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THE POSITIVE VALUE OF DEATH: A REEVALUATION OF SUICIDE AND SELF-SACRIFICE BY ERIN P. DYLES A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Douglas Langston Sarasota, Florida May, 2012
TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract iii Introduction 1 Chapter One: Death and the Soul 3 Chapter Two: Suicide 9 Chapter Three: Martyrdom and Self-Sacrifice 26 Chapter Four: Conclusion 43 Works Cited 51
THE POSITIVE VALUE OF DEATH: A REEVALUATION OF SUICIDE AND SELF-SACRIFICE Erin Dyles New College of Florida, 2012 ABSTRACT There are two general ways of looking at de ath which correspond to our contradictory attitudes of fear and attraction to it: as the oppos ite of existence, and as a natural thread in our existence and a portal to the afterlife. Ou r historico-cultural view s of the soul allow us to view death in this latter, more positiv e way, and reevaluate our treatment of certain death related issues. More specifically, a more positive view of death allows for more effective treatment of suicide patients, rather than dismissing them as irrational or psychotic, and devalues the impact of self-s acrifice, therefore, discouraging unnecessary cases. By endorsing a balanced principle of sacr ifice which entails a responsibility to the self and to the other, I focus my ethical an alyses of suicide and martyrdom on societal obligations and community roles, so that ap propriate suicides are about keeping or not breaking obligations to others, and appr opriate martyrdoms are about developing communities and excluding cases which might harm others. On the other hand, I also emphasize the communitys obligation to the in dividual, both in respecting the decision to commit suicide when appropriate and in developing communities that dont require the death of martyrs for the sake of their improvement. Douglas Langston Division of Humanities
Dyles 1 Introduction In American culture, death is an object of both fear and attraction. It is the ultimate penalty as well as the ultimate sacrifi ce, apparent in the glorification of martyrs and language like capital punishment to descri be the death penalty and worse than death to describe those extrem e fears, as if death is the standard of evil. We spend our entire lives trying to avoid it, with medi cine and surgeries, anti-aging treatments, paranoia and precautions against accidents, and, yet, it surrounds us in the media, in hospitals, in long funeral ceremonies, in the streets as you slow down to examine a fresh car accident. How can we explain our mixe d sentiments about death? We may find insight into this question in American religious beliefs about death and its relationship to the soul and the after life. In Christian theology, the mome nt of death is the moment of judgment. It is the moment in which God w ill decide whether you will spend eternity in ecstasy or suffering. It is the suffering we fear and the ecstasy we are attracted to. In chapter one, I offer varying definitions of death and give a brief history of the soul through Western thought as it has in fluenced contemporary American ways of thinking. I argue that, as we understand it, de ath is the only means by which to fully rid oneself of the material world, thus reaching the true or perfec t state of the soul, so that death is a necessary part of the souls journe y through life. Further, if one believes that death is the portal to the next life as I desc ribe it, one must believe in the positive and necessary value of death. I describe death in terms of the role it plays throughout the process of life and as a portal to the afterlif e and argue that, in this sense, death should have a significantly different meaning to us than a simple object of fear and attraction.
Dyles 2 The contradiction in our fear of and attraction to death is apparent in our attitudes toward suicide and martyrdom. Our attitude toward suicide shame, disgust, disappointment exemplifies our fear of death. In chapter two, I redefine suicide in terms of a positive value of death and argue that th ere are some acceptable cases of suicide that can be distinguished from unacceptable cases in terms of deliberateness and morality. Martyrdom, on the other hand, is a praised and glorified death, exemplifying our attraction to it. In chapter thr ee, I discuss the cultural implication of the glorification of martyrs and defend a balanced principle of s acrifice that does not allow for destructive acts. In reality, there is a fine line between suicide and martyrdom but, through our acculturated eyes, they are significantly different phenomena. Suicide is the death of the coward, of the selfish. Martyrdom is the deat h of the brave and the compassionate. Think, for example, of the way we have glorified th ose who gave up their lives to protect others in the 9/11 attacks. As in an act of suicide, these individuals willingly walked into their death, but they did it for the sake of others. For their compassion, th ey are heroes instead of cowards. But why is death for others, or death for a cause, admirable while death for ones own sake is condemnable? Finally, the concept of th e portal expands the number of legitimate cases of suicide and sacrifice, but perhaps too far, and, thus requires some limitations. The limitation will depend largely on the benefits or harm of the act both on the individual and on others affected by the act. In the fourth chapter, I discuss the role of the will of God in legitimizing acts of s acrifice and describe proper li mitations on the endorsement of suicide and sacrifice.
Dyles 3 Chapter One Death and the Soul John P. Wright and Paul Potter, in Psyche and Soma, identify varying functions of the body in relation to the soul: the shell of a real living person, a kind of counter-self with desires and goals of its own, the sens ible and affective part of ourselves, the unactualized potentiality of a living being, the nature of the organism which carries out the operations of life, the co mmunity of Christian believers, a mechanical automaton, a mechanism which is in a constant state of co rruption (Potter 7). A ll of these functions point to the importance of the soul in co mparison to the body, but I would like to focus particularly on the last: a mechanism which is in a constant state of corruption. The word corruption may be too strong for some theories but the concept of the weak or inferior material body that must be shed from the superi or being of the soul is an important thread I want to follow through history. The Greek poet Homer regarded the soul as a life principle that leaves the body and then carries on a shadowy existence after death (Potter 7). The physician Hippocrates attributed various mental ac tivities to the psyche or nous but still associated such activities with certain physical parts of the body (Potte r 5). Plato and Aristotle adopt Homers concept of the life principle, empha sizing also the importance of the soul in relation to the body (Potter 7). Socrates disc usses the immortality of the soul in the Phaedo explaining to his listeners the beauty of the afterlife for t hose who have lived virtuously. He says they are released from th e regions of earth as from a prison (Plato 150). It is apparent through much of Platos work that the mate rial world is inferior to the world of Forms and that the impure material bodies, with their w eaknesses for unvirtuous pleasures, are improper homes for the soul. In the Phaedo Socrates describes death as the
Dyles 4 souls means of escaping the burden of mate rial bodies and moving into a pure dwelling place (Plato 150). Aristotle, on the other hand, though also influential, did not see the soul as separable from the body (Potter 3). Aris totles tripartite soul was associated with hierarchies of living beings, a structur al framework by which the physical body is arranged (Potter 6). Both Plato and Aristotle's concepts of the soul and the afterlife have been influential for later thinkers. The Apostle Paul, influenced by his Greek heritage, also described a glorious afterlife for the virtuous and encouraged his fo llowers to dismiss their earthly concerns in favor of preparation for the New Kingdom. For Paul, death too was a means to shed the material body in order to m ove into a more pure dwelling place, which he calls the Kingdom of God. He describes spiritual bodies which will take the places of material bodies and can live without the pain and sufferi ng of Earth. The nature of Pauls spiritual bodies is unclear. We cannot say for certain wh ether he thought of them as in some way material, but it is clear that they are eternal and non-deteriorating. Some early Church Fathers interpret the soul as corporeal based on St. Pauls discussion of spiritual bodies. St. Augustine, however, argued that the soul could not be a material thing so that it is not susceptible to death like earthly bodies (Potter 3). He further describes the soul in this way: when it is carried out of the senses of the flesh in ecstasy, or when after death it has departed from the flesh, is unable to see the immutable essence of God just as the holy angels see it, even though it has passed beyond the likenesses of corporeal things (Potter 142). Thomas Aquinas also argues that the soul is immaterial. He a dopted Aristotelian concepts of the hierarchical soul as a fram ework but did argue for its immortality and its
Dyles 5 ability to separate from the body. For Aquinas, the soul is what actualizes the potential life of the human body, so that dead bodies are only analogously human. Later, Descartes interpreted the soul as an unextended thinking substance as opposed to the extended unthinking substance of the body (Potter 3). For Descartes, the soul and the mind are the same, and the soul s primary function is thought (Potter 175). He rejects the Aristotelian notions of vege tative and sensitive souls which are incapable of thought. He also holds that, wh ile the soul itself is indivisible, it is separate from the body. An important theme throughout Western hist orys conceptions of the soul is its ability to exist independently of the body and in most cases play a role that is not only vital to human life but frequen tly one that is truer or pur er than our material bodily experience. From this concept, a couple of argum ents follow. One, if the soul is more true to life or more pure than material human bodi es, it seems that the independent existence of the soul is preferable to an existence mixed with material bodies and subject to bodily weaknesses. Two, as Socr ates describes in the Phaedo the only way to truly separate the soul from the body in order to achieve its i ndependent existence is through death of the body. Mary Rose Barrington describes this sentiment in this way: If human convictions and behavior were a direct function of logical thinking, one would expect that the more firmly a person believed in the survival of his soul in an existen ce unhampered by the frequently ailing body, the more ready he would be to l eave this world and pass on to the next (91). While the history of the soul, as I ha ve reviewed it, suggests a valuable importance of death as a means of shedding the material body and reaching the souls more perfect state, our common perceptions of death often overlook this. I would like to
Dyles 6 point to an important common perception of death as the opposite of life or nonexistence. Once we die, we no longer exist, at least in our material form, so many people see death as lifes opposite, apparent in the common use of language like life and death. As described in the Introduction, death is seen as a pervasive but unwanted event the worst of all punishments and unfortunate accidents. In most cases, we spend our entire lives avoiding it. Seeing death as lifes opposite shapes the wa y we face death and treat death-related issues th roughout the process of living an d dying, and this has an array of negative effects on the way we approach the world, such as excess spending on antiaging treatments and ineffective treatment of suicide patients. In his book Death and Life: An American Theology Arthur C. McGill provides a useful model for analyzing American per ceptions of death. He describes American culture by its ethics of success and avoidance. We can avoid death and ignore its presence by surrounding ourselves with images of lif e and success. We create a realm of appearances of youth and beauty and safety that help calm our fears. He calls the people who live by such ethics "bronze people," who live their lives by appearances that help them to ignore the presence of death in th e world (McGill 26). The image of the bronze people, however, is counteracted by the inundation of images of destruction, especially in the media. While we seek to live a life th at ignores and avoids death, we also seek reminders of the true world, which is, as McGi ll describes it, ruled by death. The ethics of success and avoidance are essent ially ethics of self-decep tion, and while we may have moments of truth seeking in our attraction to death in the me dia, it is still part of a deceptive and inaccurate framework.
