Does My Life Have Purpose?

I received a comment on my ‘Atheist Life‘ page. My response was pretty lengthy so I made a post out of it. Here is the original comment:

Brenda, if atheism is true, then regardless of what pleasure and satisfaction you may find in your life there is no rational grounds for believing that your existence and choices have any objective meaning, value, or purpose. Do you agree? I get the impression, judging from the rather blithe tone of your writing throughout much of this blog, that you don’t.

Many prominent atheist thinkers have agreed on the point that to behave as though one’s life has meaning in the absence of an infinite-personal creator God is fundamentally absurd. It’s necessary for survival, but nonetheless delusional. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Russell, Sartre, Camus, and even Richard Dawkins have said this.

It seems to me, based on what I’ve seen on this blog, that you have a double-standard when it comes to thinking logically about atheism. On one hand you defend it as a rational position. And maybe it is. But on the other, you seem to believe that your life is intrinsically valuable and meaningful. Maybe to you it is, but what objective basis is there for such a belief? I challenge you to think on this, to consider whether you’re willing to stare the logical consequences of atheism fully in the face.

Here is my lengthy response:

Let me just preface my comments by saying that I will answer them in the context of Christianity even though the comment doesn’t spell this out. Most people who bring up the issue of purpose are Christians and also that is my religious background so I’ll stick with comparing my current atheist worldview with a Christian one.  Also, let’s be clear that when Christians discuss these types of issues, they almost always assume that the god they are discussing is always their type of god and not some other person’s version of god. We could also discuss the issue of purpose in relation to the many other hypothetical gods that could potentially exist. But for this discussion I’ll just keep it simple by discussing this in the context of a Christian worldview.

I find it interesting that you describe my blog as having a ‘blithe tone.’  Blithe can have two types of meanings:

1: of a happy lighthearted character or disposition

2: lacking due thought or consideration : casual, heedless <blithe unconcern>

Am I correct in thinking that you were using the term with the second meaning in mind?

I’d really like to address this. If you are saying that my happiness exists only because I am not fully aware of what the logical outcome of my atheistic beliefs are then you are mistaken. Also, if you are at the same time implying that I have not given it due thought and that my happiness only exists because I am shallow in my character or thinking, then you are also mistaken.

I do know people like that who are very cheerful but it’s mostly because they don’t give the serious issues in life any thought and they barely see past their own nose.  Ignorance is bliss as they say. I have trouble relating and connecting with people who fall into that category, but I don’t judge them.  The world takes many types of people and those people often lift the rest of us up when we get down from analyzing things to death.

But let me assure you that I most certainly do not fall into that category. I think you may have gotten this impression partly due to the fact that I started my blog after my deconversion was pretty much complete and I was ready to move on with my life. My blog doesn’t document the two years of intense struggle and study that led me from being a fundamentalist Christian to an atheist. My amazon bills were insane as I read and read and read some more (never mind all the articles and videos I read and watched online). And while I was struggling with all of the big questions in life, I still had to get up every morning and be a mother to five children and a wife and daughter and friend. It was an awful and messy time in my life but it was necessary to get me to where I am now.

While I love the philosophical reading I’ve done and I would love to do much more of it, the busyness of my life right now doesn’t afford me the time to do as much as I would like. So while I don’t have the time to begin an in depth philosophical discussion, I think we can still address the issue you bring up.

My main question is why meaning must only exist in the context of an infinite-personal creator God? It seems like you’ve defined meaning as needing this and then called anyone who describes a type of meaning outside of your definition as delusional. Why does meaning that comes from an outside source have more value than meaning that I create for myself within the context of my own life? That would be my main question for you.

If you want to know if I think my life has some higher purpose in the grand scheme of the universe, then no, I don’t think it does. And I no longer feel that my life needs this level of purpose. Christianity told me I needed this level of purpose but I have found it unnecessary.

But if I picture myself laying on my proverbial death bed looking back on my life and reflecting, then I see plenty of what I would call purpose. I wake up every morning and make my own meaning and purpose. That involves trying to be a better person, loving, being loved, reaching for goals that give me satisfaction, getting through the tough times as best as I can and hopefully helping others get through the tough times in their lives … the list could go on. And when I look back on my life, why are these purposes of any less value than the purpose that a god might give me which is to be a slave in a twisted system that I think is reprehensible? And if we are talking about some other type of god who is more passive and benign – some ‘presence,’ – then that god is irrelevant to me in my life here and now and that type of god has not communicated any purpose to me.

I don’t need an outside source telling me that my life has value and meaning.  I don’t think Christians (for example) have any more purpose in their lives than I do. They’ve decided that some invisible entity who has never spoken to them directly has told them that they are part of a great cosmic battle between good and evil and that somehow their role in this battle gives their life purpose. Considering that I think this hypothetical god doesn’t even exist, I look at them and think they are wasting a good portion of their lives on something that is delusional and I see that as sad. You may think my atheism taken to its logical conclusion is bleak, but I think that if a Christian was faced on their death bed with the fact that all their religious beliefs were false then they would regret having defined and lived their life’s purpose solely in that context.

