I’m going to lay it all out right here at the beginning, and yes this will be a big SPOILER for this novel: this book’s premise is that a man and woman get pregnant, she decides to have an abortion, and he kidnaps her and keeps her sedated for the duration of the pregnancy so that she will have the baby rather than an abortion. Your reaction to that description probably tells you what you need to know about this book. Frankly, if your reaction is anything than abject horror, I think there’s some serious issues going on. There will be more, serious SPOILERS in the rest of this review.
Viable@140 is Gmitro’s attempt to portray a story in which what it means to be pro-life is radically questioned and challenged. To my astonishment as I continued reading, it became clear that Gmitro is at the least, not definitively rejecting this as being completely unacceptable morally. Once again, the premise is that Lance kidnaps his fiancee, Sandi, who is pregnant because she’s going to have an abortion. Then, he uses sedatives to keep her knocked out for the duration of her pregnancy so that she won’t have the abortion. Meanwhile, the world is looking for Lance. Eventually, they find him but a huge group of pro-life people turns out to defend lance and his child. Eventually, millions of people, including former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush walk their laps around the residence Lance is keeping his fiancee comatose within. Would-be assassins attempt to kill him so that the news story doesn’t break and get the public talking about abortion. News stations gag the news, and only the brave Fox News station will take the story and report the truth. These are things that happen in the book.
What happens to Sandi after the baby has been safely delivered into Lance’s hands? After all, million(s) of people have now seen or heard how horrible she is and admire Lance for his bravery in kidnapping her and keeping her sedated for six months! Well, fear not, for, as a Doctor tells us in the book, “Since she was not awake through most of this ordeal, leading mental health experts believe that any immediate negative psychological effects will be minimal and by not having the abortion, may have prevented psychological injury in the long term…” (Kindle location 5139ff). I am genuinely flabbergasted by this statement. The woman will spend the rest of her life as the villain who wanted an abortion, who lay comatose as million(s) marched around the house in which she was interred, who had the baby and was whisked off the scene to privacy, etc. But fear not, because her fiance kept her knocked out for the event! Indeed, whatever psychological scarring Lance may have caused her, it would have been vastly outweighed by the psychological damage of having an abortion, according to these fictional leading mental health experts.
I in no way think that consequentialism is a valid moral theory, but that moral theory is actually what this comes down to. The idea is that it is less harmful to kidnap and sedate someone for 6 months than it is to kill the unborn. Whatever pro-and-con scale one chooses here, I believe that the idea itself is irrelevant. Why? Because I do not believe that the consequences brought about by action are what makes the action right or wrong to begin with. After all, it seems obvious that simply killing someone who is 100% certain they would get an abortion before they get pregnant would prevent the abortion. However, that is also obviously wrong, despite the consequence that it prevents an abortion. In a more true-to-life example, bombing an abortion clinic or killing its employees may prevent some abortion(s), but in no way is it justified morally. Indeed, if one were to take the example here in Viable@140 to its logical extreme and apply consequentialism as a moral theory, it is morally justifiable to simply incarcerate all pregnant women to prevent them from having abortions. But such a suggestion is clearly monstrous to begin with.
I’m a firm believer in always trying to say something positive about something, especially when it must be so negative overall. I could say that this book may at least get people talking about the debate over abortion. But I’m afraid it would cause people to create a straw man of the pro-life position rather than allowing us to give the full force of our position. So even that tentative remark must be qualified.
I am pro-life, and I have written multiple times on this topic, including on the reasons, both scientifically and philosophically, I think abortion is wrong. However, in no way can I endorse the conclusions or heavy implications of this book. From its implied morality to the use of questionable moral foundations, I find it wanting. Moreover, its use of the “Fox News is the only true news source” meme throughout is as tired as it is untrue. Pro-life advocates, we cannot justify wrongdoing in the name of this movement. If and when we do, whatever alleged moral high ground we may hold is gone. The very foundations for our position will erode. Consequentialism is not the answer, it is actually the exact problem.
I received this book from the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
Shusaku Endo’s Silence is one of the most moving, deeply theological novels I have ever read. Here, I will discuss but a few worldview-level issues found in the book. There will be SPOILERS below.
The Hidden God
The most pervasive theme throughout the book is that of silence. The hiddenness of God is pressed home poignantly in scene after scene. Early in the book, the main character, a Jesuit priest from Portugal named Sebastião Rodrigues has confidence that no matter what, we will find out a purpose for any and all suffering in the world. His thought is that because God is good, there must be a reason behind each and every possible evil.
Yet as the book continues, the persecution of Christians intensifies and is made extremely clear to Rodrigues. Time and again he witnesses Christians being tortured to death and prays. Each time, a refrain is found in the book: he is answered by silence.
Again and again, the please of Christians and of the priest, Rodrigues, are answered by silence. He looks out to sea surrounding Japan and sees only blackness.
Silence confronts us with the problem of evil front-and-center, and offers some of the most frequently used answers in response. Yet many of these answers seem inadequate when set alongside the continued suffering of Christians being tortured.
The Absurdity of Life Without God
Life without God is absurd. Yet even this point, as found in Silence, points to the silence of God. Rodrigues reflects on his life, and finds that it is completely absurd if there is no God. But rather than focusing on big picture points on this topic, he points it to his own life and laments the absurdity of how he’s lived it if there is no God.
Christ, the Crucified Lord
Rodrigues is captured, and he is forced to endure the screams of tortured victims as time and again they ask him to apostasize. What is required of him is that he trample on an image of Christ. If he does not do so, the suffering of others will continue. He begins to wonder about the mercy of God and whether it would, indeed, be better to trample on this image of Christ and be seen as an apostate. Finally, he decides he will do it, if only to prevent further torture of others:
How his foot aches! And then the Christ in bronze speaks to the priest: ‘Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.’
The priest placed his foot on the fumie [image of Christ]. Dawn broke. And far in the distance the cock crew. (171)
Christ came to suffer, and our sin is part of that suffering. Yet, Christ calls to us, letting us know his mercy is boundless, and that it was for our sake he “was born into this world.”
Ultimately, the silence of God is not silence at all. As the priest says it in the closing lines of the novel: “Even now I am the last priest in this land. But Our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of him” (191). Christ works in us and through us.
The dialogue Rodrigues has with Christ in the end is just as poignant:
“Lord, I resented your silence.”
“I was not silent. I suffered beside you.” (190)
Silence is one of those rare books that is sure to be remembered from the time you read it onward. I don’t know that I will ever forget the vivid scenes in which priests are forced to choose between allowing continued torture or being labeled as apostates. It is a stirring, heart-rending book of faith in the face of apparent silence. But the ultimate message is more hopeful: Christ is in us.
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Shusaku Endo, Silence (New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1980). Edition linked is a newer edition.
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