Another “Way In” to Analogy

I’ve been working on some notes on Analogy–absorbing the Thomistic doctrine, on the one hand, but also working out a fresh answer to some contemporary problems that cut to the bottom of language and literature and rhetoric (not to mention metaphysical and philosophical discourse), on the other.  I’m pleased that the notes are making sense, and still working them out in enough detail that I’ll be ready to apply them clearly to the significant stack of critical and philosophical works I’m hoping to put these insights into conversation with.

I’ve already blogged a bit about this approach to Analogy, and hope as I go forward to keep being lucid without sacrificing translatability into various forms of rigorous language (and occasional jargon).

I wanted to pause, though, to jot down in brief paragraphs something that I put down on the first page in this fresh notebook I made notes on (not the first page, because I tend to jump back to the previous leaf’s verso after filling the recto in my notebooks, or to use the facing pages as text-and-notes; and not the first page I marked on, because I doodled on one page after writing “Analogy” at the top of it, too).  If your tolerance for language-theory jargon is very low, skip ahead to the John and Jim section!


Got that?  All, right, you don’t have to read it from the page.

One “way in” to understanding the basic form of analogy (this is what I am now calling “weak analogy,” not to be confused with what develops when we deal with the Being of God, which I’ll call “strong analogy” or “analogy proper”) is to look at a statement that would definitely make sense to us, and that we would assent to in its perfomative sense but also in that it expresses indirectly a claim we know can be true or false, but that we know is also false when taken literally–that is, when read according to the denotation of the words and in the indicative mode.

Before we go on, here’s one list of various ways a statement can “work”:


(Sorry for the verbiage, but follow the example and you’ll be fine–and if you spot an error in the verbiage, please let me know!)

So, then, John has a business associate named Jim that has become a personal friend.  John has mentored Jim and invited him home, and Jim has followed John through several jobs.  Introducing him, or asked to fire him, John says of Jim, “Jim is family.”

Now, if a very skeptical, naive, or curious interlocutor followed up, John would have to admit that Jim is not a relation by blood or by marriage.  And we, caring about the meaning of terms, would have to insist that “family” cannot properly denote “anyone I want to call family” or even “anyone I have strong bonds of loyalty and affection cultivated over years with,” though that last one starts to sound like a pretty plausible explanation of John’s usage.

In fact, being a sensible fellow, John would simply sidestep this conversation by saying, “Jim is like family.”

Now the ambiguity is resolved:  a probable metaphor that might have been literal classification [“Jim is related to me”], allusion (to the Mafia?), an attempt to assert an idiosyncratic definition of “family,” an obviously false assertion offered as a provocation, or some other things has been explicitly marked as a similitude. Metaphor gives way to simile, and we know that “Jim is like family” means “Jim is the kind of friend that is very much like a family member.”

Of course, if we know John and Jim even a little, we probably know they aren’t related; we would interpret “Jim is family” as a response to whatever circumstances prompted the statement–introducing Jim to someone who doesn’t know him well, asking not to be made responsible for firing Jim, etc.  But our point here wasn’t really to question whether reasonably well-informed people can navigate fairly simple conversations without much confusion; our point wasn’t even to underscore the need to keep basic terms grounded in reality, though that’s very much a reasonable concern.

No, the point is that at no point in any of this reasoning did we doubt that “family” and “friend” are analogous, that is, that at least some friends can be described truthfully and accurately with at least some significant language that also applies to family.  Friend and family are alike enough that we can learn something about a friend by hearing him called “like family.”

This gives us the rough definition of analogy that will guide us through the rest of the discussion:  an analogy is

  • a likeness of otherwise unlike things, that
  • can teach us about one or more of those things, or about the likenesses.

That is, Analogy is heuristic likeness-in-unlikeness.

Or, as I put it in some of my other notes:

“Weak Analogy” can be identified when a trope of similitude (simile, metaphor, etc.) evinces a principle; it is heuristic insofar as one may learn about the principle from the terms, or one may learn about one of the terms from observing that principle in the other.

Most important, though, it is the reality that things are analogically related–that friends can be like family because of what friends actually are and what families actually are, not by a merely subjective insistence or volitional decree–that makes it possible for metaphor and simile to be true.  The truth of tropes of similitude is underwritten by Analogy.

Without this understanding, not only learning but all of language is either meaningless, or impossible, or both.

Social Construction of Gender: a detente breached

So, this was another Facebook conversation. A friend of a friend posed the following question (slightly prettified for the blog).

I’m exploring the reasons people have to marry gender, which is really socially construct[ed] mental stuff, to sex, which is biological as you know. The fact that these two are nothing (or not obviously) like [each] other makes [it seem suspicious that] the left are hurrying to marry the two together. Is this politics? Are you aware of any good reasons to think we should bring these two realities together?

Another friend pointed out that the question, as stated, was somewhat oblique to the contemporary conversation about these matters.


I thought it might help to rehearse some of the history of these terms, so I offered the following:

OK, so I think [our mutual acquaintance] is right that you’re getting the signals crossed, but it’s really interesting to see how all this is coming across to you–data is good.

From the days of my childhood until recently, “left” and “right” academics had a sort of detente on sex issues. With the exception of some dedicated Catholics and a few others, most of us were happy to keep “biological sex” in one box, and “socially constructed gender” in another.

Social construction, of course, has to do with the way real things (which, past empiricism, we moderns think we may not really know) are transformed into “things as we know them” by the historical processes that shape our ideologies. In a modest sense, we all know this happens (that’s why we speak of culture); in a more radical sense, we might doubt whether we know any real things at all, and we might try to “deconstruct” things as we know them in order to examine the judgments we and others have made that “construe” things.

Keeping “biology” in one box and “social construction” (or “culture”) in another did keep the peace, so to speak. We could debate the extent to which real things could be known, how evident they were, how we could get through the social construction to them–how much gendered behavior was sexual, how much was social, whether we should value it or neutralize it, etc.

(I emphasize that from a Catholic point of view we were *wrong* to accept that bargain, but until I headed that way I didn’t see a sufficient basis for rejecting it.)

That bargain peaked when many erroneously believed the “gay gene” had been found (no such thing, though there are epigenetic effects that very likely predispose some men to same-sex attraction). Biology of sex was suddenly useful to those trying to normalize homosexual behavior and relationships and to those trying to emphasize the biological fitness of traditional sexual mores.

That mistaken but relatively peaceful consensus has now been pretty radically fractured. The physical evidence for the “born this way” interpretation of homosexuality has proven far weaker than expected, and radical theory has labored to find a way to achieve the same rhetorical effect without the “gay gene” evidence. Other incoherences within radical feminism have produced other fresh theoretical efforts. The need for perpetual “revolution” that must always be construed as “liberation” or “getting rights” has led to still more theoretical efforts.

The most obvious and fascinating clash in this concerns whether sexually male people can be “women” for purposes of radical feminist theory, as you can see in this amazingly incendiary piece of work.

So right now most radical theorists speak in terms of “intersectionality,” that is, where two descriptions of identity lead to anomalies that need explaining. Theory is then deployed ad hoc into those “intersections” in an effort to create a result that–at this point in our politics, a result that serves the purpose of perpetual revolution.

The common form of this is to speak of biological sex as “assigned” at birth–because assignment can be construed as a rhetorical act, a use of power (the doctor’s authority) that affects a discourse (how we talk about sex/gender, “myself as I know myself”). The relation between biology as such and this “assigned” sex is generally disposed of by pointing to rare biological differences as though they invalidated any organs/sex/gender continuity, and also by multiplying subjective descriptions and possible surgical variations in an effort to show that “assigned” sex ignores factors equally or more important than biology.

If biological sex can be construed as “assigned,” then the relatively weak evidence of epigenetic variants that can dispose some men toward same-sex attraction can be construed as evidence that “sexual orientation” is (now will the heads spin) both so fundamental to human identity that it is equivalent to “born this way” *AND* so constantly “fluid” that any strong feeling that persists must be accepted as definitive, even if it changes repeatedly.

