A religious perspective on the value of life

I cannot but have reverence for all that is called life. I cannot avoid compassion for all that is called life. That is the beginning and foundation of morality.

Albert Schweitzer: Reverence for Life.


It is sometimes said that life is of value because it has its origins in a divine or sacred source. This view of life implies that if there was no divine or sacred source to life then life would have no value.

It is not always stated what sort of life is being talked about but we can assume that it is life in general i.e., the lives of you and me, as well as the animal and plant kingdom. This is because under the religious conception of the value of life, all life has been created by a divine source. It is sometimes added that we should respect all life because it has been created by a divine source.

Since we can conceive of life not having a divine source – for the religious view is possible to be mistaken then it is possible that no life has any value whatsoever.  If we were to find out somehow that life was not created by a divine source then we should conclude that it has no value and hence there would be nothing amiss with destroying it. This strikes many people as deeply counter-intuitive for they feel that they know that their life is valuable (at least to them) and this seems a plausible claim to make, yet under the religious conception of value it is possible for your life to have zero value.

The alternative starting point for thinking about the value of life is to start with the assumption that we can know that some life has value i.e., we can know that our lives have value, that we matter, at least to ourselves, and we can know this independently of whether we know life has a divine source.

My reasons for rejecting a religious based explanation for the value of life is that it is unnecessary and is likely to add confusion to the question – what is the value of life?


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