Applauding the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a
ban on so-called partial birth abortions, President Bush called
it a victory for “building a culture of life in America.”
The idea of a “culture of life” has been a rallying
cry for religious conservatives in their opposition to all
abortion and embryonic stem cell research, and in their opposition
to euthanasia and assisted suicide. By doing everything possible
to preserve embryos, fetuses, and the incurably ill or vegetative,
they say, we will bring about a “culture of life” to
replace what conservative icon Rush Limbaugh calls our present “culture
of death, from abortion on demand . . . to embryonic stem cell
research [to] assisted suicide.”
But what would life actually be like in the Christian fundamentalist “culture
of life?” Consider a world in which abortion were illegal—which
is the exact meaning of the president’s pledge, following
the Supreme Court’s verdict, to “continue to work
for the day when every child is welcomed in life and protected
Pregnant women who rationally desired to abort—whether
because of accidental pregnancy, rape, birth defects, or danger
to their lives—would be forced to undergo 20 years of
enslavement to the needs of children they did not want to give
birth to, or forced to resort to dangerous, back-alley abortions,
the kind that crippled or killed untold numbers of women before
Roe v. Wade.
To prohibit abortion would be to sentence countless women to
spiritual—and sometimes literal, physical—death.
Or consider another staple of the “culture of life”:
a world in which euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal.
Individuals with incurable and unbearable diseases would not
be able to die with dignity at a time of their own choosing,
but would be subjected to a protracted existence of often unspeakable
agony. Their loved ones would have to endure torturous months
or years seeing what was once a vibrant human being persist
as a mass of pain or as a vegetable. Remember the now-famous
case of Terry Schiavo, whose husband Michael had to see his
wife exist for 15 years in a state incapable of emotion, memory,
Finally, consider a world without embryonic stem cell research.
The stem cells that can be extracted from microscopic, 150-cell
embryos have the potential to become any other type of human
cell and thus, say scientists, be used in therapies that could
save or enhance millions of lives. To stop stem cell research
would be to deprive every one of these millions—including
those with heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s—of
the possibility of a longer, better life.
To uphold these positions in the name of the sanctity of life
is a colossal fraud. The “culture of life” endorsed
by President Bush and his conservative Judaeo-Christian supporters
would not benefit human life, but cause massive suffering and
What could possibly justify the religious conservatives’ crusade
for such a world? “God’s will,” they answer.
Our lives belong to a supernatural being, they say, and He
commands us not to end them “unnaturally,” no matter
how unbearable they become.
This God, say those of the Christian Right, sanctifies bits
of protoplasm, and commands young women to abandon their hopes,
dreams, and ambitions in order to raise unwanted children.
He also commands everyone to abandon the breathtaking promise
of a new field of research that could save lives and ease human
This is the rise of the same medieval mentality that demanded
rejection of the life-enhancing developments of anesthesia,
the dissection of corpses, and birth control.The religious
conservatives do not value actual human life; they are consistent
followers of the Christian ideal that human life is properly
lived only in sacrifice to a supernatural being, and that suffering
is proof of virtue.
The worship of suffering is fundamental to Christianity, a
religion whose central figure is glorified for dying a horrific
death for the sins of mankind.
Several years ago, a prominent religious conservative said
of the Schiavo case that, “Terry Schiavo . . . is suffering
in obedience to God’s will. Isn’t that,” he
added, “the exact center of religious life?”
This is the culture of living death.
What would a culture of life really look like?
Human life is sacred—not because of supernatural declaration,
but because of the unique nature and glorious potential of
the individual, rational human being. To think, to create,
to love, to experience pleasure, to achieve happiness here
on earth: A genuine culture of life would leave individuals
free to pursue these and their own happiness free from coercive
injunctions to sacrifice themselves to religious dogma.
We must seek to create a culture of life, even as we do everything
possible to fight religious conservatives’ culture of
The Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. promotes Objectivism,
the philosophy of Ayn Rand—author of Atlas
Shrugged and The Fountainhead.