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Quick Hits: the myth of believers in a flat Earth, Europe’s failure to evangelize Japan

By Thomas V. Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jan 30, 2016

This week brought us two worthwhile articles about Christianity in secular outlets.

  • In the wake of rapper B.o.B. claiming that the earth is flat, Newsweek points out that people didn’t even believe this in the Middle Ages. It’s a myth made up in the nineteenth century to make medieval Christians (and therefore Catholics) look dumb. This article is a balm to my soul. Newsweek has provided a good overview, but for a more in-depth explanation of how this myth originated, check out an essay Jeffrey Russel wrote for History Today in 1991, “Inventing the Flat Earth.”

  • Anticipating Martin Scorcese’s adaptation of the Catholic novelist Shusako Endo’s classic Silence, which will be released sometime this year, PopMatters examines Endo’s novel and the questions it raises about cultural dialogue and the compatibility of one religion with vastly different societies. Traveling in Europe, Endo wondered why Christianity had penetrated so deeply there and not in his home country. On the other hand, he speculated as to whether what had been brought to Japan by the missionaries was as much European values as the universal truth of Christianity, thus accounting for why the faith did not influence Japanese culture as a whole, outside of a few pockets of underground Christianity. There is also the moral dilemma of missionaries trying to convert the Japanese knowing that it will result in excruciating torture and death for many of the converts. These questions and others Endo explored in Silence, which tells the story of two Jesuits on a mission to minister to the Christian underground in early seventeenth-century Japan, and in his other works. Ultimately he came to the conclusion that “meaningful communication between East and West is possible.” Yet Christianity would need to adapt to new forms in non-European contexts (perhaps just as Eastern Christianity is many ways different from Western Christianity, though the two profess one faith):

But after all it seems to me that Catholicism is not a solo, but a symphony… If I have trust in Catholicism, it is because I find in it much more possibility than in any other religion for presenting the full symphony of humanity… And unless there is in that symphony a part that corresponds to Japan’s mud swamp, it cannot be a true religion. What exactly this part is—that is what I want to find out.

Thomas V. Mirus is an administrative assistant and writer at CatholicCulture.org. A jazz pianist with a music degree, he often takes the lead in our commentary on the arts. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jan. 30, 2016 6:13 PM ET USA

    Good cited article by Russell. I may have mentioned this before, but Russell slightly overlooked St. Augustine's affirmation of a spherical earth: "Although water still covered all the earth, there was nothing to prevent the massive watery sphere from having day on one side...and on the other side night" (De Genesi ad litteram, Book 1, n. 25, A.D. 415). Russell on 4 August 1997 presented a paper where he decried "the falsehood of the eternal war between science (good) and religion (bad)".