I don't understand martyrs (in the Christian sense)

I’ve never understood the idea of martyrs, as in professing a particular religious belief in the face of corrupt state authority and under threat of death.

Is it really immoral to say to a bully “ok, whatever you you say” to save your own skin and live another day, preserving your core beliefs within you? I mean who cares if you lie to some guy or government who is out to kill you? They are in the wrong and why do you have the job of being honest to an immoral entity? If you lie, and escape you have to chance to spread your beliefs. What do different religions say about this?

Catholic Encyclopedia: Martyrs.

Whether it is immoral is a question for Great Debates, and you might want to take it up there.

I will mention that Jesus is reported to have said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). So Christians have always taken public testimony and avowal/denial of their faith pretty seriously.

In the words of Polycarp (not our Polycarp], as he was given the opportunity to curse Christ and avoid martyrdom: “Fourscore and six years have I served Him, and he has done me no harm. How then can I curse my King that saved me?”

Christians martyrs have no fear of death (St. Paul wrote “to live is Christ; to die, gain.”) so there is no reason to betray themselves (or betray Christ) to save their own life. In the martyr’s point of view, if God wants to save them for future good works, He will do so. If not, they will be with him in paradise. It’s a no-lose situation.

You say, “If you lie, you have a chance to escape and spread your beliefs.”

Sure, but then you’ll be acknowledged as a coward – someone who was unwilling to take a stand in the face of danger. What kind of credibility would that give you? It certainly would not cause the persecutors to reconsider their beliefs, whereas the steadfast courage of a martyr might do so.

Sometimes the courage of a silent martyr can say far more than mere words ever can.

Ok, maybe I should rephrase the question:

Say you’re in a Muslim country, and some terrorists kidnapped you. You have to convert to Islam to save your neck. So you say: “ok sure, there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet” and they think you’re converted, but you know in your heart that it’s just so you can get out alive. After all you believe what you believe no matter if someone puts a gun to your head or not.

Is such deception considered a sin in the eyes of Christian churches? What about other religions like Judaism?

Jews are looser about forced conversion than are Christians. The most obvious example is the Marranos, Jews who were forced to convert when the Moors were driven from Spain (and then during the Inquisition), but the majority of whom continued to practice Judaism in secret. The word means “swine,” but it was the Christians who gave them that name. Jews still consider them Jews.

Jews do respect martyrdom, however. Rabbi Akiva, who was tortured and murdered by the Romans, is a well-known case in point.

At the very least you’re lying, which would be a sin.

There is this story about a person in the Bible not wanting to be a martyr:

(From Matthew 26:69-75)

Peter did go on to become a martyr about 30 years later.

If it’s Islam, then no. However, there are other cases where you should say “shoot me”. There’s a rule in Judaism that says, generally, you’re allowed to break a commandment if you think it’ll save your life or the life of another person. However, there are a few commandments you’re not allowed to break, even in that circumstance, and idolatry is one of them. If somebody says, “You have to worship this idol or I’ll kill you”, the right thing would be to let yourself be killed. However, in the case of Islam, which isn’t an idolatrous religion (Jews believe that Muslims worship the same God that Jews do, and idols are a no-no in Islam too), you’re allowed to pretend to convert in order to live. It’s a little trickier if the gunmen wanted you to convert to Christianity, because there’s always been a debate within Judaism if Christianity is considered idolatry or not.

However, that being said, there’s another factor, known as “sanctification of the Name”, which says, among other things, that, if people are trying to exterminate Judaism, you have to fight against them. So, even though, for example, you’re allowed to eat non-kosher food to save your life, if somebody is trying to force you to eat non-kosher food to try to wipe out the religion, you’re not allowed to eat it.

mar·tyr ( P ) Pronunciation Key (märtr)
n. One who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce religious principles.
Your question rephrased:
Is such deception considered a sin in the eyes of Jehovah God? The answer is YES. He demands explicit obedience and that includes being faithful until death under any and all circumstances.

“Christian churches” vary from one denomination to another and from place to place so you may get a variety of opinions. I suspect that He also expects the same from a follower of Judasim, but a Rabbi may differ.

I don’t think Peter thought that those questioning him were going to kill him. He just didn’t want to be associated with the guy who’d just been arrested, is all.

