A Note From Our Editor: “Martin Scorsese’s “Silence”” -- By: John Warwick Montgomery

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 14:2 (Sep 2017)
Article: A Note From Our Editor: “Martin Scorsese’s “Silence””
Author: John Warwick Montgomery

A Note From Our Editor: “Martin Scorsese’s “Silence””

John Warwick Montgomery

Film buffs appalled by Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ may well have vowed to ignore anything else he does. But in the case of his latest epic film, Silence, this would be a mistake. It is clear that Scorsese, whatever bizarre personal take he has on the nature of the Christian gospel, has been bitten by the Hound of Heaven and understands well the difficulties Christian believers face in a secular, pluralistic world.

The film is the third adaptation of a novel by famed Japanese Christian writer Shûsaku Endô (1923-1996). Set in the 17th century, it tells the story of two Portuguese priests who persuade their superior to let them go to Japan to find their mentor, a missionary who is reported to have apostacized during the extreme wave of Buddhist and nationalist persecution of Christians taking place there. Once in Japan, they find the persecution far more extensive and terrible than imagined; one is killed, and the other discovers that their mentor has indeed left the faith and become a Buddhist scholar. The government Inquisitor has perceptively learned from experience that “martyrdom is the seed of the church” and now employs another method to stamp out Christianity: until a missionary recants, his flock are subjected, one by one, to horrible and excruciatingly painful deaths. The argument is presented: didn’t your Jesus do everything to save you—so you must recant your faith to save the remaining members of your flock. The young priest apparently does so recant, but seems to have remained a secret Christian, since a tiny crucifix is hidden on him as his body is burned in Buddhist fashion.

The theme of the novel and the film is particularly relevant today, when Christians around the world are being persecuted as never before—particularly by Muslim fundamentalism.

We offer seven—the perfect number— of lessons from the film:

  • In the Western context today, Buddhism is presented—by way of the Dalai Lama, Christmas Humphreys, et al.—as a religion of sweetness and light, in stark contrast to supposedly persecutorial, imperialistic, missionizing western Christianity. The film illustrates the utter fallacy of such interpretations. Novelist Arthur Koestler, who flirted briefly with Eastern religions, rightly rejected Buddhism for its lack of any meaningful ethic (cf. the Buddhist kamikaze pilots in World War II).
  • The film should finish off any naïveté that “all religions teach the same thing.” The horrible cruelties inflicted on the Christians by the Buddhist Inquisitor do not bother him at all. (The Roman Catholic inquisitions of the medieval period offer no analogy: they were contrary to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and New Testament C...
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