Dyles 7 Here, I think its important to discuss the meaning of the word death. McGill provides two general definitions of death that I find useful: th e broad and the narrow (9). The narrow refers to the instant in which li fe ends and would be important in medical communities (McGill 9). The broad refers to the gradual failure of life that appears to us in illness, suffering, and aging (McGill 11). Th e narrow definition is useful for discussing the acts of suicide and martyrdom, but the br oad definition is useful for understanding the pervasiveness and necessity of death in the pr ocess of life. Death, in the narrow sense, is the end of the natural proce ss of life. We live on Earth, and when we are done, our earthly bodies die, and it is necessary for th e soul to escape our earthly bodies. In the broad sense, death plays a more complex role in and throughout the process of life. It is not a moment at the end of our lives, but a l ong thread that runs th rough the fabric of life from beginning to end. From the moment of birth, we experience sickness and fear, loss and pain, and day by day we move closer and closer to the end, as our bodies grow and then deteriorate. It is pervasive and inescap able. Even if one reje cts the concept of the soul, at least in so far as it can separate from the body, one must accept deaths integral role in life. After the process of livi ng and dying, death is the only means by which to rid oneself fully of the material world, thus reach ing the true or perfect state of the soul. Once we die, our souls can move onto the afte rlife, whatever that may be, and exist in their true form, free from the c onfines of material bodies. In th is sense death is the portal from our earthly lives into the af terlife. If one believes that de ath is the portal to the next life, one must believe in the pos itive and necessary value of d eath. If death is an integral and necessary part of life as explained above, then one must accept that viewing death, at
Dyles 8 least in so far as it concerns the human condi tion, as the opposite of life is inaccurate. Death should be viewed as a part of life ra ther than its opposite; life and death are both parts of the souls journe y to truth or perfection. McGill describes the positive value of deat h in terms of a Christian theology in which an ecstatic identity transforms the mean ing of death from a lo ss of identity to the blessing of Gods love. He de scribes two opposing identities: sinful and ecstatic. A sinful identity is one in which the individual trie s to claim material goods, including his or her God-given body, as his or her own. If our identities are attached to our bodies, death is frightening because it means lo ss of identity. An ecstatic identity, on the other hand, is one in which the individual accepts that his or her life is a conti nuing and constant gift from God that cannot be owned by the receiver. At death, an individual with an ecstatic identity will not lose him or herself, but only stop receiving the gift of material bodies and move onto life in the pr esence of God. Now, we must ask ourselves, what results from this type of viewpoint? Why is this important? In the following chapters I will discuss how such a perspectiv e might affect the way we live our lives, particularly in terms of how we address su icide and self-sacrifice.
Dyles 9 Chapter Two Suicide Defining Suicide Suicide is a difficult notion to define. Mo st people regard it as a form of selfkilling, but self-killing is a vague notion th at includes many different acts. Additional properties that make self-killi ng a suicide vary in different theories of death. I want to examine some of these properties namely, de structiveness, intent, will, and desire. I define suicide as intentional and willful se lf-killing, which may or may not be desired, whose appropriateness can be determined by examining its morality and deliberateness. This is a broader definition of suicide than many people may accept or initially think of, but it should be suitable to the broader and more positive definition of death I am proposing. First, there are a few comments to be made about the reflexive nature of suicide. To be clear, by reflexive I mean that in orde r to be a suicide the killing must be selfinflicted, such that killing performed by another person is considered homicide, and not suicide. This should be understood by the definition of self-killing, but it is complicated by the fact that self-killing may include cases in which th e act that immediately causes death is not performed by the self. However, the agent must be in some way instrumental to the event that causes death. It may, for example, include cases in which the individual causes or forces another person to perform th e act of killing, such as euthanasia or assisted suicide, or it may include cases in which the individual submits to the possibility or opportunity to die, as in some cases of self-sacrifice. Legitima te cases of suicide, however, should not include cases in which the agent is not given a choice, since suicide should be intentional and willful, as I will discuss in a moment. However, it should
Dyles 10 include cases in which one opts to put oneself into deadly circumstances and passively allows such circumstances to cause his or her death. Alternatively, some people define suicid e as self-destruction. While, in a sense, all death can be thought of as the destruction of life, I dont want to assume the negative connotations of destruction or grant that death is always mo re destructive than it is constructive. Further, defining suicide as self-destruction rather than self-killing may allow for cases in which bodily death doesnt occur. Some people may include as acts of suicide those cases which involve very seve re damage to the body that are sometimes comparable to death like long term comas or very severe brain damage. Consider, for example, a man who attempts to hang himself, and is saved by a friend before he dies, but the extended lack of oxygen causes irreparable damage to his brain. He will now be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. Does this count as su icide, even though there is no physical death? The person himself, at least as he previously existed, is no longer alive, so to speak, and he did intend to kill himself. However, this complicates our picture of death as a portal to the afterlife. Without co mplete bodily death, is th e soul still attached to the material world? While some theories of suicide make room for the death of a person or a loss of identity as in these types of cases, I wa nt generally to assume that suicide denotes physical bodily death and not me rely an act of self-destruction. Cases like the one described might be an exception and wh ether this counts as a suicide may depend on whether he or she ever recovers and various other factors. Most people agree that in order for a self-k illing to be consider ed suicide, it must be intentional. It cannot occur by accident. The drunk driver who causes his own death by swerving off the road and driving into a tree does not intend to kill himself. This type of
Dyles 11 self-killing, I agree, does not c onstitute a suicide, so suicid e must be intentional selfkilling. Further, its important that the death itself, and not just the act that causes death, is intended. One may intend to perform an act w ithout intending to die, even if he or she knows that his death is possible or likely. The drunk driver may have intended to get into the car and may have intended to turn the steer ing wheel at that time, but did not intend to kill himself. Think, also, of risk takers, w ho engage in dangerous activities, but do not seek to kill themselves in the process. For proper intent, it is also important that the individual knows and understand s the consequences of his actions and the reality of death. One must know that one's actions will eith er certainly or very likely result in death and understand that death is a permanent state. One who voluntarily engages in an activity which one does not believe to be da ngerous would not be considered suicidal. For example, a very young child who does not understand permanence and agrees to play cowboys and Indians with his fathers gun might intend to die as he has seen on television, but he does not fully understa nd the consequences of his actions. Additionally, most people agr ee that suicide must be a willful act of self-killing, primarily to exclude cases that involve force by others. We typically would not include cases in which a person is forced to kill himself as a case of suicide, but rather as a case of homicide. If a man is offered a choice be tween killing himself or being killed in a potentially more painful or degrading way, he may intend to kill himself by putting a gun to his head or by whatever means, but he does it against his own will. If the alternative were not certain and immediate death, he would not kill himself. In order to exclude these types of cases, we should say that suicide is both intentional a nd willful self-killing.
Dyles 12 Another commonly accepted property of suic ide is the desire to die. One may intend or will to die without desiring it. Thi nk, for example, of a hunger striker. She, in a sense, intends to die, and since no one is forcing her to protest in this way, we can also say that she wills it. She intentionally star ves herself, knowing that if she continues, eventually she will die, but she does not desire it. What she truly desires is some certain social or political change. If her demands are met before she dies, she will stop her protest. This case, which I think ought to cons titute a suicide, is intentional and willful but not desired, so suicide does not require de sire. Another example in which suicide is committed but not desired may be cases of protecting loved ones, such as trading oneself for another in hostage situations or jumping in front of an oncoming vehicle to save a child. Peter Y. Windt also offers an intere sting case for why desire must not be a necessary condition of suicide: a person who experiences suicidal compulsions but desires to fight them rather than give into them. He describes a man who has been suffering from recurring compulsions to comm it suicide and has sought aid in combating it, but one day is overcome by his compulsion and kills himself (Windt 42-43). It is not to say, however, that desired self-killing cannot also be a suicide. It seems that, assuming all other conditions are met, all desired self-killi ngs will be suicides, but not all suicides are desired. One may even propose two distinct t ypes of suicide that in which death is desired and that in which it is not since de sired and undesired cases are so different in character. Acceptable and Unacceptable Suicides There are two major ways to disti nguish between acceptable and unacceptable suicides: by rationality and by morality. Karen Lebacqz and Tristram Engelhardt, Jr.