And we’re not done, because one’s “assigned” sex and “fluid” orientation still have to function relative to culture–to the social construction of gender that we started out with. This is called “expression” of sexual identity, and is viewed as radically subjective, provided one can express it in a way the currently dominant ideology finds acceptable (i.e., Catholic men, you’re just plain wrong no matter what).

Now, I hope that in presenting this I have already suggested how many kinds of wrong-headed the whole thing was, and how much worse it has become.

As Catholics, we believe that while cultural roles and expressions may vary, the sex/gender distinction is basically mistaken. Gender develops from and continues to be significantly related to biological sex, and attempts to divide them have proved medically, psychologically, and socially harmful (we should have known better). While a very weak form of the sex/gender distinction may be useful in distinguishing some cultural mores from real norms, it is usually better just to speak of “sexual difference” and remember that it can have a wide variety of expressions–none of which can make it wise or right to innovate against the basic realities of human bodies, male and female, or the natural and divine law that governs their relations.

Non Sum Dignus

I am not worthy; none of us are.


In the year that King Uzzi′ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

‘Hear and hear, but do not understand;
see and see, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people fat,
and their ears heavy,
and shut their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”

(source:  Isaiah 6:1-11a RSV-CE, emphasis added)

But with the prophets and martyrs and all the faithful who repeat that chorus, by the grace of God and the faith that knows Jesus Christ we are being made worthy.

Speak truth to power, beginning with my weakness.

Including the power of your friends.  And mobs.  And principalities, and rulers of the darkness of this age.

Speak truth you have received, in the Name of Him you received it from, in union with those who brought it to you and you to it.

And have the humility not to budge from that truth, or to negotiate it away.

Be transformed.

A Last Fragment on Endo’s Silence, For Now

Well, this is one portion of a work caught “in the middle” between several projects I was attempting on Endo’s Silence between 2012 and 2014.  This is actually not the last-edited stage; I pulled up an edition that I labeled “overdeveloped three virtues” because a dimly possible thread I wanted to pull, at least in drafting, was threatening to take over the paper.  I’m putting it up here because–well, it’s a blog, so why not air my early-drafting laundry?

Here, then, the somewhat dramatically titled, unfinished work on Garrpe, in Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence:

Christ’s Unknown Soldier: The Role of Garrpe in Endo’s Silence


Nobody would deny that Rodrigues is the protagonist of Shusaku Endo’s Silence. Most criticism seems to consider only the choices Rodrigues makes as essential to the story’s final significance. Readers and students are then left to moot the question of whether Rodrigues is a tragically weak man destroyed by hubris or an unforgiving spirit, or whether he heroically proclaims a triumph of spirit over letter or pity over fidelity. Both genre conventions and Endo’s storytelling, however, tend to undermine the reader’s confidence in Rodrigues’s judgments. Characters such as Garrpe and Kichijiro also challenge any excessive reliance on the subjective experience of Rodrigues. Kichijiro’s role has been explored in the literature, but Garrpe remains sadly neglected. Garrpe demonstrates even more definitely than Kichijiro that Rodrigues has ignored or foreclosed crucial possibilities of thought and action on his way to the famous fumie scene. Given the subsequent development of Endo’s fiction and his public statements about his views, it is especially interesting that Garrpe appears in this text to witness against the dilemma that the Japanese authorities, Rodrigues, and even Endo have in various ways constructed for the reader. Clearly emphasizing Garrpe’s conversion from initial wavering to final martyrdom makes better sense of the book’s enduring allure for Christian readers than a narrow focus on the protagonist Rodrigues.

Critical Commitments

Examining secondary characters and subplots can re-enliven readerly and critical interest in a work whose reading has become stereotyped. Literature teachers are familiar with the tendency of students to discard the text in their rush to discover “what’s it about?” and learn “will it be on the test?” Scholars at all levels, however, must avoid the trap of simple “debunking,” of displays of cleverness that entertain and impoverish, rather than enrich, readers and their habits. Critics reading “against the grain” by using lesser features of a work to solicit questions about that work’s well-known major features have some obligation, then, to declare what larger pattern of facts supports this seeming inversion.

Two such considerations warrant the present effort. First, some of the best criticism of Endo’s work already points out genre considerations that might mislead many readers, especially readers doubly distanced from Silence’s situation as a Japanese book published in 1963. Such examinations of Endo’s genre gain strength from Endo’s own responses to criticism of his book, even taking into account the possibility that some of these comments are post hoc rationalizations. Second, and at least equally important, there is a theological warrant for attending to Garrpe’s powerful death scene and the response to the novel’s essential dilemma that it suggests. I take it as a basic commitment for Religion and Literature scholarship that T. S. Eliot was correct when he argued that “literary criticism should be completed by criticism from a definite ethical and theological point of view” (343). “Completed,” not merely occasionally supplemented, because if there is any sense at all in calling a work of art “religious,” in that same sense we must acknowledge that religion not only has its own intrinsic order (theology and morality) but encompasses and defines subsidiary fields, each in turn possessed of its own intrinsic order. Garrpe’s role in Silence, which may typical criticism seems to take as simply another moment in the story of Rodrigues, turns out to be crucial in reconciling our aesthetic and theological appreciation of this truly problematic work.

Guided by these commitments, I begin below by summarizing Garrpe’s role in the plot of Silence, then sketch in a few typical readings of Silence and the genre and narrative structure questions that challenge those readings. After sketching in the ways that Garrpe’s actions help to supply what is lacking in typical readings, I proceed to the theological considerations that recommend greater emphasis on Garrpe’s role in the novel. I conclude that such an analysis helps to re-integrate elements of the story which tend to be ignored on account of their dissonance with a straightforward thematic reading of the overall plot and its climax.

Summary of Garrpe’s Role

Simple page-counting suggests Garrpe’s structural place in the novel (201 pages in this edition). Garrpe and Rodrigues come on stage together in the Prologue. Garrpe and Rodrigues are separated almost exactly one-third of the way through the book (on page 62), and Garrpe is brought back on stage by the Japanese authorities at almost exactly the two-thirds mark (pages 128-35). During the middle third of the novel, Garrpe is almost forgotten. Shortly before Rodrigues is captured, he “quite suddenly” remembers Garrpe (65); later, Rodrigues recalls their early conversations about torture shortly before being taken to see Garrpe’s death (125). In the meantime, Rodrigues is first literally and then figuratively transported through a strange land, unable to read the signs and lacking Garrpe or any similar aid to his conscience. After Garrpe’s death, Rodrigues is at last introduced to the apostate Ferreira. The first third of the novel in which Garrpe and Rodrigues are together is thus mirrored by the final third, in which Garrpe is replaced by Ferreira. Setting aside for the moment the more complex weave that introduces the interpreter and Inoue as manipulating events to bring Rodrigues to this end, and the way Kichijiro destabilizes this tidy sequence, Garrpe’s role is worth examining in its own right.

Garrpe is continually associated with Rodrigues throughout the Prologue and the first four chapters (each of these chapters is notionally a letter from Rodrigues). The novel’s focus on Rodrigues, together with the point-of-view shift after chapter four, makes it easy to assimilate Garrpe’s role to that of Rodrigues. Such an assimilation is probably not a misreading; as we shall see, the novel’s conventions encourage readers to treat Garrpe, Kichijiro, the interpreter, and other fictional characters introduced into the historic setting as entirely relative to the unfolding story of Rodrigues. Garrpe and Kichijiro especially seem to play out Rodrigues’ psychomachia, serving as doppelgangers or alternative author surrogates to give highly subjective fiction a richer social and historical situation (Gessel “Voice” 199-201).

