Sunday, April 8, 2012

Modern Martyr Complex


Easter is the day to celebrate resurrection and return. The holiness on this day isn't supposed to be based in the crucifixion but the freedom from any pain-as-proof religion. Yet 2,000 years later, the world religions seem to still be focused on suffering for God theories, and martyrdom.

In Tibet, Buddhist monks and practitioners set themselves on fire as protest. It's marked and recorded in the news as an exciting/tragic/heroic protest against China. In the Mideast,  Muslim suicide bombers detonate themselves into what -they believe- will be paradise. Even in Christianity, there is the cult of crucifix. It's the people who made "Passion of the Christ" a huge hit and the idea that all great saint hoods involve deprivation and pain. 

Who planted this bizarre masochistic belief? Lord Buddha fled from asceticism and self-punishment and strongly advises against harming one's body at all. Yet one of the iconic pictures of the Vietnam War was the self-immolation of a monk. I remember having a conversation years ago with a Buddhist practitioners who praised such violent self-abuse. When I questioned why anyone would destroy their body, he seemed infuriated. I obviously didn't know anything about his form of Buddhism, which seemed like a competition in magical feats and self-flagellation. I sat there quietly as he raved about other acts of torture, while ignoring the feats of love performed by the Dalai Lama and others. 

I have another friend who is strongly Catholic. He walks around all the time with sizable wooden crucifix necklace. I imagine looking down and seeing a suffering Jesus on my chest all day. I wonder what purpose does it serve? To remind me of suffering? To make me feel so small and unworthy in comparison? Not surprisingly, my friend is hyper-critical of his actions and always seems to be in a rut. He is quite literally carrying the cross of suffering and judgment around with him where ever he goes. 

Self-torture only reminds me of the limitations of my body, the very thing religion claims to be about escaping. This martyr complex also sets up a scenario of me vs. the so-called 'demonic world.' In all martyr situations there is an oppressor and a hero. There is someone 'out there' who is trying to stop my angelic self. And I overcome this villain by subject myself to a hunger strike or some form of punishment which makes my oppressor feel guilty. What am I doing but taking my own guilt and projecting out on to an oppressor/villain? What am I doing but taking my own body -which I must perceive as impure- and cleansing it with the fire of pain?

If I really believed that my body was angelic, that I had the love of God in me, there would be no need for torture. In fact, I would cherish myself greatly and see others in the same light of love. 

That's not to say that there isn't a place for detox-ing or fasting to cleanse the mind. That's not to say that great saints haven't suffered and been oppressed. But in today's culture, we almost seem to look for the oppression first and the salvation later. 

There is a glee in being the victim, in being outraged, in feeling like everything is pitted against me. Talk shows, news, politics, and scandal play into this martyr complex. The public is told that they are the good guy and this person out here has done something horrible, or is trying to destroy America, or is cheating on his wife, or may be the father of a child he's estranged from. We 'boo' with glee at these so-called bad guys. 

Yet, more of them come forward until the entire world seems full of bad guys, hypocrites, liars, politicians, and crooks. But I rest assured in the comfort that 'I' am the last good guy. Sure I may cheat on my taxes a little, occasionally tell small lies, contradict myself, but I am the one being oppressed by this Confederacy of Con Men. It's the corporations or the Republicans, or whomever else I'm supposed to feel outrage toward this week. 

But what if all that outrage was really a deep subconscious guilt? What if my anger and need for martyrdom really comes from a oceanic deep feeling of unworthiness and uncertainty by my 'small lies' and 'little contradictions' that I would rather not look at in me? 

Over 2,000 years later, we are technologically advanced but still psychologically stuck in the age of martyrs and Inquisition. And it's never going to change unless I change myself. There will always be someone out there to project my own fear and guilt? There will always be a great villain from central casting that appears to be stopping me. 

What if Lord Buddha suffered as a human being and a last lesson so that I wouldn't have to go through with that? What if Jesus suffered -not for the sins of man or my 'evil'- but as a lesson in how deep his forgiveness could go? What if we celebrated the resurrection of his mind more than the death of the body? On Easter I think about these thoughts and all the crucifixes that people are carrying around with them all day. 

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