Dyles 13 suggest that the difficulty in distinguishi ng between acceptable and unacceptable suicides is really the difficulty of deciding between the value of human life and the dignity of freedom (84). We want both to emphasize th e importance of life and survival and to allow individuals the dignity of choosing thei r own life path. However, an act of suicide is neither necessarily contra ry to human life nor a decision that affects only the individual. In order to decide whether or not an act of suicide is acceptable, we must account for both the value of life and the valu e of death in the given circumstances and the effects on other indi viduals in the community. One way to distinguish between accepta ble and unacceptable suicide is whether or not the decision to commit suicide is rational. Philip E. Devine, however, argues that one cannot possibly make rational decisions about suicide because rational decision making requires knowledge of previous experien ce either ones own experience or that of others (139). Since one cannot have prev ious experience of suic ide or converse with those who have committed suicide, we cannot have the knowledge necessary to make rational decisions about suicide. I disagree that direct experiential knowledge is the only way to make a rational decision; there ar e other types of knowledge and hypotheses on which to base rational decisions as well. In the case of suicide, specifically, we may not have knowledge of the experience of suicide or death itself but we may have knowledge of the alternative: to conti nue living in a given condition, to which death seems to be the better option. In any case, we certainly ma ke other decisions pe rtaining to death in medical decisions or various lifestyle practices that we would consider rational. So what does a rational suicide look like? Most people distinguish between rational and irrational suicide by the presence in irrational su icide of some condition like
Dyles 14 depression or despair which upsets that agent s ability to think clearly. This is a common image of suicide, especially in medical theo ries: the depressed or overwhelmed individual who kills himself in a moment of weakness or extreme emotional or psychological stress. Typically, we think that if so meone has killed himself, there must have been something wrong with him. Think, for example, of a person under the influence of drugs or under extreme emotional stress from financial pr oblems or the death of a loved one who may want to die but changes his mind later when the effects of the drugs or stress have subsided. These types of situations probabl y deserve some type of intervention and require medical treatment. It is important however, to understand that these types of suicides do not constitute all suicides. Think, for example, of an elderly man who, having lived a long and prosperous life, is finally di agnosed with a terminal illness. Rather than suffer through the last few years of his life, he puts his things in order and kills himself. The act is willful, intentional, and possibly desi red. It is an act of suicide, but performed without great emotional stress or psychological abnormality. It is a ratio nal act of suicide. Various cases like that of the elderly man or in which one dies for someone elses wellbeing may provide examples in which self-killing is not done in a state of irrationality which needs to be treated as a medical or social problem, but for a specific and rational purpose. So how might we distinguish between the two? Richard Brandt proposes a sort of cost/benefit equation by which one might rationally choose suicide or other life courses, suggesting that one ought to choose the best possible life course or the most beneficial life course, which may or may not include suicide (119-120). But does anyone, let alone the suicide, really choose or even try to c hoose the best possible life course? It may be
Dyles 15 more appropriate to choose between suicide and the most realistic or likely alternative. In any case, he admits that such an equation is im possible to construct, but it is a useful tool for thought (Brandt 120). It is important for the rational agent to consider the options available to him or her. He proposes, in place of the impossi ble equation, that nothing in life is certain, so likelihood is sufficient; once we decide that death is and will probably always be preferable to life, the rational thing to do is act qui ckly (Brandt 122-123). I agree that certainty is uncomm on if at all existent, but acti ng too quickly may in fact be irrational. One signal of a rati onal decision is that it is stab le over time, so a period of waiting is important. The problem with these ty pes of utilitarian arguments is that they implicitly assume that anyone whose life is not objectively valuable ought to commit suicide. I do not thi nk that Brandt actually believes th is, but he does not qualify his argument by premising his account of proper suicides with a will or desire to do so. While rationality is one way to disti nguish between acceptable and unacceptable suicides, and irrational suicid es ought to be treated with caution, I am skeptical of a categorical endorsement of rationality. I believe there are valid arguments, especially among feminist philosophers, for other ways to access knowledge and make proper decisions that I wish not to defend here, but would like to acknowledge. I want to reject the old-fashioned assumption that emotions ar e necessarily in contrast with rationality, but assume rather that they are separate human responses to stimuli that can be interpreted like other processe s and deemed appropriate and rational or not. For example, while Mayo acknowledges that things like l oyalty and love commitments may require irrationality, thinkers like Mayo and Brandt assume that a depressed person will necessarily or at least very likely be irrational due to a distorted world view (Brandt 124,
Dyles 16 126; Mayo 134-135). But what if depression is the appropriate response to a situation? What if the negative assessments about life and the self that cause depression are correct? In order not to overemphasize the importanc e of rationalism in the decision-making process, I would prefer to use a word like deliberate in order to allow the consideration of emotions in the process. The decision to commit suicide ought to be deliberate, perhaps logical, and made in a stable mindset. One ought to take many things into consideration, including the reason he feels compelled to commit suicide, effects on others, and his emotions concerning the situation. Many people also have moral objections to suicide, but, as it turns out, people regard some forms as permissible and condemn other forms. On what basis do they do that? Since suicide is usually seen as an immoral act, self-killi ngs that are morally commendable, like those that benefit others, are frequently excluded from the category of suicide (Martin 49). I dont want to make this distinction. It may be true that some suicides are more commendable or reprehen sible than others, but morality should not necessarily be a defining property such that immoral self-killings are not considered suicide. That being said, morality is another way to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable suicides. So what properties make suicide morally acceptable? I will discuss a few common distinctions: suic ide for others as opposed to suicide for selfish purposes, courageous in contrast to cowardly suicid es, and suicides with good consequences in contrast to suicides with bad consequences. Some authors suggest that suicides comm itted for the sake of others are moral, while suicides committed for selfish purposes are not (Martin 63). One way to think about this distinction is thr ough obligations to others. Lebacq z and Engelhardt argue from
Dyles 17 a philosophically libertarian stand point that we have the right to commit suicide as long as the decision is made freely and rationa lly and we have no overriding duties, which they characterize as obligations or covenant fidelity to others (Lebacqz 85). They give three occasions of acceptable su icides: voluntary euthanasia in which covenant fidelity ceases to exist, covenantal suicides which s upport covenant fidelity, and symbolic protest in which group covenant fidelity overrides covenant fidelity to other individuals. According to Lebacqz and Engelhardt, covena nt fidelity ceases to exist in cases of voluntary euthanasia because our obligations to others become obsolete when they are impossible to meet as in cases of terminal illn ess; covenantal suicides foster obligations to others as in cases of self-sacrifice; and symbolic protest against evil or injustice may break covenants with other individuals, but supports ones covenant with the greater community of persons (Lebacqz 86-87). In other words, it seems that Lebacqz and Engelhardt expand the moral limitation from suic ides for others to suicides that do not break our obligations to others. How does this distinction apply in th e case of the elderly man? If he killed himself in order to prot ect his loved ones from the burden of caring for him, we might say that he has done it for others and it is therefore a moral act of suicide. But as I described the case above, he did not do it to protect his loved ones, but to protect himself from suffering at the end of an otherw ise happy life. Thats a very selfish act. In the model that Lebacqz and Engelhardt provi de, however, this case might qualify as a case of voluntary euthanasia ; while it is not done for others, it doesnt break his obligations to others either. Another way of distinguishing between good and bad suicides that has been suggested is whether it is done in courage or cowardice. This overlaps some with the
Dyles 18 distinction between suicides for others and su icides for the self that I just discussed. Cases like the depressive who wants to escape pain will probably be deemed unacceptable in both cases, while the case of the hunger striker or a soldier protecting innocent civilians would be deemed acceptable. However, it does allow for the inclusion of some selfish acts, given that they are also courageous. Fo r example, we might describe the elderly man as selfish but courageous. Perhaps he was ready to die, but still feared the pain of death or what his loved ones might think of it. P.R. Baelz also suggests that escaping pain could be an act of prudence rather than an act of cowardice, so even if we dont think of the elderly man as courageous pe r se, it might not be totally cowardly and unacceptable either (76). To determine the acceptability of an act of suicide, Robert M. Martin proposes a rubric of acts and consequences formulated by Catholic moralists which he calls the double effect principle (57-58). Th e principle states that an ac t with bad consequences is acceptable if (1) the act itself is morally good or neutral, (2) the agent does not will the bad effect, but only permits it, (3) the good eff ect is caused directly by the action and not by the bad effect, and (4) the good effect su fficiently compensates for the bad effect. Martin argues, though, that this principle excludes cases in which the death or suicide itself causes the good effect as in the cases of martyrdom or the self-immolating Buddhists monks because death itself is alwa ys bad (59). I disagree with this view, however; if we see death and su icide as an initially neutral act, then the double effect principle may work for determining the acceptability of suicide.
