By Gina Liggett
Most religious or "spiritual" values include the belief in eternal life, such as an afterlife in heaven or reincarnation into another life after death. The common theme is the idea that each person has an eternal soul that lives beyond the physical body after death.
Meanwhile, in the here and now, a key goal of modern religious activism is advocacy for what many faithful call the "sanctity of life". Believers are taught that life is given by and belongs to God, and therefore we must not meddle in the godly matters of life and death.
This is the biblical basis for prohibitions against abortion, euthanasia, and stem cell research, even though these practices are for the purpose of relieving suffering and improving the lives of living individuals. (And it is also the moral basis for the Colorado ballot proposal to grant rights to fertilized eggs.)
But when the religious interpretation of the "sanctity of life" is the law of the land, people are forced to endure suffering. For example, a woman who is impregnated by a vicious rapist must forever live with the psychological and social burden of raising a child she doesn't want. A terminal cancer patient with agonizing pain only has the option of withering away using ever-increasing mega-doses of pain drugs rather than being allowed the choice of ending his life with dignity. These examples demonstrate the opposite of respect for the sanctity of life.
How do the faithful psychologically tolerate these indignities? By believing in an eternal life: that when it's all over, one's soul will live on. It may go to heaven to be with God in a state of eternal bliss, or it may reincarnate and advance to a "higher plane" of existence with "lessons learned" from the previous life.
But this belief comes at a high price: believing in an eternal soul essentially renders one's life in the here and now expendable. If you live forever, it doesn't ultimately matter if you suffer in this life. All that matters is that humans must not "play God" by taking ownership over their own their lives.
One of the most difficult truths we face as humans is that our existence is finite. This is something we have to learn to accept and cope with. The religious belief in an afterlife is a total evasion of this blunt truth.
The fundamental fact that we all die means that it is this life that is sacred. Therefore, we must have a society that protects the unique, finite and precious life of each living individual. Such a society based on rational egoism has a moral code founded on the realities of our finite existence and the requirements of human life.
But a faith-based society that unquestioningly accepts the idea of an eternal soul can rationalize doing anything it wants to individuals in the name of God, because people get eternal life anyway.
A proper sanctity of life is for the living. It is not for potential life, a dreamy "eternal" life, or for God.