The Strength of Kolbe

Here is a good post on the martyrdom of Maximillian Kolbe.

I wrote last week about sanctity versus being good. The atheist will explain altruism in evolutionary terms: “Don’t you see that for the survival of the tribe primitive people soon began to see that altruism helped them to survive as a people. If they helped one another they would all thrive. Therefore altruism and, by extension, the idea of self sacrifice as being moral developed naturally.” They go on to explain how this helped to perpetrate and preserve a strong gene pool.

I think it is a load of hogwash, but there is a certain logic to it I suppose–the kind of logic that is attached to conspiracy theories: just enough factual matter thrown together with a plausible hypothesis and some clever mind tricks and convenient dismissal of facts that don’t fit.

I’m not bothered to repudiate it as an argument. Instead I offer not altruism, but martyrdom. Not simply doing good deeds, but becoming good. For this is the Catholic argument–not that human beings might be nice to one another from time to time, nor that human beings may have figured out that their tribe would last longer if they were kind to children and women, not the idea that people can be good, but that they can become Good. That is to say, they can become gods. So Irenaeus stated that God became Man so that men could become gods.

The martyrdom of St Maximillian Kolbe reported in this post is a case in point–and a host of others could be offered from the martyrology. These are people who have nothing at all to gain by laying down their life for another person. They gain nothing. Their ‘tribe’ gains nothing. No one gains anything except by the mysterious transaction of sacrifice by which a mystical advantage in the mythical battle is gained. The only naturalistic answer to such martyrdom that has been offered is that the martyr is suffering from megalomania. He believes that his death will save the world.

However, what strikes one in the stories of the martyrs is that there is nothing insane about them. Their lives, like that of Kolbe, were ones of clarity, intelligence, amazingly hard work in the harshest of conditions and a kind of total and complete sanity. If anyone was NOT a megalomaniac it was someone like Kolbe.

Martyrdom–which is the final expression of sanctity–is the strange and bizarre element in the theory of morality. How did the instinct for self preservation and the drive to survive bring about such a mysterious phenomenon? I know of no explanation that accounts for the complete and utter transformation of an ordinary person into such an extraordinary soul except the workings of the One who created that soul to be an eternal diamond in the first place.

  • Marcus Allen Steele

    Father, it just so happens that I’ve thought about your theme. Atheists, most of whom are Darwinists, would take me to task for my statement that God is the light of one’s life. They would not necessarily argue against my faith; they would only say it was an illusion, a result of some evolutionary process. The atheist biologist Dr. Richard Dawkins, the well-known nihilist disciple, postulates “the proximate cause of religion might be hyperactivity in a particular node of the brain.” He also says “the idea of immortality survives and spreads because it caters to wishful thinking.”
    Dinesh D’Souza––in a current bit of hot water but smart just the same––in his book about Christianity aptly counters, “It makes no evolutionary sense for minds to develop comforting beliefs that are evidently false.” Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker explains, “A freezing person finds no comfort in believing he is warm. A person face to face with a lion is not put at ease by the conviction that he is a rabbit.” D’Souza concludes “wishful thinking of this sort would quickly have become extinct as its practitioners froze or were eaten.”
    As for Fr. Kolbe, I’ve always imagined martyrs graced by a singularity of wisdom––the infinite God revealed to them in a moment––and they meet their fate protected (somehow) by God’s tender mercy.

  • u3

    Martyrdom is the complete opposite of selfishness; it is the giving of oneself–fully and totally–to Jesus Christ. The love of Christ pours forth into the world from such a prophetic witness and example of Christ through the martyrdom of oneself. We remember St. Kolbe on this All Souls Day, a man who gave himself so that another could live. True charity that lives on…thank you again, St. Kolbe.

  • Tony

    I sway from atheist to agnostistic from time to time, but what I find is that apologists really cannot do much beyond the Word of God. Apologists attempt to use reason to make an arguement about things that defy what we experience in the real world. For someone to walk on water and heal the sick with a single word is not something every man can do, and therefore how can logic be applied to something so supernatural. What I’m trying to say is every apologist Christian or atheist attempts religion by some correct application of reasoning, but it doesn’t really do anything. Does anyone come to God by logical reasoning? I thought St. Paul tried this on one of his road trips.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Reason on its own can only take you so far.

  • bill petro

    @Marcus. We might add it is the atheist who is “wishfully thinking” there is no afterlife, no hell.

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