A few weeks ago I was killing some time during a break at work, just puttering around on Facebook, when a friend shared this image…,
I was pretty sure it had been faked. After all, the resolution of the image was pretty low, and I felt doubtful that wooden arrows would be quite so effective against the fuselage of a low flying plane. Still, I couldn’t help myself from smiling as I looked at the image.
I could see the scene in my head…,
The Piper Comanche sweeping low over the jungle canopy, only to be pelted with a sudden barrage of arrows from below; the frantic pilot and passengers shouting in fear, fighting the suddenly unresponsive controls to gain altitude before it was too late. Then, back at the tarmac, the looks of disbelief from those on the ground as the wounded plane sets down, having just made it back before the last of the fuel drained away from punctured tanks.
Still, the whole thing seemed pretty unlikely, so I responded to the post by saying, “Assuming this isn’t photoshopped – good for the tribe – keep those arrows flying!”
When I glanced back at the post later, my smile diminished somewhat. What followed my comment was a brief discussion about five men, Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully, who were killed in 1956 while attempting to evangelize the Huaorani, an Ecuadorian tribe which had previously resisted all attempts at contact from the outside world.
Except, of course, “killed” is not the word that was used in the discussion.
These men were not killed, they were “Martyred”.
Because, when you intrude where you are not wanted, when your goal is to disrupt the social order of a foreign people, to make them question their beliefs and ultimately, to convince them that they must conform to your beliefs, and when you are slain in the pursuit of that effort, you are a Martyr in the eyes of those who see the world through that same twisted logic.
A few days later, came the news of violent attack against the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, in Paris. And then two days after that, news that the two gunmen, along with a hostage, were now surrounded by police, in an industrial area north of the French capitol. The words that were repeated again and again, in the news reports during the standoff, “the two men have announced that they wish to die as martyrs.”
In the end, I suppose they were given their wish.
Ye gods, am I ever so sick of martyrs!
And yes, before you ask, I am with no reservations whatsoever, equating the actions of the Paris gunmen and a pack of Christian missionaries killed in the jungles of Ecuador, almost exactly 59 years ago. Because they ARE the same, all of them, and I don’t care that their methods differ.
Both groups intrude themselves into innocent lives with the goal of disrupting a social fabric of which they disapprove. They seek to quash the beliefs of the “infidel” or the “savage” and replace those beliefs with their own. Their final goal is absolute conformity of thought and action, and it matters not if their target is an isolated jungle tribe or modern western secularists.
I have long held that there is no difference between fanatical branches of Christianity and Islam when it comes to this point. Each religion, hammers it into the heads of their faithful, that the greatest gift that you can give of your god, is the gift of your own life, taken while spreading the holy word to all corners of the globe.
Generation after generation, raised upon such a belief, have birthed a society which embraces the martyr, even when the cause falls far from the religious sphere. And so we see efforts to paint the editorial staff at Charlie Hebdo as martyrs in the cause of free speech.
And perhaps those poor artists and writers really are the ones who should be seen in this context. At least they didn’t try to push their agenda upon anyone at gunpoint. At least they never tried to force their book and their message into the hands and hearts of people who only wanted to be left alone.
Maybe they are the real martyrs here, but I’d rather not think of them as such. The cause of free speech does not need martyrs. History has shown that the dead do not speak with their own voices, but with the voices of those who choose to speak through them. Free speech is, I think, a cause for the living.
I fear for our future because I don’t think it is possible to live among the martyrs.
Take a long look at the world around us, and remember that the architects of that society have been, by and large, a people who believed that this life, this world, was only a proving ground for the Kingdom of Heaven. And now, close your eyes and imagine what the world might look like, if its custodians were, instead, a people who believed that the greatest thing that they could do to honor their gods, was to live long and peaceful lives.
Ah, but what about that airplane, pierced by so many wooden arrows?
Well, it was neither an invention of photoshop, nor evidence of a jungle adventure gone wrong. A quick search revealed it to be the centerpiece of an Argentinian art exhibit called Avião. So, it would appear that no missionaries were harmed in the making of this sculpture.
Many of the comments I’ve read on this piece fall into the, “That’s not art!” variety, which are so common when a work does not fit easily into a frame, and on a wall. Personally, I love it. I find the image to be both beautiful and frightening. Like any good work of art it takes my mind in several directions, some of which, I have little doubt, the artists involved never intended.
What I find beautiful, is the contradiction between the ordered elegance of the flying machine, and the sudden chaos of feathered wooden shafts which pierce its perfect surface. And then there is the something of the lilliputian here, as a thousand tiny spears threaten to bring down the behemoth of modernity.
And what do I find so frightening?
Only the seeming futility of it all. I look at this sculpture and I smile. But hiding behind that smile is the knowledge that a thousand thousand arrows could not hope to bring down all the airplanes, boats and busses that will carry the faithful to their next jungle village.
Kill one missionary…,
Kill one terrorist…,
…and his fellows will brand him a martyr, his name will become a rallying cry, and more will follow.
Unless we stop celebrating those who die for our pet causes, and instead learn to celebrate those who lead through living. It may be hard to accept, when we have been raised to believe otherwise, but the path which I am suggesting is, by far, the more difficult one.
Dying is easy. And dying a “meaningful” death is only slightly more challenging.
But to live a full and meaningful life? Well now, that is task which every single martyr, those we are taught to revere with such dedication, failed miserably.