In the first pages of his narrative, Rodrigues is more likely to report Garrpe’s direct interaction with other characters than his own. Rodrigues may offer his point of view to the reader, but it appears to be Garrpe whose words drive the plot and reveal the characters. When Rodrigues, Marta, and Garrpe are delayed in Macao, Valignano “was finally moved by our pleading—especially by that of Garrpe” to send them on their way (15). In the team’s early interaction with Kichijiro, it is Garrpe who repeatedly calls Kichijiro to testify plainly about his identity. “Are you a Christian?” he asks the evasive Kichijiro during their first meeting, and follows up later in that conversation with “Well, anyhow, you are a Christian, aren’t you? … You are. Aren’t you?” (17) Kichijiro’s evasiveness in the face of this questioning is partly explained by Japanese risk-aversion, somewhat more by an alcoholic’s avoidance of responsibility, and perhaps even more by a perfectly understandable fear of the intense persecution of Japanese Christians that he describes to Garrpe and Rodrigues.

Garrpe’s repeated questions about Kichijiro’s Christianity reveals his interest in essential characteristics (like the ineffaceable sacramental character imparted at baptism) that mere choices or momentary denials cannot wholly efface. In the face of Kichijiro’s panicky denial of his Christianity, Garrpe reasons with Kichijiro on the basis of Japanese identity: “Anyhow, you want to get back to Japan” (17). When Kichijiro’s behavior does not match the ideas Garrpe and Rodrigues have formed of Christian and Japanese behavior, Garrpe again presses him with, “Are you really a Japanese? Honestly, are you?” (20) A while later, when Kichijiro’s fear of a storm at sea drives him to ejaculate “Santa Maria” repeatedly, Garrpe once again tries to ascertain his character: “‘I am asking a question,’ said Garrpe raising his voice. ‘Give me a clear answer. Are you, or are you not, a Christian?’” (25) In these interactions, both Garrpe and Rodrigues are shown to lack understanding of Japanese culture and of the deforming effects of persecution and privation on virtue, and to have somewhat facile understandings of the effects of grace. Nonetheless, a clear distinction between Garrpe and Rodrigues emerges. Rodrigues tends to be driven by his aesthetic response to situations and characters; he is the source of the reader’s vision of sunsets, storms, horizons, birds, and seasons, as well as the “pitiful coward” Kichijiro (24). Garrpe, on the other hand, comes into his own when Rodrigues reports on his pleas and questions, questions which attempt to plumb down to the essential character of things.

Garrpe’s role in driving the plot and pressing the characters to define themselves seems to have a theological dimension, as well. Garrpe’s confidence in a stereotyped description of Japanese people hints at this: Rodrigues says that Garrpe had “too credulously taken at face value the talk of so many missionaries” (20). In the passage immediately following, Rodrigues is at pains to reconcile himself to the idea of trusting Kichijiro, using the word “entrusted” repeatedly; the problem, which Garrpe has confronted head-on despite some potential for error in his “face value” judgments, is one of good faith versus bad faith. Rodrigues, with his aesthetic orientation toward future glory, seems to find fidelity slippery; Garrpe readily extends good faith and just as readily demands it from others.

This theological dimension of Garrpe’s role is part of a larger theme that unfolds throughout the work, beginning with the introduction of Garrpe and Marta with Rodrigues as a three-person team. “Francisco Garrpe” and “Juan de Santa Marta,” as they are first introduced (9), both seem distinct in character from Rodrigues. Rodrigues is forenamed “Sebastian,” after the saint who survived his martyrdom by arrows only to be clubbed to death when he criticized the persecuting Emperor Diocletian to his face; the name appears to foreshadow both his future ordeal and his hope of outliving that ordeal (which he does, albeit hardly as a martyr). Garrpe’s forename “Francisco” at the time of this story could only have referred to St. Francis of Assisi, whose seemingly naïve pursuit of Christ led him to challenge sultans and popes, and who readily abandoned secular pursuits but ended up founding three great religious orders. Garrpe’s forename (shared with the great Jesuit missionary to the East, St. Francis Xavier, whose canonization would have taken place while Garrpe, Marta, and Rodrigues were children) also hints at the difference between Rodrigues and Garrpe, as the Franciscans had been generally excluded from the Jesuit mission areas in Japan. Rodrigues, named for a martyr from the Praetorian Guard, suggests the Jesuit “Soldiers of Christ” in much the way that Garrpe suggests their sometime rivals, the Franciscans.

The name “Juan de Santa Marta” in turn, suggests both St. John, the Beloved Disciple, and St. Martha, the hard-working sister of Mary of Bethany and Lazarus. The Apostle John is the author of the Gospel in which he is repeatedly characterized as the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23 et passim); not only does he receive the Revelations recorded in the book of that name, but he writes three letters notable for their emphasis on Christian and divine love. In his First Epistle, St. John offers perhaps the most sweeping and dense exhortation to charity in the Scriptures: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). St. Martha, in turn, is one of the only individuals in the Gospels picked out for similar mention: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary and Lazarus” (John 11:5). Martha’s confession of faith in Christ and hope of the Resurrection is one of the most ringing in all of Biblical history: she was the first to go out to seek Jesus when her brother Lazarus died, and the words of promise Jesus entrusted her with are still cited in every Christian burial rite (John 11:20-27).

The shape of Marta’s name may also suggest the name of St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz). John, a contemporary of Xavier’s, had been marginalized and even imprisoned in the confusion of rival religious orders and secular powers in 16th Century Spain. John’s profound attachment to the love of Christ granted him the detachment from all other things described in such works as The Dark Night of the Soul, saying of the soul that has suffered patiently that “its love alone, which burns at this time, and makes its heart to long for the Beloved, is that which now moves and guides it, and makes it to soar upward to its God along the road of solitude, without its knowing how or in what manner” ( CITE ). The probable allusion to St. John of the Cross in Marta’s name, as well as his being named for St. John and St. Martha, associates Marta with the theological virtue of charity.

This association of Marta with charity completes the triad suggested by the characterizations of Garrpe and Rodrigues. Garrpe’s easy good faith and his confidence that characters and essences are real, not merely nominal, similarly associates him with faith; Rodrigues is linked to hope by his aesthetic orientation and relentless attempts to appropriate the future. As any standard account of the theological virtues will suggest, charity is inseparable from faith and hope, while faith and hope cannot subsist without charity; in St. Paul’s words, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:12-13). As St. Thomas Aquinas says, “Charity is the root of faith and hope, in so far as it gives them the perfection of virtue. But faith and hope as such are the precursors of charity … and so charity is impossible without them” (Summa I-II.65.5 ad. 2). It is precisely this language of “precursors” and possibility that echoes in the scenes where Garrpe, Rodrigues, and Marta plead with Valignano for permission to complete their mission, and where Garrpe and Rodrigues take their leave of Marta.

Marta’s speech to Valignano on behalf of their mission invokes all three theological virtues, alluding directly to the compassion of Christ and suggesting that their obligation in charity is to promote faith and prevent despair. He says,

And yet our secret mission could with God’s help turn out successful … In that stricken land the Christians have lost their priests and are like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Some one must go to give them courage and to ensure that the tiny flame of faith does not die out. (14-15).

Marta here alludes to Matthew 9:36-38, in which Jesus “saw the crowds” and “had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”; His immediate response is to instruct His followers to ask God for more workers, because “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Marta’s echo of this charitable impulse leads him to express faith in “God’s help” and hope that “our secret mission … could turn out successful”; at the same time, he indicates that their obligation in charity is to stave off despair and unbelief in their “harassed and helpless” flock, serving to “give them courage” and see to it that “faith does not die out.”

Garrpe’s speech to Marta when Garrpe and Rodrigues finally gain Valignano’s permission to continue on their way to Japan firms up this thematic framework. Garrpe specifically describes himself and Rodrigues as precursors to Marta, saying “We go first…. We’ll prepare the way so that you can come afterwards when you get better” (19). Garrpe and Rodrigues are ventured forward into a situation where charity has been wounded, where charity is infirm and seemingly cannot survive the Pacific crossing. Historically and in the novel, this is a situation of persecution and apostasy, to be sure; but the novel also suggests that this is a situation in which the politics of East and West have become almost impossible to distinguish from the proclamation of the Gospel. This suggestion gains considerable strength from Endo’s role as a leading postwar Japanese writer (Gessel “Endo” 71, Pinnington 102, Netland “Who” 77-78).

