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Can Martyrdom Achieve this Duty?

Fulfilling the Responsibility to the Supreme Truth:
Can Martyrdom Achieve this Duty?

As Humankind advances towards its destiny, the evidence of accomplishments and blunders left behind will indicate the collective comprehension of Humankind’s purpose for existence. This history will also reveal Humankind’s capacity to manage the one innate facility that allows each human to contemplate his or her fate when confronted with adversity. Humankind’s power to reason is the added survival mechanism that transcends its reality beyond other living creatures of this shared natural world. Having the capacity to reason gives Humankind a natural aptitude to select, based on possible future outcomes, various actions with wide-ranging possible consequences. When confronted with a moral dilemma, an individual gives each reasoned option a value consequence for each possible outcome. In general, the resulting consequence will give the individual a sense of pain or pleasure.

To help ease the pain suffered from an inability to consistently reason sensibly, and to help justify the painful mistakes that follow from incorrect moral choices, some individuals have incorporated within their reasoning survival-mechanism the rationale that Supreme Beings exist outside the known physical human realm. As a result, the Supreme Beings become accountable for unexplainable moral dilemmas that occur throughout each individual’s existence.[1] As a method for survival, some individuals have used this rationalization of the unknowable to secure positive experiences from their unreliable reasoning-mechanism, thus easing their burden on an otherwise seemingly merciless existence.

There are two main elements within any pact between an individual and a Supreme Being. First, each individual agrees to accept the existence of the Supreme Being and the spiritual truths that apply to any fulfillment of the arrangement that falls within the acceptable categories of true subservience. In return, placing the unknowable in the realm of the Supreme Being’s omnipresent constitution offers each individual relief from the despair caused by incorrect moral decisions and unexplainable natural occurrences, and gives the individual purpose through fulfilling his or her responsibilities to the Supreme Truth.

Before an individual can choose a religious belief, he or she must acknowledge that preexisting universal truths can exist. There are many interpretations of religious truths in the natural world. Beliefs in one god, in many gods, or in the oneness of the universe are just a few manifestations of religious truths. It also follows that each individual must have the power to choose his or her religious choice.[2] After all this, each individual must accept his or her choice of religious interpretation as constant.[3] Inherent within this recognition is the possibility that alternative interpretations of religious truths cannot exist. When an individual experiences the selected truth, he or she has become a witness to this truth.

In broad religious terms, a person who is a witness to a religious truth and is willing to sacrifice his or her life as a confirmation to his or her faith, at the time of his or her sacrifice, will become a martyr to their religious truth.[4] When tolerance between two or more societal groups with different religious interpretations exists, the factors that create martyrdom are in remission. It is when tolerance between different social groups erodes and an irresolvable conflict occurs that it becomes possible for the elements of martyrdom to be activated. There are many manifestations of martyrdom within the human experience. Acts of martyrdom vary not only by culture but also by specific conditions. Within the struggle between good and evil, stories exist throughout history of heroic acts of courage and sacrifice. Laced within these stories of attempts to martyr oneself are tales of deception and corruption to the moral spirit of Humankind.

Belief is a major factor of martyrdom. The potential martyr’s religious belief-system helps determine which course of action he or she should choose when faced with a moral dilemma. When the potential martyr is faced with unacceptable social conditions, belief in a Supreme Truth helps him or her find comfort in his or her choice of action. Faith is also a factor within the potential martyr’s decision making process.[5] The individual’s chosen action may go against conventional interpretations of religious beliefs; however, the potential martyr determines any alternative action as being morally unacceptable and subsequently chooses to demonstrate physically his or her commitment to this religious truth by the sacrificing of life as a show of faith.[6]

Let us examine some important conditions that must exist before martyrdom can be applied to an individual’s death. This individual must have a shared religious experience with others who will accept the death as a consequence from a specific intolerable communal threat. Next, there must be a need within the individual’s community to give meaning or justification to the potential martyr’s death. If the conditions surrounding the death create some communal fear or collected frustration, it may become important within the deceased’s community to gain some sense of closure by attributing the justification of the death as a confirmation of faith in the community’s religious truth. At this point, it is irrelevant if the deceased wanted to die or even wanted to become a martyr. It is now up to the surviving members of the deceased’s community to decide if the death warrants a martyrdom explanation.

