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In my past life, the only causes worth dying for were one’s faith and one’s country. I remember attending a youth conference where a provocative speaker spent an hour telling heart-wrenching stories about Christian persecution around the world and how many believers go to their deaths because they refuse to give in to those who do not give them religious freedom. These stories had a great impact on me at the time. I once considered going on a bible smuggling mission trip to China so I could help people who had to be underground and hidden in order to practice Christianity.

Martyrdom is revered in Christianity very highly, and it’s not hard to find a believer who will say they would gladly die for the cause of Christ. Willingness to die for one’s beliefs is considered an honorable act by most every religion I can think of. Even secular causes (especially in times of political upheaval) can bring about this drastic act of devotion.

I do not think martyrdom—whether modern or throughout history—proves anything about the claims these people made or the beliefs they held. More death does not equal more truth. I do not think that the more one suffers for those claims, the more glorious and righteous one is.

I still feel angry and sad when I hear stories of persecution and the fight for freedom around the world. I pity those who have governments or religions that would drive people to give up their lives to prove a point.

I wish these sacrifices did not have to be made.  To be honest, I’m not sure they always need to be. I’m not trying to disrespect those who have died for the freedoms I now enjoy, but in some cases (especially religious ones), I just feel pity for those who would die for gods and myths that don’t exist. But how can they know any better? They believe, and belief is a powerful force of influence. I wish lives could be saved by religion disappearing from this earth.

Discussion:

Is voluntarily dying for one’s cause the utmost sign of devotion? Wouldn’t more be accomplished if one was alive to continue the fight? What do you think about people who commit suicide to spread a message?

Are there any causes you would die for (religious or secular)?

Do you think military personel killed in the line of duty are considered martyrs? If so, how does your view of military martyrdom differ from your view of religious martyrdom?

Is martyrdom a realistic option in this modern world? Will there always be martyrs?

Check out more history and examination on this topic here.

(Image via The Inspiration Room)

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12 thoughts on “On Martyrs”

geogeek · December 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

— Is voluntarily dying for one’s cause the utmost sign of devotion? Wouldn’t more be accomplished if one was alive to continue the fight? What do you think about people who commit suicide to spread a message?

I don’t know if dying is the greatest thing one can do. I think there is a difference between committing suicide for one’s beliefs and being killed for one’s beliefs. Suicide seems an action of despair, that nothing can be done by living, and I don’t think I could ever be brought to that point. On the other hand, being killed by another agent, for example rounded up and threatened with being shot unless I recanted something, I don’t know, I might not be able to recant.

— Are there any causes you would die for (religious or secular)?

I like to think I would be able to _risk_ my life for truth and justice, but I don’t really know. I don’t think anyone does until they’ve been through.

    Godless Girl · December 17, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I like to think I would be able to _risk_ my life for truth and justice, but I don’t really know. I don’t think anyone does until they’ve been through.

    Yeah, I think I feel the same way. I used to swear I would die for my faith, but how could I be so certain without ever facing a threat like that?

Stephen Moore · December 16, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Is voluntarily dying for one’s cause the utmost sign of devotion?

It depends on the circumstance. And perhaps the cause. Devotion to a cause can be misguided, or even deluded; devotion to the point of death would thus be foolish.

Wouldn’t more be accomplished if one was alive to continue the fight?

Again, it depends. The question presumes a public act in furtherance of a goal, by which I mean that the intent is to sway public opinion, irrespective of whether the death itself occurs away from the public eye or before it.

It’s quite easy to assess the actions of those whom history has recorded as submitting to martyrdom, but there are, I have no doubt, many, many more that have so submitted that we have, nor will ever, know of.

Martyrdom can be a wholly private act, the result of simple refusal to submit one’s mind to the power of the oppressor, whilst still submitting one’s body. There are circumstance where the only act of resistance is the submission of one’s body rather than one’s mind.

What do you think about people who commit suicide to spread a message?

Once again, it depends. One the whole, I think it foolish, but I do concede that there may be very few circumstances where it may be warranted.

Do you think military personel killed in the line of duty are considered martyrs?

Generally speaking, no. An important, indeed, fundamental aspect of martyrdom is the wilful submission of one’s body to the oppressor. A militant knows, and accepts, that death may be a consequence of their involvement in action; it is a known risk of their service. Their death is not wilful: the militant is not choosing to die. Nor is it submission: the militant resists the enemy.

The hypothetical of the soldier jumping on a grenade to save their comrades-in-arms is not martyrdom. Sacrifice, yes, but not martyrdom.