I was a Christian for 20 years and defined my purpose in that context and when it was ripped away it was more than difficult. But contrary to the notion that I haven’t considered how both sides defined purpose and what the consequences of each view would be, I read and reflected and then hashed it out in my real life. What you are seeing on my blog is a very conscious and well thought out view of purpose and meaning and happiness. I may not matter in the grand scheme of things, but my life matters to me and I matter to those around me. I really started focusing on the people and events in my life here and now instead of chasing some eternal life and some purpose that was supposed to come from on high.

After I read your comment I came across this quote:

A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

–Stephen Crane

And you know what?  I’m fine with that.  And I don’t find it bleak. I think when people chase a purpose from a higher being they sacrifice something very real in their lives here and now.

Let me finish off by saying that this whole discussion reminds me of this quote:

Christianity must convince men that they need salvation … Christianity has nothing to offer a happy man … Just as Christianity must destroy reason before it can introduce faith, so it must destroy happiness  before it can introduce salvation.

George H. Smith

So what I’m hearing from you (in the context of this quote) is:

Brenda, I’ve decided that according to my definition of meaning and purpose your life has no meaning and purpose. But lucky for you, if you become a Christian like me, you can now have meaning and purpose as defined by me.  How fortunate for you that I came along to take your meaning and purpose away so that I could replace it with my version of meaning and purpose.

So to get back to your basic question, I don’t think my life has a Purpose but I do think that I create purposes for it and I find that is enough to fill up a lifetime. I am certainly open to discussing this further and I’d love for my readers to chime in on the discussion in the comments.

(Note:  You can visit my ‘purpose’ tab or type ‘purpose’ into the search bar to see other posts on this topic.)

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54 thoughts on “Does My Life Have Purpose?

      • Victor, in your reply to Brenda below, you say, “even though loving others and reaching your goals may bring you feelings of satisfaction, they don’t have any objective meaning or value if atheism is true.”

        This is what I mean about Christians having to cheapen and devalue life in order to push their agenda. Loving others has no meaning or value? Are you kidding me?

        Love requires no external justification. It is an intrinsic good. It needs no divine sanction, no eternal narrative (nor, for that matter, does finding satisfaction in one’s work). People seek to avoid death is because life is valuable and meaningful to begin with, and they don’t want it to end. They hope for eternity so they might be reunited with lost loved ones, but it isn’t eternity that makes that love valuable. The fantasy of eternity is merely a response to that value, a recognition of it. But in the hands of proselytizing Christians it becomes a negation.

    • Pretentious Ape, in response to your post beginning “Victor, in your reply below,”, I ask you to consider where moral obligations and values come from. If atheism is true and we are ultimately no more than particles and energy reacting to natural law, then such concepts as “morality”, “value”, and “purpose” have no basis in objective reality. They are man-made, the spinoffs of evolutionary biology and cultural conditioning.

      This is not a teaching of Christianity, nor is it an attempt to “cheapen and devalue life”, for if atheism is true then life has no value to begin with. The material universe, which (on atheism) is accidental and impersonal, simply does not provide any rational foundation for the moral obligations and values that we sense exist.

      (My apologies for the duplicate posting.)

      • OK, Victor, where do moral obligations and values come from? Are they set by God? And if so, does God set them arbitrarily? In other words, could he have chosen to make right and wrong different from what it is? Could he have chosen to, say, promote genocide and slavery, thus making those things morally right? (OK, that may be a bit off point, but it’s a valid criticism of morality as ‘revealed’ in sacred texts). Or does God declare some things to be good because they’re actually better in some objective sense?

        If it’s the former, and God declares rightness by fiat, then theistic morality is arbitrary and not truly ‘moral’ at all. If it’s the latter, then there are moral precepts that are independent of God, and which exist whether or not there is a god.

        What might be the basis of such an independent moral code or value system, and does that look like our own moral sense? Well, here’s a start: look at the reality of our experience. Even if we’re “no more than particles and energy,” we’re sentient beings who are capable of suffering, joy, love, fear, hate, etc. If you look at how we decide moral issues, we increasingly tend to do so on the basis of reducing people’s suffering and increasing their happiness, and we recognize that this works a lot better if we treat others the way we would like to be treated. This is a big part of how the world has become gradually less violent and more compassionate than it was when we relied more on priests and holy books.

        And we could sketch out a similar scenario for experiencing meaning and value in our lives. It becomes apparent that morality and meaning have to do with human experience in this life, and they *not* arbitrary. They are tied to experience and outcomes. That’s the only way morality or values make any sense. And it changes nothing to say that some creator decreed these things, because human experience already is what it is.

        You can insist all you want that atheists have no “objective” basis for morality or value or meaning, but your proposed basis is simply irrelevant to real life. There is no reason to think that it’s anything more than a tacked-on explanation for what was already here.

