Friday, December 07, 2007

On Martyrs

In response to the Blogging Parson's post on martyrdom I will refer to Chris Huebner's Precarious Peace. Huebner writes that martyrdom offers a possible alternative image to the violent dance of power between victims and victors (or heroes) who both compete for security and control. He goes on to say that both the position of hero and that of victim miss "the ability to put self into question, such that the notions of culture and identity remain fundamentally closed and fixed entities."
The martyr emerges as one living outside the demands of security. This is "a life lived out of control."

This is at least partially reflected in the fact that one cannot designate oneself a martyr. Rather, to have one's identity narrated in terms of a story of martyrdom essentially involves the existence of others with whom one's life is inextricably bound up. The martyr is a figure who very identity is constituted by the memory of others. Martyrdom thus points to a conception of cluture that is not reduced to a conflict between self and other, but rather one in which self and other are interpenetrably interwoven. Among other things, martyrdom is thus the expression of a message of hope in which we are saved from the temptation to place our hope in ourselves, to confuse salvation with survival.

Huebner goes on to quote Rowan Williams in commenting how the image and reality of martyrdom release us from the imperatives of violence as it pulls us out of the drama of victimhood and heroism as both positions desire for "clear divisions between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. [Both hero and victim] want to get back to that clear frontier between insiders and outsiders which is so comprehensively unsettled by the trial of Jesus in the Gospels."
We cannot make ourselves a martyr (contrary to popular opinion) but we can position or posture ourselves in such a way that our lives are lived "out of control" questioning assumed models of relating and offering and opening ourselves up to others.

7 comments:

michael jensen said...

I guess, but what is Christian about it?

IndieFaith said...

Well, I suppose Christ being the paradigm for this is a start.

michael jensen said...

Yes, though that is my problem with the Yoder-Hauerwas-Heubner (I think) approach...
firstly, why do we need Jesus -since this reading of him is contentious in any case (I am not a pacificist and I don't think Jesus taught it?) Is he THE paradigm for it - couldn't we imagine better ones, or clearer ones? and secondly, why are power and authority so readily conflated into violence in these models? It is just simply not the case that all power and authority is by nature violent? That is more Foucault than Jesus.
Under this schema martyrdom becomes a symbol of anti-power defiance in and of itself, and not a witness to the reign of Christ (which of course includes a relativisation - but also an authorisation - of human power structures)...

IndieFaith said...

We pray (or at least I do) for thine is the kingdom, the power and glory. What I see Huebner (alongside Williams) doing is de-centering the position of power that humans tend assume. This does not need to bring up the question of pacifism at this point (as Williams would not) and it also does not offer a contentious reading of Jesus (of course a statement like that is always contentious I imagine).
This does not become an "anti-power" schema because it is not in an oppositional relationship but in a alternative model. It does not assume the rules of game as set out by the victim-victor model. This I see as what Yoder was best at, challenging the rules of the game. Thanks for critique.
What is a "witness to the reign of Christ" if not a love that established a different model of "power"?

michael jensen said...

Well, it is that, but not merely that. It is not just different. It is a witness to the reign of CHRIST, not a witness to the reign of Christ as a cipher for a principle, however noble.

IndieFaith said...

I see the work of people like Williams and Huebner guarding against "Christ as principle" in the vulnerable and precarious positions they advocate. I am sure what you are suggesting is always a temptation. How does your work or the people you read avoid this trap?

michael jensen said...

I have Huebner's book: looks interesting!

I think O'Donovan does it better. The reign of Christ relativises but does not abolish human rule; it establishes on a better footing.
I guess my suspicion of Hauerwas (and of Williams, too) is that when he says 'theology is ethics', he means a thoroughly this-worldly gospel (meaning, a non-eschatological one).