Dyles 19 Objections to Suicide People object to suicide for both secular a nd religious reasons. I will treat them each separately. Secular arguments include th e value of human life, that suicide is contradictory to self-love, and the offence of suicide against society. Religious arguments include violations of the sanctity of human life, oppositions to the will of God as creator, and weakness of faith in God as provider. The first secular argument is that because human life is valuable, all types of killing, including suicide, are wrong. Baelz points out some inconsistencies with an argument based on the unqualified value of life (72). Firstly, mo st people wouldnt include animal life, and so it must be limited to human life, but this leaves the question of identifying what human life is. Baelz wonders if there are stages of development or decline within a human lifetime in which we are less human or not really human, like, for example, persons in vegetative states. One way of posing this argument is that human life is valuable to us because of our natural inc lination toward self-preservation; thus, suicide is unnatural because it is cont rary to human survival and evolution. However, while we may have a natural inclination toward self-pre servation that leads us away from suicide, we also have a deeply rooted aversion to pain that may lead us to it (Baelz 74). To put it another way, people who insist that life must always be better than death often sound as if they are choosing eternal life in contrast with eternal death, when the fact is they have no choice in the matter, (Barrington 93). Because we will all eventually die, the decision to commit suicide is not necessarily a rejection of the value of life, but a choice between death now and death some time in the future (Brandt 119).
Dyles 20 The second secular argument is that suicide is contrary to self-love or self-respect. This probably comes from our image of deat h as negative and suicide as irrational. However, if we accept that death can be positiv e and that some suicides can be rational, then we may see suicide as sometimes being compatible with self-love and self-respect. Baelz argues that suicide, in its selfishness, is in fact, an inordinate expression of selflove (74). I doubt that selfishness always ag rees with self-love as in cases like the irrationally depressed teenager, but I agree that suicide can sometimes be an act of selflove as in cases of euthanasia, and is therefore not always contrary to it. The third secular argument is that we have obligations to other human beings and so the selfish act of suicide is an offense against the societie s we live in. Baelz poses this argument in two ways: we have an obligati on to other individuals, and we belong to society or the greater community (75). I do not believe, however, that suicide is always contrary to our obligations to others. Re member the three types of acceptable suicide offered by Lebacqz and Engelhar dt which did not violate oblig ations to others: voluntary euthanasia, covenantal suicides, and symbo lic protest. Some people may place a burden on others or on society, so that suicide may be the better option. The danger of this type of argument, though, is that it may imply that anyone who places a burden on others or society ought to commit suicide, and I dont be lieve that is the case. It may, however, serve as a reason to commit suicide or may at least morally justify an act of suicide. Furthermore, while we may, in a sense, be long to our communities, communities are still made up of individual agents that must in some ways be responsible for themselves. Where obligations to society are not broken and society ca nnot serve the needs of the individual that make life valuable, suicide may be a viable option.
Dyles 21 The first religious argument, that human life is sacred, is similar to the secular argument for the value of human life. Rath er than focusing on naturalist or humanist arguments, it is founded in Gods creation of lif e or certain religious laws. For example, St. Augustine forbids self-killing because it violates the sixth co mmandment, thou shalt not kill; however, he makes other exceptio ns to this commandment, including fighting Gods wars, the death penalty, and martyrdom (M artin 51). Baelz argues that the sanctity of life does not mean that it can never be taken, only that it is sacred and should be treated as such (73). This could mean ending it when the situation calls for it. Similar to the evolutionary version of th e argument for the value of human life, that suicide is contrary to self-preservation, the sanctity of human life can be drawn from the idea that living a good Christian life is mans proper end (Baelz 74). But what is meant by a good Christian life? Could it not require an early death as Christs own life shows? Couldnt Christians be called to sacrifice themselves fo r others? We may also think of eternity with God as mans proper end so that the means by which one achieves that end may vary living until God calls for our death, perhaps naturally at th e end of prosperous life or tragically for the be nefit of another. Similar to Baelzs argument that individuals belong to society, the second religious argument against the morality of suicide is that our lives and bodies do not belong to us, but to God, and it is for him to decide when our bodies die and our lives end. I would like to offer an alternative pers pective: Christian tradition also emphasizes the value of free will, usually in terms of our ab ility to accept or reject God, to sin or turn toward the good. But free will may be involved in more neutral decisions as well, so long as they dont detract from our journey toward goodness. In so far as everything that God
Dyles 22 creates belongs to him, our bodies and lives are no different than a nything else in the universe about which we make decisions. The universe belongs to God, but he grants us the gift of free will to ca re for it, including our own lives and bodies. Throughout our lives, we make many decisions about Gods cr eations, including the use of birth control and medical treatment. Why should the decisi on to commit suicide be any different? We know within the Christian model that life is a good for which we should strive, and so we do. But I propose that death too can be a good. In traditional doctrine, death for the sinner can be bad, since it leads to his eternity in hell (although such divine justice may be a good). However, death as a means to be in the divine presence is certainly a good. A model of Christian doctrine that emphasizes the value of God-given free will over the value of God-given life allows for suicide, at least in the way that many theologians have tried to incorporate martyrdom, death for others, etc. In the third religious argument, the Chri stian might still argue, as Robert Adams does, that suicide is a sign of our lack of faith in the providence of God. Christian tradition requires that we be thankful for what God has give n us and that we respect his intents and purposes for human life (Ada ms 330-331). Baelz makes a similar argument that death is meant to be a passive submi ssion and acceptance of Gods will so that the active death of suicide signals a refusal to trust in God (82). However, there are many examples of human behaviors which challenge Gods providence that most Christians accept. The most relevant example is proba bly modern medicine. One may certainly accept sickness passively, but most agree that treating sickness in the hopes of preserving life is not only acceptable but expected or even morally required (at least in the cases of very severe sickness). Just as we may ch allenge death to a cert ain degree by treating
Dyles 23 sickness, we may also, when the circumstan ces call for it, choose death by an act of suicide. Certainly, there are some more ex treme types of medical treatment like life support with which some may disagree. One may see suicide as comparable to these types of medical treatments that seem very extreme and unnatural and argue that we do not have a right to make such extreme choice s about such serious i ssues as life and death. All of these arguments that the value or sanctity of human life forbids suicide, that suicide can be contradict ory to self-love, that suicid e can be an offense against society or Gods will, and that we ought to trust in his providence are true for some cases of suicide but not all of them. They may, however, be good indicators of which types of suicide are moral or otherwise acceptable. David J. Mayo poses one final concern: de fending moral or rational suicides may inadvertently encourage tragic and irrational suicides too. He argue s that many suicides, namely those in a state of despair, are not concerned with rational decision making. Because we expect and sometimes respect irrational responses to certain emotional experiences like grieving the death of a love d one, appeals to rationality in cases of suicide are ineffective (Mayo 136). I disagree with Mayo that an i rrational suicide is necessarily tragic, but in any case, I accept his caution that the type of attitude change I am endorsing may have the negative side eff ect he describes. Namely, that it will be misunderstood to allow a variety of immoral and i ndeliberate suicides as well. If we, as a society are to adopt this attitude that some types of suicide are acceptable, we ought also adopt some procedural precautions against this danger that I will discuss further in the final chapter.
Dyles 24 Suicide in the Natural Process and as a Portal I have defined suicide as intentional, w illful self-killing, whic h may or may not be desired, and the appropriateness of which can be determined by a combination of morality and deliberateness. We can more specifically determine appropriateness by looking at some common objections to suicide such as the va lue of life and the will of God. The image of suicide that I have drawn here may be in some respects controversial. I acknowledge that some definitions of suic ide may require more limiting conditions like desire and immorality. However, given the positiv e value of death that I have described, I wish to reject the claim that the definition of suicide necessarily includes desire or immorality and incorporate a broader scope of ev ents in the category of suicide that fits into the proposed model of death. Part of the reason that suicide is assumed to be immoral is because death in general is feared or rejected as a form of suffering or punishment. As with death, we are socially i ndoctrinated against suic ide (Barrington 92). Barrington gives the example of the word committing which is usually used to discuss crimes, and so causes us to associate suicide with crime when we use the phrase "to commit suicide" (92). She argues, however, th at what truly horrify us are the conditions that cause suicide and a more general aversi on to death, not the act of suicide itself (Barrington 92). I thi nk, however, that our special aver sion to suicide is about our inability to understand why someone would choose or intentionally bring about something to which were so averse. As we dispel our aversion to death, we will also dispel our aversion to at leas t appropriate types of suicide. In a positive model of death, suicide necessarily takes a more acceptable im age. By this model, suicide may be an acceptable neutral action that serves other ne gative or positive purposes; it may be an
Dyles 25 active participation in the natural process of life or a deliberate move toward the portal to the afterlife; it may be an accep tance of death as valuable to living beings for any number of reasons. In order to properly fit into th e process of life, how ever, suicide can only occur in proper circumstances. Choosing to end ones life at an improper time will disrupt the process of life, while choosing to end ones life at an appropriate time may enhance it. Think again of the elderly man who has lived a long and fulfilling life and chooses to die rather than suffer through a few more painful and unproductive years. Likewise, while suicide may be a way to move through the portal to th e afterlife, it is not a privilege to be abused, but to accept when th e time is right, when we are prepared to be in the divine presence.
