By Martin Roth, BosNewsLife Senior Columnist
TOKYO, JAPAN (BosNewsLife Columns)– A forthcoming film from famed director Martin Scorsese is set to confront the movie-going public with the persecution of Christians. It’s “Silence,” based on the celebrated 1966 historical novel by Japanese Christian writer Shusaku Endo, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize.
“Silence,” Endo’s masterpiece, is set in seventeenth-century Japan and tells the story of an idealistic Portuguese missionary trying to help his Christian brethren in Japan, while authorities work to eradicate faith in Jesus Christ. The film is based on real people and real events. It is striking to learn of the cruelty that was employed by the Japanese ‘shogun’ – military leader – and his officials who were determined to rid Japan of Christianity and all that it stood for.
A favored torture method was to hang a Christian upside-down over a pit of excrement, with a tiny cut behind the ear sending blood – one slow drop at a time – running down the victim’s face. Merciful death could take a week.
At other times a Christian was tied to a pole that was secured in the sea. High tide would come up just to the victim’s neck, then the water would abate.
Again, death was slow.
Now we are seeing something similar happening in Iraq and Syria with Christianity under attack from a merciless campaign of genocide by the criminals of the Islamic State (IS) group.
Though difficult to obtain reliable news from the region, it is clear that IS has already blown up and destroyed churches, monasteries and historic sites, such as the tomb in Nineveh where, according to tradition, the prophet Jonah was buried. Hundreds of thousands have fled.
Nineveh is part of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, and large numbers of Christians lived and worshipped there for nearly 2,000 years.
It is now possible that not one Christian remains.
The seventeenth-century Japanese authorities were equally relentless and brutal as they forced hundreds of thousands of believers to renounce their faith. They achieved almost total success in uprooting Christianity from their homeland.
Yet when the country was opened up again to the West, 200 years later, visitors were amazed to discover scattered remnants of secret believers, still covertly practising their faith.
This might be some cause for comfort, as we witness the holocaust now taking place in the Middle East.
But we must also remember that, despite all the intense efforts of missionaries over the past 150 years, fewer than one per cent of Japan’s population today are Christian.
Yes, a remnant of secret believers might linger in IS-controlled territory.
Yet, the events that we see unfold before us in the Middle East today are a tragedy of monumental proportions.
Scorsese’s new movie may spark outrage among the general public about the persecution of Christians. I hope it does. But it will come too late for the faithful of Iraq and Syria.
(Martin Roth (www.authormartinroth.com) BosNewsLife’s Senior Columnist, is an Australian journalist and a former Tokyo-based foreign correspondent. He is the author of “Journey Out Of Nothing: My Buddhist Path to Christianity” and of the Brother Half Angel series of thrillers, which focus on the persecuted church. BosNewsLife Columns distributes opinionated columns and commentaries providing a fresh perspective on issues in the news. They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BosNewsLife News Agency or its parent company.)