To life, not martyrdom

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Recently, I read two articles about dying for a cause. The first, on these pages, by Sally Quinn, addressed the Dalai Lama’s lack of compassion for not criticizing the self-immolation of more than 100 Tibetans since 2009 to protest China’s occupation of Tibet.  The second article concerned 813 Italians who were just declared “saints” by the Catholic Church because they chose death in 1480 rather than convert to Islam


Different religions have formulated arguments about what constitutes a “just war” and causes worth dying for. Some of history’s most brutal wars have been holy wars, perpetrated by people who expected heavenly rewards for killing countless “heretics.” They justified their massacres because designated infidels either did not believe in “the one true god” or did not worship the one true god in the one true way. Most of the civilized world now condemns those who take innocent lives, regardless of the cause. More nuanced is whether we can justify taking our own life for a cause, the theme in both articles mentioned above.

I can respect, if not agree with, those who believe their suicide will save additional lives and increase the happiness of others. That was the goal of the self-immolators trying to free Tibet and bring back the Dalai Lama. On the other hand, I always look for ways to resolve problems without loss of life. This is why war must always be a last resort.

I reserve my harshest criticisms of religion for its practices that intrude on the lives of those outside the religion. This doesn’t mean I can easily ignore religious practices I find ridiculous, which brings me to Catholic sainthood. How many miracles does it take to change a dead human into a saint? The Catholic Church says two, but no such miracle has ever been as documented as, say, would be a televised prayer that results in a light bulb changing itself.

While the Tibet article included comments from those for and against self-immolation as a tactic, the saint article unfortunately included no skeptics.

 

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com

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  1. There is a tendency to either patronise or glorify those who use suicide for a political end.

    Soldiers in WWI who went on “suicide” missions are heroes.

    Kamikaze pilots in WWII are crazy.

    People who chose death rather than nominal change of religion are martyrs or even saints.

    People like me who protested Makah whale sacrifice for supposedly religious reasons are presumed mentally ill. (I did a drug fast to the point of death. I was convinced to stop when it was pointed out the authorities had effectively blocked anyone from knowing about my protest (even via my website) so staying alive to fight another day was more logical. I still consider the lives of whales more valuable than those of humans.)

    People who kill themselves fighting American occupation are terrorists, even when the targets are soldiers.

    The Buddhists who set themselves afire in the Kennedy days received a terrified respect.

  2. I still maintain my firm belief that until we stop suffering and death to others and ourselves in the name of ANY religion we stand no chance of progressing forward to any kind of peaceful society………..perhaps this is not the evolutionary way ! But one thing is for sure …evolution will continue to call the tune …even if we do go full circle in aeons of life back to a primordial slop only to start all over again.
    Religion has no part to to play , no more than the fairies at the bottom of my garden ……..hang on !!!!I don´t believe in them either.

  3. Sorry, but this article has a level of gravitas that would embarrass a 13 year old: “I always look for ways to resolve problems without loss of life” – wow, the humanity! I could go on, but this is not a writer who is ever going to detain me again.

  4. The Marines at Wake Island sacrificed themselves one by one so that those remaining might live long enough to be re-supplied. When Hitler refused to finance the Messerschmitt Me 262 to combat the B-17 raids, over a hundred German pilots threatened suicide, claiming that flying against the fleets of flying fortresses essentially amounted to death anyway.

    I think what those that advocate peace and life versus war and death fail to understand is that in most cases wars and suicide protests is that such measures are acts of despair. (Exceptions being typically imperial wars abroad, driven by barons at home who choose not to recognize the horror they wright.) It’s noticeable here in the US that most hunger strikes end when the protestors get hungry, not when they are too incapacitated by famine to recover. It’s a bit easier to stick to a hunger strike when there just isn’t food to eat.

    It’s easier to self immolate when everyone is too miserable to live.

    It’s easier to blow yourself up when you and your family are already targeted enemy combatants.

    Or put another way, a well-fed, well-treated society doesn’t produce terrorists or suicide protestors, even when they don’t agree with the ideology that rules them.

