"She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." - Flannery O'Connor
First of all, I am totally using that quote out of context. I know it. In reality the character the quote is referring to is thinking about how she's not ever going to be able to be good enough to be a saint. She talks back to her mother, etc. She's a nine year old girl, and not perfect. So she doesn't believe she'll ever be eligible for sainthood. But she thinks, if 'they' got to her quick enough she might qualify as a martyr. As in, before she got older and lost what goodness she had.
But when I first heard the quote, before I knew the context of it, I thought it meant that the character thought that she'd be able to hold out against torture and coercion to the death, as long as it didn't go on too long.
I've been reading The Orthodox Church and, as I've said before, the first half of the book is history. Right now I'm finishing up the chapter that covers the Orthodox church under Soviet Russia. One of the aspects it beings up is the massive persecutions. The torture, the murders. Which of course brings to mind martyrdom. And I remembered that many years ago, thinking about people who were martyred for their faiths, I didn't understand it. I didn't get why they wouldn't just lie.
I mean, what good do you do if you're dead? As an example, sure. People may or may not hold you up and rally around that flag. It all depends. But if you're given the option (not all people persecuted and murdered for their faiths are. Some are just killed, which negates this entire argument.), why not lie and then resume fighting the good subversive fight? Wouldn't you do more good that way?
But that's not it, of course. It's that whole right vs. wrong thing. Lying to preserve your life in this case is more than just saying, 'Oh, yeah, sure. You're right.' It's denying Christ. It's turning your back on your faith to a certain degree. You're allowing them to break something inside of you and I don't know if there's any recovering from that. And I'm not looking down on the people who may or may not have done that under torture. I mean, honestly, how many of us would be able to watch our lives being destroyed, friends, family all suffering and mutilated, harmed in horrific ways, and face it ourselves? Pain is pain and the human body can take a whole hell of a lot before it dies. Your mind, your will has to be able to rise above all that to keep on denying your captors what they want. How many of us are really that strong? I don't think it's as many of us as we would like to think. Not if we're being really honest with ourselves. The amazing thing is the numbers of people who did hold out. Who went to awful, painful deaths because something within them gave them the strength to stand on the truth.
I don't even think that's me. I believe, but you can't know for sure how you'll react until you're in a situation. And of course we all pray not to be in that situation. So yeah. For me? I'll never be a saint. But I think I could be a martyr. If they killed me quick.