Best possible experience reading Silence

I read Shūsaku Endō's Silence as part of a book club with my pastor and a few other members of our church. The book was scheduled coming out of the holiday season so that if we didn't have time or motivation to read we could at least all watch the new film together and discuss the story.

I hadn't managed to finish the book by the time I reached the theatre. When I left Rodrigues (on the page) he was being brought before the authorities for interrogation and defending the purpose of the church in Japan.

When we passed that moment in the film, I appreciated the fresh perspective of watching the story play out on screen, but I realized that I had actually managed to remain unspoiled on the remaining plot. When Rodrigues was climatically confronted with the decision to trample on the fumi-e or allow others to suffer, I was overwhelmed by the cumulative anticipation of not one but two readings: I've never before experience so palpable a moment of, "I have no idea what is about to happen."

I've wrestled for years with the question of whether it would be sin to accept damnation--defined here as separation from God--for the sake of another's salvation. Self-sacrifice is good; but might such a sacrifice be construed an elevation of man over God?

Through Silence I've concluded that such a sacrifice is good, but that its consequence is inherent: damnation. In fact, in Christian theology, this is the sacrifice Christ made for us, and only Christ could both endure all of our damnation and still remain blameless.

And still, salvation through Christ is sufficient even for those who would deny him for the sake of others. It's obvious when you consider the apostle Peter, who famously denied association with Christ three times; but I hadn't before seen this portrayed so vividly, and the story of Peter is perhaps too familiar to be so impactful. It's easy to vilify Kichijiro when he repeatedly betrays the Kirishitans, and to become dismissive as Rodrigues when the acts of confession and atonement becomes rote and seemingly meaningless; but Rodrigues and Kichijiro both demonstrate what Peter did in the Passion: that Christ offers forgiveness and reconciliation even to those who betray him.

After more consideration, though, I fear that the Silence that has affected me so deeply exists only in my own heart and mind. The book, perhaps more than the film, might actually be more concerned with a technical definition of apostasy and Rodrigues' prideful self-image as a Christ figure than it is with deeper questions of the nature of salvation. He's a bit like Job, in a way: so assured of his blamelessness and rite of martyrdom that he can't see how he himself falls short of the perfection he aspires to.

But I still can't stop thinking about Silence, and I'm struck more than ever by the potential discontinuity between the story the author wrote and the story in my mind.

I can't imagine what Silence must mean to a Japanese Buddhist. From my western Christian perspective the story is familiar enough, and I implicitly understand the context and motivation of Rodrigues and his fellow Jesuits. But what I read was an English translation from original Japanese, ostensibly intended for a Japanese audience, and that presumably non-Christian. How could a Japanese person, with no experience with the church or Christ, possibly react to any of this?