It's an insidious idea, this notion that there is life after death. The promise of a reward in the afterlife has been used as an excuse to deny help to the poor, helpless and oppressed; to explain away human misery rather than deal with it. It is an idea that is used to encourage young men and women to kill themselves, and others, so that they can become martyrs. It allows victims of injustice to be told not to worry because justice will be done in the afterlife. It depresses me to think that so many people on the planet live their lives with this notion. Can we truly fulfill our potential as a species as long as we hold on to, and encourage, the perpetuation of the lie of life after death?
As Luxenberg's work has only recently been published we must await its scholarly assessment before we can pass any judgements. But if his analysis is correct then suicide bombers, or rather prospective martyrs, would do well to abandon their culture of death, and instead concentrate on getting laid 72 times in this world, unless of course they would really prefer chilled or white raisins, according to their taste, in the next.
The agony of martyrdom is almost too much to bear. In the early hours, when the loss is fresh, there is no comfort in knowing Glory will live on. We speak of the martyrs in History but we cannot know the actual pain they suffered in their final living hours. They enter the realm of the mythic, but we must never forget these were men like ourselves. When their flesh is torn, they cry out. They suffer as you or I would suffer, although more bravely. Remember Christ. Although I am now an enemy to Joseph's legacy, I shudder when recalling his pain.
The faithful clamoured to be buried alongside the martyrs, as close as possible to the venerable remains, a custom which, in anthropological terms, recalls Neolithic beliefs that certain human remains possessed supernatural properties. It was believed that canonized saints did not rot, like lesser mortals, but that their corpses were miraculously preserved and emanated an odour of sanctity, a sweet, floral smell, for years after death. In forensic terms, such preservation is likely to be a result of natural mummification in hot, dry conditions.
Every November of my boyhood, we put on red poppies and attended highly patriotic services in remembrance of those who had 'given' their lives. But on what assurance did we know that these gifts had really been made? Only the survivors the living could attest to it. In order to know that a person had truly laid down his life for his friends, or comrades, one would have to hear it from his own lips, or at least have heard it promised in advance. And that presented another difficulty. Many brave and now dead soldiers had nonetheless been conscripts. The known martyrs those who actually, voluntarily sought death and rejoiced in the fact had been the kamikaze pilots, immolating themselves to propitiate a 'divine' emperor who looked (as Orwell once phrased it) like a monkey on a stick. Their Christian predecessors had endured torture and death (as well as inflicted it) in order to set up a theocracy. Their modern equivalents would be the suicide murderers, who mostly have the same aim in mind. About people who set out to lose their lives, then, there seems to hang an air of fanaticism: a gigantic sense of self-importance unattractively fused with a masochistic tendency to self-abnegation. Not wholesome. The better and more realistic test would therefore seem to be: In what cause, or on what principle, would you your life?
Creating heroes and martyrs