As An Atheist Can Your Life Have Purpose and Meaning?

I was wondering what other people thought about this.

I realize we weren't born with a purpose. No creator or "higher calling".

But as a non believer can your life have meaning and purpose without god?

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Steph, your acknowledging others' posts indicates your interest in your topic. I thank you for doing so. You repeated part of booklover's (Melinda's?) post but not the getting and giving happiness part.

Some years ago I first heard the affirmation "I love myself unconditionallY." I may have been more ready to say it than others and had little difficulty. Then, while working on a phone help line I had opportunities to encourage callers to say it. Some of them had difficulty with the final word and I encouraged them to say it.

"Living the best we can" is the single largest reason for our ecological catastrophes. It's always about us, us, us, :(

TNT666 thanks for all your insightful replies. I see where you are coming from. We need to not be people centric in our thinking, but think about the system of animals and people and their interaction with the environment.

This is all quite true, but the difference is that the plant and animal are not conscious of their actions. They do not have the capacity to interpret them as valuable or wasteful, apart from the immediate task of staying alive.  They reproduce and eat and kill and die, oblivious to their "place" in the world.  We do have the capacity to interpret our actions.  What should we be doing with such capacity? We can take the strict utilitarian approach, maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.  We can be selfish about it, or altruistic (my pain is OK if it diminishes the suffering of others, my generation should make sacrifices so that future generations can prosper, etc.).  Is this sufficient?  Is this rational?


Any task can be decomposed into a connected sequences of sub-tasks, where the "purpose" of each sub-task is to prepare for the next sub-task.  But what if the overall task is not beneficial?  Is there a mother-of-all-tasks, a life’s work, towards whose attainment we strive?  If so, then this is our “purpose”.  If not, then why bother with any of the subtasks?


Religion silences the argument by sheepish abdication of moral consciousness.  We all agree that this does a disservice to the human potential. But upon rejecting the short-circuit approach of religion, we have two options: erect a new purpose, or reject the possibility of purpose.  In the former, have we not built a new religion?  In the latter, how do we distinguish ourselves from animals?  And should we?

I agree with you Write4U. There is a huge problem with theistic morals. They do always have a way out from their discretion's and therefore, they can continue to misbehave. I see it as an excuse they use to continue their bad behavior.

Michael these are great questions! Thanks!

Oh I really like your statement here Kelly. You don't need a god to have a purpose. I loved the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" - it showed how important his life was and how his existing affected others around him.

I agree life is what you make of it and it has value regardless of your non-belief.

I'm late to the discussion, but I definitely think that removing the dogmatism out of a person's life is the best way to reveal how shallow or deep a person's purpose in life really is.  You gotta be skeptical of everything, and eventually, no religion is going to survive the litmus test of being authentic (i.e. being just what it's adherents claim it to be.)  Would living biblically really give my life meaning, purpose?  How would it be any different from living according to the koran (now there's a challenge) since there's an equal number of people who will tell me with equal conviction that their particular religion is "true"?  Now, I've past the point of no return with religion: what I think and feel is incompatible with any religion, or even with any variety of theism.

I struggled for a long time with the guilt that comes with "knowing" that a higher power is watching me like big brother and the purpose of my life should be to please this maniac.  Then I found out that the maniac is a fictional character and that I was indoctrinated from birth to believe in his existence.  The only way to overcome it IMO was to be completely honest about my feelings and beliefs and to literally stand up to the big bully of religion and tell them that I'm free to determine my own lifestyle and trajectory in life.  I got tired of hating the sin but not the sinner (now, sin is a totally ridiculous and fictional concept to me), I got tired of refusing to think that living together with my partner is a bad thing just because the bible or some priest says so (against my sensibilities), and and I got tired of using some book written by Semitic herders thousands of  years ago to tell me what my opinions should be today (that book is lived truthfully at the expense of minorities, women and the human race in general.)  I learned that you can't please anyone (like a religious television demagogue) who demands total obedience of mind and body to a religion that he probably struggles with in his own personal life.

If anything I'm too aware of my own social status in life, sober to the point of feeling an endless torrent of guilt and sorrow for people who suffer, and unwilling to let go of the injustices and poverty that the rich have inflicted on the poor.  But I don't believe in a higher power.  I want to one day die knowing that I have never deceived myself or anyone else.  But religion is the ultimate deception, a non-existent afterlife that the religious powers-that-be use to keep millions, or billions, of people from rightful ownership of their lives.  George Orwell IMO knew this emphatically and that is why he constructed the world of Oceania to reveal how so many people use some sort of doublethink in our lives to escape the pain of reality.  I guess you could say that's my purpose, to experience that pain, to not deceive myself.

"I want to one day die knowing that I have never deceived myself or anyone else."

One of my primary goals in a life rich with meaning!

Right Edward I agree.
Religion is indeed the ultimate deception - thank you for sharing your story with us David!
Not deceiving yourself and experiencing the pain of reality is a very good purpose.

A deception where the victim participates willingly in lying to him or herself must be the ultimate in mendacity.  The very thought of it is staggering.


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