Saturday, February 11, 2017

And to Know the Power of the Resurrection: 'Silence', Ethical Dilemmas and the Power of God

I recall watching a superhero animation when an abstract thought popped into my head. On the screen I watched heroes smash and bash villainous world-conquerors who wanted to enslave and harvest planet Earth. I asked myself, is this the moment when love your enemies breaks down? Granted it's fantasy, but it makes me ask the question: when is enough enough? At one point do you reach for your guns, so to speak?

I think about this sort of thing frequently, and coming from a near stint in the Marine Corps, I am immune to the stupidity of the Crusader, the logic of loving your enemy even as you slay him (this is basically a mantra of the US chaplaincy corps). But as I watched this cartoon, I begged the question of whether death was the king of terrors. In a closed world, death must rule supreme. As the backdrop, forgiving an enemy is the ultimate failure if the enemy does not relent of his evil. Despite utilitarian, and godless, arguments about the moral influence of the sacrificial act (which only means something if aestheticized properly for the intricate cultural and social context of the act), there's little reason to die for an enemy. It's in your power to save the world (or condemn it by failure).

In this mood, I've read a number of reviews of the new Scorsese film Silence. A good review is here. The fundamental assumption of the movie is the power of the priest's agency before a silent God. Here the Priest Rodrigues is forced to renounce his faith to save the Japanese who are being tortured on account of it. The assumption is that if Rodrigues does not apostatize, he dooms his fellow (ex?)Christians. As the review above basically puts it, at its best this is a movie about Deism and only should be moving to agnostic Humanists.

The Japanese authorities put the priest in a dilemma, but they purposefully construe this, and we believe them, that the burden is on Rodrigues. This is a general trick by torturers. One of the best scenes in all movies that refutes this logic is the end of No Country for Old Men. The Hitman (Javier Bardem) kills his victims through a coin-toss, the rational being that it is fate, or luck, and nothing else, that kills them. But in one of the final scenes, he offers this scenario to a woman who refuses the rules of the game. She unmasks him. She denies him his misdirection. The coin is irrelevant, it is the hitman who is pulling the trigger. He is guilty. Bewildered, he kills her anyway. Fittingly, soon after, he is in a car accident which costs him his eye. In a metaphysical turn, her deconstruction literally parallels his loss of vision. Her revelation of the truth of his agency in murder literally blinds him.

The point of this scene is that despite the logics employed, we cannot deter the facts of our agency. We are constantly assaulted with the facts of our own actions and the contradictions of our lives. Self-justification is the mechanism of survival, a fine weapon of Satan. Thus, in the end, Rodrigues hears the voice of Christ: "Trample!" The irony is that Rodrigues has, as one reviewer put it, his the height of his own arrogance and vanity. He will apostatize for others. He will be savior even in his fall. While it is alluring to see the parallel to Christ ("He became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God"), its fundamentally different. Rodrigues did not save his people, either spiritually (they had already apostatized) or mortally (they will die nonetheless). Rather, he fell into Satan's trap and has, instead, become the architect of his own prison.

The fact is that this film portrays a Christianity deprived of its own sense of power. While the review above talks about providential judgement, let's leave that aside to something even more critically Christian: Resurrection. This film reflects a modern (and not so modern) fetishism with the crucifixion of Christ, nearly annexed from the rest of the formula of the Gospel. Perhaps, in our modern world, death is still believable while resurrection is mythological. But the power of God was not in the crucifixion. Despite the drooling of theological liberals over the 'possible' ending of Mark 16 on verse 8 (the women running away in terror), this is hardly sufficient for a theological datum (besides the fact it's based on poor canonical doctrine).

St. Paul tells us, straight up without hedging, if Christ did not rise, which entails the General Resurrection, Christians are the most pitiable of men. If Christ was the not truly anointed with the Anointing of God, which to any Jew included power and awe, then we are the scum of the Earth, the most idiotic and foolish. It's no wonder many intellects of the Church have tried to hedge their bets. Despite, perhaps, the authorial intent, this is how we ought to see Rodrigues. If the power of the Resurrection does not stand, he is just a piece of shit, a befuddled man out of his league who quite obviously betrays his own purpose.

Honestly, it's a hard doctrine to stomach. The resurrection of Christ is what sets the claims of the Gospel from all other hopes and helps to Humanity. Unlike stupid atheists who try to compare the account with Pagan myths of dying-and-rising gods, this was not a god disguised as a man, but an actual Man who, with the power of God, was able to conquer on our behalf. Our hope is not nonhuman, inhuman, or semi-human, which all other myths, even those after Christianity which try to mimic or lampoon it, miss. It is a radical doctrine that turns the world upside down.

But it's a scandal to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek. It's much easier to settle with the compromised, but compassionate, ethics of Fr. Rodrigues than to be the country-girl that place a question mark over the received conditions of our actions. This is why Christ is constantly infuriating to His interlocutors, and to all of His readers. He breaks the rules of the game. Whether it's pulling a coin out of a fish to pay the Temple tax, or it's telling the Pharisees to give what is Caesar's to Caesar and to God what is God, He reframes, from the bottom up, the impossible ethical scenarios that constantly threaten to entrap us.

Contrary to the reviews, when confronted like Rodrigues, the Christian does stand in as a little Christ. But part of what this means is confounding the logics of the Powers and Principalities of This Age. Perhaps, like the Master he claimed, Rodrigues should have been the silent one in his moment of catastrophe.

Addendum: I know the difference between the girl and Fr. Rodrigues was that his actions revolved around the fates of others, and not his own. This is a constant refrain for those trying to defend his decision. The same critique applies. The Japanese authorities were the ones responsible for torturing, not Fr. Rodrigues. But he is implacably blind to this. The trick is in the fact that the authorities know this. They understand the underpinnings of Roman theology better than Rodrigues does himself. They know how to trap him. He assumes the guilt because he is the shepherd his people need, or (more truly) he believes he is the shepherd his people believe they need. The whole movie revolves around a pitiable conscientious trap. As Christ Himself points out, the Children of This Age are more cunning, many times, than the Children of Light. Fr. Rodrigues foolishly ignored this and arrogantly marched off to achieve glory. This, if anything, is the real lesson of Silence: theology is important, and your enemies, more likely than you yourself, know this and will use it against you.

1 comment:

  1. My wife just got the book in the mail. I figure I should read it.