Most Christians should skip Scorsese’s “Silence”
If you were expecting an uplifting film for Christians from Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” you will be sorely disappointed. Because this film is neither made for Christians nor uplifting. To clarify my point, let me define my terms.
As a Christian, I expect a film made for Christians to:
- Be supportive of the Christian faith
- Proclaim the gospel; or at minimum Biblical principles
- Show the benefits of faithfulness and the punishments or pains for rebelliousness
- Show the ultimate triumph of the gospel, Christ, and of the Christian living faithfully
- Not recommend anti-Biblical actions
- Not put anti-Biblical words in the mouth of God the Father or Christ
Silence fails on all counts save for some small support of the first item by showing a number of poor Japanese peasants, who are believers and are martyred for their faith – preferring death over denying their Lord and God Jesus by “apostatizing” – a formal denial of their faith done in this case by trampling on a plaque with an raised relief image of Jesus.
The question of apostasy is the specter that stalks the two main characters in Silence – young Jesuit priests Father Rodriques played by Spiderman’s Andrew Garfield, and Father Garupe played by The Force Awaken’s Adam Driver. The two get a report that a pillar of the Catholic church, Father Ferreira who had many years ago gone as a missionary to Japan had apostatized. They can’t believe it, and want to undertake a mission themselves to go to hopefully clear his name, but at minimum find out the truth one way or another. The year is 1633. Christians in Japan are being persecuted and killed. Despite the risk to themselves, they are determined to learn the truth.
The movie opens with Father Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson being a witness to the torture of Japanese believers, but we don’t see what his response is until the end. So the question of apostasy is front and center at the beginning of the story. And it follows the young priests throughout the movie, as they land – helpless foreigners in Japan – in need of a guide. They are quickly led to a Kichijiro, a tormented believer filled with self loathing since he has himself apostatized, and is in fact denying the faith to anyone who accuses him of being a Christian when they first meet him.
This is one of the many times Scorsese will pose a question, and will repeatedly suggest the wrong answer – as far as the Christian faith is concerned – which is why it is not a “Christian” film, nor a Christian edifying film. The one thing it does well is pose the question – “What do you do in the face of the silence of God – when evil is all around you?” Particularly in face of the evil of the torture and killing of your family members? The second question is, should you apostatize to save yourself? What about to save your family members? Or friends? Or parishioners if you’re a priest?
Some will suggest Scorsese is ambiguous in his answer, showing both those who hold fast to their faith, and those who don’t. I would counter with the suggestion that Scorsese is like the supreme Japanese samurai inquisitor he depicts. The inquisitor’s prime interest is not in the rank and file Christians and whether he gets them to deny their faith. He’s interested in the leaders, the priests. Get them, and the laity will follow. Thus the question is not merely what will believers do, but the leaders of the faith – what will they do? What should they do? And what is the right thing to do in the face of the suffering around them?
Let me raise the spoiler warning here so I can continue to make my point. “Christian” movies should end like the Christian’s book, the Bible: with God triumphant over all, the faithful having conquered demons and moved mountains, and unbelievers left pondering how they missed the obvious power, goodness and truth of God. But that is not the type of ending you get with Silence. Unbelievers are left wondering not at the power of God, but at the value and wisdom of being a Christian in Japan. Believers are left to ponder a number of questions hard questions, many of which I’ve listed below. These questions are not for the Christian timid of faith.
Silence‘s failure to depict the power of God to achieve his purposes removes it from consideration from being an uplifting “Christian” movie. Theologically, it suffers from the same fatal flaw of the original 1973 version of William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist.” In that film, the demon is finally exorcised, but at the cost of the life of the main exorcist, the priest Father Merrin. Not what you’d call a triumphant victory worthy of holding up to be emulated. Likewise with this movie. In the end two of the three priests apostatize. One could argue however, that each kept their personal faith – secretly. They simply no longer spoke of their faith publicly, and in fact, publicly denied the faith.
