Would you sacrifice yourself?
Under Roman rule, which covered a large part of the civilized world around The Mediterranean, to be a trouble maker or a magician or an insurrectionist was a capital offence.
To live back then in a civilised society was a boon. Naturally for the sake of law and order certain compliances had to be met to as part of the social bargain to be a Roman citizen. Among them were included the requirement to respect the “genius” or spirit of the emperor, not to be an atheist and to respect the Roman gods. It was deemed that those who were not for the Emperor were against him.
There is a price to pay for every benefit. When Christianity started to grow in the second century, because of its subversive nature as far as the state was concerned, a number of successive Emperors proscribed membership under penalty of death. According to the Christian belief, Jesus had been crucified because of scripture and could redeem mankind from death, to the Romans such a man would have appeared a magician, saboteur and insurrectionist.
Those who became infused with this idea could easily be executed for holding the belief as exemplified by Justin later called Justin Martyr. He told the authorities that it was likely he would be betrayed by his opponents and he would be executed for it, and indeed he was around 165 CE along with many of his students. The elderly Polycarp was executed the same year by being burned alive burning in the arena.
What was noticeable and looking back still remains a conspicuous detail of Christian martyrdom is the unthinking commitment with which church members apparently approached their deaths. Sometimes they used their execution to cheerfully celebrate the opportunity to “be with Christ”.
Incidentally Christianity was not a coherent or monopolistic cult at this time, there were many strands of belief from the Gnostic or spiritual ‘left’ and the bishop driven ‘right’ with many variants. Believers from all parties looked forward to glorying in death but others also reasoned that their saviour (whichever one it was ) came to give his life for them and they were not going to throw their life away on a whim.
The early Church made the greatest capital out of martyrdom along with miracles-- (read up on the martyr Blandina if you have the stomach for it) but looking back do you really believe any of them personally actually benefited from their loss of life?
JWs are sometimes compelled by “belief” to literally sacrifice themselves by rejecting blood transfusions (in Greek martyr means simply "witness") and in a less dramatic way, all JWs are willing to throw away their logical reasoning and their right to self determination and live a life of obligation to the JW governing body.
So I wonder what is it in the human psyche by which without good evidence, people will find pleasure in defying reason and common sense and happily forfeit their lives? Would you?
In a modern day example I always thought while I was still in that it was ridiculous for JWs to go to concentration camps instead of lying to the Nazis. Why would you have to tell the truth to monsters? Just sign the paper, say you no longer believe and go home. God was supposed to read your heart so what was the problem?
To my mind the problem with Christianity is it starts with a crucifixion and has nowhere to go but down.
The answer is No. With what I know now and have experienced that's what I'd have to say.
I was always bothered by the idea of human sacrifice in the bible and in the Witness religion it was like a blender: the blades were on the bottom. If you were on the 'bottom' (the pecking order, statuswise in this idiot group)...well, it's obvious.
The JWs imagined in their minds the other guy was going to sacrifice themselves.
I would not!
But its all about people feeling they are part of something bigger than them, and that they are sacrificing for the greater good.
Also, there is always a "great reward" your gonna get, (heaven, everlasting life, 40 virgins..)
It was easy for older civilizations to sacrifice themselves. First because most people lived really hard lives, full of hardships. Also they generally believed in some sort of grand afterlife, so of course they would gladly sacrifice themselves.
But today very few thinking folks would, because lives are better and because there is likely nothing after this.
This is a complex question.
Every one who has fought in a war (willingly that is) had a cause they were willing to die for.
Sometimes they didnt even know what was really going on between leaders at high levels, only what the propaganda was that reached the common man and still that was enough to form armies of people ready to die for the ideology of the moment.
If i lived in ancient Rome and faced torture, death in the arena etc for being an atheist then guess what? I'd show you the most devout worshipper of the Mars, Jupiter and, of course, our wonderful emperor with a painted smile.
Inside i'd know the truth so who cares? Im alive.
I have an abiding fear that in the event of say a similar inquiry in the US to the ARC or a US govt turn about that says; "Hey its tax time for you WT" then the gb will stir up trouble in order to justify a cry of "Its persecution!" in order to push the rank and file into martyrdom with the requirements to sell off homes (but trust in Jehovah..) or face possible confiscation of their personal property. as I say I have an abiding fear.
Your post is interesting, but today there are way too many people analyzing and viewing practices and believes in history completely out of context and judging things based on how we live and think today.
I was in St Albans today. After a lunch at the Fighting Cocks pub (twelfth century) I went into the cathedral, which began in the eleventh century in the Norman style. It houses the shrine of the first British martyr Alban, probably a third or early fourth century victim of the Church. He sheltered a proselytising priest fleeing persecution and whilst housing him for a few days got infected with Christianity-- and pretty soon had his head severed from the rest of him for pretending to be the priest to save him from execution. A week before he was not a Christian and could have kept his head on his shoulders. Moral: never house fugitive priests.
The early Christian cult was as Marcus Aurelius said, full of morbid and misguided exhibitionists. Christianity was all about Jesus dying painfully and the religion promoted the notion that followers would do well to imitate him literally.
At least half of the "patrists" or Church Fathers were executed, some like Ignatius happily looked forward to being torn to death by animals in the public arena. The effect of all this courageous--or was it foolhardy? martyrdom was profound and in no small measure propelled the credibility of orthodox Christianity eventually towards Imperial approval.
Ultimately insofar as JW doctrine is built on Roman Church doctrine, dying a martyr's death in imitation of Christ, was part of the success (if you can call it that) of Christianity. Let's hope martyrdom never goes mainstream again.