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!
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.
David I like your conclusion, pain is an important part of life, and people intent on removing pain from our existence are deluded. In the same way that people criticize the bible for having unpleasant things in it. If anything, that's the reasonable aspect of the bible, the fact there's both unpleasant and pleasant events/teachings. I'm always dumbfounded at that particular anti-bible argument. Without pain there is no pleasure, they are all relative.
Steph, I've been away for several weeks and, upon my return I find this topic. Among the posts I've seen so far are the most thoughtful and valuable I've ever seen on A/N. Thank you.
Yes. As a (relatively speaking) young parent, I focus on my kids. For me, raising them well also means instilling in them an appreciation of the beauty, complexity, and wonder of the natural world -- an appreciation free of any notion that it exists thanks to some SuperDude in the sky. I also want them to know that this is the only life we get, and we have to live (and enjoy) this life to the fullest. The hope is that they'll carry these beliefs with them and, when they're older, pass them down to their children and friends and so on.
So, in that sense, in my own small way I'm trying to spread Aetheism down the line. Beyond that, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.