Garrpe’s promise that he and Rodrigues will serve as precursors is an effort to keep faith with their original intention; but Rodrigues, as soon as he reports it, begins to question the future. “But can anyone predict what will happen?” he asks, then imagines a “safe and happy life” for Marta, and a bad end for himself and Garrpe (19). Noting that “Marta remained silent,” Rodrigues attempts to fill the silence with speculation. He indicates his own orientation toward future glory, toward acknowledged results, when he responds to Marta’s illness by thinking, “There is no one more wretchedly alone than the priest who does not measure up to his task.” Rodrigues has already begun to construe a future in which Marta’s illness is a final obstacle to his participation in their mission; by comparison, Garrpe keeps faith by speaking of possible futures only insofar as they characterize current intentions.

This tendency to separate hope from faith—this infirmity of charity—has significant consequences throughout the story. When Garrpe and Rodrigues set sail, Rodrigues has to admit that “I feel no inclination to write about Santa Marta,” who has not recovered from his illness (22). Rodrigues writes as though Marta were already dead, making his repetition of Garrpe’s assertion at the end of the letter rings hollow: “No doubt,” he says, “God is secretly preparing” Marta’s task. The pages since their parting from Marta, however, have been filled with little but expressions of doubt and alienation. The only reassurance that comes from within Rodrigues is his aesthetic appropriation of the image of Christ.

Imagining the future, Rodrigues consistently finds doubts and temptations to despair; his reassurances are counterfactual and hypothetical, afterthoughts marked by the “perhaps” of magical thinking rather than the promise of faith (19). When he fixates on his own imagination of the face of Jesus, Rodrigues sees “a face filled with vigor and strength. I feel great love for that face” (22). Rodrigues is not wrong when he says that the Scriptures are reticent about the Incarnate Son’s exact physical description, of course (“This point the Bible passes over in silence”). Few people living before the age of mechanically reproduced art considered eidetic reproduction of individual features a major concern of art; it is probably anachronistic even for Rodrigues to be considering the question of likeness versus iconic value in sacred art. Rodrigues has already conceded, though, that this “face” is of his own choosing. He chooses an image from his memory (Piero della Francesca’s Resurrection) and invests it with reality, not only in preference to the Bible’s “silence” on Jesus’ literal lineaments but also setting aside the substantial Biblical basis for iconic representations of Christ.

In taking this reticence as license to conjure his own image of Christ and fixate on that, however, Rodrigues runs sharply counter to the plain drift of multiple Scriptures that treat the Biblical and Eucharistic witness to Christ as the true memorial of the Incarnate Son and true precursor of a final, face-to-face encounter in perfect charity at the Resurrection (1 John 3:1-3; 2 Cor. 4:5-7; Rev. 22:1-5; 1 Cor. 13:12-13). It is perhaps especially important that one of the most prominent of these is the key text relating faith and hope to their summation in charity, cited above. His own, personal Jesus does not have the face of a Suffering Servant, like Isaiah’s prophecy of a face marred beyond recognition by torture (Isaiah 52:13-15); nor does Rodrigues see far enough to connect that sufferer to St. John’s face-to-face encounter with Christ exalted beyond description in Resurrection (Rev. 1:12-16). The iconic adjuncts to the true memorial of Christ in Word and Sacrament have their place, but Rodrigues silences the true memorial and erects his fantasy in its place. Rodrigues, thinking of the future, does not seem able to imagine it faithfully without relying on Garrpe’s words.

Garrpe’s drive to ascertain essences and characters does not, by itself, mend the infirmity he and Rodrigues suffer. As he and Rodrigues, lacking Marta, proceed into Japan (with the second interrogation of Kichijiro’s Christianity happening en route), Garrpe is if anything the more timid of the pair. Garrpe is the “last of all” to go ashore through the “icy cold water” (26). While he and Rodrigues wait on shore for Kichijiro, who has gone to fetch some Christian villagers, Garrpe is the one who suddenly exclaims that “He won’t come back!” and exclaims “tearfully” about the “weak-minded coward” who seems to have abandoned him. Even in this, however, the basic contrast between the two priests can be seen, for Rodrigues immediately follows this with his own speculations about “a more terrible fate,” casting Kichijiro as the traitor “Judas” in his fantasy. Garrpe does not have any basis for resisting this fantasy, but responds immediately by “quoting the Scriptures” that describe the “band of soldiers” Judas brought to Gethsemane. When the Christian villagers find them, it is Garrpe who immediately asks about the particulars of Christian practice: “But what happened during these six years? What about baptism and the sacraments?” (28) When the villagers explain the ingenious and dangerous system by which they had maintained what observances they could, it is Rodrigues who immediately imagines such practices continuing everywhere (29).

Garrpe’s fallibility and his realist orientation are both reinforced when Rodrigues suggests that they slip out of their shelter—a remote hut with a priest-hole in the floor—and sunbathe (36). As when Rodrigues suggested that Kichijiro had not merely run away, but had sought out soldiers to betray them, Garrpe has no specific reason to disagree. Their conditions are unquestionably bad, and they have not actually seen any clear and present danger, though they have strong reason to believe that real danger surrounds them at some unknown distance. In this extreme isolation from all others (Rodrigues “gazed greedily at the world of men” outside), and this utterly inescapable togetherness, the boundaries between Garrpe and Rodrigues break down. Their dangerously limited and mistaken understanding of their situation, their confidence in the goods of nature and the goodness of God, and their expectation of good outcomes overlap more completely than at any other time in the novel. The language of faith and hope merge, here, as well; it is Garrpe who speaks of “the future,” albeit with many qualifiers: “In the future we must sometimes at least allow ourselves the pleasure of a sunbath.” True to his tendency to trust appearances, Garrpe also exclaims that there is “Nothing to be afraid of!” Garrpe even indulges in a certain amount of fantasy with Rodrigues, although it is a fantasy concerning their shared past which comments wryly on their situation, rather than wishful thinking about the future.

Despite the dangerous errors in judgment both priests make, largely due to their extreme isolation and other distortions caused by persecution, it is during this initial period of ministry together that Garrpe and Rodrigues are most faithful to their calling and most reasonably hopeful of good results. Even so, it is consistently Garrpe who is most responsive to reality. Garrpe baptizes the infant brought to them from the village; Rodrigues, assisting, records his imaginations about the baby’s future, and his own subjective generalizations (38). When they are approached covertly by some Christians from another village, who had observed them while they were unwisely breaking cover for their walks and sunbathing, it is Garrpe who notices that “somebody is watching us” and who is most aware of their situation (37). When the strange villagers persist, it is Garrpe who is most realistic and most fearful, insisting that they stay under cover, even ordering Rodrigues to “Stop!” (39)

Rodrigues, by comparison, talks himself into opening the door to strangers by deciding which course of action best reflects his own self-image: “Grasping the wooden door with my hands I made as if to go out. Yes, I would go. Even if this were a trap, even if these men were the guards, it didn’t matter…. What a disgrace it would be to betray my vocation from cowardly fear.” Again, and especially at this phase of their ministry, there is relatively little question of which judgments are best; the priests are too isolated, and the data too thin, to reliably decide such matters. Garrpe’s fearfulness may well reflect a lack of confidence that their mission has any promise of success; but it certainly reflects reality rather than fantasy. The contrast between the two priests is underscored by the irony that Rodrigues has just been “awakened by the snoring of the optimistic Garrpe,” who he later describes as “good-natured in the face of the most terrible difficulties” (51).

Both realistic fear and fantasy-inspired courage suggest the infirmity of charity that characterizes the whole situation. Together, Garrpe and Rodrigues may balance each other’s infirmities; Rodrigues with his aesthetic orientation toward future glory may move Garrpe past his realistic fears, while Garrpe’s ready good faith and insistence on reality allow them to keep hold on the essential grounding that Rodrigues so readily abandons in his anxious fantasies. Thus it is important that Garrpe is the one who quickly grasps the essential dilemma the Japanese authorities have created for the priests and their people, realizing that the villagers will “all end up as hostages” as the systematic interrogation and persecution continue (51); and that Garrpe’s proposal involves keeping the priests together while safeguarding the people: “Rather than such a calamity it is better for the two of us to get away from this mountain altogether” (52). He suggests that they both go with Kichijiro to Goto Island.

