On Virgin Martyrdom
In my prior essays on the “Death of Jesus and It’s Meaning for Us” and “Liberation Morality,” I laid out a moral code that can be best described as Christian Humanism, where the moral law and salvation entirely for human benefit, rather than part of some divine agenda. Given this change, the question arises whether virgin martyrdom makes sense at all. Since Musings from the Christian Left were initially published in 2003, my daughter, to whom they are dedicated, has grown to eight going on eighteen and is in the third grade, so that talk we all dread is just around the corner. Given that she is named for the Virgin Martyr of Alexandria, St. Catherine, her likely questions will have added significance.
The first question to ask is whether virgin martyrdom is still relevant in the modern world? The answer you are likely to get from traditionalists is that virginity is now counter-cultural, however to die in order to make a political statement seems a bit to far for the group dynamics of the Roman Catholic Church. Group loyalty is just not worth dying for in the modern world, unless of course the lives of other group members are at stake.
The whole question of virginity bears examination. Traditionally, it was considered part of family honor to be a virgin as a gift to one’s spouse, especially for females. To not a virgin at your wedding was to dishonor the family as well – and in some parts of the world it still is – usually where women are still regarded as property and marriage is a property transaction between families. It is tragic to love ones child less than one’s position in the community, which is exactly the implication of honor killing. In the modern world, this concept is anathema and should be, as it goes along with ignoring the education of girls. If this were the motive for virgin martyrdom, then it is of no value.
Virginity, to be meaningful, should be a personal gift to one’s spouse, not part of a property transaction. It is part of a holistic view of sexuality as more than just a bodily function, but as a giving of oneself to another. It is part of forming a lasting attachment, which seems to be a natural part of human sexuality – a part that is cheapened with promiscuity. That part can always be reclaimed, however, so the virginity aspect can be thought of another aspect of having ownership of one’s body. In this way, it is an affirmation of individuality, rather than the property of one’s family or faith.
Virgin martyrdom is always in resistance to the attempt to take virginity by force. It is, in essence, resistance to rape – so the virginity aspect matters less and less while the affirmation of self-ownership matters more, especially with a more modern view of sexuality. Virgin martyrdom hence becomes part of the right of any person to say no to the sexual advances of others, whether violent or induced by intoxicants. It is a right that can be claimed by virgins, married women – even against their husbands, prostitutes who have simply had enough and women who are the victims of state-sponsored rape from Bosnia to Darfur.
The urge to rape, whether by violence, by intoxication or as a tool of terrorism, is always an explicit admission of the inadequacy of the rapist. It not only bespeaks an inability to master one’s self, but of deep feelings of inadequacy. The rapist must resort to violence or intoxication out of fear that he is unattractive to a willing and sober partner, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. It is the product of a deep self-loathing.
Rape as part of a terrorist program is an admission that one’s cause is likewise inadequate to be accepted freely. It is an admission that it is not a just cause based on right, but only on the ability to marshal superior, and often, illegitimate force. Use of such force is an implicit admission that the cause of one’s opponent is just and that one’s own cause is pursed in denial of their legitimate rights to peace, land and self-determination.
There is one final aspect of virgin martyrdom that is particularly meritorious. It is why such martyrs have a particular place of honor, regardless of whether the martyr died with virginity intact or not. To resist to the point of death is not just about personal bodily integrity. It is also a witness to faith – not to the group dynamics of church membership, but to the faith that there is something more to life than the present. It is the ultimate response to the rapist – one that says that the real person cannot be touched. Like other forms of martyrdom it is an affirmation of the belief in personal resurrection, eternal life, and for Christians, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As such, it is the ultimate resistance to the evil of the rapist or the dictator and why it will never go out of style, even in the modern world.