Dyles 26 Chapter Three Martyrdom and Self-Sacrifice Defining Martyrdom and Self-Sacrifice Historically, there are two ge neral models of sacrificial practices: transactional and transformative (Biviano 21). Transacti onal sacrifice can be thought of as an exchange, usually a material offering such as livestock in hopes of receiving some kind of favor from the divine en tity. Transformative sacrifice, on the other hand, emphasizes and develops the relationship between the sacrificer, the divinity, and the community to which the sacrificer belongs. The second has become more applicable to contemporary concepts of sacrifice, but, as the martyr is a material offe ring, I want to use a mixture of these two models to understa nd self-sacrifice and martyrdom. Traditionally, sacrificial offerings we re material objects, but over time, the language of sacrifice has also been applied to intangible offe rings and ethical actions like acts of kindness or spiritual devotion. In Jewish and Christian traditions, sacrificial practices underwent a process of spiritualiza tion in which the objects of sacrifice changed from material to spiritual, tangible to intangible (Biv iano 24, 27). Hebrews and early Christians restructured concep ts of sacrifice from the mate rial offerings common to the region by applying sacrificial language to more spiritual and symbolic activities. Sacrifice is now more commonly thought of as an inte rior dedication to th e other expressed in ethical action (Biviano 4). Over the course of history, Christians have developed a distinct sacrificial identity. S acrifice is a mode of worship and a model of Christian life, "a central Christian mystery with many expres sions" (Biviano 4). Jesus was essentially a sacrificial offering and thus early Christians cam e to think of their own lives as sacrificial (Biviano 15). The imitatio Christi expressed in Matthew 16: 24-25, obligates Christians
Dyles 27 to follow Christ, take up the cross, and part icipate in his suffering (Biviano 1). Erin Lothes Biviano provides an insightful interpretation of the role of sacrificial language and symbolism in Christian identity, focusing on the paradox of uniting self-sacrifice with self-realization (1). She advocat es a principle of sacrifice in our modern worldview that balances between self-sacrifice and self-rea lization rather than endorsing excessive or destructive sacrifice or a total rejection of it. I also want to advocate a balanced principle of sacrifice that encourages giving to others but is not destructive. While sacrificial practices have under gone a process of sp iritualization, there remains the material sacrifice of the self in the practice of martyrdom. Martyrdom and self-sacrifice can be thought of as both tran sactional and transformative acts. It is both a material offering with at least some expectati on of exchange, if not in favor of the martyr, at least in favor of the greater community, a nd it aims to develop the relationship between the sacrificer, the divine, and the communit y. Scholars typically prefer the term selfsacrifice to martyrdom treati ng them as more or less syno nymous because it reveals certain complexities about the agent's relation to the self; however, while the term may be better for certain analyses, it focuses on the ac tor rather than the society which defines and awards martyrdom (L.B. Smith 435). I want to discuss both self-sacrifice as a moral decision by the individual and the role of martyrdom in the agent's community. Self-sacrifice can be thought of as an ethical action, the appropriateness of which can be largely determined by the agent's motives, and which I will discuss in the next section. Self-sacrifice may be loosely define d to include various acts of charity like giving of one's time, but, strict ly speaking, it is giving of the self, of one's entire being. Biviano discusses the history of religious s acrifice in terms of the relationship between
Dyles 28 the sacrificer and the victim. What if, as in acts of self-sacrifice, they are the same person? Traditionally, the sacrificer offe rs another person (or object) for his own wellbeing or for that of the community. How doe s the dynamic change if the sacrificer is offering himself? For one, the problem of willingness by the victim is eliminated a problem which, as we shall see, will ar ise in cases of involuntary martyrdom. Martyrdom is largely a social phenomenon, rather than a personal ethical action, involving the death of a hero, the conditions of which are decided both by the actor and by his community. All societies have their martyrs, thos e semi-legendary spiritual heroes whose style of death embodies the va lues most dear to the societies they represent (L.B. Smith 436). In the case of Western Christian traditions, the model of martyrdom is embodied in the death of Christ. Lacey Baldwin Smith says that martyrdom in a strict sense, taken from the Greek word for witness, is the witnessing unto death of divine truth (435). However, the concept of martyrdom is complicated by a historical process of secularization and politicization in which it cannot necessarily be properly defined as being concerned with the divine. We might include more secular or political cases by describing martyrdom as the witnessing unto death of truth any truth. By this definition, even Socrates, who predates the Christian martyrs, could be considered a martyr for truth. As the Church rose to power in Europe, martyrdom took on new political implications, and by the 16th century was closely associat ed with treason (L.B. Smith 439). In the United States, the application of religious language to political and civil movements further confused the distinction between religious and political martyrs. John Brown, for example, who was executed in 1858, politicized martyrdom more than ever
Dyles 29 before by describing his civil rights movement as the wi ll of God (L.B. Smith 440). While his goal of ending slaver y in the United States was pol itical, he saw himself as a crusader for God's justice, not mankind's (L.B. Smith 444). Can secular and political cases like Brown's be correctly described as martyrdom? While the secular martyr can be thought of as the culmination of a historical secularizing pr ocess, most modern martyrs, secular and politic al ones included, still use religion or some sp iritual language to justify and reinforce the political or social causes they advocate (L.B. Smith 454). I don't think that secular motives delegitimize the martyr's cause, nor do I think that any martyrdom is a purely secular event, as evidenced by the mi xture of religious and political ideologies present in Brown's movement. In any case, wh at counts as an act of martyrdom should be analyzed both in terms of the individual w ho dies and the community in which he lives. Each community, society, nation, and religion determines its own cause. It takes two to create a martyrdom; the actor who sacrifices lif e and the community that offers the title (L.B. Smith 458). I want to look at some specific cases in order to better understand what are considered acts of martyrdom and self-sacrifice. On April 20th, 1999, two high school student s, Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall, died in a shooting rampage at Columbine Hi gh School in Littleton, Colorado (Erickson i, 26, 31). Shortly after the tragedy, a rumor surf aced that the girls were targeted because they were Christian; the shooters allegedly as ked them if they believed in God and shot them when they said yes (Associated Press, Many Saying np; Townsend np). While the girls were practicing Christians, witnesses later confirmed that this exchange never took place and the girls were not likely intenti onal targets (Buckner np; Erickson 26, 31; Toppo np). If the story were true, we might say th at this is both a cas e of self-sacrifice a
Dyles 30 moral decision made by the girls and a cas e of martyrdom a title awarded by the community. However, we cannot say that the girls had any option to potentially prevent their death, so we would not say that the girls sacrificed themselves for God or their faith or for their community. They were victims. We would not even say that the shooters were sacrificing their victims because the shoo ting was seemingly random and done out of revenge rather than for a cause. However, the title of martyr was aw arded to the girls by the local Christian community, and even nationa lly to some extent. Should we glorify the incidental death of two young girls simply becau se they were Christian, even if they did not volunteer their lives to save others? Is willfulness required to be considered a martyr? I will address this question further in a mo ment, but for the time being, this is the complication of martyrdom that does not exist in self-sacrifice. Ma rtyrdom contains the extra component of being awarded by others, wh ich may or may not be a fair or accurate award. Marian Fisher, a thirteen year old Amish girl, offered her life to protect her younger classmates when a man took them hostage in their one room schoolhouse in West Nickel Mines in 2006 ("Amish School Shooting" np; Francescan i np). He tied them up and threatened to shoot them once the poli ce arrived; Fisher said, "Shoot me first," hoping to buy time for her classmates ("Am ish School Shooting" np; Francescani np). She was called a hero for her willingness to sacrifice herself (Associated Press, Survivors np). This would not count as a su icide, since force was involved, so it's an example in which the victim is executed, but willing to sacrifice her own life for the protection of others, a certain case of self-s acrifice and perhaps a case of martyrdom as well.
