One of the interesting figures in the ninettenth century Oxford Movement was John Henry Newman, late4r Cardinal Newman. Newman was an excellent preacher and writer and is always a pleasure to read. He started his career as an Anglican clergyman involved in the movement to return the Anglican Church to more conservative and more Catholic principles. He converted to Catholicism in 1845 and was made a Cardinal in 1879. Despite a brilliant mind and an engaging personality, he was cruelly conservative and hardly rigid in his beliefs as this quotation shows:

Man had rebelled against his Maker. It was this that caused the divine interposition: and the first act of the divinely accredited messenger must be to proclaim it. The Church must denounce rebellion as of all possible evils the greatest. She must have no terms with it; if she would be true to her Master, she must ban and anathematize it. This is the meaning of a statement, which has matter for one of those special accusations to which I am at present replying; I have, however, no fault at all to confess in regard to it; I have nothing to withdraw, and in consequence I here deliberately repeat it. I said, "The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse."

from his book, Apologia Pro Vita Sua  [my emjphasis]

In the eyes of the church rebellion from its commandments is the greatest sin and obedience to its prescriptions the supreme virtue.

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So I was wondering if Cardinal Newman is in the scapegoat role in this discussion.

Newman is, in my judgment, a unique case and makes a poor scapegoat. His originality of thought and expression, coupled with the intense passion of his religious temperament, place him outside the normal range. That intensity is what allowed him to make the moral absurdity I quoted.

Galileo was not a martyr at all and Bruno's case, although much stronger, is not as clear as one would like—his theological heresies were as much the cause of his condemnation as his cosmology.

Galileo seems to have tried to support heliocentrism while placating the church.  He was punished for it by house arrest for the last 8 years of his life, which is bad enough. 

If you define a martyr as someone who refuses to placate the oppressor, I guess he wasn't a martyr.  But he did suffer for defending a reasonable position, and I'm sure other such people could be found.

 The primary sense of martyr has always been someone put to death for their belief, usually religious.

It doesn't mean that any more - "killed or suffers greatly for a belief".  Maybe it meant that back then, who knows. 

Hippasus may have been drowned for discovering irrational numbers, or for constructing a dodecahedron with vertices on a sphere, it isn't clear which. 

What do you think it means now in its literal, non-hyperbolic sense?

The statement about being a martyr for a conclusion is ambiguous because there's a big involuntary aspect to being a martyr. 

If a believer in evolution is murdered by a creationist, is that being a martyr? 

Or the student who threatened to kill her biology professor for talking about evolution?

Often being a martyr is taken to have a voluntary aspect, that the person could have escaped a lot of suffering or death if they didn't stand up for the truth. 

If someone believes something irrational, they may want to  kill someone who insists on rationality.  It's probably happened many times.  


My impression, which I believe is supported by dictionaries (OED) as well as tradition is that one becomes a martyr only by voluntary self-sacrifice for one's beliefs.

In other words an involuntary victim is not a martyr, something more is required and that is the willing sacrifice of life.

There have been lots of brilliant Catholic intellectuals.

Name a few, and provide some evidence that they were not submissives who remained within the limits their chosen dominants set for them.

no man will be a martyr for a conclusion.

Martyrs (i.e., Sebastian and more), whose dogmas resulted in their deaths, are by definition not victims (i.e., Bruno and more) whose conclusions resulted in their deaths. Galileo survived.

Galileo survived.

Being confined to one's house for almost a decade as Galileo was, is obviously a terrible thing to endure, for almost anyone.  That qualifies Galileo to be a martyr - someone who suffered greatly for their beliefs. 

Won't there always be a core of disagreement?  Isn't that the very nature of religion?  There are progressives and fundies who believe many of the same things but differ on major details.  That seems like a simple fact of life to me.  Or maybe I just like simple.

I'm all in favor of simplicity, but as Einstein said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." While I don't quarrel with what you've written, I really wanted to make a somewhat different point. I'll try again.

In any controversy you ordinarily find among the adherents of both sides a majority whose views are shallow and which, for that reason, do not reach to the heart of the matter. Setting aside that majority, there remains a core of disputants whose deeper views do go to the crux of the matter.

In the question of belief versus unbelief, I find Newman to be one of the deeper minds on the side of belief. Evidence of his depth is clear in his  book of 1870, A Grammar of Assent, in which he makes important distinctions between religion and theology and between what he terms notional assent and real assent.

Briefly, notional assent to the proposition God exists is merely recognition of it as logically true. Real assent is making that recognition the center of life that gives meaning to all its other aspects. In other words, real assent goes beyond logic and attaches belief to sentiments.

Atheists are forever pointing out the illogicality and incoherence of theological propositions only to find believers impervious to their criticisms, in part because they have absorbed those propositions into their mental life through what Newman calls real assent. Even more, sometimes real assent is gained first without the support of any underlying notional assent, as in the case of the doctrine of the Trinity.

This process of psychological absorption is what makes illogical ideas difficult to dislodge through logic alone. The phenomenon extends to other realms besides religion, but in the case of religion, the linkage to parental and societal values absorbed before the development of logical thinking, makes religious ideas less open to revision.

...reveals Newman as a first class mind, yet a mind thoroughly saturated with religion.

My experience tells me that saturation with religion damages even first-class minds.

In college I knew Catholics with first class minds. One was a doctoral candidate I was never able to best at poker who later told me he randomly chose a game strategy from the several strategies he knew. Another was a faculty member in the medical school who in the mid-1950s was researching the effects of implanted radioactive pellets in rabbits. We were all members of the Newman Club on a state college campus.

A year later I quit Catholicism for agnosticism. (Pascal's Wager was too shallow to take seriously.)

I'm now retired and meet life-long Catholics whose bizarreries (it's in the New Oxford American and it means what your first impulse tells you it means) amaze me. The most intelligent of them (who also went to Catholic schools, knows I'm an atheist, and tells me I'm still a Catholic) tells me regularly that the world and people are illusory. In the six years I've known him, including two years as officers of a Toastmasters club) he has serially attached himself to several dogmas (A Course in Miracles, etc) and put much effort into enlisting me. I tell him it's easier to change dogmas than to give up the need for a dogma.

How to resolve this puzzle of an intelligent and talented individual mired in dogma?

The above are a miniscule sample, but where in academia would research be allowed?


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