In order to utilize martyrdom as an explanation regardless of the circumstances behind the death or the quality of life the deceased may have had prior to his or her death, the community consciously or conceivably unintentionally extracts what is necessary from the predeath life of the proposed martyred person. It is also possible that the community will purposely or unwillingly manipulate the deceased’s history to justify the creation of a martyr. After his or her death, the individual that dies has no control over how the community interprets his or her life or death.[7] Plainly, if any death of an individual is to be an act of martyrdom, it will require that the loss of life have some future benefit for a specific communal need. Additionally, if the situation is not resolved by the initial act of sacrifice, placing a tag of martyrdom on the deceased may help the community justify other similar deaths that may take place in the future, thus perpetuating the conflict with a moral rationalization.

An individual may also unintentionally create an opportunity to be martyred by sacrificing his or her life to help other individuals that may be in a perceived less-fortunate or apparently-desperate situation. The moral decision to act may often take an individual beyond basic human reasoning. Even if the individual is not seeking notoriety for his or her courageous sacrifice, a life dedicated to the service of others at the risk of death creates an opportunity for the community to recognize this sacrifice with martyrdom. In the end, the factors that go into transforming an individual’s death into martyrdom rest on the integrity of the interpretation by others to the potential martyr’s death and predeath history, the need by others to create a martyr from this death, and the possible results that will develop from transforming the death into martyrdom. For example, a possible motivation for a community to transform an individual’s death into martyrdom could be to establish a level of exceptional service and sacrifice to the Supreme Truth for others to follow. Ultimately, acts of martyrdom are not viable if conflicting communal ideologies tolerate each other’s right to establish different modes of survival.

If each individual can choose any form of religious truth, if inherent in the act of choosing a particular religious truth is the motivation to resolve the despair caused by wrong moral choices, how can he or she trust his or her choice? Might the individual choose a religious truth that will motivate the individual to act counter to the best interest of the overall survival of Humankind? To have the ability to make the right choice is dependent on the individual’s accuracy in choosing the correct belief system that best resolves his or her moral dilemma and at the same time promotes the overall well-being of Humankind. The individual’s willingness to end his or her own existence as a confirmation to his or her faith in a religious truth creates a moral inconsistency. To accept on faith, the existence of a Supreme Truth as a method for survival and then to have the willingness to die as a confirmation to this faith negates the reason why the individual accepted the existence of the Supreme Truth in the first place.

Why is this? Does each human intrinsically believe death is always the ultimate outcome to any creation? Is Humankind’s destiny simply to end its existence by destroying itself because death always follows birth? Humankind’s purpose for existence should not rest on its ultimate self-destruction.[8] Clearly, when an individual is alive he or she is participating in the natural world, and when an individual is dead he or she no longer participates in the natural world. It can also be said that with the end of Humankind comes the end of the collective human rationale of the Supreme Truth.

Finally, it is not enough to tolerate a different belief system, as there still exists within tolerance itself an inherent mindset to reject the legitimacy of conflicting communal beliefs.[9] Humankind collectively must accept, not tolerate, each individual’s inalienable right to choose contradictory religious truths. Using martyrdom as a form of persuasion only perpetuates intolerances and continues to place the future existence of Humankind in serious jeopardy.

Can there be certainty that any individual can will a morally just life if his or her survival mechanism is dependent on the basic premise that when all else fails death is better then life? A belief system that values martyrdom may well create a community willing to sacrifice its existence as an alternative to intolerance. The martyrdom value-system promotes acts of murder, suicide, terrorism, destruction, and human sacrifice. It seems clear; martyrdom cannot fulfill Humankind’s collective responsibility to the pact with the Supreme Truth without jeopardizing the existence of both. In the end, when a belief system is justified by death having a greater moral value than life, death will be encouraged. Humankind’s destiny should not be the end of its collective existence.[10]

Can Humankind change course and recognize survival as being the fundamental purpose for its existence? Will Humankind collectively give up on self-destruction and accept life as the only possible outcome for its shared fate?

When a belief system is justified with life having a greater moral value than death, life will be encouraged.


