Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Martyr Complexities, Part 2

Wolf continues his essay by discussing caused of voluntary false confession, or VFC. We find rather quickly that all of them would either not apply to the Biblical world or would require serious qualification in order to apply.

Wanting a voice. Some VFCers confess out of a desire for attention. This is much the same as what we discussed last entry: As we have pointed out, this will only cohere in the Biblical world if the focus is honor, not attention. If anything, most would seek to avoid attention in the Biblical world because it would mean scrutiny, challenge, and especially envy; the attention seeker was one who sought to draw from the limited pool of honor.

Wanting thrills. Or, as Wolf puts it, there is a "rush some people get from lying to other people." I'd like to see Wolf attempt to apply this to a situation where that "thrill" is followed by a "kill" -- or the sort of serious consequences that would follow in a collectivist society. The thrill, perhaps, is engaged as well because the VFCers knows they can also get out of the problems they cause themselves easily. In any event I cannot imagine such thrill-seeking being of any importance to first century persons; as described, it appears to be a way to relieve boredom or lack of status, and the first did not exist in the ancient world, while the second was either not a concern at all (since trying to change status was difficult or impossible, and was also thought to be set by fate), or was resolved in ways that (as above) would arouse negative reactions like envy.

Having low self-esteem. As noted at the end of Part 1, this one just won't fly in the Biblical world; the sense of self requried did not exist to give people high or low "self-esteem." So likewise, Wolf's analysis concerning guilt and its relationship to VFCs falls flat; guilt, too, did not exist in the Biblical world, and so nor would depression over it. (This makes it all the more ironically delicious that Wolf criticizes Christianity for having appeal "to someone with deep-seated self-esteem problems" -- which means, in essence, no one in the ancient world! -- and then spends several paragraphs presenting this as his showpiece for why the Christian martyrs could have been producing VFCs! One sentence renders hours of work on his part moot.)

In all of this, the one reason that MIGHT emerge for an early Christian martyr to lie is shame -- claiming Jesus rose because it was seen as a way to recover from the shame of association with Jesus. However, as even in my impossible faith thesis, this explains only why Jesus had a few followers from the start -- it doesn't explain new converts, much less from faraway places and from among the relatively successful middle class.

The next section discusses the ability of authorities to identify a false confession, but I know of no one in apologetics who would make an application on that basis; Wolf then offers two guesses as to why he thinks the "martyr argument persists". Neither is an argument I would use, but we may close with this observation on these questions Wolf asks:

In the end, though I have one rhetorical question about the martyr argument: What would be the point of any Christian dying for the truth? According to the stories, God knows whether you believe or not—doesn’t He? Would merciful Jesus condemn you to hell for avoiding torture by lying to evil men—and going on to spread his Word and save others, later?

Based on the principles of honor and rewards, it would cost a lot in terms of status once one gets to heaven. In this light, when Jesus' statement that he will deny those who deny him, which some read in terms of salvation, refers to Jesus refusing to acknowledge status. One might say that such denial costs all previously earned rewards -- as is appropriate.

Such is the matter of martyrs from one unimaginative atheist website.

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