What follows the next visit from the authorities, however, opens a breach between Garrpe and Rodrigues even before they are separated; in so doing, it foreshadows the path Rodrigues will travel when he no longer has Garrpe to lean on. The Christian villagers who have sheltered priests are trying to decide what to do, as they know that the systematic investigation will continue until they have all either trampled the fumie or been exposed as Christians (53-4). Sending Garrpe and Rodrigues away might protect them, but it would definitely remove the counsel and comfort the priests ought to be able to give, and the sacramental graces they have the authority to bestow. The faithful villagers are confronted with the seeming futility of their own faithfulness: “If we don’t trample, everyone in the village will be cross-examined.” Those less firm in their faith will be exposed to a trial they may not be able to bear; those who do not share their faith will be confirmed in their separation from Christ; all will suffer intensified fear, mutual suspicion, and mistreatment as the persecution continues.

The faithful villagers, confronted with such a powerful dilemma, specifically ask the priests, “What are we to do?” (54) They strive to be faithful, and have shown great resolve, but the best option on their horizon appears to lead to exactly what they seek to avoid; they need hope. They need reason to expect a good outcome, and an imaginative depiction of that outcome that will reassure them when appearances and speculation conjure fantasies of futility and despair. Rodrigues, with his orientation toward future glory and aesthetic judgments, is now being called on to do just what he should be most ready for. Garrpe has usually spoken up to now; and despite their fear and the infirmity of charity, both priests and villagers have been faithful. Here, however, where relying on Garrpe’s words will no longer do, Rodrigues falls critically short. Moved by “pity,” rather than more well-formed compassion or charity, Rodrigues abandons the ground of faith and speaks “without thinking.” His “pity” treats the faithful villagers as “unfortunate men” who cannot be expected to measure up to his fantasies about legendary martyrs; because their reality falls short of his fantasy, he feels he cannot even expect fidelity from them, let alone give them hope.

Rodrigues responds by saying, “Trample! Trample!” He tells his correspondent “I know you would never give” such advice, that it “should never have been on my lips.” Just as important, at that moment, “Garrpe looked at me reproachfully.” Garrpe’s silence seems to indicate that he, like Rodrigues, has reached the limit of his ability to articulate his faith in the horrible circumstances in which they find themselves; but Rodrigues does not stop at silence, but tries to bridge the gap to the future with speculation, rather than faith—and ends up offering counsel of despair. Garrpe’s silence and the bad counsel of Rodrigues open up the gap between the remaining priests which prefigures the unfolding of the rest of the plot. Marta’s infirmity leaves Garrpe and Rodrigues to serve as precursors, seeking to bring faith and hope where charity is so badly wounded. When Rodrigues abandons good faith to nourish his own fantasies, then what should be an aesthetic appropriation of the future promised by faith, true hope, becomes instead radically inauthentic and moribund.

This foreshadowing unfolds in the three major events which follow. First, Kichijiro asks a question familiar to all who have suffered injustice: “Why has Deus Sama given us this trial? We have done no wrong” (54). The question haunts Rodrigues (55), whose hope is too abstracted from observed reality and the specifics of Word and Sacrament to offset the weight of apparent wrong; he neither adverts to the blessings and promises given to those who suffer injustice (Matt. 5:11-12; 1 Peter 4:12-19) and martyrdom (Matt. 10:39-42; Rev. 2:10-11), nor considers that his own priestly acts are the very proclamation and memorial of Christ, as long as he faithfully carries out his vocation. It is in the wake of his own failure to remain silent when he could not speak in good faith, and in the middle of this noisy consideration of a question abstracted from all good-faith efforts to provide an answer, that Rodrigues first repeatedly notes what he calls “the silence of God,” complaining that “God has remained silent” as the villagers suffered (55).

Second, the leaders among the faithful villagers are in fact taken, interrogated, and eventually martyred (54-61). Kichijiro, whose questions express the doubts Rodrigues tries to suppress with his fantasies, readily apostatizes: “Following my advice, Kichijiro was the first to place his foot on the image” (55). The others also step on the fumie because the priest said to do so, but they are unable to blaspheme and spit on the Virgin’s image to prove that they have no mental reservation (55-6). Kichijiro completes his public apostasy, “overcome by the threats,” while the other leaders are similarly broken, but remain faithful and “at last confessed openly that they were Christians” (56-7). They are executed on crosses in the ocean, taking several days to die of exposure and dehydration, singing hymns all the while (57-60). Rodrigues, again, notes that their martyrdom does not measure up to his fantasies, the “splendid martyrdom I had often seen in my dreams” (60); he complains that their martyrdom “was no such glorious thing.” His preference for visions of glory over the promises of faith turns the heroic fidelity of the martyrs, and the song that expresses their faith that “We’re on our way to the temple of Paradise,” into “a melody filled with dark sadness” (61). His darkening of the song’s authentic expression of hope presages another passage in which Rodrigues obsessively considers “the depressing silence of the sea, the silence of God.”

Third, after the martyrdom of the villagers, Garrpe and Rodrigues are parted, and Rodrigues at their parting wonders “why on earth do we remain in this country at all?” and “What had happened to our glorious dream?” The bad faith expressed in the answer Rodrigues gives, to apostatize in order to shield others from temporal suffering at the hands of secular authorities precedes his lack of an answer to Kichijiro’s question, his dark interpretation of the martyrdom of the faithful Japanese, and his own despairing speculations upon his separation from Rodrigues. These three events, in turn, are echoed in the scenes surrounding the martyrdom of Garrpe (128-35), the turning point from Rodrigues’s journey through the middle third of the novel toward his apostasy at its climax.

[…here kindly recall that this is an unfinished draft….]


In Priority Order

People using German terms that don’t accurately apply to refer to some seriously defective, wrongheaded, ill-judged, and stupid provisions for dealing with some actual security problems–friends–consider that the straightforward life-and-death matters are even more indisputably and obviously linked, there.

You can’t urge us to bypass the obvious in our rush to deal with the debatable. You can’t expect a culture that can’t agree whether babies and old people should be killed when they are inconvenient to treat Syrians, Ukrainians, Kurds, Tamils, or Chechens as anything other than the political footballs they have been taught *all* lives are.

Nobody can teach anything by skipping the fundamental. I cannot teach research writing to people who refuse to acknowledge basic subject-predicate relations. I cannot help anyone understand the Catechism who will not believe that Jesus is God. You cannot keep faith in marriage if you think sexual desire is just an itch you have to scratch.

You cannot help people avoid radical swings from paranoia to naivete except by helping them come into contact with real things. And you cannot do that by joining them in a “rhetoric trumps logic” culture, in a “only deal with priority one when we can also cut deals to deal with priorities four, six, and two hundred thirty-nine” politics, in a “it’s only an adequate argument if it convinces skeptics” sophistication.

Arch skeptics (not just people who aren’t yet convinced), those who reason in bad faith and actually make an effort to avoid coming into contact with basic realities they have pitted themselves against, are not convinced by arguments. Adopting their preferred structures of reasoning in order to gain their approval does not convince them; it confuses and discourages those who are trying to learn from us, lean on us, and share with us.

Speak the truth, or don’t.

But stop trading your birthright for pottage.


And I still think this is a terrible idea from the latest execrable person the people of this country chose to elect.

But the analogy is poorly calibrated any time it does not take into account the much more obvious, much stronger, much more thoroughly institutionalized Progressive/fascist and even obviously Hitlerian evil this nation continues to embrace, calling them “left” or “right” but fixing them in place and moving on, see-saw fashion.

Let’s just be against all the evils, and let’s tackle them in priority order, and do whatever good we can at every stage, yes?

No bargains except temporary tactical ones. No alliances except on the top priority, until that one is resolved.

Just do right.

I Almost Cried With Relief

Read the whole thing.

