"We don't care about our own lives," the Chechen hostage-takers in Moscow were reported to have said right after they had taken over the theater and the victims in it. Their little regard for their own lives explains how they could victimize, in pursuit of their own goals, innocent people. This explanation, of course, doesn't justify their actions, but it may guide our prayers as we turn to the God that is Life itself.
The apprehension that God is Life begins immediately to improve our perspective. This quite naturally leads not only to valuing the lives of others but also to actions that improve the lot of all humanity. Sometimes in helping others, we sacrifice our own comforts, and in extreme cases, even our lives.
Giving up one's own life for another or for a truly righteous cause may be seen as legitimate martyrdom. But make no mistake that this is far different from what we are seeing today in the glorification of martyrdom and the willing sacrifice of lives for what are essentially political issues.
It is important today to divest such actions as those of hostage-takers, suicide/homicide bombers, and other extremists, of the disguise of martyrdom in order to bring more rational and peaceful means to settling contentious issues throughout the globe.
T. S. Eliot in his play "Murder in the Cathedral" wrote these lines for his main character, based on the real life and martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Becket: "... the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, and who no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of being a martyr." Removing the glory of martyrdom from what are essentially human causes, as important as they may be, will do much toward stopping the terrorizing of innocent victims. Just causes, inspired by prayers to the one God, glorify life, not death, peace, not further confrontations.
Jacob's struggle, found in the Hebrew Scripture, offers a great lesson in resolving and preventing conflict, without martyrdom and without victimization. Jacob had cheated his brother. Knowing that his brother wanted to kill him, he had run away and was for many years in exile. Now, Jacob was returning to his homeland, and he was afraid for his life and that of his family.
As he drew closer to meeting his brother, he struggled all night until he could let go of the history and his own bad part in it. He saw instead God's creation, including the genuine, spiritual selfhood of his brother: "And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved" (Gen. 32:30).
Countering blame for earlier deeds of ourselves and of others with the spiritual understanding of God and divine creation and control is essential to solving individual as well as international problems. Engaging in hostility and destruction and encouraging others to sacrifice their lives only adds to already severe problems.
Sometimes it looks easier to lapse into a feeling of martyrdom and victimization than to encounter and resolve wrongs given and received.
Perhaps Jacob had seen himself as a victim of his brother's hatred in what we might consider his self-imposed exile. But when he turned to God, he could see only the face of God, or the reflection of God in himself and in his brother.
Refusing a mental state of martyrdom or victimization and seeking spiritual solutions to even the smallest injury will contribute to an end to self-imposed suffering and death.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, once wrote, "The selfish rôle of a martyr is the shift of a dishonest mind, nothing short of self-seeking; and real suffering would stop the farce" ("Miscellaneous Writings, 1883-1896," pg. 288).
Relinquishing the role of martyr with its dead ends of self-pity and self-glorification helps enable all to be free of this malady. We become free to work for our world and to make life worth living for everyone. Learning what it means that Life is God brings a love of life that flows outward, improving the lives and opportunities of others, in which victimization and martyrdom have no place.