    • In reply to #5 by Uriel-238:

      The Marines at Wake Island sacrificed themselves one by one so that those remaining might live long enough to be re-supplied. When Hitler refused to finance the Messerschmitt Me 262 to combat the B-17 raids, over a hundred German pilots threatened suicide, claiming that flying against the fleets of…

      If you haven’t already read it you might find this book interesting: Dying to Win: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism by Robert A. Pape. He confirms some of what you say with lots of statistical data. He also challenges the conventional wisdom that terrorists are just crazy depressed loners who were brainwashed in religious schools. On the contrary he shows that most terrorists have a strong sense of community and act primarily over outrage committed by powerful governments with large armies, not religious ideology. (Although his research does support the idea that religion has an important secondary role — where such conflicts exist a religious difference makes it easier for the losing side to escalate to suicide terrorism)

    • In reply to #5 by Uriel-238:

      The Marines at Wake Island sacrificed themselves one by one so that those remaining might live long enough to be re-supplied. When Hitler refused to finance the Messerschmitt Me 262 to combat the B-17 raids, over a hundred German pilots threatened suicide, claiming that flying against the fleets of…

      BTW, do you have a reference for that story about the German pilots? I’m interested in WWII history and had never heard that before. It surprises me a bit that fighter pilots were that terrified of the bombers. I always thought it was the other way around, that without fighter support the bombers were sitting ducks for the fighters. I would have thought that the demand for jets would have come more from wanting to out fight the US P51 Mustang, the first fighter the allies had that could go all the way with the bombers and that could out fight any German propeller fighter.

      • In reply to #11 by Red Dog:

        BTW, do you have a reference for that story about the German pilots? I’m interested
        in WWII history and had never heard that before. It surprises me a bit that fighter pilots
        were that terrified of the bombers. I always thought it was the other way around, that
        without fighter support the bombers were sitting ducks for the fighters.

        Crap. I can’t find that specific bit. There’s plenty on how Hitler envisioned the Me 262 as a light bomber rather than a fighter. On May 23rd, 1944 is when the crucial meeting took place between Goering, some of the Luftwaffe officials and Hitler, but I can’t find the minutes. There were a number of motivators, including that the refit of the Me 262 into a bomber was taking longer than expected, but ultimately Hitler conceded (provisional) forward movement on using the jet planes as fighters.

        As for the B-17s, they were designed with unescorted bomb runs in mind. Granted the Luftwaffe got good at attacking but even lateral strafing of the tight bomber formation was extremely dangerous just from the quantity of return fire. They would have to pick at the edges, at stragglers and already damaged targets. But you are correct, it was the added threat of the P51 long-range escorts and the looming deployment of the B-23 Superfortress that harbingered the doom of the Me 109 based defense.

        Sadly the bit about the suicidal protest is probably buried in the PBS library of documentaries.

      • In reply to #11 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #5 by Uriel-238:

        There where holes in their defenses of these bombers. This lead to formations that overlapped each others gaps. Some Mustang pilots argue that flying with the bombers was tactically stupid “They’re going to get in there somewhere”. That they should have been trying to target German airfields taking out fighters on take off or landing and strafing airfields, instead of escorting bombers, the bombers where spread over huge areas and a few fighters cannot do much about enemy fighters getting some. It has been suggested that having them fly near them was more for Bomber moral than good tactics. The real advantage of the 262 is due to its superior speed they could make dash through hit the bombers and not get taken out by the fighters after. Many of the 262 actually shot down where on takeoff or landing where they were vulnerable. Of course much of the slaughter of bomber pilots was due to the fact the US insisted on bombing in daylight.

        • In reply to #17 by Reckless Monkey:

          There where holes in their defenses of these bombers. This lead to formations that overlapped each others gaps….

          I’m assuming that this was Reckless Monkey‘s reply. The formatting made it look like it was from Red Dog.

          Of course much of the slaughter of bomber pilots was due to the fact the US insisted on bombing in daylight.

          WWII was rife with stupid errors, and (as with any war) mistakes that are very clearly so in hindsight. The policy of Precision Daylight Bombing was intended to be a measured step of targeting industry before resorting to bombing their populations (such as the allies did with Braunschweig and Dresden). The idea was to hit within a thousand feet of a target and thus avoid destroying civilian infrastructure more than we needed to. We weren’t good at it (missing the circle 80% of the time), but there was a humane intent behind the daylight policy.