As far as the question of the OP, I think the quote by Polycarp said it best.

When Patrick Henry was hanged by the British, he was reported to say “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Does that make it any easier to understand?

Hate to nitpick, but that was Nathan Hale.

Actually no, I don’t get your point about Nathan Hale.

This is GD territory but,

If there is a god and he judges you, then what is a bit of matyrdom for a liftime in heaven.

Even if there isn’t a god, many people would rather die young for their country and family than see it overun by (presumed) tyranny. One can relate to this in a biological sense where a mother animal will protect her young to the death (to save her genes).

Of course to the Me generation, both sentiments appear odd

If nothing else, it’s about principles. If you claim to have very deeply held principles, they aren’t very deep if you refute them the moment someone threatens to kill/toture you. So you may have survived, but there aren’t going to be very many people who respected those principles or agreed with you on this, who are going to like you once they learn what you did to cheat death.

Also, in some situations, it could be considered betrayl as well.

I too, have wondered about the early Christain martyrs…it seems to me that the better course would be to put up with the emperor-worship (in public) and repudiate it in private. Anyway, the Romans persecuted the Christians because the Christians :
(1) refused to acknowledge the Roman emperor as a “god”
-(2) refused to worship he emperor-god
Exactly how did one do this? Surely the Roman people did NOT belive that their emperors were “gods”…they had no godlike powers, and were plainly human beings (and very defective ones at that).
Was emperor-worship mostly a matter of leaving a token offering in a temple? Or were there more elaborate rituals involved in it?
Finally, who got to hang out with the Vestal Virgins? That must of been a good job to have had!

It may have little to do with what (you suppose) God will think of you or what (you fear) other people will think of you, and a lot to do with what you think of yourself.

Some posters seem to think that the primary motivation for martyrdom is a fear of divine punishment for public apostasy. I don’t think this can be correct. Moral theologians reckon that a free choice is necessary for serious sin, and also recognise that something done under the threat of death is not freely chosen. This is hardly a new moral insight, and I suspect that the early Christians would have been understanding of people who were prepared to toe the official line in public when the alternative was death, and would have expected God to be understanding also.

No, it’s more a question of what the individual truly believed, and the importance he attached to it. If he truly valued what he saw as an absolute and saving truth, he might have preferred to die on terms he considered respectable than to live on terms he despised, even though forced apostasy might have been a morally tolerable choice.

Rmember that many of the early Christian martyrs came from the background of a Roman/Greek culture that valued integrity, honour and stoicism, and did not regard the prolonging of one’s own life as a worthwhile end in itself (or, at least, attached a lesser importance to it than we might do).

This attitude is by no means dead. We can all think of relatively recent historical examples in which people fight a hopeless fight to the death rather than accept the alternative of surrender – and often with no religious motivation.

AFAIK, most emperors were not considered divine during their lifetimes, but were deified by an official act of the Senate after their deaths. That is, the populus Romanus was not expected to worship them while they were still alive, but a temple or two dedicated to the *genius * of the emperor might spring up in the far-flung corners of the empire to promote the notion that resisting Rome was to defy the gods. At least that’s how things worked in the early empire. They might have gotten out of hand in the later years. I do know that Augustus was distinctly uncomfortable with the thought that country hicks out in Asia were bowing down to cult statues of him.

As to what was involved in emperor worship – for most citizens it was probably nothing more than the occasional swearing of an oath. If you were a Christian, though, swearing such an oath was a mortal sin. And while some parishes would take a pragmatic approach and turn a blind eye to the poor schlep who was compelled to swear loyalty to Jupiter and the Divine Claudius, others would cast the same fellow out as a coward.

On the subject of the Vestals. These were the priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth, and were highly respected in Rome. The deflowering of a Vestal was not merely naughty, but treasonous, since their revered maidenheads were thought to be guarding Rome’s sacred luck. A Vestal who was proven to have yielded up her virginity was buried alive in a ceremony that would send the entire city into an apocolyptic panic and a frenzy of purification rituals. For this reason, Vestals were kept isolated from men until they were deemed of sufficient age and maturity to conduct themselves responsibly. They lived in a house (that they shared with the Pontifex Maximus) at the edge of the Forum Romanum, immediately adjacent to the shrine of Vesta, which housed the city’s eternal flame.