Supposedly, the word “martyr” derives from a Greek word which translates to “witness”. It describes people who lose their lives due to persecution or great injustice on account of their faith convictions. A martyr is not one who in obedience to a sectarian dogma denies oneself the rights to life by rejecting helps of non-sect members even as others are incapable of helping out. The former dies for Christ, while the latter dies in vain.
Without involving Jesus and his Calvary sacrifice which this noodle generation now thinks is a hoax, we could look at a classical example of martyrdom from a lived history, although this same generation too is highly unlikely to know them, since their memories run afoul of history.
On October 27, 1659, Williams Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson were executed in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Why? Robinson and Stevenson were Quakers who amid religious persecution fled England in 1656. Their entrance in America was considered a violation of a law passed by the Massachusetts General Court the year before, banning Quakers from the colony under penalty of death.
Quakers were members of the “Religious Society of Friends,” a Christian movement founded by George Fox in the early 1650s. In standing against centralised church authority, Quakers opted for a spiritual insight drawn from egalitarian Quaker meetings. Apart from advocating for a sexual equality, their voices sounded loud against the slavery in America. On the account of their religious convictions, Robinson and Stevenson were hanged from an elm tree on Boston Common in Boston thereby becoming the first Quakers to suffer tragic end in America. Their death was not in vain. Their anti-slavery rhetoric caught fire and spread beyond 19th Century. When you hear Quakers today in America’s Basket, you are just reminded how this sect stood against social exclusion.
Contrast Quakers with the story of Ogechukwu Ochiagha, a chef and a member of Jehovah’s Witness who allegedly died on Jan 11, 2022, after refusing a financial help from a Catholic Church, because it is against her church’s doctrine. Ogechukwu’s illness became public after online appeals to sponsor her medical treatment surfaced last year. Until her death, little was known in public about her refusal until her demise when Can Mbanefo, a friend of the deceased, dropped the bombshell on his timeline after her demise narrating how the deceased turned down a request by an Italian Catholic Community and other Catholics who wanted to reach the deceased privately with no conditions attached.
Christians are presumed followers of Christ. A peep into the life of Jesus of history and Christ of faith reveals a redeemer-figure born in a borrowed manger. Rejected by his people, he turned to the Gentiles and in his public ministry, wined and dined with public sinners, outcasts, foreigners. His mostly treasured anointing and thanksgiving came respectively from an adulterous woman and a healed Gentile. When thirsty, he craved for water from an unidentified Syro-phoenician woman. Weak on the Golgotha highway, he was assisted a certain Simeon of Cyrene and not his disciples. Risen, he appeared first to the repented adulteress and through her issued an invitation to his disciples to keep at date with him at Galilee. His life reveals openness, love and tolerance.
On the contrary, the story of Ogechukwu remains us how Christianity has been weaponised and how fragile and helpless it has become on the bewildered laps of business tycoons who use it to retain membership and boost their social capital. If people are not being indoctrinated to give money to your wealthy pastors, build big stadia for God while living in thatch houses, they are being subjected to it-is-God’s-will-resignation whenever famine, kidnappings, diseases, shootings and bombings happen. It is now fashionable that whenever logic is dead, God’s will-line or uncoordinated sectarian teaching is used to cover up.
I choose to be faithful to my principle of not blaming victims but systems or ideologies that groom victimhood. Otherwise, if the dead could speak, one would have wished to know how the deceased filtered out donations Catholics from the pool of online donations she received before her death. Did she die a martyr in her own logic?
This sad story raises again the need to sanitise our system and disable its capacity of continuously producing victims. Religiously, certain ideologies need review. This is not about censoring religion, after all every true religion should to adhere to basic principles like protection of the human progeny, preaching of justice, love and peace among others.
Years ago, I pulled over to drop off some notes to a crippled beggar. Surprisingly, he insisted that I dropped them on the ground where he spread some water before picking them. He saw me as a ritualist. The natural urge was to keep back my notes, but since I was motivated to help him for no earthly gain, I obeyed him and dropped the notes on the floor.
Sometimes, it is difficult to know whether people fall prey to poverty because of their poverty of the mind or whether poverty or sickness affects some people’s ability to think critically. Sometimes, the outward poverty could just be a manifestation of inner poverty of the mind. That is why, beggars have choices.