In 2010, I finally received in full the strangely long-delayed thought, “Oh, I need to take the claims of the Catholic Church seriously:  they might require action if I understood them more fully, and not be of merely historical interest.”  When I did, I had very little idea where to turn–my limited exposure to Catholics in their own words had been more kaleidoscopic than coherent.  So I hunted down the only Catholic priest I knew by name, one I had been surprised almost ten year before to find myself back-to-back with in vibrant academic discussions about Church history.  “Father Tim,” as I recalled his name, had been a welcome presence among our Baylor grad circles, where Ralph Wood had invited him as an authentic voice of Catholicism in his Catholic novel seminars.  What he said to me in that 2010 conversation, I have since repeated to many a friend contemplating what conservative Protestants necessarily feel is a very large “blank check” we must write to the Magisterium in becoming Catholic.  I won’t repeat it here, though; ask me on my porch, sometime.

What brings this up is the immense feeling of joy, encouragement, and relief it gives me to see this heartening, straightforward witness to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” from Father Timothy Vavarek of the Diocese of Austin.  I have been reading and becoming familiar with many sound Catholic voices over the past few years, and as an RCIA coordinator and a professor I have tried to become, in a small way, such a voice.

But these are days when feeling betrayed by our leaders is more common than finding ourselves taught and encouraged and nourished by them.

Every counterexample, friends, is another day the truth lives on in the hearts of somebody who doesn’t want to give up, but is running out of fuel and getting no effective support.

Here, then, words of hope and encouragement; true spiritual works of mercy:

God is unfailingly faithful in his generous, wise, and loving work of drawing humanity to himself. Neither Israel nor the Church has any claim on him rooted in their own actions, certainly not in the face of sin. He is the faithful spouse; we are the adulterers.

Yet his fidelity expresses an infinite mercy that calls us to conversion and to sharing his life through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by which he comes to dwell in us and we in him. For that purpose, the Word took flesh and returned to the Father by way of the Cross. He is the faithful spouse who purifies his bride and brings her home. This unwavering fidelity led Paul to assert: “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim 2:13)

Only on the basis of Christ’s fidelity, poured into our heart by the indwelling of the Trinity, can we hope to remain faithful. Humanly speaking this is impossible, but “with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26)

In the present crisis regarding marriage, those who say it is sometimes impossible for Christians to remain faithful to the vow made to a spouse and to God (such as when the marriage is irreparably broken or has been replaced by a second union) have forgotten the meaning of Christ, the human person, marriage, and the cosmos, which all declare the glory of God and his fidelity. This is no development of doctrine or relaxing of Church discipline. It is the complete overthrow of the Christian vision of God and human existence.

Were there a single case in which fidelity to a spouse or to God was impossible for a Christian, this would mean that God’s fidelity had failed. Perversely, infidelity in that instance would be rooted in God’s infidelity of withdrawing his grace and/or misleading us through Jesus and the Church’s false teaching regarding the obligations of the Gospel.

Far from being realistic and merciful, the suggestions being made are heartless and cruel abstractions that imply that Jesus’ fidelity is not always available to us. This makes a mockery of those who have lived chastely, after a broken marriage, in fidelity to their earthly and heavenly spouses. The proponents of these theories must name a case in which God and Christ are unfaithful before they presume to permit a Christian to be unfaithful in the slightest matter. That is the concrete, real, personal truth of the Gospel.

Mercy will not be found in exchanging the beauty of marriage for a lifeless illusion. It will be found, as it ever has been, by allowing Jesus to draw us to himself on the Cross and learning that with him we can be faithful even unto death.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on us.  Mary, Mother of God, and Joseph her spouse, pray for us.


And thank you, Father Tim.

One Quibble with a Great Review

Alexi Sargeant has one of the best responses to Scorsese’s adaptation of Silence I have yet seen–really, go read the whole thing.

I do have one quibble, though.  (All right, one big one and one little one.)  Here it is:

In his discussion of Silence, Scorsese recapitulates the way he portrayed Judas as a collaborator in Jesus’s sacrifice in his own The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)—projecting his particular interpretation of Judas as pseudo-saint onto Endo: “In order for Christianity to live, to adapt itself to other cultures and historical moments, it needs not just the figure of Christ but the figure of Judas as well.” This image of Judas is far afield from the Christian tradition that formed Endo and his protagonists.

Sargeant wants to give Endo too much credit for orthodoxy, or those who taught him too much credit for sound formation.  It’s not Scorsese who infuses the suggestion that Judas is embraced as a collaborator in the work of Christ into Endo, though that is obviously the major connection between the two movies Scorsese has called “bookends” of his career, Last Temptation and Silence.

It is true that this is far from the Catholic faith, Endo’s baptismal faith; but it is inaccurate to view this as far from Endo’s practical belief and expression.  Even in Silence, this is obvious enough; but if you need it spelled out, go look at Endo’s radical rewriting of the Gospel accounts, A Life of Jesus.  It is just barely possible to differentiate Endo’s view, which is ambivalent about whether this reductively human Jesus positively intended or merely factored in the actions of Judas, but Endo’s take clearly interprets “Jesus loved Judas” not as meaning “Jesus embraced Judas in human-divine friendship that could lead Judas into perfect charity with God and other people” but “Jesus expressed to Judas human sentiments of caring and concern.”


Because the second of these is merely sentimental, it is possible to imagine Jesus continuing to express these sentiments, even by dying, even when Judas rejects him; and if these expressed sentiments are the sum of the meaning of Christ’s atoning work, then of course Judas in betraying Christ makes the expression all the more dramatic–so why not portray Judas as a collaborator?

Of course, if you actually believe that God does real work that really happens in life and history, transforming “whosoever will” into not only objects of concern but reciprocating subjects of true friendship, creating perfect charity where enmity and amity had contended, you will not at all be able to agree that betraying Christ to death and committing suicide out of remorse can be evaluated merely in terms of their dramatic potential; you will not evaluate the life of Jesus merely as a performance expressing a sentiment.

Anyway, Sargeant is right on the point, but I thought it worthwhile to note that Scorsese doesn’t insinuate this theme into Endo; it is already part of Endo’s evolving agenda when he writes Silence.

Observations, Having Watched Scorsese’s Silence

Having the honor to write a little bit about Endo’s novel Silence, recently, of course I went to see the movie.  My observations here will make more sense if you know what I’ve written elsewhere:

Up to Garrpe’s death scene, I’d say we’re seeing material that is at least as good as the novel. A few details are dropped, but only to foreshorten the very long backstory and make this story more definitely about Rodrigues from the beginning, something it would be very hard to avoid in a movie adaptation. The companion left behind before they even reach Japan is a very noticeable omission.

One scene that some reviewers made confusing-sounding is clearer in the movie even than the book, as the Father-Brother system the kakure kirishitan used is clearly applicable only to baptisms and leading prayers; there is nothing exceptional at all about what they’ve done, nothing that would require special permission. The scene of Garrpe not understanding the woman’s confession is very well-rendered, one of many ways Scorsese tries to make the story legible to an American movie audience (something of a quixotic aim, but nobly attempted).

Scorsese gives very good play to both Kichijiro and Rodrigues. Kichijiro’s role is less ambiguous than in the novel; Kichijiro clearly and specifically acknowledges sin, his traumatic past is viscerally included in his characterization, and Rodrigues plainly gives him absolution. Catholics ought to love the presence of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in this movie; one of the most vivid visual presentations I can recall of confession.

