Martyrdom: The Greatest Paradox or Hypocrisy?

The philosopher Bertrand Russell put it quite plainly, when he said "I would never die for my beliefs, because I might be wrong."

That simple idea, expressed by an avowed atheist, confounds all of Christianity to it's core. Why?

Because Christianity claims to be a religion that makes people "humble." But refusing to consider that your "beliefs" are not the undeniable, absolute "truth" of God, even unto death, is not an act of humility but of extreme hubris. It asserts "I am right! And by God I will not change my mind, no matter what evidence you provide. I would rather die instead!"

This is the temper tantrum of the most obstinate child imaginable.

On the other hand, I want to also admit that I can see where the "humility" comes in. But it is NOT humility practiced by many Christians. Take Father Kolbe for example.  According to Wikipedia:

Fr. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, was a Polish friar who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the German death camp of Auschwitz.

That's an act of extreme selflessness, even if it was done in the selfish pursuit of pleasing God and winning heaven. But, joking aside, the humility to accept someone else's cross, someone else's death, is equally one of extreme humility. To willingly go, like a lamb to slaughter, and lay one's life done for another, a stranger at that, is arguably the epitome of humility as well.

So which is it? Is martyrdom an extreme act of humility or spiritual hubris?

In truth, it's not easy to tell, and it may even be impossible to fully disentangle to two from each other, so complicated is the question and so fickle is the mind that asks it.

But what we can know, however, is that there is a universe of difference between loving an idea so much, and by extension, all others via that idea, can be a kind of ultimate humility. While to die for an idea, for no other reason than that you believe the "idea" itself has some special power to transform people, or that your own obstinate refusal to bend on how absolutely "true" you believe that idea to be, can also be an extreme act of spiritual pride as well.

Beliefs are not "truth," however, which is why I think to die for a belief alone is pure insanity and the very opposite of humility (although it may take guts, it's still insane) while to die to save others, whether because you "believe" your Religion leads you to such a conclusion or because you have no religion but to help even the most wretched of humanity, regardless of whether you personally think they deserve it, may be the greatest act of humility of all.

So in short, I guess it's a little of both, depending on how you look at it. "And the powerful play goes on..."


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