Is Being A Martyr A Good Thing?

I love my husband's cousin. She's 18, bright, full of life and has the whole world in front of her. We'll call her Leah. She wrote the following on Facebook yesterday:
'The tortured's love for the torturer. This is God's love. It conquers the world.'
I felt I had to keep my mouth shut. She's very religious, idealistic and young. Her mother is religious but in a quiet way. Her mother accepts Butch and I as atheists without open judgment and we never talk about religion out of respect for each other. The relationship is more important than fighting over differing world views. By default we have the same relationship with Leah, but lately she has started putting uncomfortable, self-sacrificing, mindless bible verses on Facebook. This is really hard to take. I want to say something but I want to be courteous of my relationship with her.

So on Heaving Dead Cats' Facebook page I put the following:
‎'The tortured's love for the torturer. This is God's love. It conquers the world.' (someone I know wrote that as their status update. What does it mean to you? If you were a religious person, would YOU find comfort in that?)
I got several responses. No one liked it. Barbara was kind enough to Google it, though, and commented with the quote in context:
"And then there is the love for the enemy- love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.’”

Leah eventually told me she read the quote in a book called Crazy Love by Francis Chan. "Crazy, relentless all-powerful, radical love." Eek. I feel queasy now. A self help book about how to fall in love with God.  I won't even go there with how insane it is to fall in love with an invisible, intangible nothingness. My love of coffee is more meaningful.

Anyway, I finally said something to Leah. At first I thought that what she wrote was similar to the Stockholm Syndrome. But in context, I agree with Barbara who commented, "So, it's not about God being the torturer, it's about Christians loving their earthly tormentors in spite of their abuse - turning the other cheek, yada yada. Not quite as alarming as it seems without the context, but still distasteful to me - I'm not a big fan of the martyr thing."

When I said Stockholm Syndrome to Leah, she replied, "Understanding the context might help just a bit... I know it's not your cup of tea, but pick up a Bible sometime... understanding the various forms of 'love' can make things clearer. Promise. :)"
Which of course got my hackles up. But she's young. She doesn't realize that most atheists know their bibles better than most christians. After watching a couple videos of that Francis Chan dude, I am pretty sure I've read more of the bible and know more about God than he does. His god is very carefully cherry-picked. My view of his god is not.

Leah elaborated:
"Let me try to explain this so you understand a little better than "stockholm syndrome", because there is a stark difference. "love" in the quote doesn't mean "becoming", but rather forgiving and being able to love those that harm you regardless. Seeing past flaws, despite the severity of them. "Love your enemy as thy neighbor" kind of love.
I get how to some people this seems outrageous - loving someone who hurts you, but it's what I feel we're called to do. I also know you don't believe in God, maybe that kind of skews this a little and seems like an attack (it's not), but hear me out... the quote is showing how despite our hostility, flaws, problems, prejudices, and mostly the rejection of God, He manages to love us - despite our sins and fickle nature. We are told to have this kind of love on others, to look beyond what someone does, and look at who they are. Granted, sometimes yes, a person can seem just downright cruel, but still, we are told to love them all the same. To love as God, because it is this kind of love that 'conquers the world'.does that help at all to show you what it means and where it's coming from?

At this point, I realized the futility of ever saying anything in the first place. So I told her about Humanism which I thought she should know about (that atheists are good people too, that humanists see the good in people too, it's not just a christian philosophy), then ended with this:
"I really appreciate you taking the time to explain it. It's nice to see where you're coming from. I really value your thoughts, your worldview. :)"

Because, of course, relationships are sometimes more valuable than a differing view of the world that can't be reconciled through reason and discussion.

She replied a few minutes later:
It definitely seems extreme, for anyone I think, regardless of background or beliefs, but at the same time - we're human - and as a result tend to value ourselves and "needs" first, others second, and those who hurt us in any way don't even make our list. This definitely makes the statement seem radical and difficult for sure, I struggle with the thought daily. However, it's something that I strive for, and despite the fact that so far I'm an utter failure at it, the longer I try, the easier it becomes to see good in everyone if you're willing to just look. Thanks for trying to see where I'm coming from, and thanks for sharing your thoughts on it as well. :)

It's not bad to value your own needs first. If you don't take care of yourself, you are no good to anyone else. And yes, it's definitely good to love each other. It's important to see the good in people. But is being a martyr a good thing? Is it noble or healthy? I don't think so. But I also don't feel like it's good to push Leah on the big issues, at least not on Facebook, and not now.

