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.