Martyrdom Is Back!

What is there about martyrdom that can at once repel, fascinate, inspire, and terrify us? The lives of the Christian saints are templates in suffering for devout causes, generally in their refusing in one way or another to renounce God in whom they believed completely and literally. Knowing myself as I do, I can’t imagine living during the Middle Ages or any other such period in history, facing an inquisition of any kind that might lead to my agonizing death from being burned at the stake or being broken on the wheel. Even being denied coffee for more than twelve hours would be enough to make me say anything  judges wanted to hear, so it’s very difficult for me to understand sacrificing one’s life for what many might consider an idealistic abstraction with little or no basis in the physical world. Martyr deaths exclude ones from a military standpoint. Such deaths of soldiers from the Allied Forces during World War II, for example, had the immediate and earthly purpose of rescuing civilization itself from possible oblivion. Mind you, my instincts for self-preservation are not hedonistic and might just be considered perfectly normal by many other people. The saints, however, were anything but normal but have left their marks for centuries upon history.

martyr # 1

Isis and other forms of the Taliban glorify suicide bombing for their principal cause, which is slaughtering infidels. Such glorification, along with the promise of carnal delights in the life hereafter (paradise) seems to be enough to puff up egos in the world of extreme Islam and, of late, includes some young American converts, who are devoid of identity or self-worth and for whom such majestic acclaim is so enticing, though it is horrible to think that even mass murder can become something that is lauded and rewarded on some grotesque level of ignorance and mental numbness.

muslim martyrs

People sometimes threaten martyrdom when they haven’t the slightest intention of following through with it. My mother, for example, used guilt as the penalty for the misbehavior of my brother, my sister, and me. Mom would put her right hand thumb and forefinger between her eyes and squeeze the bridge of her nose, tilting her head back slightly, closing her eyes and in a quivering voice utter, “Why do you kids do this to me? Where have I failed? I try so hard to do the right things for you. I cook, I clean, I remember your birthdays, and I make sure you do your homework. I don’t deserve this. It hurts. It really hurts.”

saint

She would then open her left eye the tiniest bit just to make sure the effect of her performance was getting the result she wanted. David and I would look at each other as if to say, “Oh, God! We’ve done it again!” If Mom were in a particularly bad temper, she might increase the voltage of her words by adding, “Yes, I can see it all now…my coffin at Bocken’s Funeral Home. There will be flowers and soft weeping, but in the midst of all the mourning as I lie there, you kids will be wearing Indian headdresses, whooping and hollering at the top of your lungs. Then you’ll punch each other senseless after shaking the casket to plead, ‘Get up, Mom! He hit me again!’ And finally, each of you will scream, ‘I need clean underwear!’ but it will be too late, and you’ll all be terribly sorry.” At last she would take a deep breath, expel a heartrending sigh and leave the room, again looking askance during her exit to see if what she had said was registering in us some level of guilt. Such were many of the sessions with our mother, Saint Bonnie.

martyr # 2

Less amusing today are the histrionics of some on the Christian far right, who whine incessantly that they are under attack by the country in its insidious attempts to destroy Christmas, the sanctity of marriage, prayer, and patriotism itself. Especially annoying have been attempts to arouse public sympathy and action regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to render gay marriage legal everywhere in the nation. For many others on the far right, the most important freedom is having no restriction on owning and using guns. The most outrageous threats over recent events are those claiming self-immolation if gay marriage isn’t repealed. Similar threats have been hurled over the Affordable Care Act. Such mean-spirited and dramatic intimidations make me want to gift wrap boxes of matches to help such people achieve their heinous martyrdoms, but the most astonishing part of such pseudo-martyrdom is the disturbing fact that the true victims of injustice for centuries have suddenly become the supposed oppressors, simply because they have been granted equal rights, also despite there never being any lucid, rational explanation as to how gay marriage can in any way destroy traditional matrimony.

martyr # 3

Thus, many on the far right of these issues have become befuddled in their failing attempts to reverse the roles of the oppressors and the victims. The very thought of “equal” rights for all sends them into a tailspin of terror and rage. Such persecution has nothing whatever to do with God, the Bible, or anything else but personal fear, misunderstanding, ignorance, and incredible vanity based upon “Us versus them.” Like Don Quixote, they aim their lances at windmills and other imaginary enemies. Poor things. So, put your halos back into the drawer with the moth balls. Martyrdom based upon hate is no longer an option. Redirect your hatred against hunger, poverty, spousal abuse, animal cruelty, toxic prejudice, and the wanton, greedy destruction of our planet. That should keep you busy and prevent you from persecuting and wounding more innocent fellow human beings as your principal occupation.    JB

martry # 5

About John

John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BA and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado. He spends his winters in Pompano Beach, Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth and most recent book, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014.
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