Columbine, Christian Martyrdom, and Flyleaf

For those of you that don’t know the song that sparked my thoughts on this, here it is:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5X0cWsC8rY[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCMvQrp8zoI[/youtube]

“Cassie”

The question asked in order
To save her life or take it
The answer no to avoid death
The answer yes would make it
Make it

Do you believe in God
Written on the bullet
Say yes to pull the trigger
Do you believe in God
Written on the bullet
And Cassie pulled the trigger

All heads are bowed in silence
To remember her last sentence
She answered him knowing what would happen
Her last words still hanging in the air
In the air

Do you believe in God
Written on the bullet
Say yes to pull the trigger
Do you believe in God
Written on the bullet
And Cassie/Rachel pulled the trigger

How many will die
I will die
I, I will say yes

Do you believe in God
Written on the bullet
Say yes to pull the trigger
Do you believe in God
Written on the bullet
And Cassie pulled the trigger

(Do you believe)
Do you believe in God (Do you believe)
Do you believe in God (Do you believe)
Do you believe in God
And I will pull the trigger

First of all, from a technical standpoint, the song is just okay. I like the acoustic version a little better. The band has some talent though I don’t love what they do with it. The singer, Lacey Mosley, is very good…kind of has an Alanis Morissette thing going on. She should stop screaming—she’ll ruin it.

Now for the substantive stuff.

The song is about a supposed exchange between one of the Columbine assholes and Cassie Bernall. The official investigation of Columbine says this story never took place; that it was actually another girl named Valeen Schnurr who was asked the question and answered yes—and survived.

So why did the story that inspired the song propagate? Because Christians love their martyrs; it’s good PR…and because the story that Valeen was asked the question and survived doesn’t look good on Christianity. At least that’s how I look at it.

True or not, Christian or not, these types of situations make for a sad, twistedly interesting story that forces us to think. Martyrs and their killers are intriguing. What it made me think about is why people admire martyrs; the main reason, I think, is the ultimate courage of their conviction. We’re almost in disbelief at the martyr’s actions because self-preservation is so high on our agenda, even if we’re willing to become one (at least philosophically). We hope to be brave enough if, god forbid (so to speak), we are put in a situation where we have to make that choice and become a martyr in practice. The perception is that you have to be damn sure you’re right in order to make that choice which implies a certain amount of discipline and deep thought on the matter, or that you’re scared and unsure but you do what you think and feel is right anyway. Even I can admire that despite my…lackluster appreciation of Christianity. If Cassie actually did answer that question, I am in awe at that kind of bravery, whether I like the reasons for it or not.

So you could respond to Cassie’s story with the typical admiration expected for a martyr, sure, but there’s also a perspective that allows for condemnation. At the other extreme, here’s the case for condemnation: Christian or not, you’re ignoring the self-preservation referred to above. This should be especially damning for a Christian because suicide is a sin…it seems odd to me that a (somewhat) Christian band like Flyleaf would endorse the lyrics “And Cassie pulled the trigger”; that sounds especially suicidal. If you’re an atheist or agnostic martyr of some sort, wouldn’t your life be worth lying for in the face of an evil request to denounce your beliefs or face death? And for the Christians, wouldn’t god want you to preserve yourself? Wouldn’t he be alright with you telling a white lie to live another day and spread the word of god and defy evildoers when the stakes are in your favor?

Peter actually expected martyrdom of himself, saying that he would die with Jesus before denying him. We know how this turned out and this makes us think that, in Christianity, it is a shameful and sinful act to deny your religion. The moral of the story is: be not like Peter. Does this not conflict with the teachings in the bible, such as Corinthians 6:19-20?

19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Certainly it’s a different subset of suicide and it might have its own rules. I’d be interested to hear the Christian perspective on this. I have a feeling that most Christians take a hierarchical approach to the dilemma: first do not denounce god, then do not kill yourself. Certainly making priorities like this are common and expected in a belief system. Another answer might be the way Christians strive to be ‘Christ-like’, and since Jesus was a martyr (for a very good reason, if it’s true) you should follow suit and let yourself be martyred. But I can see another, rather sinister reason for the glorification of martyrs within a religion: preservation of religion at the expense of a person’s life.

I asked if god would rather you live another day to defy evildoers when the odds are looking better for your survival, and I think any god worth his salt would be alright with that. But a religion…a religion would want you to die for it. Why? Because publically denouncing a religion only to turn around later and say, “Just kidding!” makes the religion appear weak and unprincipled (ironically, denouncing your beliefs’ principles to save your life could be a tenant of your belief system). You can win more support with a martyr than you would keep with a liar—in fact, you would repel potential followers with a liar, even if he was a principled one. Positive growth vs. negative growth…if you buy the idea of Darwinist cultural evolution and memes, then this makes sense. It doesn’t make the practice of recognizing martyrs intentionally sinister, but it does help explain the spread of a religion with this practice. Sacrifice one to ‘save’ many.

In addition, there are incentives and principles that help the meme of martyrdom survive within the religion itself…institutionalized exemplification and reverence of martyrs (other than Jesus) and instructions to not fear mortal pain and punishment, for example. The song reinforces this:

            All heads are bowed in silence
            To remember her last sentence
            She answered him knowing what would happen
            Her last words still hanging in the air

Even the performance of the song reinforces this. Check the end of the acoustic clip…remind you of anyone?