[1] “Theoretically, if we can determine that pleasure, for example, is the highest intrinsic good, then conflicts between moral obligations would be resolved by determining which course of action produces the most pleasure. Similarly, if God’s will is determined to be the highest intrinsic good, priority would be given to those actions which are most in accord with God’s will. Thus, by locating the highest intrinsic good, moral dilemmas are resolved by appealing to that concept.” Fieser, James, “Moral Dilemmas.”

[2] “Where there are several sets of evidences or partial arguments, for and against, the will is said to cause belief in the sense of directing the intellect to examine the particular set of evidences or arguments in favor of the resultant assent and to neglect all that might be urged against it. In this case, however, the belief can easily be referred to the partial evidence of reason, in that as a rational, rather than a volitional act, it is due to the actual considerations before the mind. Whether these are voluntarily restricted or incomplete from the very nature of the case, does not alter the fact that the assent is given because of the partial evidence they furnish. In faith the meritorious nature of the act of belief is referred to this elective action of the will.” Aveling, Frances, “Belief,” in The Classic Catholic Encyclopedia (2003) (15 April 2004).

[3] “With regard to the nature of this authority upon which such supernatural truths are assented to in faith, it is sufficient to indicate that God’s knowledge is infinite and His veracity absolute.” Aveling, Frances, “Belief,” The Classic Catholic Encyclopedia (2003) (15 April 2004).

[4] “The word shahada is derived from the Arabic verbal root shahada, which means to ‘see,’ to ‘witness,’ to ‘testify,’ to ‘become a model and paradigm.’ Shahada therefore literally means to ‘see,’ to ‘witness,’ and to ‘become a model.’ A shahid is the person who sees and witnesses and he is therefore the witness, as if the martyr witnesses and sees the truth physically and thus stands by it firmly, so much so that not only does he testify it verbally, but he is prepared to struggle and fight and give up his life for the truth, and thus to become a martyr. In this way, and by his struggle and sacrifice for the sake of the truth, he becomes a model, a paradigm, and an example for others, worthy of being copied, and worthy of being followed.” Ezzati, A, “The Concept Of Martyrdom In Islam,” Al-Serat, Vol XII, 1986, at Al-Islam.org (15 April 2004).

[5] “Faith is an affectionate, practical confidence in the testimony of God.” Porter D.D., Noah, “Faith, J. Hawes,” in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1998) (15 April 2004).

[6] “Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr’s death will send them straight to heaven.” Dawkins, Richard, “Blind faith can justify anything,” 1990, in The Blind Watchmaker, endnotes to chapter 11, (15 April 2004).

[7] “Clusters of young men gathered, discussing the martyrs, how they were killed, the kinds of weaponry displayed around them. Others derided the political factions who vie for the right to claim the dead as members of their organizations. “Some of these guys were never political; the factions just want to bolster their own popularity.” These posters represent more than arguments over political membership, however. They also provide succor to those left behind. When Amjad Faraj died of cancer last October, his poster went up all over Deheisha refugee camp, announcing the passing of ‘the Martyr of Suffering and Political Prisoners.’ Although he had not died directly as a result of the occupation, he had been injured and imprisoned as an activist during the first intifada. Camp residents believed that offering him the status of ‘martyr’ was a way of honoring him, and providing his family solidarity and support.” Allen, Lori “There Are Many Reasons Why: Suicide Bombers and Martyrs in Palestine,” in Middle East Report 223, 2002, at the Palestinian American Research Center (21 April 2004).

[8] “Nihilism is … not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one’s shoulder to the plough; one destroys.” Pratt Ph.D., Allen, “Friedrich Nietzsche and Nihilism, Will to Power,” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2001) (21 April 2004).

[9] “Much has been made about the so-called ‘paradox of toleration’: the fact that toleration seems to ask us to tolerate those things we find intolerable. Toleration does require that we refrain from enacting the negative consequences of our negative judgments. This becomes paradoxical when we find ourselves confronting persons, attitudes, or behaviors, which we vigorously reject: we then must, paradoxically, tolerate that which we find intolerable. This becomes especially difficult when the other who is to be tolerated expresses views or activities that are themselves intolerant.” Fiala, Andrew, “Toleration,” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2003) (21 April 2004).

[10] “I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism’s] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength. It is possible …” Pratt Ph.D., Allen, “Friedrich Nietzsche and Nihilism, Complete Works Vol. 13,” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2001) (21 April 2004).