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6.15.2007

The Stoic sage is willing to give some "preferred" thing, e.g., health, freedom, or life, because he sees it genuinely as without value since only the whole order of events which, as it happens, includes its negation or loss, is of value. The Christian martyr, in giving up health, freedom, or life, doesn't declare them to be of no value. On the contrary, the act would lose its sense if they were not of great worth. To say that greater love hath no man than this, that a man give up his life for his friends, implies that life is a great good. The sentence would lose its point in reference to someone who renounced life from a sense of detachment; it presupposes he's giving up something.

Central to the Judaeo-Christian notion of martyrdom is that one gives up a good in order to follow God. What God is engaged in is the hallowing of life. God first called Israel to be a "holy nation" (Exodus 19.6). But the hallowing of life is not antithetical to its fulness. On the contrary. Hence the powerful sense of loss at the heart of martyrdom. It only becomes necessary because of sin and disorder in the world: because, e.g., a Nebuchadnezzar or an Antiochus Epiphanes requires that Israelites worship idols or otherwise violate the Torah. Or, to turn to the paradigm Christian case, that Christ's teaching led to his crucifixion was a consequence of evil in the world, of the darkness not comprehending the light. In the restored order that God is conferring , good doesn't need to be sacrificed for good. The eschatological promise in both Judaism and Christianity is that God will restore the integrity of the good.


Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self (218, 219)

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