Martyrs- a subject you hear a lot about these days, between persecuted Christians around the world and Islamist radicals blowing up explosive-laden children. But what is a martyr, really?
I started this train of thought by reading a BBC article titled, "What Is Boko Haram?" As I read, I saw that for those that really believe any kind of faith motivates these people, that faith would have to be in hate. Hate was the key word, why do Muslims hate? I don't think all muslims do. But let me tell you what I learned.
After trying to sift out statements made by "experts" who were only able to judge them from the distorted image of the West the Islamists see, and marginal whack jobs who weren't quite subtle enough about the hate THEY had, It came down to a single overriding observation- that Muslims are a lot like the Amish. When they ruled much more of the world than they inhabit now, they were leaders in science, literature, astronomy. But then, in the 1500s, the high scholars and religious leaders, called Ularna, began to see science much the way the Roman Catholic Church of the day did- as trying to remove the Divine from the study of nature. In the Christian Church, this resistance to change resulted in schism; for many Muslim groups, it meant retreat into "the way things were" where the Koran became the arbiter of everything. A psychologist and lecturer on Muslim integration named Nicolai Sennels identified six thought processes in the Muslim community- particularly the radicals- that strove to keep Islam a medieval religion doomed to hate and oppose the Western world.
Among these were the prohibition on individual believers to seek their own understanding of the scriptures; and because of this, a fear bordering on the irrational of anything contrary to the Koran and an accompanying fear of the consequences of questioning the religious leaders. This with other factors, some of them making sense and others bordering on racism were listed by Sennels, but the gist is that once the ularnas started the turn inward, Islam became irreconcilably opposed to anything that the west, having decided to dig deeper and move forward, did, thought, or desired. In short, they became what Europe would have been without the Reformation and Enlightenment. They became an anachronism, that depended on religious AND political power to be wielded in one hand, to survive.
And that brought you back to Boko Haram, which is predicated solely on the idea that "Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors."
Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it "haram", or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.
This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education.
Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president - and it has extended its military campaign by targeting neighbouring states. (From the BBC article)
And so they can justify war by the need for a religious state; murder by their concept of who is "faithful"; and rape because women are the single biggest danger to men becoming one with God and must be put down in any way possible. And hate, because hate is all they know.
Now, I can hear you say, there are factions in Christianity just like that. The inquisitions, the Crusades, Westboro Baptist Church. I would posit to you that the first two came at a time where the Church in Rome was trying very hard to build that same religious/political state that Boko Haram is trying to build. And, thank God, failed in that to everyone's benefit. And the third makes my point. Have you ever looked up WBC's website? GodHatesFags.com. Hate. Just like Boko Haram, ISIS, name the group, religion is just a convenient cover for institutionalized mass murder.
So what is a martyr? Let me show you some excerpts from another BBC story I found right after the Boko Haram story:
Father Thomas Byles, rector at St Helen's Roman Catholic church in Chipping Ongar for eight years, was among the 1,500 people to perish aboard the SS Titanic on 15 April 1912.
Father Byles, originally from Staffordshire, was ordained as a priest in 1902 and came to the Catholic Parish of Ongar and Doddinghurst three years later. According to the current priest at St Andrew's church, Father Andrew Hurley, he was "much loved and appreciated by the people of the parish". Such was their affection, when Father Byles was invited to officiate at his brother's wedding in New York, parishioners helped pay for his trip on the liner.
Father Hurley explained how Father Byles had said Mass for second-class passengers on the morning of the disaster. In it he talked about the "spiritual lifeboats that take us to God".
Following the iceberg strike on 14 April, eyewitness accounts told how Father Byles refused several offers to board a lifeboat. Instead, he remained on board to help others to lifeboats, take confessions, offer absolution and pray with those still on board as the ship went down.
His body was never recovered.
Father Hurley said: "He had the opportunity to take a lifeboat and come to safety. "But he stayed with the people, prayed with them, gave them spiritual sustenance." In the ship's final moments Father Byles prayed with the 100 plus passengers trapped at the stern - Protestants, Catholics and Jews knelt in the rising waters as he gave absolution to all.
DO YOU GET THIS? He wasn't worried about the politics or the denominations of the doomed passengers. He didn't give one good whit about what his reward would be, only for those gathered around him at the end. He didn't see death as a heroic sacrifice, an entrance into paradise, or something he should push others into. His death was an extension of his LIFE.
So you see, the Islamists have it wrong. So did the Crusaders, so did the Buddhist monks who became human s'mores for their cause. Because martyrdom is isn't about a person's death. It's about living a life in faith, valuing others above oneself, right up until death. Because of the way Father Byles lived his life, others' lives were changed, right up to the moment of death. And that is true martyrdom, and a damn sight better memorial for a life than being the smallest blood spot in a pile of dead bodies.