One thing about being an atheist that is crystal clear to me is that the realization that this is the only life I have makes it many times more precious to me than it was when I believed in an after-life. Actually, believed isn't really the term. Indoctrinated, imprinted, bamboozled - these are more accurate terms.

Nevertheless, the concept of immortality cheapens life. So, in a sense, all religions that offer it reduce this life's sanctity. (If you wish to replace the term sanctity with profound value - that, too, would be more accurate.) I use the word sanctity here to offer up the irony of my premise versus those proposed by 'hereafter' cults.

It seems to me that belief in an afterlife makes this one a sham. We might as well be playing a game of poker. But, if that really were the case, then prayer, prophecies, and clairvoyance would be tantamount to cheating.

Yet, if this life is all we get (less than a century in a fourteen-plus billion year old universe), then holding some things as worth dying for must approach a sense of the sacred. Perhaps the word, in a world filled with believers, also conveys the nature and level of the conviction involved without having to get into semantics.

I know I would die if it meant my daughter would live. In this sense, for me, my daughter's life is sacred (worthy of the highest price I can pay.) Beyond that, I don't really know what I would actually die for. But there are many other things I'd like to think I would.

I did nearly drown myself trying to save my drowning brother. (My mother jumped in and pulled us both out. Man, could that woman swim!) But I jumped in after him, nonetheless. And twice I bodily threw myself in between a woman and a man who was being violent with her - in both cases a man much larger and stronger than I. I'm not sure that either would have killed these women (both dear friends of mine), but the audacity of my physical yet non-violent interventions stopped both attacks.

However, once (and I shudder to admit this) I failed to immediately intervene when the same brother appeared to be close to violence with my ex-wife. I can claim shocked disbelief based in deep-seated denial - but cowardice is a word that will suffice. It was a cowardice that pitted a falsely sacred image of my brother as a non-violent, loving man against my self-ascribed imperative to protect the mother of my daughter. No violence occurred - and I did intervene. Yet, while I did not collude with him in any real way, to this day, I regret the hesitation.

In an 'atheist anthem' I wrote called Right Here, I ask: "would you sacrifice your freedom in the fight to be free?" I struggle with that one. I have risked jail in non-violent action against unjust wars. But I have never faced the prospect of dying to protect that very same freedom to protest. I hope I would. Freedom is profoundly valuable to me.

Nonetheless, I ask you, if an atheist wonders "is nothing sacred?", will you latch onto the semantic incorrectness of his word choice, or attempt to divine the spirit of what he meant?

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Comment by ignutz oofmeyer on December 31, 2009 at 7:29am
People should "divine the spirit," for even without a god some things are absolute truths. I use as an example the innocence of a child. The comment "is nothing sacred" could be used towards pedophiles. To me, and to our society, our children's innocence is sacred, holy, unblemished and pure. It's a biological thing more than a religious thing. Survival of the species is sacred.

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