  1. I don’t think you need to cheapen or devalue life to “sell” converts.” I think it’s a ridiculous shame that loyalty to God somehow equals disassociation with the world. Utterly ridiculous and truly un-Christ-like.

    I enjoyed your post very much. I used to wonder how atheists got their morals before I really knew my faith. It’s a shame the things we’re taught in Christianity while we’re young. The truth is Christian or not a good tree bears good fruit. For some reason modern Christianity has decided we forget those kinds of passages. I know we’ve taken different paths from our distasteful experiences with Christianity, but I still feel a kindred sense of unity with those who aren’t at ease with the way they were taught Christianity. Good luck on your Journey.

    • “I don’t think you need to cheapen or devalue life to “sell” converts.” I think it’s a ridiculous shame that loyalty to God somehow equals disassociation with the world. Utterly ridiculous and truly un-Christ-like.”

      “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

      “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19)

      “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)

      “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

      Etc., etc.

      • Genesis 1:27 “God created man in his own image.”
        Eph. 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”
        Gen. 1:31 “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
        I know we use good as a base superlative but it wasn’t meant that way in the Bible. Jesus asks why would people call Him good because only God is good. So when God looked around and that the world is good, God meant it powerfully. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Psalms 19

        I know the Bible has been sorely misused, but it has been MISused. I believe in general revelation that’s why we have Romans 1:20 “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. ” God is written on the things that God has made. If we forsake the beauty in the creation and destroy or devalue it; we devalue God.

        I’m aware it’s not popular American Christianity, but that’s because I think American Christianity is wrong. I actually was quite inspired by these comments and wrote a post concerning it if you’re interested. http://sacredstruggler.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/christianity-must-devalue-life-to-sell-itself/

      • Pretentious Ape, in response to your post beginning “Victor, in your reply below,”, I ask you to consider where moral obligations and values come from. If atheism is true and we are ultimately no more than particles and energy reacting to natural law, then such concepts as “morality”, “value”, and “purpose” have no basis in objective reality. They are man-made, the spinoffs of evolutionary biology and cultural conditioning.

        This is not a teaching of Christianity, nor is it an attempt to “cheapen and devalue life”, for if atheism is true then life has no value to begin with. The material universe, which (on atheism) is accidental and impersonal, simply does not provide any rational foundation for the moral obligations and values that we sense exist.

  2. Pingback: Christianity must devalue life to “Sell” Itself? | Sacred Struggler

  3. @sacredstruggler: Well certainly we can trade Bible verses with contradictory messages. But I’m glad you’re choosing the ones that you are; the new post on your blog expresses some positive ideas that I wish more Christians would take to heart. Nevertheless, rejection of the world in favor of heavenly reward, along with the fear of God’s wrath, are prominent themes in the Bible. If you’re ignoring or interpreting around these these themes, you may be improving the faith, but you are definitely modifying it from its original texts.

    • Understood. However, those others that I mentioned are prominent themes within the text as well. However they are only used by the church when it’s convenient. You can pull anything you want out of the Bible and use it for shameful or glorious purposes. It’s all about the context or hermeneutic of Christ. Christianity today seems to forget that context. Ridiculous. It’s supposed to be CHRISTianity.

      I’ve come to agree with Gandhi. “Oh I love your Christ, it’s just that your Christians are so very unlike you Christ.”

      Thanks for being willing to discuss with me.

      • Have you read the entire bible? There are a LOT of verses that the church never brings up because it’s completely barbaric. I was a Christian a long time going off of what I heard others say. It wasn’t until I actually tried to read the whole thing cover to cover that I realized there was no way this book was inspired by any god because of the terrible things in it. Oh, and the contradictions didn’t help either, which is why Christians are always so confused on most issues.

      • I have, yes. It is quite hard at points, that’s why I think it’s so so important that we remember Jesus and make sure we pass everything through the lens of Christ. It’s worthless if it’s not Christ-like.

        I’ve had some times in my life when I thought the whole thing was worthless. But even in those times, I didn’t believe God didn’t exist. And in those Jesus became a role model and I realize that God has many facets and I may not love them all, but it doesn’t mean I’m ready to through out the relationship. Carl Jung discusses the shadow side of God that I really needed to hear.

      • But what is Christ-like? Jesus supported the whole bible, so I wonder if your picture of what Christ was like is based off of all the good things you’ve heard in the church. If there are any rough parts, that’s still part of the book Jesus endorses.

      • Jesus came to make things new. That’s why Christians aren’t bound by the law. Jesus gave us two commands that were most important: Love God, Love your Neighbors.

        Christ was the ultimate example that the church isn’t necessarily right, and many of it’s devotees need a good calling out. That God loves us and understands pain. That God is with the sufferer. That our humanity can be pure (and thus that God created us good.) And that the greatest love is in sacrifice. Among other things.

        And just because the Bible says it in it’s pages doesn’t mean it’s endorsed. ie. Adultery is not endorsed but is shown in parables.

