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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Not to live, enjoy, then die?

Right Tom - enjoy then die.

“Purpose” is the deep and abiding reason that makes life imperative, irreplaceable and beautiful.  It must convincingly address all three; no two are sufficient.  You can selflessly and effectively serve others; fine, but is your capacity to do so, genuinely unique and irreplaceable?  You may derive keen pleasure and enjoyment from life, and it’s good while it lasts.  But is deriving such pleasure genuinely imperative?  Perhaps it is contingent on something else.  Perhaps it only lasts while a certain amount of self-delusion is countenanced.  Perhaps it only comes down to luck.


It is not sufficient to have a smarmy construction of platitudes to keep us going.  It is not sufficient to claim the need or goal of reproduction. Even if I believed in reproduction, why should I reproduce, when there are many others who are no less qualified?  There is no lapidary construct of the simultaneously imperative, irreplaceable and beautiful.  And so, I am coming to the realization that life has no legitimate purpose. 

thank you Michael for your thoughtful replies. You give us a lot to think about.

We human beings create meaning, it's what we do. People express meaning through art, music, architecture, writing, invention, dance, protest, organizing, play, crafts, science, gardening, athletic achievement, raising children, building things, philosophy, choosing mates, making friends, making speeches and presenting arguments, and a thousand other ways.

Each individual generates meaning and is, in a sense, the center of the universe. Reality has infinite possibility. Every choice each of us makes selects which alternate universe possibility from that choice point becomes part of our shared reality. Remember observer effect in physics? Just one person having the possibility of seeing which slit a photon went through makes the photon into a particle, with a definite position, instead of a wave which is spread out. Your actions don't just shape your own life, they shape the entire universe-as-we-know-it. And that is the only universe we know. We are always part of the equation, each of us. The idea that the universe exists independent of us is our idea, one we affirm in everyday life because it's useful for our purposes. But there are limits to the usefulness of this idea, not only in physics experiments. By forgetting how important we human knowers are in the universe as we know it, we introduce an error. We imagine the universe is impersonal and devoid of meaning. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our shared language has the words "meaning" and "universe". Take away all of the people, all of the speakers and hearers using language and "Earth", "Sun", and "Galaxy" disappear. There would still be animals, and the feeling/perception meaning they share among themselves. There would still be hunger, pain, fear, and mother love, but no language to express them.

Without us, religious memeplexes such as "god" would also disappear. It makes no sense to me to equate meaning to fictional entities. It's like asking Mickey Mouse to tell you what's important in life. We can be smarter than that.

You are so right Ruth.  Many of us can be smarter than that.  Sadly, I think the majority can't.

Thank you Ruth! Human being do create meaning. I agree.

I will not live long enough to learn all I want to learn, do all I want to do, and see all I want to see.  It makes more sense to me to do what is right just because it is the right thing to do not because I might otherwise be going to hell.  Living every moment to the fullest is like living forever. (Not original, of course.)  If I was living in the future (going to heaven,) I would not put as much value on the present. I prefer to have heaven here and now on earth enjoying my friends and family in the only time we will have together.  When my life is all used up, I look forward to having my ashes return to the mother earth.  It is enough.

Well said, Lillie, and not concealed behind impressive-looking words.

I love what you said Lillie and I agree.~ melinda

This is fine as an operative rubric for living life from day to day, for continuing the chain.  But how do we answer this charge that this too is self-delusion?

I don't see it as self delusional. I think you can create and live by your own mythology that subjectively "clicks" for you AND understand it for what it is. In other words, I can understand that meaning is always subjective and still choose a moral structure to live by as long as I don't mistake my creation for real "truth."


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