests mostly pray and suffer in silence. This leads to questioning the existence of God along with the reasoning behind unwavering profession of faith.

Though much can be said about the disgusting behavior and pathetic reasoning of the persecutors, Silence is about the persecuted. Silence is about the thin line between faithfulness and apostasy, and what it takes to reach and cross that line. Why should these Priests have died for a silent God? What is the promise of a paradise never physically experienced when compared to the tangible stuff of life and the relief of pain? Who is God, and is God universal? Is God worth our lives? If a person decides God is not worth her or his life, is God merciful enough to accept that person back?

Those may be some of the questions that Silence leaves with its audience.

The Hungering Dark

 

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In The Hungering Dark, Buechner (1) Intentionally reads and reflects on the words of the Bible, (2) enters into a discussion of love that may catalyze some important philosophical questions (3) uses curious wording that may be referencing atheism and the theory of evolution, and (4) openly questions aspects of the Christian zeitgeist.

(1) It’s apparent from his detailed reflections on various verses that the man has spent a great deal of time reading the Bible.

  • The Gospels and select other passages may be most read among Christians today, but Buechner pulls verses from the books of Psalms, Daniel, Isaiah, Job, Genesis, and Songs of Solomon as well as the Gospels. He finds such depth in these verses that, when combined with other literature and his own experience, he is able to write down pages of thoughts inspired by a few sentences of scripture. He also differentiates Greek words for love without estranging his less studied readers.

(2) Buechner’s comparison and contrast of “eros” and “agape” love is enlightening for relational understanding, but it is also a good springboard for a conversation about the philosophy of morals.

  • In Chapter 9, “The Two Loves”, Buechner writes about love of in the context of human and divine relationship. He mentions that in relationships people are likely to get hurt and they are unlikely to predict when or where that hurt will occur. Whether romanticism or the illusion of foresight, individuals mostly fail to predict the inevitable pains of human relationships. As he goes on to talk of sacrificial love he intentionally or unintentionally may be pointing to what seems like a philosophical difference between many believers and unbelievers. Whatever religion one adheres to, there seem to be more faith-based statements among believers than among unbelievers. Believers usually profess to some beliefs that are hard to justify through a solely Consequentialist or Utilitarian thought process, but unbelievers may more easily justify their beliefs through a Utilitarian thought-process. When Buechner emphasizes the difficulties of predicting the onset of pain in romantic relationships his words parallel a problem of consequential ethics. Humanity has yet to discover a way to consistently and accurately predict the future. Buechner’s words help him to make his point that eros and agape are more similar than they are different, but in the process his words present a hard question to the idea that morality is solely a matter of consequence, especially for our finite species.

(3) Buechner seems to have given some serious reflection to the beliefs of atheism and perhaps, the theory of evolution.

  • In Chapter 7, “The Sign by the Highway”, Buechner writes poetically, not scientifically, about humanity’s ape-likeness. It’s unclear if he’s agreeing that humans are the distant cousins of apes, and that’s not the focus of his statement. Still, his choice of words may shift some readers towards thoughts of evolutionary biology.
  • In the first chapter, “The Face in the Sky”, Buechner aptly points out the lack of significance of the birth of Jesus to nonbelievers. However, most nonbelievers will sharply disagree with Buechner’s later generalization that the manger scene must only be a source of sorrow for those who do not believe in the gospel. A sharp disagreement from nonbelievers could be that life is sweeter and time more savory without the promise of an afterlife. Nonbelievers might also enjoy traditional aspects of religion (e.g. the nativity scene, hymns, or the teachings of Jesus) similarly to the way society enjoys Santa or the tooth fairy.
  • At the end of “The Sign by the Highway” Buechner echoes Pascal’s Wager. He also writes that it’s a good kind of amazing that people still believe in God. Ultimately, Buechner’s argument in “The Hungering Dark” is for belief in God, but Buechner seems to express some understanding of those who elect for the alternative.

(4) Though he argues for belief, Buechner openly questions many Christian attitudes.

  • In chapter 4, “A Sprig of Hope”, Buechner asserts that there is a tendency to treat more difficult parts of the Bible as fairy tales in order to cover for a judgment in those passages. Buechner is making the point that the stories of the Bible are often treated with a selective bias among believers, who may often pick and choose what stories to ignore, focus on, or tell with a certain sort of glaze or adornment. Interestingly, Buechner illustrates his point with mention of the Vietnam War which was still raging when the book was published. He goes on to illuminate the increased significance of some regularly sugar-coated Bible stories when these stories are read for what they are. Why would Christians try to sugar-coat scripture or God? In the end it may hurt more than help.

If this book was a river it would flow towards a cleft in a waterfall, on one side of the cleft would be intentional faith, hope for eternity, and pursuit of unconditional love and on the other side of the cleft would be strictly objective human reason, self-determination of meaning/purpose, and conditional love. There are other great themes in this book like connectedness in “Confusion of Face” & “Pontifex”, vocation & mission in “The Calling of Voices” & “The Killing of Time”, love in “The Two Loves” & “The Wedding at Cana”, joy in “The Monkey-God”, and hope in “The Rider”, but this book is mostly about questioning faith and keeping it. Regardless of one’s choice for or against faith and for people who have experienced or are experiencing this struggle,¬†The Hungering Dark is still relevant and worth a read.