During travels yesterday I finished reading Shūsaku Endō’s book, “Silence.” It’s a fascinating story, based in history, of two Portuguese Jesuits who travel to Japan in 1639 to find out about rumors that a fellow Jesuit had apostatized under torture.
The time frame is similar to the events of the “North American Martyrs,” Jesuit missionaries in Canada and New York ministering to the Huron and Iroquois a few years later. And the issues raised are similar–how do you communicate the Gospel to another culture? Can they grasp the concepts, or will they morph the message into something quite alien? How do you separate the Gospel from your own culture–and the conflicting messages that could come with it? How were missionaries (and their audiences) impacted by the competing claims of colonizing political powers?
And what does torture do to the psyche? Can the emotional and physical pain mitigate the responsibility of those who crack?
And what of the later significance of Nagasaki? This Christian community that held faithful through centuries of persecution celebrated the coming of religious freedom by consecrating a new cathedral in Nagasaki: Urakami. In August 1945 it made a convenient landmark for an American bomber. 10,000 of the 15,000 Christians in the region were incinerated by those who claimed to profess the Christian God.
“Silence” asks whether Japanese culture distorted the Christian gospel. Has American culture distorted that gospel? Americans, in the name of God, nearly obliterated a Christian community of Nagasaki that had stayed faithful underground despite torture. All in the name of “saving the people”–the same reason suggested in “Silence” for giving in and stepping on an image of Christ.
And the response of most cultural Christians in America to these disconnects? Silence.