Once upon a time, the Roman Catholic Church was the only church over pretty much all of Europe. Then one day, one of the priests got pissed off when he realized that the Church was just lying to people and swindling them out of money over a fake premise, so he started his own Christian church that was NOT Catholic. His name was Martin Luther, and holding the corrupt criminal enterprise called the Catholic Church to account became a movement (called Protestantism), and some European countries followed suit. (This is the short-short-short version of the story.)
Because of politics and religion being intertwined messes at the time, England, having adopted Protestantism, made Catholicism illegal and punishable by fines, property siezure, imprisonment, and if you made the Queen mad enough, death. To refuse practicing Protestantism made you a Recusant, and let’s just say you were not on the invite list to the royal court!
For refusing to stop being Catholic, there are over 600 Vatican recognized martyrs from that period in England. That is over 600 people that managed to cause enough of a fuss to entangle themselves with English law, get recognized by a Catholic clergy (who was himself hiding out), and their name forwarded on in secret to Italy before the days of VPN internet. Many Catholics were never caught and lived their Catholic lives in secret, and we have archaeological evidence of that. Dozen of Catholics were killed specifically for their belief, many tortured before the final death blow.
At this point, I’d like to reflect on what I see here as real martyrdom. They knew what they believed, they knew what they were being asked to either profess, or at least allow, and they knew what would happen to them if they didn’t go along with it. They were given a choice in court to either choose their belief, or face jail or death. And they chose death. They made a decision.
When you say that someone died for their beliefs, the Recusants certainly did. They literally had a belief, were given the option to change their mind with a not-very-nice motivational tool, and still stuck to their guns.
And yet, there is a line of reasoning in apologetics that tells us that the only reason the supposed Disciples of Jesus would have possibly martyred themselves was only because they literally saw it happen with their own eyes. They proclaim that nobody else would die for a cause they hadn’t verified, and yet here we are with Catholics, separated from the source material by over a thousand years, dropping like flies. The apologists are wrong, and actually for two different reasons.
The first is that these early Christian “martyrs” weren’t martyrs at all. There were dozens of religions in ancient Rome, and apparently hundreds of prophets with varying messages. No one group was constantly sought after and destroyed. Some Governor would occasionally decide to treat one group or the other like shit, usually after that group caused a bit of a rabble and to prove a point. And then a different group would cause a fuss and be oppressed for a bit. So just following one of the many possible religions, including Christianity, held no particular risk over any of the others. Everyone had that risk.
So if you happened to be the religious sect the Emperor or Governor was pissed at this month, and he rounded up a few dozen of you and fed you to lions, what choice did you have? None! You made no choice. You died by virtue of affiliation, not for your beliefs. Nobody cared what your beliefs were nor did they ask. Other martyrs were specifically imprisoned, but also not for their beliefs. They were imprisoned for violating a Roman law, given no chance to defend or refuse any belief, and executed. They ACTED in a manner that got them arrested, that may or may not have been informed by their belief, but their belief was never put on trial. Not so the Recusants, who were specifically asked to believe something else because they had the power of the pulpit. England specifically wanted them to say they believed something, or they would be killed. No, the early Roman “martyrs” are not martyrs at all.
Secondly, the apologist argument requires that the events be true, to determine if it is true. Yes, it is that stupid. I grant that if the Disciples actually witnessed the miracle shit, then they would have good reason to believe. But the apologists want you to believe that if the Disciples witnessed nothing, they would have KNOWN that they were supposed to witness something with which to become original witnesses, and therefore would not have martyred themselves. This is the dumbest mental gymnastics I’ve ever heard. If the events didn’t happen but are inventions by creative later authors, there is no way these believers would have been able to see the future and know they were the ones that were supposed to be meeting the real Jesus. Their “knowledge” of the events is exactly the same as the Recusants. They believed something someone else told them just like everyone else, completely unaware their name would get written into a piece of fiction.
The Disciples and all the other Jesus Cult people at the time died merely by association. They never made a choice. They believed in a savior deity and were unaware events were supposed to be happening before their eyes. And only by the sick doctrine of martyrdom were their stories propagandized so much, that a thousand years later hundreds of people chose to die by horrific torture rather than assess their silly beliefs. The Recusants weren’t heroes, they were dumbasses. They died for a worthless belief.
The Spartan Atheist