The logic of martyrdom

“Spending” the legacies of Bonhoeffer, Romero, and King Jr.


  • Jeremy Rios



Martyrdom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King jr, analytic theory


Bonhoeffer’s legacy has been marked by a certain plasticity; he can be made, and is in fact made, to champion and stand for a variety of causes. Is this plasticity a consequence of something innate in Bonhoeffer’s thinking, or could another metric be at work? This essay suggests that Bonhoeffer – as well as Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King Jr. – has been subjected to a something called the Logic of Martyrdom, a process by means of which the church commodifies, then spends, the image of the martyr. This “spending,” in turn, has the potential to operate in the service of a variety of aims, many of which may not align with the original convictions of the martyred figure. This article defines the Logic of Martyrdom (in five stages), illustrating it through three historical test cases, concluding with some suggestions for how to spend a martyr’s image well.