      • I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. The all things new reference (if we’re talking about the same one) is from Revelation and doesn’t say that when Jesus came, the law went away. I’d really like to know what you think Jesus meant in Matthew 5: 17-20. You’re taking an anti-Christ-like stance by telling people that they don’t have to follow the law when Jesus himself said the law was not going away. Plus, when I was a Christian, one of the big things about being “born again” was that when you sinned, you asked God for forgiveness. How do we know we sin? Because we break the law. If the law doesn’t apply any more, does anyone sin?
        Sounds to me like you’re going off of popular Christianity instead of what’s detailed in The Bible.
        Also, I’m sure most people know that just because something’s in The Bible, that doesn’t mean it’s endorsed. A lot of stories are about people doing bad things and being reprimanded by God, so that point is pretty obvious. However, something like slavery is definitely endorsed. It was one of many things in The Bible I couldn’t stand and part of why I know no god wrote it.

      • I think we’re miscommunicating. The law will always be with us, of course. But when I say the law I am speaking of the 208 (I believe) laws to which the Jewish faith feels bound. Those laws have passed away and we need only worry about loving God and loving others. Many things falls under that.

        We, as Christians, are not saved by the Law. We are saved by grace. What I believe Jesus meant by the Matthew verse is that you cannot possibly fulfill the law to earn Heaven, but we, Christians, are not saved by the law (sinlessness) but by grace alone. That is a very common tenet of Christianity. It’s why we eat ham on Christmas. We don’t live and die by the Law.

        The passing away of the OT law doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything wrong just that Christ said “I’m going to make this really simple: Love God, love others.” Anything that trespasses that is a trespass. We don’t need these laws about how many steps we are allowed to take on the Sabbath to show that we love God, but we each can show that to the best of our abilities and God will see the heart.

        My beliefs do tend to push against the church, but not against who Christ was. Mostly because I don’t feel the church reflects Jesus much at all any more.

        The slavery and racial oppression is also in the OT. Not that we should throw it out, but we do have to out it through the lens of Christ. Though I often wonder why we shouldn’t throw it out. 🙂 In fact, my sister-in-law wouldn’t carry the OT for about a year, because of all this. It’s still something we both wrestle with.

        And the passing away verse I meant is in 2 Cor. Which is the Revelation one? I’ll have to look it up.

        And I also want to say that I am not trying to push you into any corner. I’m enjoying our discussion and I hope I’m not making you feel as though I’m trying to convert you or hit you over the head with anything.

      • Don’t worry, I don’t feel pushed into a corner. I do disagree with you though about having no law but to love god and love others. Like I said before, how can you define sin? Sin means breaking god’s laws, which means there are still laws. Maybe you think you can just ask god for forgiveness instead of having to slaughter a pigeon on an alter, but I’ve never heard of an unrepentant Christian as being acceptable. Being born again is based on repenting from sin, which again, is rebellion and breaking god’s laws.

        My whole point was that when I was a Christian, no matter what church I went to, there was a certain image they wanted to portray of god, so that’s the kind of stuff you would hear about. I’ll admit that I was a lazy Christian in that I never read The Bible cover to cover. I trusted the preachers were giving me the “whole” truth, but when I sat down to read the whole book for myself, I realized the churches were leaving a lot of stuff out because as I stated before, it was terrible. All the stuff about killing groups of people, including children, and taking the women for themselves, just doesn’t sit well with a modern audience so that stuff is conveniently left out of the available preaching material. The same goes for women being treated as inferior to men.

        I’ll say this though…one thing I found throughout my process of going from Christian to atheist is that before, I had it already decided in my mind that god existed. It’s very hard to pick apart your faith when you’re in that mindset. It’s hard to admit to yourself that it could all be a lie. It takes critical thinking to get past that point, and in my case, it was because I questioned everything and I just couldn’t get any good answers to my questions. I also had issues with the church as well, and couldn’t find one I liked. I started to realize there was a lot of acting and hypocrisy no matter what church I went to. That was probably the starting point on my road to atheism, so if you’re at that point, you might not be far behind me 😉

      • Nah, I was there. I just took a different path at the end of that road. It was close, but I realized that the relationship I had had to have good and bad in it. The shadow side of God and the light. And to have a relationship I had to accept that. There are things that make me say that if that’s what God is then I don’t want god.

        The laws in the OT testament aren’t actually the 10 commandments like we’re taught but a set of 208 commands (mostly dietary laws) and when Christ came we were said to be under the age of grace (this mostly pertains to protestants as Luther is the one who makes a grace only distinction.) Thus we cannot possibly earn salvation by strict adherence to the law, but only through Christ’s sacrifice. When asked what command (or law) was most important Christ said Love the Lord your God and like unto the first, your neighbor as yourself. That is the greatest command and all the other fall under them. There are many ways that we can violate them, but like relative morality a hard and fast way may not be the case. Ie. It is not sin to have sex with your wife, however if you rape your wife your are trespassing against her by not loving her. So, sex with your wife can be both good and bad. It’s also where we get just war theory (though I think that’s ridiculous.) Sin isn’t as black and white as it was in the OT though it exists still in doing wrong to God or to others. Does that make sense? If you were a protestant denomination I’m sure they taught you that. Sorry if not, I accidentally assume that people are protestant rather than catholic sometimes. It’s a little different if you were catholic.