Rodrigues comes across as sincere, passionate, and rather more adolescent than I imagine him from the movie–same for Garrpe. Garrpe is more erratic than Rodrigues, but it is Rodrigues who makes really dangerous errors, repeatedly. The first time Rodrigues tells the villagers “Trample!” is shockingly underplayed; the book treats it as a sort of loud Freudian slip, a word hastily spoken and instantly regretted. The movie makes it quite plain that Rodrigues thinks the villagers should just apostatize when threatened and then practice secretly, which fits with some reviews of the movie that suggest Rodrigues applies a radically different standard for apostasy to priests than laity. While I’m not sure I agree that this accords with the book’s depiction of Rodrigues in detail, it’s a simplification that helps to underscore one of the two important themes that do flourish in the movie: that treating spiritual warfare as a matter of summoning up enough internal resources, to try to “believe harder” or be “strong enough,” is fundamentally missing the point. We are all weak, and frankly under some circumstances we can all be broken. “Let him who thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”

The other theme that comes across quite clearly in the movie is the persistence of faith even under external and internal rejection. This theme comes across clearly, I should say, despite many obstacles. To be honest, the arguments and motives become almost incoherent in the last third of the movie. Garrpe dies, not singing with bobbing “basket-worms,” but clinging to one of them and pushed under, apparently drowning while trying with panicked inefficacy to save her life. The scene is rushed, with the “basket-worms” being hastily drowned in a manner that sharply departs from the book; the effects on Rodrigues are thus intense but not intelligible. Similarly, the colorful characterization of Inoue and the flattening of the interpreter’s character put speeches which have less influence on Rodrigues in the novel in more prominent positions. Scorsese is hardly to be blamed for this, because those speeches include many of the most-quoted lines from Silence and are very close to the novel’s climax. The scene of the pit torture is actually muted after what we have seen before; the flashback to Ferreira’s ordeal at the beginning of the movie, especially, has stolen the thunder of the climax. The “snoring” is still horrifying.

As is true many places in both book and movie, Rodrigues appears to be determined by the author’s problematic, rather than internal motivations, in his decisions. This is especially true of the “voice” telling Rodrigues he can formally apostatize, which has to either be a delusion (in which case it cannot help justify the later actions of Rodrigues) or something we are to imagine could actually be a speech of Christ (which would be straightforward blasphemy). Given that the voice quotes Rodrigues, and is inconsistent with Christ (though consistent with Endo’s later A Life of Jesus), I am confident that the right way to take this is as a semi-autobiographical delusion shared by Rodrigues and Endo; I would like the movie to have made that clear, in some way. In many cases, the movie sides with Endo’s baptismal faith rather than Endo’s ideological agenda; in the case of the voice from the fumie, it simply renders Endo literally.

All that by way of concession against my point that the movie does make the story one of the persistence of baptismal faith even when one is forbidden to practice and when one struggles against it. This is a fitting theme to draw from Endo, both because this is his own stated experience and because his style of writing explicitly deploys characters to act out possibilities of experience for the highly subjective narrator (a modification of the I-novel genre). The film makes a number of interpretive choices for the viewer that the novel does not, and these are not obviously motivated; and the Confession scene of Rodrigues and Kichijiro is completely fabricated (it partially duplicates a scene elsewhere). Whether the choices are especially effective, or faithful to Endo, though, they do all tend to underscore what I hope Scorsese intends us to take away: that even under conditions where we find our faith suppressed and distorted beyond belief, the grace of God that reaches out to us through the Mochiki or Kichijiro he sends us may shape an opportunity for repentance–symbolized by a wife who knows her fallen husband will of course want Mochiki’s crucifix in his hands at burial, and who risks her life to place it there–that we must willingly accept. Not by proving our strength, even under the banner Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, but by setting aside our boasts and entrusting our feeble selves to His mighty love.



Well, this happened. For peace, you must be better than this.

(source: Photos of the Violent Protests of Trump’s Inauguration)

OK, I have to admit.  Part of me wants to just leave it there.  And part of me can’t help pointing out that these presumably leftist dolts attacked those high symbols of conservative hegemony, Starbucks and the Washington Post.

The all-conquering Will to Incoherency does not lend itself even to strategic planning, apparently.

Just Published: “Interpret Carefully” in Christ and Pop Culture

I suggest three fundamental approaches to finding the best possibilities in Silence. When I go to watch Scorsese’s movie, I’ll be hoping he chooses to emphasize elements such as these; I shall be elated if that happens and critical if it doesn’t. First, it is possible to read the very cryptic section that follows the end of the main plot as offering a definitive reinterpretation of the plot. When the story moves on past the self-justifications Rodrigues offers for his apostasy, and instead traces the bureaucratic records concerning the household where the new apostate has been set up, it is possible that we are meant to see that both Kichijiro and Rodrigues return to the faith. That is, though both of them break under pressure, they are subtly called back to the faith; their baptismal faith repeatedly subverts their apostasy, and triumphs over it when they are punished. To weigh this very heavily in our evaluation, though, we need some basis for disregarding pretty much every conclusion that Rodrigues draws from his experiences. Most importantly, we need a reason to believe that Rodrigues has returned, or returns periodically, to a faith that specifically repudiates his claim that Jesus personally called him to commit an act of apostasy.

(source: Interpret Carefully: Balancing Caution and Hope in Responding to Shusaku Endo’s Novel Silence – Christ and Pop Culture)

From the cutting-room floor: Why bother retrieving the nourishing from the toxic?

This is the second post that features portions deleted from “Interpret Carefully: Balancing Caution and Hope in Responding to Shusaku Endo’s Novel Silence,” just published in Christ and Pop Culture.

(Incidentally, here’s the first “cutting-room floor” post.)

This was an extra conclusion, not needed for the article’s internal logic, but connecting to an anecdote I included at the beginning (which, alas, didn’t make the cut, either).  You can see how these paragraphs, exciting though they were to compose, were good candidates for the “kill your darlings” treatment.


Here, then, the paragraphs attempting to vindicate the effort of sorting good from ill in Endo’s signature novel:

Why bother with such a reading?  Why bother to seek vindication for truth when it seems so futile, when the interpreter’s arguments begin to sound so plausible to us?  Here is where we consider Rogue One and the kakure kirishitan.  In Episode IV of Star Wars, the “new hope” spoken of in the title is the resumption of the Jedi line–of a discipline that guides its practitioners to right use of a talent invisibly implanted within them–after the destruction of all the Jedi by Darth Vader.  The genius of Rogue One, I argue, is in convincingly depicting the era when those who had heard of the Force, who were sensitive to it or were aligned with the benevolent goals of the Jedi, were scattered “like sheep without a shepherd.”  Rebel factions protested each other, fought and undermined each other; lone Force sensitives marched into dangerous situations full of devotion to what they remembered but untutored and without well-founded hope.  Goodness, hope, reverence do recur in such situations, and Rogue One bears compelling witness to the beauty and tragedy of those who achieve great things in such terrible times.

But finally, Rogue One describes a generation that lived and died without any well-founded hope that their desire to do good was anything but a futile refusal to acquiesce in evil.  Under those circumstances, we see people who want good things justify terrible acts; we see leaders of men fatalistically embrace death, families torn apart, whole lives lived in alienation from what is best in humanity.  It is beautiful, I suggest, when a voice tears through all that, determined to do at least one thing that is definitely good, and to reject futility; it is fitting that such a voice should become identified with the word “hope.”  But consider those Christian villagers, well portrayed in Silence, who were forced to find whatever ways they could to maintain a partially-taught Christian faith over not just a generation, but over centuries of official persecution and separation from the teaching office of the Church.  How could we not, like Jesus, be “moved to compassion” when we see them?  How can we not long for their descendants to know the fulness of the faith they lived and died desiring?  How can we not choose Garrpe’s way, and dive into the ocean, swimming as long as we can, to bolster their faith?


From the cutting-room floor: taking Endo’s theology seriously

I’ve been working on a popular article about Silence and, true to form, I wrote about twice as much as we could use.  I find I pretty much have to “write long, edit short” to get anything done (which is also why so few projects reach completion–that first step takes time, and half the material isn’t useful).  Anyway, if the final product ends up being useful (I have well-founded hopes that it will), I’ll be sure to announce it.

[Update:  Here it is!  “Interpret Carefully” at Christ and Pop Culture.]