There are just a couple questions I am left asking. If a child is molested by someone she knows who is supposed to protect her, if a woman is beaten into submission by her husband, if a father loses a child to a drunk driver, is it really right or humane to ask the victim to love the person who hurt them? I know, some of you will call me on this. That forgiveness is ultimate, that love must be unconditional, but I just think that's cruel to ask someone who has been tortured or wronged in some great way. Remember, the quote says torture, I'm not exaggerating for effect. I don't think it's realistic or compassionate to put so much on someone like that. And I don't think most people could honestly accomplish such a feat without sacrificing their own self worth, or maybe dignity. I don't know what it would do to someone. It just doesn't seem ethical or healthy.

Maybe in the abstract, it's right to say we should love everyone, I can see how it would be helpful. And if a person finds that in their healing process they want to forgive a past torturer, then that's their choice. But trying to force that on people in the name of some unattainable idealistic perfect 'love' is sick.

Anyway, it seems she's just parroting what she's gotten in church and this creepy book that seems cherry-picked and delusional from my brief perusal. But when you're young, idealistic, brainwashed by your church, and have had a pretty easy life, you still have a long way to go before you can learn to think for yourself. Hopefully she'll get to that someday. In the meantime, I'll read her vacuous proselytizing and keep my mouth shut. Who am I to take off her rose colored glasses and douse her in reality?


  1. Good piece again, Neece. I can see how you are stuggling with it. Especially when you see precious energy, youth and capacity to learn, create and contribute go 'to waste' by spending time on/with religion. It is this 'fact' that shows me time and time again religion is holding us back.

    Apart from that, this 'forgiving' idea might be nice and all, and would 'work' for a victim after a crime has been commited against them, but when confronted with repeated misconduct, one must act. It's this continious idea of forgiving that has infected religious brains, and I think it's the main cause the abuse of children by the clergy of the church has been swept under the rug and has never been stopped.

    Question remains, when to intervene when you see someone 'slip' into these twisted ideas. I think 'now' is a good time. She must learn how the world works some day. She's 18, thus an adult (the gloves are off!). Then 'how' one might ask. Good question. Maybe it is by questioning something you believe the most, and trying to explain the bad within your belief. You can challenge her by acting 'ignorant' ("act dumb") about a certain apect of religion, asking her to 'explain' some bad side of the church/religion. Maybe this will get a dialoge started, in which you only 'mirror' (don't guide or point to answers!). If she feels challenged to 'proof' her convictions, she might actually stumble on the 'evidence' we all know so well. That might open her eyes, but it has to be a 'self' discovery to work. I also recommend the documentry from Adam Curtis: The Trap (look it up on youtube or google video).

    Ps: I've learned it the 'hard' way, because I wanted to understand the world, which I did by studying 'bad' historical events (in my case it was the Jedwabne pogrom that made me question humanity even more. Rwanda and Sarajevo will did the rest).

  2. Forgiveness doesn't equal love doesn't equal trust. In some interpretation's of that message the 3 are confused & intermingled. Very personal info 2nd ex-husband infected me w/virus & I have come to accept that he was misguided in his reasoning, but love him? Only in a general way that I love humanity. I hate what he did. I hate the mindset that his " faith" gave him that allowed to think that what he did was OK. Trust him? No never! Never again. It took me separating, divorcing, counseling, & friends & family to get self-sufficient & regain self-esteem. That & leaving the xtian faith. I cannot serve god. I serve humanity. I take care of myself & look for ways to help others develop the kind of resourcefulness that I have. I choose to not be the kind of person who would do what he did. That is my response to that kind of BULLSHIT! There are things I don't talk about much

  3. It's simple at the heart of it. It's typical abusive relationship behavior, and religion trains you to be abused and come back for more. Sick and wrong and it harms all of society.

  4. Thanks very much, Jobson. I agree with what you are saying.
    Good advice on how to talk to her about it. I really feel I was way too soft and "accepting" of her arguments. Then again, this was my first run-in with her. I will consider your suggestions for if/when it happens again. Thanks again! :)

  5. It baffles me too, Frans. I just don't get how christians can handle such extreme cognitive dissonance. It gives me an embolism every time I hear it!

  6. I really couldn't agree with you more, Shelley. You hit the nail on the head. It is completely sick and wrong and abusive.

  7. Thank you very much for sharing your personal story, Angie. Yes, I agree, forgiveness, love and trust get thrown into the same pot often in these kinds of discussions.

  8. Yes. And the sad part is that it takes so much work on the part of the abused to break free of the brainwashing. And then to not fall back into more of the same with the next person.

  9. It's not just in clergy abuse, but in familial relationships too. It teaches you that there are no boundaries that cannot be breached by the "superior". Biblical law says there are boundaries, but how does anyone know that someone violated them unless the abused speaks out. Then she risks ostracism (or death). So she is damned either way. The religious who cry out about invasion of family privacy are often the ones doing something shady. Secrets lies & secrets.