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Individual Beliefs and Life

The purpose of this research is to examine issues concerning the crisis of confrontation between individual beliefs and life itself, with a view toward discussing whether one can choose life over belief and still retain a clear conscience. Reference will be made principally to 2 Maccabees, the martyrdom of Saints Carpus, Papylus, and Agathonice in The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, Brecht's Galileo, and Bolt's A Man for All Seasons.

The ethical issue raised is the difficulty of choice between personal and other-directed priorities. In each text considered for this research, individual conscience, which is connected to faith, is in tension with institutional authority, and each text explores the consequences of such tension from a different angle.

In 2 Maccabees, two institutions at war, and individual conscience as an expression of faith is in crisis over loyalty to one institution or another. The choice in Jerusalem in the first century B.C. is control of the city by Syria or by the majority Jewish population. The text makes clear that the choice is also between a pagan or an observant Jewish culture, and that to the degree the Jews abdicate their religious law, which is what judges individual conscience, they are bound to suffer. The story that 2 Maccabees tells is of palace intrigues in Syria and Jewish collaborators in Judea working together to suppress Jewish ritual and conscience. To the degree such suppression is abetted by Jews, they violate their conscience and are bound to suffer.

[T]hese chastisements were meant not for the ruin but for the correction of our nation. . . . Thus, in dealing with other nations, the Lord patiently waits until they reach the full measure of their sins before he punishes them; but with us he has decided to deal differently. . . Although he disciplines us with misfortunes, he does not abandon his own people (2 Mac. 6:12-16)

In such an environment there are examples of Jews who...

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