The “altruism” valued in the martyr is the complete opposite of the desire “to have the sacrificed recognized” so much a part of the martyr complex or making a martyr of oneself. Is the concept of altruism, of self-abnegation, then the deciding difference between a legitimate martyr and one who attempts to make a martyr of oneself? According to this model, those who fail to find the selflessness necessary for true martyrdom or self-sacrifice are relegated to the realm of selfishness, or the realm of the martyr complex.
The dividing line between these two realms is a thin one and yet is the vital difference between a successful self-sacrifice and a failed self-sacrifice; according to Milbank, a sacrifice, which is in effect the offering or giving of oneself, is not a true gift unless the expectation for a counter-gift and the “principle of self-interest” are abandoned. In Sons and Lovers, Miriam attempts martyrdom by offering herself up as a human sacrifice, surrendering her virginity for the larger cause of Paul’s satisfaction. However, Paul’s lack of sexual satisfaction denotes Miriam’s sacrifice as a failed sacrifice, one that somehow fails to conform to the sacrificial model. This failure lies in Miriam’s inability to separate her self from her sacrifice; her seemingly-selfless action is actually self-motivated and thus violates Milbank’s model of a true gift. Miriam’s consciousness of herself as a sacrifice—“the principle of self-interest”—does not allow for complete self-surrender or the lack of expectation of a return gift; indeed, as long as she keeps thinking about her status as a sacrifice and what she is giving up, Miriam cannot attain the altruism necessary for martyrdom. She never truly sacrifices herself voluntarily. In addition, by sacrificing herself, Miriam not only expects Paul’s satisfaction but also Paul’s gift of himself in return, a counter-sacrifice. Due to these various self-centered violations of the sacrificial model, Miriam cannot achieve true martyrdom and her sacrifice is doomed to fail from the beginning.
Guy De Maupassant’s story “The Necklace,” has an abundance of symbolic factors, and though there are many meanings that can be inferred, there is one apparent allusion that is projected. The danger of martyrdom is evident in “The Necklace,” along with the consequential fate of self-serving actions. Mathilde’s perception of herself as a martyr leads her to take selfish and self-serving actions ...
The Bible establishes a model of sacrifice or martyrdom based upon selflessness, personal gain abandoned for the larger sphere of faith or redemption of others. Faith requires self-surrender, abnegating concern for the self by trusting in something higher and often abstract; sacrificial faith also removes the possibility for personal credit and individual gain. The most iconic Old Testament sacrifice is that of Abraham sacrificing his beloved son Isaac, a tale that Jews call the Aquedah. The text of Genesis 22 reads, “God said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the hills which I will show you.” Even though Abraham loves his son and values him above all things, even his own life, he is willing to sacrifice Isaac; his faith in God is most important, even though he knows that personally he cannot gain anything from this experience. Furthermore, the text gives no indication that Abraham focuses on the act of sacrifice as he prepares to slay his son. He appears to be completely un-self-conscious, blithely performing the sacrificial rites and taking up the knife with the same efficiency that he prepares the altar: “Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to kill his son.” Abraham’s lack of focus on his own actions, his own act of sacrificing, shows that his actions are insignificant compared with the greatness of his faith.
In addition, the narrative absence of Isaac, the actual sacrificial victim, shows the extent of Isaac’s submission to a greater power. Jewish interpretation explains that Isaac is not a clueless victim but rather was fully aware of what would happen when he and his father reached the mountain:
Who is Jesus? Who is this man Jesus? Where was he from? What did he do for others and us? A great source of reference to answer this question would be someone who had direct contact with him in everyday life. Someone who saw the daily wonders he created would be the best source for information. Matthew, the apostle, is believed to have written the gospel of Matthew. He was able to experience ...
Isaac willingly and gladly went with his father to Mount Moriah, to offer up his young
life to the God whom he adored. As they were wending their way to perform the will
of God, Isaac said to his father, “O father, I am yet young, and I am fearful lest my
body tremble at the sight of the knife, causing you grief; I am fearful lest the offering
shall not be a perfect one, perfect as I should like it to be.”
