For those of us who were religious before becoming atheists, you understand how religion gave us meaning. If you follow the rules (especially in Judaism where there are many) and learn the right books, you'll get a big piece of heaven.
As an atheist, what gives you purpose and meaning in life?
As a "new" atheist (I just "came out" to some of my family and friends recently), this is something I am struggling with.
Thanks in advance.
I've never been concerned with meaning and purpose, even in my 55 years as a believer.
Now that I'm an atheist, I know there is no meaning and purpose to life. It just is. The closest I get to purpose is just trying to be happy and enjoy life, but I don't see that as a purpose. I don't feel driven to them.
Perhaps I'd be happier if I gave myself a purpose, but I doubt it. Most of the times I've set a goal for myself (usually from religious pressure), I've failed to reach it 100%, and that depressed me, so I've learned that I'm happier without goals, and I've not set one for probably 30 years.
Sometimes I'll think of something I would like to accomplish and will start it, but I don't make a big deal out of it, and try not to kick myself too hard if I don't finish it.
This spring, I somehow discovered I had 100 times the ambition I normally have, and set-out to modify my soil to please the watermelon I wanted to plant. I dug up the soil in an 11 foot diameter section of my garden, down to 3.5 feet deep. As I filled it back in, I mixed it with a large amount of manure, compost, and organic matter, as well as sand, because watermelon like well-drained soil. I even added two feet of the mixture above ground level.
However, I gave myself permission to quit anytime it became too much for me. After all, I'm 72 years old and was 80 pounds overweight when I started. I also did it all with hand tools.
I finished the project without a firm goal and lost 37 pounds of fat in the process!
Idaho, a few words from a song in the Broadway musical Camelot are apropos.
In words I don't remember, they said that for a short time there was an ideal place.
It seems like making a watermelon garden was, for a short time, your purpose/meaning.
More seriously, during my final years as a Roman Catholic I concluded:
1) The RC Church needs its believers to be unhappy,
2) Its rules, especially those on sexuality, contribute to that purpose, and
2) Unhappy people put the most effort into finding meaning for their lives.
These conclusions made my departure inevitable.
Mathew, you're right; priests should (in theory) be the most unhappy under this paradigm.
That's the theory. Test it.
Purpose of life is a recurring theme for discussions here and it will continue to be so because one discussion is not enough for constantly emerging new answers. In the context of the universe, our life has no meaning. This is a fact accepted by all atheists. The only meaning to our lives is that which we give it on an individual plane. One meaning that I believe must be common to all is : make most of your life, be happy and make others happy as much you can. This is the lowest common denominator of all concepts of purporse. Anything that one does more than this is an achievement. Names of those with greater achievement are remembered long after they cease to exist. Darwin is going to live for long.
dang glich.. see this:
best. very well said. ex xtian / muslim .. both! ?
find outlets.. they're plenty. skate. exercise. yoga. drink water instead of soda. . . . change. watch a bluray or two. marvel. CG stuff.. inspriing
nature lovers saved me. believers or non btw..
The great Robert Byrne once said: "The purpose of life is a life of purpose". What did he mean ? My idea is that he meant by that, that anything you do that makes you happy and that is purposeful, such as volunteering at a soup kitchen or visiting the elderly to make them feel that there is still people who think about them and care, or whatever it might be that makes you happy and you find to be purposeful, makes life worth living even in the absence of God belief.
No one needs to believe in a god to find purpose and meaning in their life. Just ask any member of Atheist Nexus. Personally, I find meaning and purpose in blogging about atheism versus god belief, especially the belief in the God of Judaeo/Christian religion and the God Allah of Islam, since they are the most prominent religions today and the cause of much suffering even to this day. My purpose, and what makes me happy is trying to educate people about the evils of God-belief, and that atheists are not the immoral monsters that all theists of whatever religion think that us atheists are.
So, my advice is, find what makes you happy and gives you a sense of purpose that helps make the world, or your corner of it, a little bit of a better place.
Throughout most of the world for most of history the vast majority of people have had to work hard merely to stay alive. Thomas Hobbes described it in a famous passage of Leviathan as a life of "continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
That we are able to contemplate a purpose or meaning for life beyond the bare struggle to maintain it is the signal luxury we enjoy in modern times. The irony is that we fortunate ones have this freedom even after the bloodiest century of all of history and in the midst of war. Only in 9/11 was our good fortune interrupted and although only 3000 were killed—a mere drop in the bucket of blood that is human history—it has colored everything since.
That we are able to contemplate a purpose or meaning for life beyond the bare struggle to maintain it is the signal luxury we enjoy in modern times.
This might be true of peasants, but not of hunter gatherers.
According to a researcher
adults in foraging and horticultural societies work, on average, about 6.5 hours a day,where as people in agricultural and industrial societies work on average 8.8 hours a day
The many stories and myths the hunter gatherers came up with, show they had time to think about at least some of the big questions, like how did the world start? why are things the way they are?
So you would think they would also ask themselves about their purpose in life.
Or perhaps not. Maybe wondering about the Meaning of Life is the result of living in a specialized technological society, where people's work isn't directly related to their food and shelter, and what they're producing isn't directly useful to them.
And perhaps people who are living in social alienation in big cities are more likely to ask themselves about the meaning of life.
My remarks were not intended to apply only to hunter-gatherer societies, but also to agricultural and commercial trading societies where the majority of the population remained poor or enslaved.
The notion that hunter-gatherers led an idyllic Garden-of-Eden existence comes from a 1966 paper of Marshal Salins, available online at
Salins characterized these primitive societies as the "original affluent society." Much of his description is based on modern hunter-gatherer tribes. It is hard to know what the conditions were thousands of years ago and how long they persisted in any one location. Hardship among hunter-gatherering tribes may not have been due to food shortages, but to natural disasters such as floods, to war, and to infectious diseases.
Slavery was common throughout much of history with conquered tribes or nations enslaved and their property confiscated. There is no question that industrialization brought a new form of slavery and increased poverty for most—poverty more cruel than rural poverty and much harder to escape.
The question of whether hunter-gatherers and other early societies were philosophers and whether the average person worried about the meaning of life is hard to assay with no surviving written materials, but I wonder if the question even would have made sense to them in the context we pose it here.