Silence

Last night the Monday night study group I’m in watched the movie Silence .

The film takes place in 17th century, feudal Japan and is told from the point of view of a pair of Portuguese Jesuit priests (Sebastião Rodrigues and Francisco Garupe – played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who, travel there in an attempt to find out what happened to their revered teacher and mentor, also a Jesuit priest (Father Ferreira – played by Liam Neeson) who preceded them in their mission to Japan and reportedly renounced his faith after torture at the hands of the Japanese “inquisitor”.

I believe that Martin Scorsese knew that most people would see a particular theme in the film.  Reviews and commentary following it’s release certainly followed this thinking.

In a January 5, 2017 article in the Chicago Sun Times, Richard Roeper wrote about the movie and what he felt was the essential message of the film…

“Silence,” the movie Scorsese has been trying to get made for some 30 years, is a two-hour and 40-minute epic about faith.

Faith and how it inspires acts of miraculous, selfless sacrifice.

Faith and how it can be the main source of hope and redemption for oppressed peoples.

Faith and how it can be viewed as a threat to the very fabric of a nation.

Faith and how it can be warped to inspire acts of terrible, shocking, unspeakably cruel violence.

In a December 22, 2016, Manohla Dargis wrote in the New York Times that a central theme of the film revolves around the question of God’s silence.

Why, does God not answer prayers and alleviate suffering?

I saw a different message in the telling of this tale.  One that I also found in the common understanding of the stories in the Bible.  There are the stories most people know and recognize on the surface that are told repeatedly through lectionary cycles in many Christian denominations.   But for me there are often other meanings that come alive when I think about and imagine the stories in a broader context.

This is not intended as a critical assessment.  I don’t believe I’m being critical when I address a historical reality that may be somewhat unpleasant to consider.

The story of this film centers on the persecution of Christians.  But there’s often more than one side of any story.  In this case, this other side is even given voice near the end of the film by the character of the fallen priest, Father Ferreria.

When the Portuguese Jesuit’s first encountered the people in the islands of Japan, what did they expect to find and what was their intent regardless of what they found?

The intent of the Jesuit order is the salvation and perfection (i.e. the justification and sanctification) of each individual Jesuit and, ultimately, every human being.

They arrived in Japan with the intent to convert the Japanese people into Christians.  They were certain that there was no redeeming value in any belief system that was non-Christian, so they didn’t bother to understand it beyond what they might need to know to build arguments for their Christian beliefs in opposition to the beliefs of the natives.

 

They arrived in Japan to indoctrinate the local people in the dogma and doctrine of the Christian church.  Essentially, to replace one system of domination with another.

I find it very unlikely that this is what Jesus had in mind.  Had they been following the Way of Jesus they would not have focused so much effort on teaching that following the doctrines and rituals of the church, in the face of severe oppression, would bring them an existence in paradise after they have endured great suffering and death at the hands of their oppressors.

I believe that Jesus intended to spread the word that there was a way to establish paradise on earth in the current time.

God’s kingdom on earth.

The Jesuits didn’t understood why the Japanese feared their conversion attempts.  They failed to understand that Buddhist teaching left room for people to learn about the Way of Jesus without abandoning their traditional beliefs.

We’ve seen these misunderstandings repeated in history.  The doctrine of Manifest Destiny that resulted in the subjugation of the indigenous tribes of the Americas is but one example.

There are other ways to understand God than the one taught through traditional Christianity.  In fact, there are other ways to understand God that leave room for the Way of Jesus and his teachings, as well as those of others.

For me, this movie pointed out that there is real danger in assuming that the beliefs we hold are the only valid or valuable beliefs there can be.

Jesus did not teach us to force our will on others.  He taught inclusion not exclusion.  His Way was really fairly simple.

Love those around you.   Especially those who are different from you.  Especially those who would want to mistreat you or harm you.  Love them deeply.

Cast off your hold on possessions and things and bring your wealth together into common community to care for those who have less.

Advocate for justice, but not in terms of our western understanding of justice as law.   Instead through Jesus understanding of justice as the social manifestation of love.