That’s the look Christians get about them when they’re overwhelmed by the glory of god or whatever. Raising their arms to sing, looking like they might cry or fall over (a type of mass hysteria left over from Paganism, I might add, which once learned can then be reproduced on an individual basis). There might be some genuine anguish in Mosley’s expression for the death of Cassie under those circumstances, but I can definitely see the zealot, too.

In addition to those, there’s also the promise of eternal reward for being a martyr. Before I mentioned that being damn sure of your decision is an admirable trait given what it implies, and it is—to a point. If becoming a martyr is an attractive option given your belief that you’ll be rewarded for it, however, a strong conviction is obviously a bad reason to admire a martyr. That’s not bravery. But I’m not nearly so pessimistic of Christians to believe that a significant majority would welcome death in this fashion nor so optimistic of our (human beings) ability to not be scared shitless regardless of what we think our beliefs are before we’re staring down the barrel of a gun. The reward might have a small impact on a person’s beliefs before such a situation, and they may manage to carry that belief through the defecation-inducing moment to influence the final decision to become a martyr, but no, I don’t think most Christians consider that the deciding factor.

For its encouragement and glorification of martyrdom, I see Christianity as one reason for Cassie’s death, were the song a true story (certainly the psychopathic killers don’t help the situation; don’t think I don’t blame them first in this situation). It just seems backwards to me that a group of people would claim a martyr. “Yup, it’s because of us and our religion she’s dead!” From a Christian viewpoint, though, I suppose martyrdom is a righteous, unfortunate aspect of the religion given the psychopaths in the world; an honor no one (outwardly) hopes to receive, but an honor nonetheless.

There’s one additional reason this particular story about martyrdom may have spread, and it’s quite a bit more cynical than the reward survival mechanism of the martyr meme. Cassie’s mom wrote a book. Money money money.

Don’t worry; I’m not a complete jerk. I couldn’t find any information on proceeds from the book, but with such projects there’s generally a healthy donation involved, and I doubt this book is an exception. I think her mom just genuinely wanted to tell the story and spread the word of how Christianity helped her daughter…pursuing this line of thought runs dangerously close to producing a tangent in an already sprawling stream of consciousness, so I’ll just again mention how Christian beliefs willed the martyrdom of Cassie into being, and also the good PR generated by martyrs.

The song had slightly different (or at least additional) reasons than the book for perpetuating the myth of Cassie’s martyrdom. If I had to guess, Mosley was writing to express herself and spread awareness, among other things non-Christian. That’s noble, but I would’ve preferred a more secular band had taken on a song like this. You avoid the zealotness I mentioned earlier, and you might avoid the shameless arrogance of lyrics like this:

            How many will die
            I will die
            I, I will say yes
            …
            Do you believe in God
            And I will pull the trigger

Really. Really Lacey? You would pull the trigger. You dumb bitch. You have no clue what you would do in front of a gun. You may have stared down death before, but only when you were suicidal. Now that you want to live, good luck saying ‘yes’ to that bullet. Way to cheapen what you believe Cassie did.

I actually do think you would say yes, Lacey…but if I were you, I’d have the humility, respect, and insecurity to have written a lyric saying that you hope you’d be so brave to pull the trigger.

As for me, I can speculate that I would say whatever the shooter wanted me to say. Call me a pussy if you want. If no one else’s life was in danger and it wasn’t in my power to stop a crazed shooter, I would self-preserve. I think can say that easier than Lacey can say she’d welcome death rather than denounce her faith. But who knows, maybe I’d have a righteous streak right at the wrong time. I’m not stupid enough to say I know for sure.

Came across this this morning: http://www.salon.com/2013/02/24/the_myth_of_persecution_early_christians_werent_persecuted/

On the same page, there are two links:
Atheists Suffer Persecution Globally
Atheists Suffer Global Persecution

Got it. Early Christians were not persecuted but atheists are now. :-"

Atheists are probably targeted, hunted, and massacred at about the same rate as anyone else…maybe less so since atheists are typically only found in societies that have advanced to the point where persecution is not acceptable or legal.

I don’t make claims that I’m disadvantaged or persecuted because I’m an atheistic, six-foot, athletic white guy with a decent salary, but atheists are stigmatized and it is something we have to deal with. When christians were new they were stigmatized. Atheists are relatively new, so they are stigmatized. All things being equal, an atheist has a harder time today than a christian in America. An atheist generally has an easier time than a black person, a woman, a muslim, a homosexual…

Yes, early christians are and were persecuted, just not to the extent many christians like to believe.

Yes, atheists are and were persecuted, just not to the extent people like Dr. Cornwall at the Reason Rally like to believe:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3A6n0TZIoMM[/youtube]

I much prefer the moderate, simple anti-stupidity of people like Adam Savage:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZVi8q4hpB0[/youtube]

The point of posting that article was mostly just to show someone else had approached this topic in a similar manner–that someone else dislikes christian martyrdom enough to write a whole book about it, not just a lazy internet post fifteen people maximum will read. I dislike martyrdom in any faction for many of the same reasons. If you want to write a post about atheist martyrdom and its propagation via propaganda I’ll probably agree with you. I really disliked listening to Dr. Cornwall when I was there.