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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Martyrdom–Exploitation, False Promises, And Christ’s Betrayal Of Man

Martyrdom has always been a ticket to heaven. Radical Muslims, finding justification from the Quran, engage in jihad against unbelievers with the expectation that they will see God for their efforts.

Qur'an (4:74) - "Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward."

Qur'an (9:111) - "Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth, through the Law, the Gospel, and the Qur'an: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded: that is the achievement supreme."

Christians believe that if one maintains his faith, professes it even under torture, and is executed for that defiant profession of loyalty to God, church, and religion, everlasting paradise will be the reward.  The Bible is not as explicit as the Quran, but has as many if not more references to martyrdom.

1 Peter 4:14-16 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

Romans 8:31-35 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

These scriptural injunctions have, of course, led to many wars and many deaths. Thousands of Christian soldiers died in the Crusades, holy wars to rid Jerusalem from the Muslim infidel. The assault of the Arab armies of Mohammed against the French at Roncesvalles was a holy crusade, for in addition to territorial expansionism and the conquest of Europe, Muslim leaders sought to spread Islam.

The Grand Inquisitor’ (The Brothers Karamazov) challenges the returned Christ on his false promises.  Tempted by the Devil in the desert, Christ refused to turn stones into bread. “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’”, he said.

Christ was derelict, said the Grand Inquisitor, irresponsible and arrogant.  Man does indeed live by bread alone.  Freedom from hunger and want, and the satisfaction of material needs are not only important but essential.  All men would exchange the promise of heaven – which, of course, was only a promise and contingent on the proper exercise of free will and the correct choice between good and evil – for a reasonable if not comfortable life.

How could God/Christ condemn children to misery, torture, and defilement?  How could he consign millions to poverty, disease, and horrific deaths when he had the power to create a harmonious, good world?  By offering magical promises, said The Grand Inquisitor, he enabled the establishment of a corrupt, venal, and exploitive Church.

Martyrdom was a logical outgrowth of this paradigm.  Death in the name of God was a quick way out of human misery and a fast track to celestial delights.  Martyrdom not only offered immediate salvation to the individual, but sent a strong message to the faithful left behind – God is good, God is great, and his promises must be true if men give their lives for him.

It is not only Ivan Karamazov who challenges the received wisdom of Christianity in his ‘short story’ about the returned Christ and in his hallucinated dialogue with the Devil, but also his illegitimate brother, Smerdyakov.  In the following passage Smerdyakov debunks the whole notion of martyrdom.  Not necessary, he says.  In the split second before you reject Christ to save yourself from torture and death, you have excommunicated yourself.  You are no longer a Christian, and therefore your words of apostasy mean nothing.  Your life will be spared and you can go on to do good works. In a passage of sophistry and cynicism, Smerdyakov says:

And if I've ceased to be a Christian, then I told no lie to the enemy when they asked whether I was a Christian or not a Christian,seeing I had already been relieved by God Himself of my Christianity by reason of the thought alone, before I had time to utter a word to the enemy. And if I have already been discharged, in what manner and with what sort of justice can I be held responsible as a Christian in the other world for having denied Christ, when, through the very thought alone, before denying Him I had been relieved from my christening? If I'm no longer a Christian, then I can't renounce Christ, for I've nothing then to renounce.

Not only that, but God will forgive the reluctant martyr, for his sin has been insignificant compared to most:

Again, taking into consideration that no one in our day, not only you, but actually no one, from the highest person to the lowest peasant, can shove mountains into the sea- except perhaps some one man in the world, or, at most, two, and they most likely are saving their souls in secret somewhere in the Egyptian desert, so you wouldn't find them- if so it be, if all the rest have no faith, will God curse all the rest? that is, the population of the whole earth, except about two hermits in the desert, and in His well-known mercy will He not forgive one of them? And so I'm persuaded that though I may once have doubted I shall be forgiven if I shed tears of repentance.

Martyrdom is overrated, says Smerdyakov, another example of the lies and false promises spread by Christianity.

Yes, martyrdom persists, although much less so within Christianity. Doubt, atheism, and materialism have eroded faith to such a degree that it is unlikely that many Christians would die in defense of it. Radical Islam is different, for members of Boko Haram, ISIS, Hamas, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab have shown that giving one’s life in a holy cause is de rigeur. These radicals have conveniently conflated religious and political ends. They have, as The Grand Inquisitor noted, created a socio-political institution which, although founded on supposed religious grounds, is in fact venal and secular. For all the hoopla about caliphates and the reign of Islam, these groups want power, wealth, and territory.

This conflation is of course not new for any religion. The Hindu scholar S.S. Kavitha has noted:

From time immemorial, whether it is to express one’s supreme love for gods, kings, and lords or to express their vehement protests against an authority, people have sacrificed their lives.  The [Hindu] scriptures describe self-sacrifice as the noblest of all sacrifices – dedicating the mind, body, and soul to God; but most martyrs have killed themselves for a social cause they espoused or for the welfare of their benefactors (Friday Review – History and Culture 2.28.12)

Martyrdom is also quite understandable in today’s world.  Poor Bangladeshis, for example, have no power, no voice, no authority, and little chance of improving their lot in life. Religion already is their only hope, and the promise of eternal salvation from worldly miseries irresistible.  Radical Islamists who up the ante and promise immediate, guaranteed salvation through martyrdom have an already-primed, receptive audience.  Poor, marginalized young men throughout the Muslim world have everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose. Dying in a holy war will assure entrance into Paradise and elegies of heroism by those left behind.

In the words of Dostoyevsky, martyrdom is the most corrupt form of religious observance. It is the logical extension of the duplicity of Christ who, through his false promises has consigned man to misery, offered him only possibilities and no guarantees, and opened the doors to martyrdom and the manipulation of the many by the few.

Dying for one’s faith, he says, makes no sense at all in a meaningless world where Immortality is an artificial construct created by man.  The promise of immortality, says the author, is the only thing that keeps men in line.  Without it there can be no moral codes, no right and wrong, no good and evil.  Given the empty promise of immortality, self-sacrifice is meaningless. Smerdyakov in his agile, cynical, and provocative argument is right.

The Devil tells Ivan (‘The Devil – Ivan’s Nightmare’) that evil is no big deal, and that he is on earth simply to play mischief.  He is a vaudevillian spicing up a tedious, meaningless, and unhappy life.  Relax, he says.  Everything is permitted and nothing therefore has meaning – not martyrdom, crucifixion, sacrifice, or a good meal.

However, martyrdom has always been a tool of war, and despite the intellectual rigor and logical disclaimers of Dostoyevsky, it will continue to be.  Not because it has any spiritual, religious, or moral value per se but because it is an effective tool of war.

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