I have a question that may be speculative and unrelated to practice, but this is the Dhammic free-for-all.
I have been thinking about rebirth recently, and specifically, the relation of belief in rebirth to practice. It seems that the answer to my question (as stated in the title of this topic), if you are a Buddhist whose practice is centered on gaining enlightenment, is yes. This is because rebecoming in a lower realm seriously prolongs and compromises the path to enlightenment.
However, there are certainly those who fear rebirth in a hell/petaloka/animal realm based on other characteristics of these stations, such as extreme pain, unfulfilled desire and anguish (a la the hell of Christianity and Islam), as opposed to fear based on the the obstructions a rebirth in these stations places in the path of a "person" seeking bodhi. This seems illogical to me. Since "we" won't be the same "person" experiencing the suffering characteristic of lower rebirth, and since the only frame of reference "we" can have is our range of experience, why fear the pain and anguish of another realm which "we" will never consciously experience.
It seems like this could have an effect on a person who is considering taking refuge and who "accepts" rebirth in another way. If this person is attached to certain behaviors which are traditionally said to lead to a lower rebirth (drug addiction or hunting animals, for instance), but he/she realizes that "he/she" will only be experiencing one life as "him/herself, the fear of lower rebirth wouldn't be there. This person would need other reasons to practice Dhamma aside from a desire to escape the cycle of rebecoming, and specifically, rebecoming in lower realms.
So, what is the place of lower rebirth discussion within Buddhism? Why be afraid of lower rebirth if you are a non-Buddhist who accepts the principle of rebirth or a Buddhist whose practice is centered on gaining a favorable rebirth? What is the utility of discussing lower rebirth when discussing sila (as opposed to discussing the positive benefits of sila in this very life)? Can ignoring the threat of lower rebirth lead to moral "relativism" (for lack of a better designation)?
I apologize for my extensive use of quotation marks and hypothetical scenarios.
I do not want my house to be walled in on sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.- Gandhi
With persistence aroused for the highest goal's attainment, with mind unsmeared, not lazy in action, firm in effort, with steadfastness & strength arisen, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
Not neglecting seclusion, absorption, constantly living the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma, comprehending the danger in states of becoming, wander alone like a rhinoceros.- Snp. 1.3