Study Guide

Silence Religion

By Shusaku Endo


"In that stricken land the Christians have lost their priests and are like a flock of sheep without a shepherd." (1.5)

Well that's one way to put it. The bosses at the Catholic Church seem to have a pretty arrogant view of themselves: instead of worrying about the needless death and suffering of countless innocents, they're worried about people starting Mass on time.

Born into the world to render service to mankind, there is no one more wretchedly alone than the priest who does not measure up to his task. (1.39)

Rodrigues has spent his life idolizing missionaries whose work took them to the most dangerous corners of the world. They're practically his personal superheroes. Even from the get-go, however, Rodrigues fears that he won't be up to snuff.

The old man [...] made the sign of the cross showing a bond of something that held us together. (2.22)

A mutual religion makes these strangers instant buddies. Rodrigues feels like he's just hit the jackpot—he's only been in Japan for twenty minutes, and he's already discovered a clan of hidden Christians. Score.

"But what has happened during these six years? What about baptism and the sacraments?" (2.34)

That's a good question. As it turns out, Japanese Christians created their own version of Catholic rituals, changing certain aspects to evade the prying eyes of the government. But could the religion really have remained unchanged after all of that time?

The Buddhist bonzes simply treat them like cattle. For a long time they have just lived in resignation to such a fate. (3.84)

The Japanese peasants find Christianity to be a more sympathetic religion than Buddhism. After all, those Buddhist monks just keep rambling about boring old reincarnation, while the missionaries talk about paradise and heaven on Earth. As we'll see, however, this leads to a slightly different twist on the religion.

The peasants here [...] kept pressing me for a small crucifix or medal or holy picture [...] but somehow their whole attitude makes me uneasy. (3.91)

Rodrigues is finally realizing that the Japanese believe in a different sortof Christianity from what he believes in. The Japanese seem to hold holy objects in very high esteem—this might be due to the animism (the belief that objects can have souls) at the center of Shinto, the dominant native religion of Japan.

Indeed it sometimes happened because of this that the peasants confused Christianity with Buddhism, thinking that they were the same thing. (4.142)

That's like saying that LeBron James is your favorite football player. Still, this passage shows us how complicated religion can be—no matter how much they're told otherwise, the Japanese can only view Christianity in terms of the religion they were raised with. As a result, many Japanese Christians innately lean toward Buddhist concepts. But what does it mean that it's so easy to combine religious concepts from both Christianity and Buddhism? Are they complementary?

These peasants had learned their catechism like children; they dreamt of a Heaven in which there was no bitter taxation and no oppression. (5.22)

As time goes on, Rodrigues becomes increasingly skeptical of Japanese Christianity. But what did he expect? These people aren't college-educated theologians—they're poor, destitute people desperate for anything that promises them relief.

"My reasons for opposing Christianity are different from those of the people at large. I have never thought of Christianity as an evil religion." (7.25)

Inoue doesn't hate Christianity, but he's not going to let that rain on his parade. This is purely a practical matter to him: the Catholic Church threatens his power; therefore, it must be stopped. This just goes to show how impossible it can be to fully separate religion from politics.

"What the Japanese of that time believed in was not our God. It was their own gods. For a long time we failed to realize this and firmly believed that they had become Christians." (7.227)

Ultimately, Ferreira confirms Rodrigues' worst fears: the Japanese Christians have indeed invented their own faith. Though it might be rooted in Catholicism, this faith has since become its own beast entirely, influenced by Buddhism and other local traditions. But why is that necessarily a bad thing?