Religious types—Christians, mostly—like to talk about a "culture of life." This is shorthand for being against abortion, death with dignity, stem cell research, and other supposedly anti-life policies supported by godless secularists like me.
I see things just the opposite. Religiosity is what's destructive of living life fully, devotedly, appreciatively, reverently. Here's why.
Virtually every religion holds that earthly existence is just a prelude to something better: heaven, paradise, nirvana, god-realization. The life we're living now is to be looked upon as a springboard that hopefully will bounce us in the direction of divinity after death.
Back in my science fiction reading days I enjoyed Philip Jose Farmer's "Riverworld" series. The main character's goal was to reach the headwaters of a huge river. It was tough going. Eventually he discovered that when he was killed, he was instantly reborn along the river.
As I recall, sometimes upstream, sometimes downstream. Regardless, the man didn't fear death anymore. He'd give up his life willingly to have a chance of fulfilling his quest.
Just like Islamic suicide bombers. And Crusaders. And every other religious fanatic who considers physical life to be of little value compared to the non-bodily state that awaits the faithful after they take their last breath.
They are the extremists. But even religious moderates comfort themselves with thoughts like, "No matter how bad things are now, they're going to be better when _____ [Jesus /God/ Buddha-nature/ Krishna/ Guru/ Jehovah/ Allah/ otherwise fill in the blank] embraces me in the next life."
With one eye on the afterlife, how is it possible to give this one the respect it deserves?
We're up to 3,500 deaths of American soldiers in Iraq. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died. This is just one of many "killing fields" around the world. Darfur, Afghanistan, North Korea, AIDS stricken Africa—what makes it so easy to read about people needlessly dying here, there, everywhere without slamming the newspaper on the table and crying This is fucking insane!
I'd say because in most of us there's a lurking (or up front) notion that when a person dies it's not really the end for him or her. It's a bad call, but the game still is going into extra innings.
Well, what if it isn't? What if each of us gets only one chance to experience life? What if every hour, minute, or second subtracted from a life span is gone forever? What if this moment, right here and right now, is so unbelievably precious — because another one can't be purchased for any price — it's impossible to place a high enough value on it?
This is where a godless outlook leads: toward a genuine culture of life. This life. Not the next one. What could very well be (and probably is) the only one. For me, for you, for everybody.
From this perspective a potential life doesn't have nearly as much value as an actual life. A nascent embryo isn't a conscious living being; someone paralyzed by a spinal cord injury is. So embryonic stem cell research is part of my culture of life.
As is allowing people to decide for themselves how they want to die. Death with dignity and doctor-assisted suicide when death is imminent (blessedly legal in my great state of Oregon) also support a culture of life. Religious superstitions shouldn't play a part in social policies, neither in end-of-life care nor anywhere else.
Abortion is a bit more problematic. I've got no problem with early-term abortions. When a developed nervous system is lacking, so is the consciousness necessary for human existence.
Here also a balance must be struck between respecting a fully-formed life and a nascent life. A pregnant woman knows what her life is all about; a several-week old fetus doesn't. The woman's personal ethical choice trumps anyone else's, because she is living her life directly.
Again: this is a culture of life.
No one who believes in an afterlife can maximally reverence presentlife. Divided loyalties preclude a whole-hearted commitment to the reality of is, because could be drains energy, commitment, and attention.
A culture of life thrives in godlessness and is deadened by religiosity. Choose your philosophy of life accordingly.