left biblioblography: THE ARGUMENT FROM SELF-SACRIFICE: ANOTHER ACE TOPPLED IN THE HOUSE OF CARDS

Saturday, July 01, 2006

THE ARGUMENT FROM SELF-SACRIFICE: ANOTHER ACE TOPPLED IN THE HOUSE OF CARDS

We consistently hear this egregious nonsense: “People died for this [insert your belief system here]. Therefore, it contains an element of truth. Why would anyone die for a lie?”

Well, I’ll pull out the stock answers to these tired refrains first, so as to get them out of the way:

  1. Heaven’s Gate/Halley-Bopp: these cats committed suicide, but not before the male members…cut off their members.

  2. The WTC terrorists

  3. The Jim Jones debacle

  4. The mass suicide at Masada

  5. The worshippers of Molech (see Kings/Chronicles, in re: Solomon – these wackjobs threw their own children into a giant furnace shaped like their deity, not to mention cutting off body parts)

  6. Let’s not forget Mani, the founder of manichaeism


And for those of you who want to start pulling some twist of sophistry, explaining that somehow or another, the alleged ‘apostles’ were different in some way, well, ain’t gonna wash. Sorry.

Here is the source of the word, martyr.

I will bring Mr. Richard Carrier into this discussion (I met this gentleman recently: extremely intelligent, much younger than I anticipated, chock full of information):

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/resurrection/lecture.html


"First, it is based on nothing in the New Testament itself, or on any reliable evidence of any kind. None of the Gospels or Epistles mention anyone dying for their belief in the "physical" resurrection of Jesus. The only martyrdoms recorded in the New Testament are, first, the stoning of Stephen in the Book of Acts. But Stephen was not a witness. He was a later convert. So if he died for anything, he died for hearsay alone. [Boldtype mine] But even in Acts the story has it that he was not killed for what he believed, but for some trumped up false charge, and by a mob, whom he could not have escaped even if he had recanted. So his death does not prove anything in that respect. Moreover, in his last breaths, we are told, he says nothing about dying for any belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus, but mentions only his belief that Jesus was the messiah, and was at that moment in heaven.[17] And then he sees Jesus--yet no one else does, so this was clearly a vision, not a physical appearance, and there is no good reason to believe earlier appearances were any different.
The second and only other "martyr" recorded in Acts is the execution of the Apostle James, [Boldtype mine] but we are not told anything about why he was killed or whether recanting would have saved him, or what he thought he died for.[18] In fact, we have one independent account in the Jewish history of Josephus, of the stoning of a certain "James the brother of Jesus" in 62 A.D., possibly but not necessarily the very same James, and in that account he is stoned for breaking the Jewish law, which recanting would not escape, and in the account of the late 2nd century Christian hagiographer Hegesippus, as reported by Eusebius, he dies not for his belief in a physical resurrection, but, just like Stephen, solely for proclaiming Jesus the messiah, who was at that moment in heaven.[19]
Yet that is the last record of any martyrdom we have until the 2nd century. Then we start to hear about some unnamed Christians burned for arson by Nero in 64 A.D.,[20] but we do not know if any eye-witnesses were included in that group--and even if we did it would not matter, for they were killed on a false charge of arson, not for refusing to deny belief in a physical resurrection. So even if they had recanted, it would not have saved them, and therefore their deaths also do not prove anything, especially since such persecution was so rare and unpredictable in that century. We also do not even know what it was they believed--after all, Stephen and James did not appear to regard the physical resurrection as an essential component of their belief. It is not what they died for.
As far as we can tell, apart from perhaps James, no one knew what the fate was of any of the original eyewitnesses. People were even unclear about who the original eyewitnesses were. There were a variety of legends circulating centuries later about their travels and deaths, but it is clear from our earliest sources that no one knew for certain.[21] There was only one notable exception: the martyrdom of Peter. This we do not hear about until two or three generations after the event, and it is told in only one place: the Gnostic Acts of Peter, which was rejected as a false document by many Christians of the day. But even if this account is true, it claims that Peter was executed for political meddling and not for his beliefs. Even more important, it states that Peter believed Jesus was resurrected as a spirit, not in the flesh...[22]
Not to mention that martyrdom was nowhere near as prevalent as the xtians would have us believe:

