Lots of good discussion in this thread. OAD, as usual, gets to the point and sharply indicates the main themes of the film. Very helpful.
So, DH, let's talk a bit more, although I hate to force you in a conversation about a film you didn't care for that much.
I see what you are saying about totalitarian memes-- memes that demand the dismantling of other memes. This is very much like colonialism. And that would make it dangerous. But not all evangelism is like this. And in fact, I would say that evangelism that leads to martyrdom is not like this. It is a meme passed from the powerless to the powerful, from the oppressed to the oppressor. The system that refuses to empower their meme with violence (and I am certainly not saying that this represents Catholicism) isn't dangerous, but in danger.
I strongly disagree with you about Scorsese's choice to make the voice ambiguous. I think it is brilliant and makes the film. Garfield's growth is about his knowledge of God. He thinks that God is all about loyalty, and so silence is the only answer he can receive. After all, what else is there to say? Be faithful and die is God's only message and there is nothing else to be said. At that moment, Garfield has a theological revelation. God is about faithfulness to one's fellow humans more than fealty to symbols of a Godhead. Love is greater than sacrifice. For Jesus, the sacrifice was love. What I was thinking in that moment, listening to the suffering of the martyrs, is they died for Garfield's sin. Because he was embracing faith over love. So the film is fundamentally a theological film, and the action takes place in the man's mind. Garfield also sacrificed his life, his Christian life, for the sake of others. His sacrifice was living.
Why does it matter that he lived and died as a Japanese, but held the handmade crucifix in his hands at burial? Because his Japanese life WAS his life in God. His surrender of his Christianity was his manner of living God's love for the sake of those who would otherwise die. Those who died, died to change him. The fact that he lived as a Japanese, was to save others. Because love never looks the same in each generation.
Like Last Temptation, the protagonist makes a misstep in the name of life and faith. In Temptation, it was to live an everyday Jewish life without the necessary sacrifice of one's life. In Silence, it is refusing to die in order to live an everyday Japanese life. But both are the paths God demands.
Because of this, it is essential that God's voice be potentially a hallucination and potentially real. Because it is not just about God, but about our duty to humanity, the meaning of our lives. Just like in Tree of Life, the nature of the universe is grace, even so when in these movie they talk about the will or command of God, they talk about the foundation of (at least) human life. It is care for one's fellow human. This isn't just the imaginations of a human being, but the course of our lives.