Dyles 31 Christ's passion is the paradigm of Christian martyrdom (J.W. Smith 179). Jesus died in a state execution, but in the name of his religious faith, so one could say that Christian martyrdoms have always had politic al overtones; it simply was not apparent until religion and politics became separate social spheres. Jesus' death should also be seen as an act of self-sacrifice, but not as an act of suicide, by traditional Christian standards. He did not seek to be executed, but could have stopped his execution if he wanted; he chose to let the execution follow through in or der to sacrifice himself for his followers. One may argue that if one has the option to prevent ones death and chooses not to, it counts as suicide, but most people would not be comfortable identifying Christ's death in this way. A comparable example is the deat h of Socrates, who was also executed by the state and accepted his death willingly, but which some scholars, like R.G. Frey, argue does count as suicide. Like Jesus, Socrates had the option to prevent his execution when his friends offered to help him escape from the city, but he chose to ac cept his fate and be true to the laws of the state he had defende d. We might be more li kely to call Socrates' death a suicide because it has fewer theologi cal implications for us today. I will discuss this further in the next section. L.B. Smith suggests that while the rise of the suicide bomber may appear to reverse the secularization of martyrdom, the suicide bomber is actually very politically motivated (457). Some have de scribed political and secular martyrs, including modern suicide bombers, as parodies of martyrdom (L.B. Smith 453-454). According to L.B. Smith, the problem with suicide bombers is tw ofold: "first, the stat e is absent as the executioner and the death is self-inflicted. And second, the purpose of death is not so much to validate and advertise an idea as to kill as many people as possible (457). So
Dyles 32 while martyrdoms that entail an executioner, as in the cases of Jesus and Marian Fisher, cannot be called a suicide, the absence of the executioner of the suicide bomber (as well as its name) means it is completely self-inflicted, a suicide rather than a homicide. Furthermore, it involves the homicide of others rather than the protection of others, at least in their earthly form, so it is not immediately a properly motivated sacrifice. Acceptable and Unacceptable Cases It is easy in a positive model of deat h to endorse acts of self-sacrifice and martyrdom, but, like suicide, an endorsemen t of self-sacrifice runs the risk of encouraging more than just acceptable cases, so the endorsement ought to be qualified. I propose two ways to distinguish between accep table and unacceptable cases: the role of volition and causing harm. An acceptable martyr dom should be willful but not intentional or desired as in cases of suicide. It should not be sought out and it should not unnecessarily harm others. The complexity of the role of volition is apparent in the criti que of early Christian martyrs made in The Martyrdom of Polycarp The author warns against failed martyrdoms like that of Quintus who hande d himself over to the authorities to be executed, but upon facing his death, turned cowa rd and made sacrifice to the emperor to save himself (J.W. Smith 179). Earlier figures like Ignatius of Antioch, who wrote letters to various Christian churches before his execution, may have inadvertently encouraged people like Quintus to seek out martyrdom by emphasizing that his own death was voluntary and that martyrdom is desired to prove the genuineness of one's devotion to God (J.W. Smith 181). While in periods of persecution the words of Ignatius may have been comforting for those who faced imminent and inevitable torture and death, it also
Dyles 33 inspired Christians like Quintus to seek th e glory of martyrdom by turning themselves in (J.W. Smith 184). Quintus's cowardice and apostasy following his failed attempt at martyrdom is evidence to the weakness of hu man will in comparison to the will of God and our inability to face death without him (J.W. Smith 187). Quintus also failed because he sought a martyr's glory rather than the wellbeing of the Christian community, unlike Polycarp who was interested in the salvation of his church commun ity at Smyrna (J.W. Smith 187). Quintus's failed attempt afforded no benefits for his community, while, in contrast, Polycarp's martyrdom was successful in that following his death, persecutions ended among the followers of his church (J.W. Smith 184). In order to discourage seeking martyrdom and failing as Quintus does, the author of The Martyrdom of Polycarp argues that Quintus failed because he sought it out and it was not the will of God; Polycarp, on the other hand, waited to be martyr ed and had with him the grace of God to endure the suffering of his execution (J.W. Smith 184). The martyrdom itself is less important than following God's will, such th at it is simply one way through which his followers may show their devotion (J.W. Sm ith 188). One danger of seeking martyrdom rather than following God's will is instigating conflict and causing others to persecute and thus causing them to commit mortal sin, which is antithetical to the gentle and forgiving nature of the model of Chri st's passion (J.W. Smith 190-191). God must respond to evil and hate with martyrdom and suffering b ecause he can only respond with love, the essence of his nature, and not with hate which is the origin of evil (Tson 53). This is why in order to follow through with God's will in martyrdom, it must be done graciously and with forgiveness. Likewise, suffering is neces sary for proper formation of character, in learning to be like Christ and live in the image of God (Tson 58). By the model of
Dyles 34 Polycarp, any martyrdom that is sought out and not comparable to the passion of Christ is unacceptable because it is not in accordance with God's will. As I have defined them, suicide must be willful and intentional, and may or may not be desired, and martyrdom must be willful, but not intentional or desired. Jesus did not desire to die he certainl y struggled with the pain and obligation of his death so, by this qualification, the cr ucifixion may be both a suicide a nd martyrdom. But was it willful and intentional? Execution requires force, such that one may argue that his death cannot be considered willful (though this would prevent it from being a proper martyrdom as well). On the other hand, Jesus, like Socrat es, had the ability, according to Christian myth, to stop or prevent the crucifixion, but rather, willingly chose to follow through with it for the salvation of his people. In the example used in the last chapter, a case of self-killing is not willful, but intentional when force is involved. If one is forced to kill oneself (the alternative being murder), the k illing is not willful, but the act which causes death is intentional. However, in the case of the crucifixion, Jesus is not forced to kill himself, but is killed by anot her. So the act is not intende d, but it is willful. By this analysis, Jesus' death may fit my model of martyrdom, and be excluded from suicide. As the death of Christ serves as the model of Christian martyrdom, it seems that unacceptable cases of martyrdom will not be true cases of martyrdom. Unlike suicide, there is a moral prerequisite to martyrdom. It is, by definition, a category of moral action, such that immoral attempts at ma rtyrdom are not ma rtyrdom at all. By the transformative model of sacrifice, a martyrdom as a proper act of sacrifice should develop the relationship between the s acrificer, the divine, and the sacrificer's community. I am inclined to think that in order for a relationship to be developed
Dyles 35 properly, the development ought to benefit al l parties involved. Assu ming that death is not immediately harmful to the agent, and is not sought out and therefore unnecessary, the act should otherwise be thought of as benefici al to the martyr as pa rt of his process of life and his means to access the portal to the afterlife. In Christia n theology, especially, the martyr is thought to recei ve the greatest rewards in h eaven. Furthermore, the two primary aims of the martyr are meant to be the will of God and the wellbeing of his community, so if done properly, the act of martyrdom should benefit both the Kingdom of God by following his will and serve to protect or benefit the community on Earth depending on the martyr's cause. Presumably, God chooses his martyrs when communities on Earth need to be relieved of some suffering and the death of a martyr can be their salvation. If others are harmed, as in a suicide bombing, rather than saved or protected, then it is not an acceptable case of martyrdom because it cannot properly develop the relationship with th e community. Here, it is impo rtant to distinguish between types of communities. A suicide bomber does not typically target his own specific group of extremists, but outsiders which they view as threatening. However, individuals belong to many communities. One may go so far as to argue for the existence of the world wide community of humans. In any case, the suicid e bomber still belongs to other ethnic and regional communities who are harmed by their actions. Today, the most widely known examples of martyrdom are by Muslim extremists. While the cult of martyrdom has faded among Ch ristians and Jews since the Reformation, it has been reignited among Muslims, thus the rise in suicide bombers among Muslim populations (Odone 9). It is th ese types of cults among whic h there is the threat of glorifying martyrdom to the point of encour aging unacceptable cases. It is important to
Dyles 36 remember, however, that while I focus here on the prevalence of suicide bombings in Muslim communities, suicide bombings occu r in many traditions other than Islam. Furthermore, while many extremists may call suicide bombers martyrs, most Muslims would agree that martyrdom does not entail the murder of others. Imam Abdul Jalil Sajid explains, for example, that Muslim teach ing does not sanction murder and to kill someone else is not martyrdom (Odone 9). As stated above, one way to disti nguish between acceptable and unacceptable cases of self-sacrifice is by the motive of the agent. Some thinkers argue that if power is the agent's interest then it is unacceptable. Nietzsche, for example, argues that because suffering and sacrifice are means to be exal ted in the Kingdom of Heaven, acts of selfdenial are in fact acts of self-enhancement and self-exa ltation (J.W. Smith 171). "What purports to be humility, self-abnegation, and the abandonment of worldly power is in fact the highest expression of the will to power" (J.W. Smith 171). Niet zsche ascribes three motives to Christian martyrs: (a) satisfaction of ressentiment against ones enemies, (b) power and influence beyond the limits of life, and (c) exaltation to elite status of sainthood (J.W. Smith 171). He argues that Ch ristian martyrdom is largely an act of subversion of the status quo, a show of moral superiority to their Roman overlords, and, furthermore, that the martyr seeks, beyond social and political power, power over life itself (J.W. Smith 170, 171, 181). J.W. Smith, on the other hand, uses The Martyrdom of Polycarp and its emphasis on waiting for God's will to be martyred to argue that Christian martyrdom, unlike earlier models of heroism, is not self-aggrandizing, as Nietzsche says. The comparable Homeric Heroes sought self-sacrifice for honor and glory and Aristotle's Noble Soul sought sel f-love for nobility, but Polycarp, as a model
