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.