Be Like Me So I Can Be Comfortable

Last week I had the privilege of seeing Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which is an aesthetically beautiful (albeit rather over-the-top) film about 2 priests propagating Catholicism in Japan in the 1600’s. When my son and I see films like this, jam-packed with potential conversation starters, the car ride home is always interesting.

We talked about the portrayal of the main characters (which includes invisible, silent God), the surprises in the plot, the last scene, and the interaction between Christianity and the Japanese, and Buddhism and the Catholic priests.

The priests in Silence were attempting to spread the Gospel out of a faith that assured them not only that they alone were Truth-holders, but also that being the Truth-holders comes with the heavy responsibility for conversion of others. Forgive me for the unsophisticated and reductionistic analysis, but the film seemed another example of our human nature’s desire to require others to be like us so we, in some way, can be comfortable.

This seems to be the overriding observation for me these days, whether in religion or politics, intimate relationships or interactions with strangers, “discussions” at the dinner table or quarreling between siblings.

Silence reminded me of the unpleasant space I was in as a born-and-raised Evangelical Christian dating a devout Roman Catholic in my late teens. My boyfriend (later husband, then ex-husband) was passionately trying to open my eyes to the Truth of Catholicism, the True Church. Eventually, I converted to Catholicism. Once married into a large Catholic family, I was subjected to their comments about “Born Agains” and my family’s comments about the empty rituals of Catholicism–and discomfort as our children were baptized Catholic and celebrated First Communions.

Frankly I didn’t belong in either camp, and I was profoundly disappointed by both. As a result of that, and other experiences, I have a difficult time understanding attempts at persuasion, from missionary work to political debate.

My son is the first in the immediate and extended family to choose not to go through Catholic Confirmation. I know how much this decision grieved his dad, how his dad likely blames me for this broken chain. I can say that I told my son that no one gets to tell him how to live his spiritual life. That was the extent of my direct guidance. I have firsthand experience with those pressures, and I can tell you there is more pain in living an inauthentic life, trying to please others, than the pain experienced in living as an outsider. My son has chosen, I think wisely, to accomodate the pain of being an outsider (and the pain of disappointing his father) rather than betraying himself.

In Silence, it appears the priest Rodrigues has betrayed himself; in the end, it seems he has renunciated his faith and adopted Buddhism. I didn’t believe it, and I was proven right by the last scene (see the film!) No one gets to tell you how to live your spiritual life. It is private, deeply so.

It’s my strong opinion that the space between my beliefs and experiences and yours is a beautiful space. While I understand that passion compels action, and ignorance begs for information, I would argue that many conflicts could be avoided, on both smaller and bigger scales, if we could be curious about the space between our perspectives (my guess is if we were, we would ironically discover more similarities) instead of trying to close the space entirely.





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2 Responses to Be Like Me So I Can Be Comfortable

  1. Jeanne Stehr Jahn says:

    As I head out today, spaciousness resonates. How I welcome this beautiful space and article! Thank you, Jean.


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