    Godless Girl · December 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    “Sacrifice” and “Martyrdom” I think get mixed up in my and others’ understandings. I appreciate you touching on that.

Henway · December 16, 2010 at 11:54 pm

I’ll dismiss talking about dying for your religion ’cause that’s another issue… ’cause it’s binded to the confidence there’s an afterlife.

Dying for any other cause is just a waste of a life. Noone will remember you. or admire you… and even if they did, you aren’t there to see it anyway ’cause you’re dead. Being alive to do something > being dead. Being dead is only > than torture and physical pain.

    Godless Girl · December 17, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    If you think of it in a broader sense, couldn’t you just say “Why do anything for the sake of making things better? Nobody will remember you when you’re dead, and you aren’t there to see it anyway.” It’s not exactly the same, but it did make me wonder about how much we care about our legacies and what we leave for the next generation.

    geogeek · December 17, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    I disagree with the concept that public suicide for a cause is doomed to be forgotten or wasted.

    [edited to insert wiki link]

    Not that I consider Wikipedia an unimpeachable source, but they have the basic story as I recall it from other sources.

Jacob · December 17, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I’m going along the same route most of y’all already took. There is a big difference between seeking after death and facing it readily if it comes. Even within the text of the bible, the word translated martyr appears 34 times in the new testament and all but 2 or 3 of those times, it is instead translated witness. It gives the idea that you’re life is fully spent living out your faith, to such an extent that death is a reasonable sacrifice. That is, if it is a consequence of holding to faith. Far different to die out of sticking to one’s guns than it is to die simply to prove yourself unnecessarily.

Some great examples have already been posted.

PaganMusing · April 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm

[b]Is voluntarily dying for one’s cause the utmost sign of devotion? [/b]

No, I think in some ways dying for faith can be easy. One sets up an either or situation where either you practice your faith and are killed for it, or you abandon your Gods and survive. While this can be the case, I don’t think it’s always true.

Choosing to live and to honor your gods and follow your faith in an quiet unobtrusive manner is braver than martyrdom. Struggling against human’s inherent nature of violence and choosing not to take part in a “holy war” when not necessary is braver. The reverent attitude towards martyrs has lead to what I view as situations where people die and are killed when there is no need. I’m not saying dying for your beliefs is bad, but I think true martyrs happen unintentionally. Honoring my divine is something that happens in life, they have no desire for me to “die for them” or for me to force conversion. They call who they desire. While I suppose it’s possible than intolerant people may do learn that I’m something they can’t condone and kill me for it, it seems unlikely in the USA.

As long as there is this worship of death for faith there is an environment that encourages extremism, intolerance, and destruction. None of that is something I see as good.

[b] Wouldn’t more be accomplished if one was alive to continue the fight? [/b]

Yes! Who cares about a temporary compromise, when you have your life and continued being to work towards something more. Even in the bible, didn’t Peter, the rock of the church, deny Christ three times so that he could live? Who would have founded the church without him?

[b] What do you think about people who commit suicide to spread a message? [/b]

I don’t value messages that require death or violence to get across. Sometimes, I see this as an act of such desperation that I am sad for that group and sympathetic to their struggle. The monks in Tibet come to mind. I see their act as a cry for help, but I still think living and working toward that end would be more effective.

[b] Are there any causes you would die for (religious or secular)? [/b]

Not deliberately, though I can see scenarios where it might happen. I might die if my life would protect my family or friends. I would risk my life to help another if I had a probably chance of saving them. The results would have to be direct and immediate.

If I thought my immediate death was inevitable anyhow. Some journalist plights when they are captured and tortured overseas come to mind. Though, how I’d get myself into such a situation isn’t currently imaginable.

[b]Do you think military personel killed in the line of duty are considered martyrs? If so, how does your view of military martyrdom differ from your view of religious martyrdom? [/b]

Possibly, are they invading or protecting or something separate. I think if they are protecting their country from an invading force, and die protecting their way of life then yes.

As to how that death is different than that of a faith based death, I’m not really sure. My life and my religion are too tangled to separate, I often assume this is true for others too.

[b] Is martyrdom a realistic option in this modern world? [/b]

No.

[b] Will there always be martyrs? [/b]

I sincerely hope not. The climate which encourages martyrs though is heavy and prevalent. Trying to fight against it would start with de-valuing those who committed the act. I think that would be met with a lot of resistance, especially from the communities who lost loved ones to these religious deaths.

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