Therefore, Isaac is a willing victim. Isaac’s reference to “the offering” instead of “my sacrifice,” however, shows that his thoughts are not on his own sacrifice and loss but rather on making a “perfect” show of faith. He removes himself from any role in the sacrifice, even though his willingness to be a victim is the most significant part of the “gift” at the center of sacrificial action. The altruism exhibited by both Abraham and Isaac, the complete loss of individual concern in favor of larger faith, makes the Aquedah an ideal example of Milbank’s sacrificial model. Both Abraham and Isaac are willing to be martyrs, abandoning “self-interest” and the desire to “gain credit” in favor of “voluntary, conscious, and altruistic readiness to suffer and offer one’s life for a cause.”
Christians see Jesus and his self-sacrifice upon the cross as a typological completion of the Aquedah. Jesus knows that his role would be to suffer and die in order to redeem the sins of humankind; he accepts this role, saying that “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” However, Jesus avoids self-consciousness and thus “self-interest” by focusing not on his individual action but on the will of God and the eventual redemption of the people. In the Gospels, he lives his life and performs his works despite the inevitable ending, and despite the brutality of his crucifixion, he submits willingly. Jesus’ message in living his own life urging others to follow him is for people to “deny themselves,” which is directly applicable to the principle of altruism so necessary for true martyrdom. In addition, Jesus does not dwell on the idea of himself as sacrificing, or giving up, but rather trusts in his faith and focuses on the what will be gained for others—the redemption of humankind. Jesus removes himself from “making a martyr of oneself” and the “martyr complex” by abnegating his human existence, scolding Peter for his lack of faith and saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” For Jesus’ lack of focus on “human things” or what he is sacrificing, anthropologist René Girard claims that Christ’s death “was not a sacrificial one.
A simple definition of sacrifice is to give up something for the sake of something else, whether it is for another human life, for an idea, or even for a belief. "She was 17 years old. He stood glaring at her, his weapon before her face. 'Do you believe in God?' She paused. It was a life-or-death question. 'Yes, I believe in God.' 'Why?' asked her executioner.But he never gave her the chance to ...
To say that Jesus dies, not as a sacrifice but in order that there may be no more sacrifices, is to recognize in him the Word of God: ‘I wish for mercy, not sacrifices.’” Girard argues that Jesus, by not focusing on what he was losing but rather on mercy and a future without sacrifice, did not think of himself as sacrificing because his self was unimportant. Only later did Jesus’ followers assign his deed the title of “sacrifice,” the one all-encompassing abnegation that would redeem all sins and forever eliminate the need for sacrifice. Perhaps then lack of recognition of a sacrifice as a sacrifice is the ultimate selflessness; not only does Jesus submit himself willingly and completely, but he takes no self-empowerment from this action and thus makes the sacrifice the ultimate “pure gift,” to quote Milbank. Because he abandons self-interest, does not focus on what he is giving up, and seeks no counter-gift, Jesus stands as a model of altruism and martyrdom.
The primary difference between these successful, ideal sacrifices and Miriam’s sacrifice is the problem of self-consciousness. While one of the defining characteristics of martyrdom is altruism, every action that Miriam makes as part of her sacrifice is self-concerned; while
Miriam’s sacrifice serves several purposes: an explicitly-religious commentary on the deterioration of modern society and the impossibility of true altruism; a rewrite of Christ’s martyrdom considering the evolution of time and the necessary evolution of Scripture; an argument against the imposition of “orderly” religion onto a chaotic world in which spirituality becomes reduced to the selfish desire to save one’s own soul; a criticism of religiously-motivated equation of sexual activity with shame and the subsequent intellectualization of sexual emotion; and a depiction of a negative sexual model, one emphasizing the individual instead of mutual sensual fulfillment. That Miriam’s sacrifice fails points to the inadequacy of sacrifice in general, in both religion and sex, and draws the reader’s attention to the selfishness that causes these failures.
There are probably as many understandings of Jesus as there are people who write, think or speak about him. If there was one historical Jesus, we approach that Jesus through four gospels, which suggests that even without including other gospels (so called non-canonical) Christians accept some diversity of images of Jesus. One Jesus of history produced many Christs of faith. Inside and outside ...
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 22:1-2.
Midrash, Genesis Rabbah 56:11.
René Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 210.