Dyles 37 for Christian martyrdom did not seek his death, but attempted to avoid it before graciously accepting his fate (J.W. Smith 184). Because Polycarp's motive for dying was not his exaltation in heaven, but following th e inevitable will of God, as evidenced by his attempt to avoid his death, J.W. Smith argues it should be seen as a proper act of selfdenial and not a will to power (185). Proper Christian martyrdom is not selfaggrandizing, but self-denyi ng, because it emphasizes the pr esence of Christ and the grace of God rather than the individual who acts in accordance with his will (J.W. Smith 187). Christian theologians might warn agains t martyrdoms which are acts of power and not acts of sacrifice, though Nietzsche would argue that all acts of martyrdom are acts of power. Similarly, among the criticisms of martyrdom is that voluntary martyrdom is always, in a sense, a selfish act, that at least seeks to put oneself in the presence of God. "One can imagine an objection in the spirit of Nietzsche that the exaltation sought by the will to power need not take the form of honor or fame or glory. The saints desiring divine approbation is nonetheless an expression of the will to power for with Gods approval comes the treasures of heaven and the blessedness surpassing the glory of this world" (J.W. Smith 188). J.W. Smith would argue, however, that while th is is one of the rewards of martyrdom, it is not the proper martyr's primary purpose. Thinkers like J.W. Smith and Josef Tson would agree that the proper motives of self -sacrifice are following the will of God. Tson argues that suffering and martyrdom are God's tools to achieve his final purpose for the creation of man by developing both the charac ter of the agent and key points in human history (52). Tson gives three re sults of martyrdom: the trium ph of God's truth, the defeat of Satan, and the glory of God (54-56). To witn ess the disciples of Ch rist meet death with
Dyles 38 composure and the joy of God is convincing of God's goodness; Satan, whose instruments of control are sin and fear of dying, loses his power over us when the martyr meets death without fear and for the salvati on of others; and as more people are saved and convinced by the death of martyrs, mo re praise and glor y is given to God. One way of distinguishing between accep table and unacceptable martyrdoms, as opposed to acts of self-sacrifice, is the appr opriateness of the commun ity's application of the title. J.W. Smith compares the Christian martyr to the Homeric hero, who risks his life to gain honor and immortal glory, and Aristotle's Noble Soul, who achieves nobility by giving his life for the well being of the polis (J.W. Smith 171-172). The danger of both the external honor system of the Greeks and of the community standards by which martyrdom is awarded is its potential in accuracy or unfairness. Alternatively, for Aristotle's Noble Soul, the polis is obligated to award honor because virtue has intrinsic value and is not dependent on the decisions of the community (J.W. Smith 175). The Noble Soul may be more compatible with self-sacrifice because it too focuses on the agent. Patience is more important to the proper Christian martyr than courage, which is emphasized for classical heroes because it entails a willingness to wait upon the Lord (J.W. Smith 189). Patience shouldn't imply inactiv ity, however, but rather that the martyr will be chosen by her persecutors and by God because of her Christian activity (J.W. Smith 190). J. Warren Smith argues that, "in fact, it is the Christians faithful, public protest against injustice and impiety that makes them the obj ect of persecution by governments and private citizens alike. No Christ ian was ever martyred because of quietism. It is precisely because the Christian practices of faithfulness are disruptive and threatening to the status quo that Christians are targeted for elimination. This is as true of modern martyrs, such as
Dyles 39 Archbishop Oscar Romero or the Re v. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as of the ancient martyrs" (190). Another key difference between classical and Ch ristian martyrs is that, for Aristotle and Homer, only certain elite and sk illed persons are expected to sacrifice their lives for glory or the good of others, while all Christians shoul d be prepared to give up their lives before denying Christ (J.W. Smith 186). This may be wh y some Christians were so quick to call Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall martyrs. Th e Christian should cultivate submissiveness and openness to God's will just as the Aristote lian agent should cultivate the virtues by developing habits through daily practice (J .W. Smith 190). "Since such submissiveness and reliance upon Gods grace are the essence of the martyrs self-denial, the Christians day-to-day practices of discipleship are imita tions of the martyrs and preparation for their own death" (J.W. Smith 190). From the view of the agent, voluntary cases of martyrdom seem most commendable, taking it upon oneself to make n ecessary sacrifice for one's community. If the sacrifice is not necessary, it may be seen as irrational and unethical to give one's life where a smaller sacrifice would have sufficed. From the view of the community, however, it should be shameful that situations within th e community call for such a sacrifice from its members, which may be disruptive to the life proc ess. For this reason, we should caution against the glorification of martyrs because it means losing upstanding citizens to fractured and immoral societies which require suffering and death from their people in order to change for the better. Evangelicals, like Tson, might argue that we require suffering to become Chri stlike, but this is the exac t type of glorification of martyrs and destructive s acrifice which Biviano and myself wish to avoid.
Dyles 40 Sacrifice in the Process and as a Portal I have defined sacrifice as an offering, which may or may not be material objects, that aims to gain favor from a deity or impr ove the relationship betw een the sacrificer, his or her community, and the divine. I have de fined martyrdom as a human sacrifice that should be willful but not inte ntional or desired, the merits of which are awarded by the community. The value of martyrdom, like other fo rms of sacrifice, is the development or progress of the affected communities and the relationship between the martyr and the divine. The danger is the poten tial endorsement of homicide s and unwanted suicides. In this way, sacrificial language can be both dangerous and bene ficial to Christian identity (Biviano 13-14). If an act of s acrifice is destructive, then it does not enhance the natural process of life as it should. S acrifice is a natural expression of love (Biviano 2) that can be beneficial to all agents involved and acceptable cases of martyrdom should fall into this category. The critiq ue of martyrdom found in The Martyrdom of Polycarp comes down to avoiding unnecessary suicides and not forcing others to commit murder. It seems that martyrdoms of the second kind, in which the agent allows himself to be killed, are ideal, since they are, strictly speaking, neith er cases of suicide nor cases of homicide. Cases which are harmful to anyone involved, presuming that death alone is not necessarily harmful to the agent, should be thought of as destructive and unacceptable. There is the inevitable possibility of te nsion between the values of the agent and those of the community. How these tensions are resolved may be complicated, but both sides should be taken into account when anal yzing the appropriaten ess of a given case. Christian traditions of devel oping sacrificial identities al lows sacrifice and giving to others to be a fundamental pa rt of self development and re alization. In Christian wisdom,
Dyles 41 giving and outpouring love confirm genuine selfhood (Biviano 3). Martyrdom may or may not be a part of that identity and certa inly not all types of sacrifice will qualify as appropriate. This begs the question: can the self be realized through d eath? If we think of death as the end of the process of life or as a portal to the afterlife, then I think we can answer yes; death is the final event in the process of self-realizat ion, the culmination of the life process and the door to a new life and identity. Like suicide, sacrifice has also been criticized, particularly by contemporary thinkers, as a destructive loss of self; however, while there is some risk of loss of self inherent in sacrifice we ought to distinguish between difficult and destructive (Biviano 7-8, 10). Losing oneself in an act of sacrifice ought to be constructive. and have some positive component in order to complete one's life process. Martyrdom, in a sense, is the ultimate way to access the portal to the afterlife, as l ong as it is an acceptable case the ultimate gift to God in exchange for eternity with him, the material offering of the body in exchange for spiritual wellbeing. Martyrdom can be seen as the ultimat e act of faith in a loving and forgiving God an expression of the essence of God' s nature: self-sacrificial love (Tson 61). However, these traditions also have the danger of glorifying the martyr. While a principle of sacrifice may be necessary for a fully functional moral system, the historical glorification of martyrs can also be da maging and dangerous by encouraging unwanted cases. Biviano argues that our globalized modern societies call for a pr inciple of sacrifice (12), but one that is balanced and does not encourage destructive behavior, but rather allows for self-realization. The rejection by some thinkers, like Nietzsche, of destructive types of sacrifice that sometimes result from religious sacrificial identities provides important insight to this danger. I suggest in its place, similar to Biviano, a balanced
Dyles 42 principle of sacrifice whic h does not allow for damaging cases like suicide bombings.
Dyles 43 Chapter Four Conclusion I have argued that due to th e historical emphasis on the soul's superiority to the body, death has a necessary and pos itive value as the only possi ble end to the process of life and the only means by which the soul can ri d itself of material impurities and move into the afterlife. In light of this critique of our traditionally negative attitudes toward death, certain acceptable cases of suicide and martyrdom can be endorsed, but must also be carefully qualified so as not to unfairly glorify unacceptable and damaging cases. Acceptable cases ought to enhance the natural process of life and provide a way to access the portal to the afterlife at the proper time. Arthur McGill discusses the paradoxical American attitude that expresses both fear of and attraction to death which can be exemplified by our contradictory attitudes toward suicide and martyrdom, respectively. Ho w might our attitudes toward suicide and martyrdom change based on the revised perception of death as a positive and necessary part of the souls journey? I think that our attitudes toward both become milder. As our fear of death dissolves, suicide becomes less disconcerting, and as the fact of death is normalized, martyrdom should have less grandeur. That is not to sa y that suicide should be encouraged or that the bravery of martyrs should be overlooked, but rather that those who choose to commit suicide should not necessa rily be shamed for their decisions, and those who die for their cause should not be ma de out to be Saints, and especially an imitation of the Savior, even if that is the model of their action. There ought to be a healthy middle ground in which one may have a dignified death if one so chooses, especially in our life-obse ssed culture that keeps people living for years beyond necessity, and in which one may not feel obligat ed to glorify the tragic death of heroes.