      • I’ve been both…raised Catholic, went more fundamental at 18, and turned atheist at 30.
        I’ll just leave the law issue with this: The love part may be the greatest, but that’s not the only command. I’ve never been in any church where certain rules weren’t preached. If you broke those rules, you were sinning. A lot of those rules came from the Old Testament and were based off of the laws in it. Maybe you go to a unique church where that isn’t preached, but I’ve never been exposed to a type of Christianity that says following the rules in The Bible doesn’t matter.
        But the biggest thing for me is that you seem to admit that there’s good and “bad” in the relationship. If god is so perfect, there should be nothing about him that we view as “bad.” That just seems to tell me you don’t agree with The Bible so I question why you would go back to it when it seems like your mind is telling you there’s something wrong with it.

      • Not necessarily good and bad. Things I like and dislike. Things revealed and hidden. It’s Carl Jung.

        I don’t really go to church anymore. When I do lately it’s been a universal universalist church. I feel like the church (in America at least) has hopelessly distorted the Bible and Jesus into a convenient scare package. Yes, my old churches (baptist) had a lot to say legalistically. But if you are to lift verses from the OT shouldn’t we then still be stoning our kids when they disobey? And Sodom and Gommorrah is about desert hospitality.

        Everything I thought about the Bible was colored a certain way. I’m trying now to throw that off and start over. I realized years ago though, I want God in my life even if the relationship has problems. I am open to being a church declared heretic, after all Jesus pissed the church off more than anyone. It was the church body who eventually voted for His death. So that doesn’t concern me. Yes, there are many passages that talk about the importance of church, but you can find a passages for what ever you want. I try to look in context of Christ. He changed everything.

        Anyway, that’s what my blog is pretty much about. You’d probably get a kick out of some of it. Especially Would I want that God? It’d be nice if you’d like to stop and critique a bit.

        And the episcopalian are farther along the “heretic” trail than I am btw.

    • “Victor, in your reply to Brenda below, you say, “even though loving others and reaching your goals may bring you feelings of satisfaction, they don’t have any objective meaning or value if atheism is true.”

      I can’t reply to you here, but I get what you were saying much better now. I completely agree that’s how it ends up. I have been in that position where I didn’t understand where atheists got their morals. I’m not proud of it, but it’s how I was raised and it’s way off base. I think Christians misuse so much. A good tree bears good fruit. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit. The reward takes away the value because the motive is muddled. Anyway. I know this is old, but this comment helped me understand you better.

    • BTW…I’d like to challenge your assertion that most atheist thinkers believe our life has no purpose without a god. For instance, I just looked in “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins and he said this on pages 403-404:

      “There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point.” Shortly after he says “The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”

      That sure sounds to me that he believes we can give our life meaning instead of depending on an outside source, like god, to give it to us.
      You’re probably referring to this quote from him:

      “Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life…life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA…life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

      I believe Christians are using this inappropriately to imply he believes there is no meaning in life (and the without a god part is throw in). This seems to be talking about the biological process of evolution of life on earth; not that he thinks we can’t have any meaning in our lives.

    • Wow Nate – thanks! You know how much I respect your opinion on things so that comment means a lot to me. When I write things I often second guess what I’ve written later – i should have added this or left that out, or worded something differently, etc. That’s one reason I probably don’t write more often – it’s draining when I over analyze what I’ve written. I lose perspective on whether it was written well and said what I wanted to say and I have no clue how it’s perceived by others. So that’s my rambling way of saying thanks 🙂

      • Oh, don’t feel bad — I do exactly the same thing. 🙂 That’s why my post on evolution is taking so long. But everything you wrote in this post was perfect. I honestly can’t imagine a better response.

        Wow Nate – thanks! You know how much I respect your opinion on things so that comment means a lot to me.

        *blush*
        Thanks!

  4. Pingback: Purpose without Religion | Finding Truth

  5. Sacred Struggles wrote: “Jesus came to make things new.” This is correct but not in the way Christians interpret it. He came to establish a new relationship between the Jews and Yahweh. His message was NOT for Christians because they did not even exist during his lifetime. It wasn’t until Paul turned things around so he could win over the “Gentiles” that the “law” became defunct and the “newness” became part of the Christian doctrine.

    Speed is correct. To “sin” is to violate a law of God, and these “laws” are spelled out in the Hebrew Bible. Christians conveniently disburse with those that do not suit them or are considered archaic and then say “Jesus came to make things new.”

  6. I like this blog!:) Thank s Nate for posting this on your’s.

    Speed, you answered part of my question with your Dawkins post, but the others Brenda commented on, were they taken out of context as well? I really am just curious here this is not some kind of poke, as I am NOT going to read Nietzsche! I got enough pissed off Germans in my life as it is!

