Pacifist protesters have continued to torch themselves in opposition to the First Gulf War as well as the Iraq War. People have used their bodies as ideological kindling to make points about environmental issues, taxes, and even to oppose the Vatican’s stance on homosexuality, giving a vibrant new literal meaning to the term “flaming fag.”
Self-immolation is often more religious than political, with a long tradition centered chiefly in Hinduism and a splinter sect of the Russian Orthodox Church.
As far back as 316 BC, Greek observers noted how certain Indian wives sacrificed themselves atop their husbands’ funeral pyres. Known as sati, the practice was finally made illegal in 1829 by India’s British occupiers. It is estimated that merely in the fifteen years that preceded the British ban, around 8,000 grieving Hindu widows indulged in self-pyromania. Although still illegal in India, it’s estimated that the giant nation of one billion toll-free computer-software support-line operators saw 1,451 self-immolations in 2000 and 1,584 in 2001.
From the late 1600s to the late 1800s, a staggering 20,000 or so members of a Russian Orthodox splinter sect known as the Old Believers toasted themselves to death, often locking themselves in wooden church buildings and committing “fire baptism” en masse. In the mid-1800s, another Russian lunatic sect known as the Soshigateli, AKA the “self-burners,” burned an estimated 1,700 or more of themselves.
We suppose it’s good to believe in something. But is it good to believe in it that much? And is it worth dying for the cause of a better future if you won’t be around to enjoy it? What’s the purpose of “taking one for the team” if you’ll miss being sprayed with champagne in the clubhouse?
There ain’t no mistakin’ it—setting oneself ablaze, especially, say, in Times Square on New Year’s Eve or at the 50-yard-line during the Super Bowl, is a real attention-getter. It’s a very extreme example of what a Certified Social Worker might call “acting-out behavior.”
Way to go, drama queen. We get it. You are NOT bluffing. This convinces us WAY more than if you had only given up donuts for Lent. We may not agree with your cause, but pardon us for questioning your sincerity.
Your sanity is another matter.
Sitting there amid the flames that are licking away at their very existence, has any of these self-immolators ever thought, “Whoa—BAD decision! Should NOT have set myself on fire! What the HELL was I thinking?” And of the ones who survived, how many of them lie wrapped up like a mummy in the ICU thinking, “I am the biggest asshole that ever lived”?
Ultimately, what’s worth more—one’s body or one’s ideas? It’s best to take it on a case-by-case-basis. It depends on the body. And the ideas.
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