Sartre and Martyrism

To the Ethical Egoist, a Martyr is a person who sacrifices themselves  out of self-interest. Rather than being motivated by  God or selflessness, Martyrs, they argue, sacrifice themselves to earn a good name for themselves, to earn a good name for their cause. Along these lines, the conversion of Christians in places and times of persecution can also be seen as an act of self-interest.

According to Sartre, however, this isn’t the case.

In Republic of Silence, Sartre, a Frenchman of Jewish descent claims that he was “never more free than during the German occupation,” despite having spent this time in a concentration camp. The reason why, he explains, is that his actions were not influenced by societal limitations or expectation–every action he took was of his own will and no other. His words to describe this are: “rather death than…”

In other words, during German Occupation Sartre found that his actions truly defined his person-hood because each action was preformed in the face of death. Using the example of the early Christian, “if I commit myself to this religion, I could–I will–be killed. But I truly believe that Jesus died for my sins and so I will follow it regardless. Better dead than caught denying God.”

Early Christians and Martyrs knew what it mean to take up their crosses. According to Sartre, their choice–made in the face of death–is a true decision, made in the face of death. Of course, one might argue that their decision wasn’t to mirror Christ but to prolong their own name in the process, so I’m not sure where I was going with this post, but I do think there’s something to Sartre’s logic.

Sartre’s Republic of Silence  excerpt may be found here.


Ressentiment of Religion

As I make my way through Nietzsche, I’ve discovered I have a love-hate relationship with him. His melodramatic writing style is beautiful, though. I wish I could write essays touching on the stench of the “entrails of a deformed soul.”

The most interesting idea I have uncovered in Nietzsche’s Geneaology of Morality–so far, anyway–is the idea of Ressentiment, or the directing of hate toward something undeserving of it. Nietzsche claims that Judeo-Christian societies use Ressentiment as a means to place the weak over the strong, that they blame all of their misfortunes and trouble on the strong in order to see themselves as “good” and the strong as “evil.” I, however, thought of something else entirely when I discovered the concept.

As an undergraduate student, I’ve found that most of my generation responds violently to Christianity. They scoff at Christian ideas and feel oppressed by Christian people. Some students claim to have “escaped” from Christian parents, others talk about being bullied and hated by Christians when they were younger–and yet, after hearing what they’re opposed to, I’ve never found that anyone is opposed to Christianity, itself. Just Christians.

Perhaps my generation experiences a different form of Ressentiment than Nietzsche’s? Perhaps my generation takes all of the neglect, all of the hatred, all of the isolation, they have experienced and blames it on Christians.

“This is who I am.” They say. “And it is the Christian’s fault that I am unhappy, for the Christian does not accept me.”

But often “who they are” can have disastrous effects in it of itself. Someone who drinks risks making horrible decisions, for example. But often when confronted with these consequences, my generation blames Christians or God. The man who gets into an accident will think, “if there really was a God, I wouldn’t have gotten into this accident” or “if my parents weren’t such hypocritical Christians, I wouldn’t have gotten into this mess.”

Like Nietzsche’s generation, many of us have forgotten the idea of “personal responsibility” completely. Epictetus says that it is not things, themselves, that upset us, but our judgement of them.  That we are responsible for our own happiness. That we are responsible for our own actions. My generation doesn’t understand that. We blame God, we blame our parents, we blame anyone but ourselves, refusing to believe that we’re better than the action we’ve preformed. That we’re more than it.

I wonder why this is?