          Regardless, the P51 was regarded as a scourge by the Germans, and B17s had a nasty habit of actually making it to their target and dropping their bombs enough to be a problem, so the Luftwaffe really did want the Me 262 as a counter to them both.

  5. I have been watching a documentary called The Invisible Nation about the mistreatment of the Algoquin Indians In Quebec, particularly at the hands of the Oblate fathers.

    The Hudson’s Bay Company early on imported Catholic priests to sell the idea of hell to to “soften up the Indians”. They then were successfully able to dominate, cheat and mistreat the Indians with little resistance. I presume Pope what’s his name is still performing the same service to this day.

    In the 1950s Catholics set up mandatory residential schools for sadistic play and rape of native boys and girls in Quebec. The kids complained mightily, but they were just kids and no one paid attention. How could men of God possibly do such things? These were kids 7+ years old. All the priests and nuns participated in this. We have a thoroughly sick institution. The Catholic Church must be disbanded and its assets used to compensate its victims. We would not tolerate any other institution whose primary activity was raping children. If you think you should tolerate it, ask yourself what BS did the Catholic Church manage to sell you to trick you into that position?

    • In reply to #6 by Roedy:

      I have been watching a documentary called The Invisible Nation about the mistreatment of the Algoquin Indians In Quebec…

      What does this have to do with the topic of this thread please?

  6. I read somewhere that Pope Francis was known for propmoting interfaith dialogue, basically promoting “praying together” against the menace of reality.
    But isn’t making saints of people who resisted conversion to Islam like saying that Islam is so bad, it is better to die than be a Muslim? How does he open a dialogue with Islam and keep credibility?

  7. As regard to catholic saints the only thing that interests me is how many people put up for sainthood have failed to achieve the required two miracles, if i could hazard a guess the number would be less than one.

    • In reply to #15 by JHJEFFERY:

      That was a B-29. not 23.

      That’s right. Boeing B-29 Superfortress. I looked it up and then forgot to make the correction. It’s what I get for posting before the first cup of coffee.

      In reply to #8 by thebaldgit:

      As regard to catholic saints the only thing that interests me is how many people put up for sainthood have failed to achieve the required two miracles, if i could hazard a guess the number would be less than one.

      Typically, since the middle ages people have been sainted for political reasons, not due to spiritual merit or performance of unexplainable phenomena. The practice of hagiography is the art of loosely interpreting factual events, or if necessary fabricating plausible narratives that can be interpreted as miraculous.

  8. The second article concerned 813 Italians who were just declared “saints” by the Catholic Church because they chose death in 1480 rather than convert to Islam.

    Ah! But if they had chosen death as assisted suicide because of degenerative terminal illness, the Catholic Church would be jumping up and down in outrage against them! http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/638367-pro-suicide-propaganda

    Martyrs for the meme are one thing! Human compassion is something quite different!

  9. Human beings breeding species and is at war with other tribes is a natural habit. It made us who we are. However, our technical prowess is now made that the occupation dangerous for everyone. It remains an open question whether it is possible to overcome the bad side of our heritage and emphasize the positive. I do not believe humanity is capable of such a transformation without spiritual help.

    This is my blog about mini crock pot.

    • In reply to #12 by nellootiout:

      …It remains an open question whether it is possible to overcome the bad side of our heritage and emphasize the positive. I do not believe humanity is capable of such a transformation without spiritual help.

      I do not believe humanity is capable of such a transformation as long as religions and ideologies avail themselves to provide justification to not.

  10. Uriel-238 13

    That was a B-29. not 23.

    Red Dog 10

    I guess I’ll have to put Pape on my reading list because at first blush I disagree with this assessment of terrrotist motivation. I think Sam Harris has it right.

  11. Uriel-238 13

    That was a B-29. not 23.

    Red Dog 10

    I guess I’ll have to put Pape on my reading list because at first blush I disagree with this assessment of terrrotist motivation. I think Sam Harris has it right.

    • In reply to #20 by adey5:

      Don’t die for your cause, LIVE for it!

      Or as George C. Scott (playing Patton) suggested, make the other poor bastard die for his.

      The terrible truth is that those are often the only alternatives.

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