Friday, March 01, 2019

Youthful martyrdom

Arminian theologian Randal Rauser is always on the lookout for opportunities to undermine Christian faith by posing hypothetical wedge tactics. Regarding the latest subversive thought-experiment:

i) To be the teenage child of Christian carries no presumption that the child is Christian. The teens are often an intellectually unsettled period in which the teen is developing a degree of emotional independence necessary to be a self-reliant adult. That includes the evaluation of his hereditary religion. In some cases this involves a reactionary, outright rejection of his hereditary religion. In other cases he may simply have unsettled views. In both cases this may be a temporary phase, after which he personally appropriates his hereditary religion. 

If, at the time he's confronted by the sniper, he is not a Christian believer, then he shouldn't profess Christian belief. That wouldn't be an honest answer. Admittedly, this is a situation where cowardice conveniently dovetails with honesty. But if he's not a Christian, that would be a very bad time to die.

ii) Even if their child is a Christian, there's no inconsistency in Christian parents feeling conflicted. This is not the sort of question they can give a dispassionate answer to. 

iii) If the teenager is a Christian, then he should be prepared to die for his faith. In one respect, that's the answer his parents should give, but it's inevitable and forgivable for them to be deeply ambivalent about the dilemma. This involves legitimately competing duties, although not all obligations are equally obligatory.


  1. I was having a conversation with my daughter some years back. She has 2 daughters of her own. At the time, they were ages 9 & 7. The question came up of what to do if facing a choice of coverting to Islam or being killed. My daughter said she was willing to die but would tell her girls to pretend to convert in order to save their lives. I remember asking her, "Do you believe in God?" She said yes. I said "Do you believe in Jesus?" She said yes. I then asked her that if she truly believed then why in the world would she want to rob her daughters of a martyr's crown in order to spend years as a muslim female? Please understand, I love my daughter & granddaughters with all my heart. Because I love them, I would rather see them die for Christ than live under a false belief. I think part of what forms our thinking is the idea that there is such a thing as a "normal" lifespan. We rightly feel increased outrage & horror at children being killed. I do not want to diminish that. But no one is ever guarenteed a timespan. So, with all that said, I would have to agree with Steve.

  2. A question that comes to mind is, As a youthful Christian, why wouldn’t your moral obligation to stay alive, outweigh your moral obligation to die for your faith? Don’t you have an obligation to care for your parents in their old age? Don’t you have an obligation to be fruitful and multiply? Why should telling the truth to a murderer outweigh other future moral obligations?

    1. i) Lying in the background is the general duty to maintain a Christian witness in the face of persecution or martyrdom, viz. Mt 10:16-42.

      ii) The duty to procreate is not universal.

      iii) It also depends on the motivation. Is this cowardice masquerading as altruism?

      iv) As for the obligation to stay alive in order to care for elderly parents, that might indeed override the prima facie obligation to die for the faith. But that would depend on other considerations. Are you an only child? Do you have siblings who can take up the slack?

      v) Of course, the scenario involves a snap judgment.