An Open Letter to Would-Be Martyrs
A MARTYR is defined as someone who sacrifices his or her life for the sake of principle. Often the individual submits to martyrdom for refusing to renounce a religion, but it could also be for family, country, ideals, etc.
     A person who kills people cannot be considered a martyr, even if the person dies in the process. A soldier who kills other armed soldiers in battle— even at the cost of that soldier’s own life— is at best hero not martyr. So someone who kills noncombatants can hardly be considered better than a murderer regardless of dying in the process.
     Not only is that person a murderer rather than martyr, but any one of the victims killed for standing up is the true martyr. The martyr is the one who submits to death rather than give in, not the one who causes death. Murderers— including suicide murderers— are the furthest thing from martyrs.
     Real martyrs are an inspiration to others to stand fast for what is precious, even to the extent of putting their lives on the line. Mass killers offer only life-stifling fear and grief to their survivors and nightmares to surviving children. There’s nothing inspiring about that.
     As to the allure of supposed rewards beyond the grave— compared with the difficulty of just creating an afterlife, filling it with riches and pleasures beyond imagination would be easy. But could even God make living for an eternity with one’s own past pleasant?
     While suicide terrorists aren’t martyrs, as those willing to die they aren’t cowards either. Bravery has no corner on virtue— there were many brave Nazi soldiers who, like the terrorists, were misguided instruments of evil.
They Aren’t Cowards?
     While it may be okay to designate those who command suicide terrorists from safe positions as cowards— if any position is safe anymore for those deadly strategists— describing the terrorists themselves as such, going willingly to their deaths, is intuitively challengeable.
     There’s argument though for calling even these front-liners cowards. Through religious indoctrination from an early age, most if not all are said to be convinced beyond doubt that rewards in the afterlife will more than compensate for even the ultimate sacrifice.
     Were they to actually believe this beyond any doubt— assuming that were possible— they would regard death as little more than a quick jog in bare feet through burning sand to a stupendous palace of servants and beauties that they would immediately own all to themselves and forever hence inhabit. Some courage. Anyone could do it.
     Not only lack of courage but outright cowardice, for they’d be skipping the trials and hardships of this world and going immediately to the great reward, with its carefree pleasures and easy wealth.
     Here’s the problem though with calling them cowards:
     Let’s start with the issue of doubt. No matter what a person does there will always be doubt. Doubt is inherent in faith itself. To have surety a person has to play devil’s advocate and defend a belief, in that person’s own mind at least, otherwise it’s empty.
     Even if a youth or group of youths was to be isolated from the greater world— assuming such is possible in this internet-and-movie age— that youth’s internal dialogues, mental discourse— not to mention conversations with family, friends, and classmates— would subsidize a degree of doubt, whether consciously acknowledged or not.
     For an individual with both a modicum of insight and some access to comparative studies the realization would come, albeit slowly perhaps, that religion was essentially a function of upbringing— for any given person the faith for that person is most likely whatever that particular individual was born into and had ingrained during formative years.
     This while learning that religions and faiths differed to the extent that not all of them— if even one— could be entirely right, not excepting in regard to the nature and even existence of an afterlife.
     While a person might believe his or her own religion to be true, such an individual would realize that if by happenstance born into another faith, would just as strongly believe that religion to be true.
     These insights would tend to foster at least a slight doubt about the inerrant veracity of that person’s own faith, including what will happen, if anything, after death. Such a doubt in turn would eat away at certainty of any kind of afterlife, much less the rewards promised.
     During the course of our lives the one object we are most intimate with is our own body. We know how connected we are with it in identity, feeling, presence, and soul. Death— regardless of its aftermath— involves the destruction of this body and our permanent separation from it.
     This alone should be enough to produce rational uncertainty. With rational uncertainty comes rational fear. While irrational fear can be overcome by knowledge, overcoming rational fear requires one thing, and that is courage.
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© 2003 Warren Farr, revised 9/14