I started re-reading Shusaku Endo's novel Silence yesterday. Silence is a challenging novel about the struggle of Christianity in Japan during the early 1600s. This was as time of intense religious persecution. The government wasn't satisfied with killing Christians; this is how martyrs were made. So Christians were tortured until they recanted their profession of Christ. These broken men and women were released back to their villages and living testaments demonstrating how hollow this faith was.
There's a scene in the book where the protagonist of the book, a missionary, recants his faith. His torturer mocks him with these words. "Father, you were not defeated by me. You were defeated by the swamp of Japan." Endo later explained he meant to communicate that Hellenistic Christianity could not penetrate the Japanese mind. Endo's translator explains, "Japan is a swamp because it sucks up all sorts of ideologies, transforming them into itself and distorting them in the process. It is the spider's web that destroys the butterfly, leaving only the ugly skeleton." A Westernized faith could not be transplanted into an Eastern culture.
This paragraph resonated with all the doubts about Christianity I have as a believer. One of my unshakable fears is not that there is no God, but that we are incapable of listening to him. I watched Bill Maher's Religulous last weekend. Much of Bill's criticisms were aimed at the ways we've distorted the Christian message with our TV preachers, Christian theme parks, and other oddities. Naturally, these distortions bubbled up our of our distorted thinking. Its easy for me to deflect Bill's criticisms by noting that most of his movie took shots at brand of faith that needed to be lampooned.
But then it hit me, there's much less of a gap between Western and Eastern culture than there is between Heaven and Earth. If God's voice can't be translated from one side of the Globe to the next without being hopelessly distorted, how can it travel from God's dimension to ours?
Our theologians know about the spider web and call it sin. Martin Luther described the web as an inward bent that alienates us from God, each other, and ourselves. Every attempt that God ever made to communicate with humanity was caught in this web and was broken like Endo's butterfly, leaving only the ugly bone. This, of course is true, and is the story of how we came to have religion instead of grace, in spite of God's intention.