“In fact, more often than not, the Roman judges used every legal means at their disposal to avoid punishing the Christians. But the Christians, in the morbid need for the reward of martyrdom, more often than not insisted on being sentenced. As an example, take the incident in North Africa around the year 180 where twelve people (nine men and three women) were accused of being Christians. The proconsul Saturninus, who heard the case, pleaded with them to save their own lives:
“If you return to your sense you can obtain pardon of our Lord the emperor ... We too are a religious people, and our religion is a simple one: We swear by the divine spirit of our lord the emperor and offer prayers to his health - as you ought to do.”
The accused men were indignant and refused to do so. Saturninus, in a last ditch effort, gave them thirty days to think things over. After that time, they still refused to budge. The proconsul had no choice but to have them executed. Upon receiving the death sentence some of them yelled out: "We thank God!", "Today we are martyrs in heaven, thanks be to God!" [11]
Not only do these Christians zealously demanded execution upon trail, some of them, hard put to find someone to accuse them, went to the tribunal of magistrates, declared themselves Christians and demanded the sentence of the law. We have testimony of earlier the church father Tertullian (c160-c225) of one such case in a small Asiatic town. The whole Christian population of that town, seeking death and martyrdom, went to the proconsul Antoninus to demand punishment. Unable to comprehend such an attitude, Antoninus told the Christians: "Unhappy men! Unhappy men! If you are thus weary of your lives, is it so difficult for you to find ropes and precipices?" Of course, suicide doesn't count for martyrdom, so the crowd insisted on punishment. Antoninus relented, put a few to death and dismissed the others. [12]
Capital punishment was not invariably applied in all cases. Some Roman judges used other legal methods to avoid it. They contented themselves to sentencing the Christians to prison, exile or slavery. This allowed the Christians some chance of freedom as the emperor might, during a period of celebration, offer a general pardon to the prisoners. [13]
It was only in the third century AD that actual systematic persecutions of Christians took place. And it only happened under the reign of two emperors, Decius (d251) and Diocletian (245-313).”
I feel that’s sufficient to put paid to the folderol of argument ad martyrdom.

So, in summary:
  1. Dying for one’s beliefs in no way validates the truth of said belief, and

  2. The ‘persecution’ experienced by the earlier cultist was not only self-inflicted, it was no where near the degree embellished upon.

Ergo, we can strip the romantic nonsense right out of that talking point, we can deep-six it to old Davy Jones’ locker, goodbye oh bubble burst: wipe the tear from your eye.

There are things worth dying for.

Religion ain’t among them.

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3 comments:

say no to christ said...

Ra posted: Moreover, in his last breaths, we are told, he says nothing about dying for any belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus, but mentions only his belief that Jesus was the messiah, and was at that moment in heaven.[17] And then he sees Jesus--yet no one else does, so this was clearly a vision, not a physical appearance, and there is no good reason to believe earlier appearances were any different.
------------------

That is exactly how Elain Pagels explains.


Is it me or do the early christians sound like those muslim suicide bombers?

Christians and muslims are obsessed with death and blood.... and they claim the moral high grown. Can you say delusional psychosis???

Great post Ra!

Amy

Krystalline Apostate said...

SNTC:
Is it me or do the early christians sound like those muslim suicide bombers?
Well, they sounded suicidal, but at least they didn't take anyone w/them. & we do get trained to think highly of folks willing to give their lives for principles.
But self-sacrifice, as history shows, is not a good indicator of the truth of the principle.

Beowulf said...

I think resurrection scholars like Habermas and Craig don’t affirm the Apostles ‘died’ for their belief because pinpointing dates and reasons is difficult, but strong indications can be made. Rather, they argue more that they were willing to die with the corroboration of the sudden change of cowardice to bravery. I agree wit the post though.