Friday, April 10, 2009

What Is a Martyr?

On this day where Christians pause to reflect upon the grim death by crucifixion of Jesus, I thought it might be worthwhile to commemorate a few notable figures who have given their lives to advance a noble cause. The question of what constitutes a martyr is itself a controversial one. I think this is because the cause or causes these men and women advanced were often quite polarizing, and many times their frequently imperfect behavior in their personal lives distracts and detracts from the good works they did during their time on earth. Character flaws are true for all of us, but when too many of them are present in the court of popular opinion, even a history of good works cannot redeem them.

To Islamic extremists, the 11 September 2001 hijackers were considered martyrs, though most people around the world do not believe that this. Martyrdom has been extended to people who were intrinsically secular and not particularly religious, also. In truth, I think there are few martyrs who would make almost everyone's list just like there are few people who have ever lived who are universally praised. Who would be on your list?

Here are a few martyrs I thought notable.

1. Joan of Arc

2. Mohandas K. Gandhi

3. Harvey Milk. This is a controversial selection.


Gail said...

Hi Kevin-

Excellent post - and a very challenging question.

First, I had to research what the word actually means -
so here it is:

   /ˈmɑrtər/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [mahr-ter] Show IPA
1. a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion.
2. a person who is put to death or endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle, or cause: a martyr to the cause of social justice.
3. a person who undergoes severe or constant suffering: a martyr to severe headaches.
4. a person who seeks sympathy or attention by feigning or exaggerating pain, deprivation, etc.

I think Mother Theresa goes with number one and number two

and St Francis of Asisi as well.

and I know many who can fall into number 4.

Peace and love

Utah Savage said...

Lovely post Kevin.

Liberality said...

Nice post.

Stopped by to tell you I've tagged you dude.

Anonymous said...

One other point: Martyr is from the Greek for "witness," as in someone who bears witness or testifies. The Arabic for martyr, "shahid" (also "shaheed") also literally means "witness."