    • That’s funny, because my mom tells me I’m part German 😉
      To be honest, I’m not much of a reader. The Dawkins thing jumped at me because from what I’ve seen him say in clips, I didn’t think he would ever say his life had no meaning without a personal god so I decided to check myself. As far as the others, I have no idea. However, I don’t approve of someone saying all these people said something when they all didn’t. I’m not going to go read all of this material, but I think this person should reference what these people said instead of possibly doing a copy-paste from a pro-Christian website that obviously has an interest in misrepresenting what atheists say to help validate their position.

  7. This is a great post on responding to purpose. And you made the point very well. I agree with you somewhat on this point.. Considering that I think this hypothetical god doesn’t even exist, I look at them and think they are wasting a good portion of their lives on something that is delusional and I see that as sad. You may think my atheism taken to its logical conclusion is bleak, but I think that if a Christian was faced on their death bed with the fact that all their religious beliefs were false then they would regret having defined and lived their life’s purpose solely in that context.

    to live a large portion of your life as christian/believer in any religion, than to come out of it. You can’t help the feeling, of time wasted (on religion) that you can never get back. Ambitions and/or dreams crushed because they conflicted with your religion, that they might be considered sin and offend God.

    However for me on a personal note. What I am still coming to terms with is the sense of personal purpose. When I was a believer, life was simple. We live for God, to worship and serve. And the bible only affirms this belief.

    so now that there is no more of absolute authority telling me how to think and what my purpose is. I know must find my own purpose in this world.

    • ‘Knowing’ you as I do – you’ll love the next stage of the journey. Discovering who you really are and what your own dreams, ambitions, loves, and passions are. Some you may already know and others you’ll be excited to discover.

    • Hi, M. Rodriguez, I just wanted to chime in here to say a few things that hopefully will be of some use to you.

      Firstly, I agree with you and Brenda that building one’s life on a false idea would ultimately be a waste of time. However, this has no bearing on what the logical implications of atheism are.

      The notion of “wasted time” brings up another thought: I would argue that, if atheism is true, then there is ultimately no such thing as “wasted time”, since the notion of “waste” implies value, and value, on atheism, is merely a man-made concept without grounds in objective reality. Do you agree? And why/why not?

      Finally, I want to challenge the idea that the purpose of life, on Christianity, comes from a divine dictate. I think a more theologically-sound explanation would be that a Christian’s purpose is founded in the being of the infinite-personal Creator God, who is all-loving, perfectly righteous, eternal, self-existent, and totally sovereign.

  8. Brilliant post. I am surprised you didn’t treat dear Victorçlimacus with more contempt, considering his/its asinine comment in the first place.

    But he/it probably wouldn’t have understood in any case. Most members of the “William Lane Craig Needs an Enema Club” are somewhat myopic in their approach to life.

  9. Wow! This is so well written and spot on!! All of it stood out and hit me, but a couple of things especially. I really liked your rewording of the commenter: “How fortunate for you that I came along to take your meaning and purpose away so that I could replace it with my version of meaning and purpose.” -> this is so right, and I never really put it in words or thoughts nearly this well, but it describes exactly how I feel when people of religion try to break down the purpose and meaning that I have even though I don’t believe in God.

    I also liked the following: “I do know people like that who are very cheerful but it’s mostly because they don’t give the serious issues in life any thought and they barely see past their own nose. Ignorance is bliss as they say. I have trouble relating and connecting with people who fall into that category, but I don’t judge them. The world takes many types of people and those people often lift the rest of us up when we get down from analyzing things to death.” -> this reminded me a little of my wife. Actually, my wife is not exactly like that because she did go through a period in her late teens where she thought very deeply about the big questions in life, but she very quickly determined that it wasn’t worth her time (smart woman!). She constantly “lifts me up when I get down from analyzing things to death”, and I am a very lucky guy because of that. So people who may choose not to think about these kinds of things are absolutely awesome in my book!!

    • Thanks for your comments Howie! I appreciate them!

      And I loved reading what you said about your wife. That’s very sweet and you’re right – we do need to appreciate those types of people who are in our lives.

      • Brenda,

        Rather than launch into a lengthy, point-by-point response to your post, I am going to try and limit my focus to the core issues, and build out from there if you want to continue the discussion. I am eager to answer the questions you posed for me and go more in-depth about the particulars of why I believe that life without God is ultimately meaningless and absurd, but right now I think that would be superfluous.

        To get to the point, I’m not saying that you aren’t free to find satisfaction in life as an atheist. Nor am I trying to convince you that Christianity is true. My purpose in writing you is solely to help you see the contradiction between your belief in atheism and your belief that your life has value and meaning. In short, I want you to understand that if atheism is true, then your life has no value and no meaning. I’m not speaking in terms of the subjective/felt, but in terms of the objective—that is, what’s actually true, independent of our perceptions. Given the truth of atheism, your claim that your life has value and purpose is false. You can believe that your life has value and purpose, and that belief can be “true for you”, but objectively that belief is baseless.