This idea of keeping your faith private and personal is one of the schemes of Satan (2 Cor 2.11) to silence Christians and make them disobedient to the Great Commission (Matt 28.19-20). Thus I could see why one who (by all reports) blasphemed Christ with his “The Last Temptation of Christ” would hold up an easy way to slip into disobedience as an example. However I find it odd that Scorsese thinks that’s what Christians want to see. His propensity to disrespect Christ is on full display again here, in this case putting words in the mouth of Jesus encouraging the priest to trample on the image of Jesus. Clearly Scorsese knows not of whom he depicts, because this is the same Jesus who literally faced down the devil by quoting scripture (Matt 4.1-11), and faced down Pilate the Roman governor who had the power to execute him (and ultimately did), and neither lied, nor dishonored God, nor played games with a governor who was more interested in appeasing Rome and retaining his position by squelching an incipient riot than dealing honestly with the miracle working Son of God. Jesus instead stood in silence and entrusted himself to God. (Jn 19.9-11). This is the Jesus who, having triumphed over the forces of evil promises persecuted believers,
“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Yet Scorsese thinks this Jesus, who encourages faithfulness even to the point of death, would encourage a leader of the church to lead others into the sin of unfaithfulness by telling him to apostatize, and thus to lead other believers into it by his example. Scorsese thinks this is so reasonable that this is the only time in the movie God’s silence is broken – to make an unbiblical appeal to a priest to lead others into sin. Appalling. This is another reason this is not a “Christian” film, nor appealing to Christians.
The one thing the film does well is raise a number of questions. Questions that a Christian should think through and resolve before seeing the film not after. Which is why I recommend young and/or weak Christians not see this film. Here are some of the questions raised, along with a Biblical suggestion on how to answer it as a start.
Questions (Directly asked or implied)
– On Suffering
Why is God silent in the face of evil?
a) God is always up to something to address evil (Hab 1.5)
b) Ultimately all things will work together for the good for believers (Rom 8.28)
c) God will ultimately make all things right (Dan 12.2, Rev 21.1, 6-8)
Will I be able to escape persecution as a Christian?
No – not if you want to live a Godly life (2 Tim 3.12)
Remember, even John the Baptizer a prophet about whom Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John” (Matt 11.11), was beheaded by Herod. (Matt 14.1-11) A better question for the mature is how can I glorify God, in both life and death? (John 21.19)
What should I do if faced with persecution?
Like Daniel and his three companions, make up your mind ahead of time not to dishonor God (Dan 1.8), and to suffer the consequences if need be. (Dan 3.17-18)
What if I’m not strong enough? Can God forgive me if I deny him?
Of course he can. He restored Peter to being an apostle didn’t he? (John 21.15-18) But the goal is to be like Christ – and be faithful – regardless of the cost.
How can I explain God’s silence to them (suffering Christians)?
God is not silent. He has left his word, his church, and His Spirit. (John 16.13)
Those who cannot hear any of these are probably not listening. (Mark 4.11-12)
– On the Existence of God
Do I pray to nothing because you are not there?
Aside from God’s statements that he exists (Gen 1.1 “In the beginning, God…” and his name “I AM” (Ex 3.14) which proclaims his existence, all of Creation testifies to the existence of God. (“The heaven’s declare the Glory of God…” Ps 19.1)
I understand believers have doubts, but this should not be one of them. This is the question of atheists, not believers. Christians are “certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11.1 NIV)
– On the Efficacy of the Church
If I leave Japan, is the church in Japan dead? One of the priests wonders.
As an evangelical (read protestant) I can’t help but be reminded of one of the creeds of the reformation: the priesthood of all believers. Protestants believe the church exists where believers exist because 1. Each believer is a priest(1 Pe 2.9), thus there is no need for a priest class that is separate and above the average Christian and 2. Christ is where believers meet. (Matt 18.20) Thus this protestant couldn’t help but wonder if the Catholic church’s insistence on the need of a formal priest among the believers for the church to exist made it easy for the Japanese inquisitor to persecute the church. That gets to the heart of the fundamental differences between Catholicism and Evangelical/Protestant belief, and as a protestant, my decision has obviously already been made. For others it could be yet another challenge to the church.
Clearly Scorsese manages to raise a number of questions regarding the Christian faith and how to live it – particularly in the face of persecution. And even without the persecution many still have questions. But one’s answer to these questions should be made long before seeing this film, least you be influenced by one who regularly dabbles either directly in, or on the edge of blasphemy in his religiously themed films. That’s why this is not a film for weak or young Christians; or for those looking to be uplifted. Such should avoid this film like the plague. This is a film for the mature Christian, who are strong and steadfast in their faith, with the qualities of an elder – (“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Tit 1.9) who are looking for an opportunity to hone their apologetics (defense of the faith); and their answers to the above tough questions.
1.. Disclosure – I did not see The Last Temptation of Christ – I typically don’t knowingly go to see blasphemy. This remark is based on a number of objective reports of the content of Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ
2. The main reform of the reformation being justification by faith in Christ through grace; not through a church or sacraments.
Featured: Still from “Silence“, 2016 Paramount