You don’t have to be a Christian to be a part of a great Christian movie. Many of the quality faith-based movies feature performers who don’t follow Jesus. they are actors, directors and other film professionals faithfully telling a captivating story. Christians are not required in all roles. But, if you want to tell a Christian story in a Christian movie, it needs to be told through a God-honoring worldview. Christian topics, themes, and settings mean nothing if the creators impose secular views on matters of faith. this is the fatal problem of the martin scorese movie, silence. it is a very well produced film as one would expect from such an accomplished filmmaker. however, it is not really a Christian film. rather, it presents a Christian-themed story through the lens of a world-weary postmodernist point of view. the result is a spiritual disaster. I don’t recommend watching silence.
there is no god in silence
silence is a film that misrepresents the message of jesus in many ways, big and small. it is difficult to analyze the whole problem. He hides these problems behind an appearance of fidelity to cast doubt on the nature of God. It seems that Martin Scorcese learned from his previous movie about faith, The Last Temptation of Christ. silence is no less man-centered and devoid of understanding. it is even blasphemous at times. it just doesn’t rub it in your face like the previous movie. she is more subtle and philosophical in her accusations.
I’m not a fan of this movie.
Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests who set out for Imperial Japan during a time of intense persecution. Christians in Japan are being brutally tortured and killed by the hundreds of thousands by the ruling warlords of the time.
The film claims to be based on a true story. however, it omits the important detail of a violent and bloody civil war in the region before the persecutions. the Roman Catholic population supported the losing side in this terrible civil way and was punished by the victors. this does not minimize the suffering involved. indicates that there is much more going on at that time. it seems that this is strategically omitted to point the finger at faith.
not a missionary story
Christians love mission stories. We love the stories of fearless men and women who have given their lives to bring Jesus into the world. It seems, initially, that the young Jesuits in the film are working from this holy motivation. the horrible persecution they find in japan upon arrival seems to confirm the nobility of their cause. it is tempting to get sucked into this narrative presented by silence. “It must be God’s doing to go to Japan,” notes one of the Jesuits in the film.
This leads to the questions raised by the film.
if the priests are risking their lives to bring jesus to japan, why are they suffering so much? isn’t that unfair? is god being cruel?
why doesn’t god answer?
However, the priests in the story, played by adam driver and andrew garfield, aren’t venturing out on a big mission field. they do not seek to spread the gospel or minister to the saints. Rather, they set out to find a man of their order who may or may not have denied Jesus. they face great danger to find a Jesuit who is rumored to have apostatized. they show much zeal but very little wisdom. they want to prove that he did not abandon god. they even endangered Japanese Christian peasants to find it.
They ask God for strength to carry out their mission. However, there is no indication that God is leading the charge towards Japan. The thousands of Christians who need to be ministered to would have a higher priority if God were leading. the millions of Japanese who need to hear the gospel would take precedence over a Portuguese priest. this is not a missionary story as a result. the two Jesuits are acting as the headquarters’ accountants who come and check the books periodically. They may be needed in some way by a human organization, but they are not advancing God’s work.
a secular view of Christianity
The film’s view of Christianity is further revealed when the priests arrive in Japan. They meet the impoverished, miserable and persecuted church of the small Japanese coastal villages around Nagasaki. The Japanese peasant’s lives are depicted as nasty, brutish and short. Christianity is painted as the reason for this terrible life.
A warlord comes to the villages and kills several Christians in a devious manner. the priests respond by being wracked with guilt for what they have done. it is the faith they brought that caused the deaths, not evil or the warlord. there is a kind of reverse colonialism in the priest’s point of view. these two men decide what is best for the poor ignorant peasants.
Much attention is also paid to the suffering involved. Christians are tortured, forced to renounce their faith, and killed. people are depicted as ignorant and dirty with rotten teeth in contrast to well-groomed, civilized, smiling Japanese soldiers and leaders. the subtle message of the film seems to be that the Christian life is all suffering, poverty and death for these people. It would be better if they had never heard of Jesus. even the strongest Christians in the film eventually understand that it is wiser and more loving to give up the faith and then continue to suffer.
this is not the message of christ! this is not the 2000 year history of the church.
the apostle paul couldn’t decide which was better, stay with the church or die right away and go to jesus. The Christian Bible teaches that death is just the beginning of God’s glory for you. there is an eternity of joy, peace, and the presence of god waiting that richly rewards those who live in great pain.
scorcese creates a bizarre world where the blame for horribly torturing and killing people does not lie with the killers. those who are committing the crimes are a sideshow. It is the missionaries who brought the Christian faith to Japan who are to blame. he creates a Christianity where the only question is how long your strength will last under persecution before you deny the faith. even those who die for their lord jesus in the movie are painted as dying for very little. an eternity in glory with its creator is treated as an afterthought of the ever-present now.
There is no real god in Scorsese’s film, just icons and pain.
In short, Scorsese’s Christianity bears little resemblance to the Christianity of the Bible. It is nothing like the faith that changed the world for Jesus. Scorcese’s is self-centered, man-driven, and small. it focuses on the now rather than eternity. the faith of paul, peter, perpetual and the martyrs throughout history never suffered from these problems. it’s likely a reflection of one man’s tragically flawed view of faith under pressure.
a serious misunderstanding of the faith
the silence seeks to be deep and profoundly theological. presents god as silent throughout trials. God only speaks after the chase is successful and Andrew Garfield’s priest character steps on an image of Christ. God is represented as comforter saying that he, god, was with the priest all the time. This priest then lives the rest of his life opposing the work of Christians in Japan and repeatedly denying the name of Jesus. his wife slips a small cross into his hand before burning his body in a Buddhist death ceremony.
was he really a believer? Will he go to heaven? These questions are supposed to be disturbing and the message has caused controversy among Christians. could god forgive him? oh the questions!
My answer is, frankly, does it really matter? do you want to take that chance? do you want to waste your walk in jesus?
god’s direction is very clear. denying jesus is a very bad thing. heaven or hell is at stake. So our command directly from Jesus is to go out and make disciples. there is no limitation of that order of the king to confine her when it is not dangerous or painful. Jesus promises that the reward is far greater than any suffering we face. The only real questions for a Christian are whether we believe in Jesus and follow him in obedience.
can a 16th century portuguese priest get to heaven after denying his faith while having a secret faith get to heaven? That is up to God to answer. jesus could have hidden his faith in his father and not go to the cross, but he chose not to. not a good bet. but that’s not really the point.
god is not there to rescue us when we try to gut life in our own strength and fail. he is not the insurance policy that pulls us out of the fire after a life of waste and self-preservation. life is not about us. This is not much of a life in Christ. As a result, Scorcese’s faith misses true biblical faith altogether.
Silence is an extremely frustrating movie for a Christian. presents a very problematic view of christianity that is so focused on the flesh that it misses the point of jesus altogether. the holy spirit is completely absent. the hope of eternity and the defeat of christ’s death are considered almost nonsense. it is secular humanism in a Christian package. Get a big round of applause from me.