        You seem to agree with this, at least on some level. Indeed, you make the claim yourself that your life has no ultimate, final purpose. But you seem to either not fully understand this or be trying to escape this conclusion by switching your focus to subjective concerns and claiming that these give you meaning. Well, sure they do, but it’s not real. What I’m getting at is that, even though loving others and reaching your goals may bring you feelings of satisfaction, they don’t have any objective meaning or value if atheism is true. Atheism offers no rational basis for believing that your choices truly matter. Rather, the atheist must create meaning where none exists. That is what I mean by delusion; in order to live a life of humanistic worth, you must pretend that your life has meaning, the truth being all along that there is no actual significance or value to anything that you do, let alone to the universe itself. Therefore, to the degree to which your behavior fails to align with reality, you are living a delusion.

        Brenda, I encourage you to listen to a podcast (only about 20 min long) by William Lane Craig (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/where-do-atheists-find-meaning) in which he responds to a popular article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/post/how-do-atheist-find-meaning-in-life/2012/01/18/gIQAbiFP8P_blog.html) by Washington Post columnist Paula Kirby. I think you will find Craig’s analysis stimulating and most relevant to our own discussion, and he does a much better job at explaining his views than I can.

      • Now it all makes sense where you’re getting your ideas from. I just listened to this William Lane Craig podcast, and it sounds like you’re just parroting what he’s trying to say, which is extremely confusing and would explain why you’re having trouble defending your position.
        He basically picks apart this Washington Post article, which may have bad arguments, and then uses bad arguments against those arguments to conclude that their position is right. He can’t look outside of his religious views to understand something as simple as how atheists can assign importance to things. He really blew me away when he said that for an atheist, it’s arbitrary to kill someone or help someone! That right there made them lose all credibility. I suggest you find another podcast to base your ideas on because this one was simply ridiculous.

  10. @victorclimacus
    You never quite said what did or didn’t give value in your post, so I have to “ASS-U-ME” that for there to be “real” value in life then there must be something that you move onto once this life is done. So by this measuring stick an Atheist would have none but a Buddhist would. Is that a correct assessment of what you’re getting at?

    • I think that immortality is a necessary condition, along with the existence of an infinite-personal God, for life to have objective meaning and value. Subjective meaning is a different matter. Obviously, everyone is free to derive satisfaction and a sense of purpose out of life, whether or not those things have a basis in objective reality. If atheism is true, then neither the life of the atheist nor that of the Buddhist would have any objective value (nor would the Christian’s, for that matter).

      • Victor, as you walk through life do you get hit a lot?
        In all seriousness, I think your just building up a philosophical argument as to why Christianity is better than Atheism. Whether life has value or not should not be based on what might happen. I’m a devout, albeit insane, Christian but my value is based on what I do here. I don’t have the time to worry about what comes next.

  11. @victorclimacus: There is a lot I could say about meaning/purpose/value in life, but I’d like to just respond to a few things you’ve mentioned.

    First, you mentioned that your sole purpose in your comments is to show that “if atheism is true, then your life has no value and no meaning”. Given that Brenda has stated that she does not believe in God, think about how unkind it is to try and prove _only_ this to her. What’s the point of her agreeing with your (incorrect in my opinion) conclusion of a meaningless life if that really is all you want to prove to her? Ah – but you are assuming that if she realizes this then she will then start to believe in God again right? If not then you really are just very unkind to have a sole purpose of robbing someone of the meaning that they see in life.

    You believe that atheists are confused because you say “You seem to agree with this , at least on some level. Indeed, you make the claim yourself that your life has no ultimate, final purpose.” The confusion and miscommunication going on here is due to the fact that you equate “purpose” with “ultimate purpose”. When people use the words “value”, “meaning”, and “purpose” in everyday conversations they rarely mean “ultimate and eternal”. I’ll try one example – I value my wife, and that is an objective thing that is happening within my brain, so in that sense my wife does objectively have value. Is it “ultimate” or “cosmic” value outside of humanity? – no, but it is “value” given the way people use that word in everyday conversation.

    As an aside, I personally do not agree that it is impossible for there to be ultimate meaning without a God or gods. It is possible that meaning could somehow exist in the “fabric” of the universe. This could possibly be “trascendental” and beyond human understanding much like many theists would admit certain aspects of God are beyond human understanding. I don’t claim to believe this myself which is why I just state this as an aside, and I would bet many atheists also don’t believe this, but I do see it as a possibility.

    • Howie, if Brenda wants to know the truth, then I believe she will understand why I want to call her attention to the contradiction between her atheism and her apparent belief that life has intrinsic value and meaning. If atheism is true, then objective value and meaning do not exist; rather, such concepts are invented by humans and assigned to objects and events that are inherently value-neutral. Brenda can believe otherwise, in order to suit her own needs, but she should recognize that, if atheism is true, then her beliefs are in truth illusions, having no basis in objective reality. To refuse to do so would be intellectually dishonest, a failure to face up to the logical consequences of atheism.