Dyles 44 Death is frequently considered the oppos ite of life, where life is good, so death must be bad. McGill describes a popular Amer ican view of death as outside of all life and as a negation of all value (14). Death and the marks of death have no place in life. Death is totally outside, totally accidental, totally anti-human. The only possible human attitudes are avoidance and resistance (McG ill 21). However, death is only negative from our living perspective, in which we pl ace ourselves and our existence in the positive realm. Death as non-being, as our opposite, must be negative, but this perspective is biased. Colleen Clements argues that preceding any type of valuation or deliberation is a fundamental a-rational attitude toward existe nce, and that because these attitudes have precedence, there can be no reason to accept or reject either affirmative or negative attitudes (Clements 105-106). She says, W e cannot rationally, from some neutral position beyond the affirmative or negative stan ce, assign value to existence and disvalue to nonexistence (Clements 111). However, if we think of death (and perhaps life, as well) as a neutral event which may have negati ve or positive consequences, we may be in a better position to judge the value of various decisions concerning death. Clements further points out that for any reason we can provide for which one decides to commit suicide, we can provide another for why one does not, and that, ultimately, the desire to produce reasons for one side or the other will depend on ones life-affirming or life-negating attitudes (Cle ments 106). Allowing certain types of suicide is largely about allowi ng human beings a certain level of control over death in the same way that we wield certain amounts of control over birth, growth, and other life decisions. If there exists an afterlife, however, then it is also largely a decisi on of when it is most appropriate to enter into eternity.
Dyles 45 As suggested in previous chapters, there may be some procedural methods to help prevent unacceptable cases of suicide. Preventing unacceptable cases of martyrdom, however, may require more social or cultural precautions than legal or procedural ones, though the overlap between the two categories should allow for some overlap in prevention methods as well. The current crimin al state of suicide and euthanasia makes it a taboo, and therefore, difficult to treat eff ectively. Too many of us only tenuously and in an unexamined way affirm existence, a nd thus are profoundly shaken by suicide and overreact by ruthlessly suppressing or punishi ng the negative attitude (Clements 114). But upon examination, we should find that suicide need not be as deeply offensive as we take it to be. Furthermore, the decision to kill oneself may not signal a preference of death over life, per se, but of a shorter life over a longer one or fast er death over longer one (Devine 141). To call again on classical ethics, "The Noble Soul values the quality or character of his life over longevity; there are conditions under which life is not worth living" (J.W. Smith 178).One might make the argument that suicide ought to be discouraged because many people who attemp t to commit suicide later recover and change their mind about the decision (Baelz 76). On the other hand, even if life will improve, what if the suffering of now is severe enough that future improvement isnt worth bearing it? This may be a better reason to encourage attempted suicide patients to wait and think about their decision than to discourage suicide all together. In some ways, as discussed in Chapter 3, our concerns about the loss of those who commit suicide is legitimate. Remember that we exist in communities to which we hold various obligations that ought not be violated by acts of suic ide. Furthermore, Clements argues that while we can ha ve no rationalization for atte mpting to treat and prevent
Dyles 46 suicide, we are justified in our social consensus of affirmative attitudes, the values of which are our only basis of moral action (111-11 2). Prevention, or at least the appearance of prevention, of suffering is one important strand in the entire moral fabric of this society (McGill 21). Brandt believes we have a moral obligation to prevent inappropriate and irrational suicides and to as sist an appropriate and rational suicide, and that these obligations outw eigh the Hippocratic oath (130). Similarly, Clements argues that after a reasonable inte rvention period, the individual ne eds to have his needs and desires recognized (Clements 113). I am inclined to accept Clements argument that medical professionals (and others who might have to deal with suicides) may offer various arguments for a life-affirming attitude, but after a certain poin t, ought to respect the suicides decision. It seems that what is key in the treatment of attempted suicide patients will be treating suicide as acceptable enough that attempted suicide patients feel comfortable coming forward and seeking he lp, enforcing a waiting period during which suicide patients have the opportunity to we igh their options, and legalizing assisted suicide so that if the decision for suicide is ma de, we can ensure that its done safely and in a dignified manner. On the other hand, there is a kind of gl orification of death, especially in apocalyptic myths, as it is connected with the rapture and the es chaton. For Christians, dying means living in the presence of God and th eir Savior. It is also, in part, a reflection of the imitatio Christi the Christian obligation to imitate Christ, who willingly died for the sins of others. If the goal of Christians is to be Christlike, one might ask, why aren't all Christians striving to beco me martyrs? The simple answer is that most people just dont want to die despite thei r religious loyalties, most pe ople dont want to be martyrs
Dyles 47 for God, or anyone for that matter, if they dont have to. Most people, to put it in Clements terms, have life-affirming attitudes. For this reason, the development of martyr cults must have some interesting and unusual social dynamics that instead reinforce the negative attitude. Odone describes the poli tical power of martyrs in this way: What the leaders of the Catholic Church and the PLO are determined to tap into is the emotional energy th at drives the ordinary to become extraordinary. Show a people that an y one among them may be selected for a special challenge, and awarded a special status, and they will be galvanised into heroism. And un ited in the recognition that their collective has glorious potential (Odone 9). This might be reflective of the will to power that Nietzsche describes. These communities, if not the martyrs themselves seek the power of death in order to accomplish their political goals. Nietzsches cl aim that the martyr seeks power over life itself is also reflected in McG ills argument that the world is ruled by death in a way that he compares to God himself. He says, we live under the dominion of deathWe live in terror of death, of having this little bit of reality which we call ourselves, taken from us. Our whole existence is controlled by that te rror (McGill 54). The martyr, aware of this power of death, seeks in his martyrdom to outwit death, and to reign over it. Christian theologians, on the other hand, might explain the small number of martyrs in Christian history with the will of God or the concept of the calling, arguing that only some are meant to be martyrs while others are called to do other works of God on Earth. Is there a hierarchy in God's kingdom which intends to glorify some and doom others to lower ranks in h eaven? Ultimately, because the proper model of Christian martyrdom, as described in Chapter 3, requi res that the martyr not seek out his own death, the good Christian must aim to be Christlike, and therefore be prepared to be a martyr if God so calls on him, but cannot, like Quintus, commit an act of suicide in its
Dyles 48 place. However, there remains the problem of identifying what is God's will and distinguishing it from the will of humans. Theories discussed in the last chapter argued both that one ought to wait and follow the will of God rather than act and force martyrdom and that following God's will does not entail inactivity. How does one distinguish between proper Christian activity which is the will of God and what is being forced by human hands? We may justify the martyrdom of those like Polycarp by its good results which tell us it was the will of God and not forced by the will of humans. The problem of people mixing up the will of God with the will of humans is that we then have martyrs as spiritual au thorities who are not such. Bu t then, on the other hand, what is the problem if the result of their work is good? If the positive value of death accurately yields the interpreta tions of suicide and martyrdom as I have described them, we have two options. We can reject this argument, and therefore the modern theologies of deat h and the soul that yield them, or we can accept the argument and therefore the positive va lue of death. Either certain acceptable cases of suicide and self-sacrif ice ought to be endorsed or we must reevaluate our ideas about death and the soul. How does one distinguish martyrdo m from suicide or a death wish and how does the prospective martyr get around the religi ous prohibition on suicide (L.B. Smith 454)? There is a fine line between suicide and martyr dom, but they are two distinct categories of death. By the conditions I have given, accep table martyrdoms cannot be suicides. In order to be a suicide, a self-killing must be willful and intentional, and while some martyrdom attempts may be intentional, an ac ceptable martyrdom ought to be willful, but not intentional. Those suicides which may c ount as acts of self-sacrifice, such as the
Dyles 49 hunger striker described in Chapter 2, will not also count as proper martyrdoms, because they are intentional. Christian traditions di scussed in chapter two would typically reject suicide as an appropriate way to access the por tal but allow acts of martyrdom. Clements points out, however, that Western Judeo-Chri stian traditions, among others, maintain an affirmative social consensus ( 108), that supports rejection of suicide and other intentional self-killings, but which in light of the present argument concerning the positive value of death, may be questioned. While life-affirming attitudes are perfectly valid, our theological history allows us to accept negative attitudes as well. We shouldn't forget in our discussion of the positive value of death that life is valuable too. I do not mean to argue that deat h is always desired, only that it's not to be feared. In fact, I want also to discourage the type of glorification of death in martyr cults that is at fault in its emphasis of death over li fe. The value of the soul's material or earthly experience before death can be expressed further through the material or visible expressions of sacrifice. In the case of martyrdom, a form of human sacrifice, the material offering is precisely the soul's mate rial experience on Earth. The value of leaving the material body for the purity of the afterlife and material sacrifice in the form of human bodies is symbolic of the value of both life and death and of God's gift of creation. Both ought to be valued as part of the s oul's journey through existence, and a balance between the two is ideal. I want finally to advocate a principle of sacrifice that I thi nk is necessary for a fully functional modern ethical system and th at takes into account the breadth of our theological history. This may also be wh ere the prevention of unacceptable cases of martyrdom and self-sacrifice o ccurs. Biviano argues that I nterdependence in this world
Dyles 50 of limited resources, fragile ecosystems, and fini te time and space still calls for sacrifice (Biviano 12). A balanced principle of sacr ifice, as Biviano describes it, entails a responsibility both to the self and to the othe r. She posits sacrifice as central to selfrealization for the Christian identity (Biviano 8). The self-loss inherent in self-sacrifice is balanced by the growth and development of one s Christian identity in the act of selfgiving (Biviano 230). In this sense, self-sac rifice through suicide and martyrdom can be thought of as one type of self-realization in so far as death is a portal to the afterlife, and this is the ultimate goal of th e self in Christian theology. W ith this in mind, now may be the time, perhaps overdue, to reconsider our conceptions of death and sacrifice and how they fit into our contemporary and quickly changing societies.
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