Here, then, a couple “deleted scenes” paragraphs that I’m not sorry I wrote, and not sorry we cut, either:

I hope I don’t have to work very hard to convince readers…that it is patently ridiculous to take works like Silence or The Shack or The End of the Affair or Brideshead Revisited or Crime and Punishment or The Da Vinci Code as “mere fiction” that should not be evaluated on its theological content.  To take an obvious example, Dan Brown included a clear statement that The Da Vinci Code was based on fact in the front of his novel (it takes only reading both books to know those “facts” were ripped clumsily from the pages of Holy Blood, Holy Grail–so blatantly, in fact, that its authors, themselves no strangers to breathless hyping of easily-exposed hoaxes, unsuccessfully sued Brown for copyright infringement).  Graham Greene thought the struggles of malformed conscience and institutional fecklessness that he dramatized in stories like The End of the Affair were serious enough, in real life, to keep him out of communion with the Church he entered dramatically as an adult.  In Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh specifically modelled elements of Sebastian Flyte’s life on the conversion story of Oscar Wilde.  It would be easy to multiply examples, but I trust the principle is clear.

More specifically, scholars and readers of Endo’s best-known novel have certainly not found that it is “mere fiction” without theological significance.  Scholars like Mark Williams, John Netland, Van Gessel, Darren Middleton, Mark Dennis, and many others have analyzed and evaluated Endo’s work not only for its compelling fictionalization of history but for the significance they see in Endo’s interaction with Christianity, traditional Japanese culture, Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and a whole host of other issues.  Of course, some readers think that the theological significance of Silence lies in a repudiation of organized religion in favor of a wholly individualized practice of charity; others think it lies in a subtle depiction of fidelity under almost impossible conditions; still others see a substitution of a “motherly” Jesus for the traditional portrayal of the “Son of the Father.”  Some focus on the climactic scene of apparent apostasy, others on the epilogue, others on the “silence” invoked by Endo’s second choice of title.  Many regard it favorably as an important moment on Endo’s trek into radical pluralism, not least because it anticipates the views Endo would more ardently promote after he encountered the works of the man we might call his guru, John Hick; others deplore exactly this character of Endo’s work.  If we don’t choose to simply ignore the features of Silence that provoke all these comments, or to consider one characteristic (for example “pluralism” or a subjectivization of moral or religious judgment) as proper to “mere fiction” but unrelated to theology, then we will simply have to agree that our varying evaluations of the theological significance of the novel are essential to our grasp of its significance.

Don’t Play Catch-22 Against Truth

This post is lightly connected to an earlier discussion of how swapping intensive and extensive statements illegitimately can undermine a conversation and make plain truths seem obscure.  The similarity is that, in both cases, responses that are in some sense true are organized into a one-two punch that leaves many people who want to affirm the truth feeling that they are being irrational or stubborn, perhaps missing the point.

When used as a strategy for derailing arguments, of course, these are perverse. It also happens, though, that people see what truth there is in each “step” of the argument and, applying them separately but without adequate reflection, find themselves unable to defend truths that they have learned. For both of these reasons, it is important that we actually learn to think more clearly than that.

The challenge I want to point to, today, deals specifically with authoritative moral teachings and the need to have them expressed with clarity.

The setup for this Catch-22 goes like this:

First, those who affirm an inconvenient truth are offered hard cases and unusual situations, usually with no acknowledgement of the relative frequency of such situations or of any factors that distinguish them from the rule. Attempts to distinguish cases, to show how a sensible application of the teaching or rule improves situations, are consistently treated as evidence the truth is “too complicated” and those who explain the rule are “legalistic.”  To insist on such teaching is called “arrogant” or “selfish,” signs of people who are more interested in defending their own status or attainments than in loving service to others; to adhere to it is treated as the privilege of those who find it easy, or who have been given support that they are denying to others.

As a response to this, many of us try to remind others that we adhere to such teachings precisely for the reasons that generations of Christians have handed them down to us–that they promise to make us whole, to make us available to the grace that transforms us.  We hold on to these truths, that is, not only because we believe they are necessary for the good of others, but because we need them ourselves.  We are not asking for teaching to be clear, laws just, disciplines lovingly but firmly maintained, because we think that helps us control others; we know that without the help of others, and especially without instructions and patterns of living together that push us in the right direction, we ourselves will wander in confusion.  Sometimes through excess, sometimes through defect, sometimes through blind spots we don’t notice, sometimes by sheer failure of will with regard to the good that we are called to embrace–but we recognize ourselves in that old hymn lyric that says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it / Prone to leave the God I love; / Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, / Seal it for thy courts above.”  We trust in the mercy and the grace of God, and we do not want to be told that what we can live up to now is all we’re meant for; we know it is not.

And that is what triggers the second half of this Catch-22, this perverse and unjust equivocation.

Second, admitting that we need external assistance, that we are called together in a body because I need others to maintain expectations and discipline, to cooperate with me in cooperating with grace, is interpreted as a weakness that invalidates my adherence to truth.

Sometimes this is just another iteration of hand-waving.  Sometimes this is akin to the long-exploded Freudian slander that an excess of repression of sexual drives accounts for insistence on moral norms, and that denying this confirms it.

Sometimes this abuse of honest conversation comes in the form of an unutterably offensive claim of “hypocrisy” that turns the meaning of the term on its head.  Where a hypocrite would pretend to be better than he is in order to seem credible, most of us who are called “hypocrites” are just being honest about who we are:  sinners being saved by grace, not perfectly-formed Christians trying to prevent others from joining us.  In fact, people who discredit fallible witnesses in order to avoid their responsibility to infallible truth are pushing all of us to actually be hypocrites.

If the only way to be taken seriously in speaking for truth is to have miraculous perfection in that truth already, then we are all incapable of learning from each other; and if anyone who claims to have learned something is to be dismissed for “not struggling” enough, then we will never be able to listen to each other.

When you see this one-two punch, then, be sure you are witnessing an effort of Satan to conceal the truth and shame those who bear fallible witness to that truth.  When you see those who speak reasonably about truth called “unsympathetic” or “rigid,” while at the same time those who admit they need the help of sound teaching and concrete discipline to achieve personal holiness are dismissed as weak or hypocritical, you may be sure that you are witnessing a perversion of discourse, the very “smoke of Satan” rising in what ought to be the Temple of God.

So don’t do this.  Pray harder.  Be holier, but do not act holier than you are.  And do not confuse the worth of the witness with the worth of the truth.

After all, the Truth Himself relied on the claims of one of whom it was said, “He was not the Light, but was come to bear witness to the Light.”

May we be counted worthy to bear witness, and may we not cloud that witness with the gobbledygook of our Enemy and Accuser.

Humility or “epistemic humility”

There is great virtue in being able to say, “I did not know that.  Thanks for telling me.”

Also, “I do not understand.  Will you teach me?”

Likewise, a teacher simply must be comfortable saying “I don’t know, but I’ll ask” and “I don’t know how to explain it, but we do know at least this much about it.”

And no one should grow to adulthood without a strong “Look it up!” habit.

Being willing to admit ignorance is part of being teachable.  There is, then, a place for “epistemic humility” properly understood:  learning that a proper estimate of my understanding involves recognizing the boundary between what I know and what I do not.

But that recognition has two components, not one.

It is not humility, but arrogance and folly, to think that if I am uncertain about it presently, there must be no one who could teach me to understand the matter more precisely and confidently.  It makes my present knowledge, or really my feelings about my present knowledge, the criterion of all possible knowledge.

It is bigotry to object when I am told that others have learned, and that if I intend to honor my obligation to truth I ought to listen to what they have learned.

Humility means knowing that some things can be learned, and some of those things can be taught, and therefore that I can learn some of them when I am teachable (and prudent about my choice of teachers).

That means that it is humble to stand on what you have learned, friend.  It is admitting that neither you nor I are, in our momentary wishes and feelings of assurance, the absolute limit and criterion of all possible understanding.

It is acknowledging that the young, the old, the living, the dead, the very holy, the rather profane, the erudite, the crude, the refined, the simple–all may well have something to teach, just as all assuredly have something to learn.

So when you have learned something, do not let the latest wave of uncertainty hatched by someone’s attempt to shame you deceive you.  Do not let bigots drive you away from what others have, in better spirit, taught you.

Have the humility of your convictions.