Finding God in extreme situations: 'Silence' on Radio 4

Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver in 'Silence'. Credit: Kerry Brown
Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver in 'Silence'. Credit: Kerry Brown

Martin Scorsese’s film Silence – due for release in the UK on 1 January – is as much about addressing extreme moral options as it is about martyrdom, according to the Director of St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre in North Wales. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday, Fr Roger Dawson SJ compared the challenges to faith portrayed in the film with what many Christians face today.

Silence is based on the novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō and tells the story of several Jesuits who were sent to Japan as missionaries in the 17th century and the persecution they faced. But according to Fr Dawson, their situation could apply to many missionaries. “There were certainly strong Jesuit allusions made at times,” he told presenter Ed Stourton, “but one of the things that struck me was that it could have been any religious order or any priest being put into an extreme missionary situation. I mean, I think one of the things that is a feature of this film is that this is Christianity on the edge: most of us don’t have to live our Christian faith in this sort of environment.”

An irresolvable moral dilemma

In preparing for their roles in Silence, actors Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver underwent a seven-day silent retreat at St Beuno’s and Fr Dawson used the opportunity of his interview on Sunday to explain the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. And Ed Stourton wondered whether, in addition to them benefiting spiritually, they benefit as actors from their time at St Beuno’s. “Making the Spiritual Exercises, as Andrew Garfield did, is a very serious commitment indeed to prepare oneself for a role,” Fr Dawson told him, “and I think also, if you have to sum up Jesuit spirituality in a sentence, it’s about finding God in all things and the film is certainly about how do you find God in the most extreme situations and particularly at a time when God is silent.Andrew Garfield as Fr Sebastian Rodrigues SJ

“I think the film is a convincing portrayal of the problem of evil,” Fr Dawson went on, “of when you’re faced with almost impossible situations (which some Christians today find themselves in) and I don’t think the film is so much about martyrdom and apostasy but really about how one copes with a silent God in extreme situations in which moral options are not obvious … I think that the situation that Fr Sebastian Rodrigues (played by Garfield) finds himself in is appalling irresolvable moral dilemma: do I deny the faith and apostatize, which is clearly a very serious thing for any Christian to do, or do I hold onto my faith and allow five other people to continue to be tortured and be killed?”

You can hear the interview on BBC iPlayer.

To mark the release of Silence on 1 January, the Christian publisher SPCK is offering a 20% discount to friends and supporters of the Jesuits on two new books. In addition to publishing a special edition of the novel, SPCK has also recently published a new book In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians by John Dougill, which describes the history behind the story.