 

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Verity Paradox?

Verity…

A truth…  a principle of life that is of fundamental importance…  the foundations on which I base my life…  the rocks on which I build.  

Paradox…

The ultimate truth…  a universal truth…  what is not supposed to be, yet is…   what I get when I’m expecting something else…  the persistent manifestation of a principle I would prefer to ignore.

Life is found within paradox.  It is where I can find ultimate truth.  Where the arrogance of my certainty meets the humility of my doubt.

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The Conscious Universe 

Why do you insist the universe is not a conscious intelligence when it gave birth to conscious intelligences?

— Cicero, c. 44 BCE

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Butterflies of Belief

We can approach beliefs not as gems to be mined from the earth and protected with clenched fists, but rather as butterflies that land on an open hand — as gifts to enjoy but not possess.

Finding God in the Waves – Mike McHargue

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Which world do you choose?

Believe what you want regarding destiny.  You may believe in a future course that is divinely preordained, one that is a product of pure chance, or something in between.  I’ve yet to encounter anyone who can say and demonstrate that they have figured it out.

So…

I think it’s a logical conclusion that we humans do not know what lies in the path of our human journey.  

Yet…

There is no escaping another logical conclusion.  We will as a species experience whatever is to come.  

We will live life…

We will endure life…

We will experience life…

Forever, or until it ends.

Simple. Logical. Indisputable.

How would you like to live until then?

Until we die out and cease to exist, until we transcend our physical constraints and evolve into something different, or until we just continue to go on.

What kind of existence do you want?

Do you want an existence marked predominantly by hate, war, selfishness, intolerance, and violent retribution and revenge?

Our would you prefer an existence defined by love, peace, compassion, inclusion, selflessness, and non-violent social justice?

It is a choice.

I prefer the latter.  Regardless of any master plan or lack there of.

I would rather live in a world where all of humanity is unified in their desire to craft the best possible existence, than any other alternative.

But how? 

I believe that the only way to answer that question is to begin with an honest confession.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that I can do my part by living every day in a manner that reflects my vision of the world in which I want to live.

I refuse to acknowledge or engage those who are actively working against this ideal.  I’m happy to include them… To love them… To be compassionate toward them… But, I don’t need to acknowledge, endorse, or support, what I believe are misguided words, deeds, actions, and ideals.

Instead, I choose to…

Respond to the hateful by loving them.

Respond to a lack of compassion with an act of compassion.

Engage those who advocate violence by advocating peace and non-violence.

React to acts of ignorance and unjustified exclusion with wise actions that embrace inclusion.

Behave and live life reflective of my vision of the world in which I want to live.

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If There Is No God, We Don’t Make Sense

If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning — just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark.  Dark would be without meaning.  Similarly, the fact that eyes exist suggests that light must exist.  And the the fact that we have spiritual longings … the fact that we even have a meaningful category of thought and speech called spirituality … Suggests that there is some corresponding reality out there which we have the capacity to “sense”.  That capacity would be called faith, and that reality, God.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1943, p. 46)

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Skepticism and Doubt

The skeptic doubts one set of propositions because he believes another.  None of us live with absolute, unassailable certainly about anything; we all live by faith.  What someone thinks or feels absolutely certain of is really relative certainty.  It’s certainty based on faith that they are right.  The fact that they are certain is proof that they possess great faith. Likewise, one who doubts yet believes also demonstrates that some degree of faith is inescapable and runs through all that we claim to know.

Albert Einstein once said that there is no knowing without believing.

As far as the propositions of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.

The supreme task of the physicist is the search for those highly universal laws from which a picture of the world can be obtained by pure deduction.  There is no logical path leading to these laws.  They are only to be reached by intuition, based upon something like an intellectual love.

The mechanics of discovery are neither logical nor intellectual.  It’s a sudden illumination, almost a rapture.  Later, to be sure, intelligence and analysis and experiment confirm (or invalidate) the intuition.  But initially there is a great leap of the imagination.

— Albert Einstein 

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