I've always been uncomfortable with the idea that it is virtuous to die for one's beliefs. I remember, as a young Christian, listening to stories of brave missionaries, often in totalitarian states, who were forced to renounce Christ or be killed, and then were martyred for choosing the latter. Even then I could not help thinking how silly these missionaries were, for surely one's life is more important than a few words.
In Jill Paton Walsh's fictional novel, Knowledge of Angels, set in medieval Europe, an atheist, named Palinor, is marooned on a Christian island. Throughout the story he refuses to proclaim belief in God, to the point of being tortured and burnt at the stake by the island's inhabitants. I don't know if I would have done the same; if someone threatened to kill me if I didn't renounce my atheism, I would without hesitation proclaim belief in God. Because, again, I believe that one's life is more important than a couple of words, especially words said without conviction.
After all, what value can one add to the world if one is dead? The Christian who willingly dies for her beliefs renders her beliefs valueless, in a sense that she can no longer turn those beliefs into actual, positive change in the world. The missionary who renounces Jesus lives to see another day, and is granted with the opportunity to continue helping those around her who are in need.
The whole concept of martyrdom seems to be rooted in the idea that standing up for one's beliefs is more important than the value of human life. And this worries me because those who are prepared to die for their beliefs are often prepared to kill for them, too.
So I don't see any virtue in dying for what I believe. In order to add value to my own life and to the lives of those around me, I find it far better to live for my beliefs instead.