      Howie, I am not sure I follow the logic in the rest of your post. Let me clarify that by “objective” I mean a state or quality that is true independently of human will and perception. So when I say that life has no objective value and purpose, I mean that such concepts are man-made. In other words, they are illusions. And I don’t see how an atheist can argue otherwise. I am genuinely interested in hearing an atheistic explanation for objective moral norms of any kind.

  12. Victor,

    I agree with Howie’s comment. Let’s say for a moment that atheism is true and there is no God. That makes us pretty good candidates for the “ultimate” life form. Now as Howie stated, we as humans all value different things. We assign value to them, and we appreciate them throughout our lives. That may only be temporary value, but it’s still value. Would you still say that since there’s no God, nothing still has value?

    If so, what is it about God that gives something value? If we can’t have true value because there’s nothing “beyond” us, then in a sense, there would be no value to God even if he really existed. Because if you think about it, if God is the ultimate being, then there’s no real purpose or meaning to his existence either since there’s nothing beyond him.

    But really, all this makes everything too complicated. You agree that we can assign value to our own lives and others can value our lives through relationships. Maybe that value isn’t eternal. But since we aren’t eternal either, that doesn’t really matter. We still enjoy that value while we’re living — beyond that, we won’t be around to care about anything else. The summation of our lives is “eternity” as far as we’re concerned.

    Hope that came close to making sense. 🙂

  13. Speed, I would like to know exactly what about the podcast you find confusing. If there are errors in Craig’s logic that I am missing but you aren’t, then I’d appreciate it if you pointed these out to me. I accept that Craig may be wrong.

    That said, I think his argument for why, on atheism, our choices ultimately don’t matter, is sound. All he is saying is that, if atheism is true (meaning that humans are nothing more than matter and energy reacting to natural law and exist for no reason in an impersonal, accidental, purposeless universe), then objective moral values simply don’t exist in reality; we invent them. Think about it this way, as put by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Tractacus:

    “[if we describe] a murder with all its details physical and psychological, the mere description of these facts will contain nothing which we could call an ethical proposition. The murder will be on exactly the same level as any other event, for instance the falling of a stone.”

    Wittgenstein, an atheist and one of the most brilliant thinkers of the 20th century, is saying essentially the same thing as Craig: that, if there is no objective basis for morality, then morals are an illusion. The argument is old and simple, logically sound, and (if atheism is true) inescapably valid, at least as far as I can tell.

    • I am not going to put myself through listening to that podcast again, and I’m certainly not going to waste my time explaining how bad some of his arguments are. Again, the article that he’s picking apart may have flaws and he may be right to call them out, but some of the things he said were just ridiculous, and I pointed out one of those instances.

      Also, in all of this debate I don’t see how you clearly state that if there is a god, then that does mean we DO have objective morals/values. All you keep saying is that you believe an infinite god is necessary, but you don’t clearly state why
      For instance, if I make judgements on someone’s actions, and god would make judgements on actions, what’s the difference between us to where just because it’s god making the judgement, it makes it objective vs subjective? Aren’t his judgments in essence, subjective to him? Or is he also bound by a moral code, as Pretentious Ape pointed out, that he didn’t define?

  14. I hope you all don’t mind; I’m going to post a comment I just made above, down here, because I think it’s directly relevant to Victor’s exchange with Nate and Speed:

    OK, Victor, where do moral obligations and values come from? Are they set by God? And if so, does God set them arbitrarily? In other words, could he have chosen to make right and wrong different from what it is? Could he have chosen to, say, promote genocide and slavery, thus making those things morally right? (OK, that may be a bit off point, but it’s a valid criticism of morality as ‘revealed’ in sacred texts). Or does God declare some things to be good because they’re actually better in some objective sense?

    If it’s the former, and God declares rightness by fiat, then theistic morality is arbitrary and not truly ‘moral’ at all. If it’s the latter, then there are moral precepts that are independent of God, and which exist whether or not there is a god.

    What might be the basis of such an independent moral code or value system, and does that look like our own moral sense? Well, here’s a start: look at the reality of our experience. Even if we’re “no more than particles and energy,” we’re sentient beings who are capable of suffering, joy, love, fear, hate, etc. If you look at how we decide moral issues, we increasingly tend to do so on the basis of reducing people’s suffering and increasing their happiness, and we recognize that this works a lot better if we treat others the way we would like to be treated. This is a big part of how the world has become gradually less violent and more compassionate than it was when we relied more on priests and holy books.

    And we could sketch out a similar scenario for experiencing meaning and value in our lives. It becomes apparent that morality and meaning have to do with human experience in this life, and they *not* arbitrary. They are tied to experience and outcomes. That’s the only way morality or values make any sense. And it changes nothing to say that some creator decreed these things, because human experience already is what it is.

    You can insist all you want that atheists have no “objective” basis for morality or value or meaning, but your proposed basis is simply irrelevant to real life. There is no reason to think that it’s anything more than a tacked-on explanation for what was already here.

  15. oh? so God never spoke to you? or gave you visions? well, if God hadn’t done that for me, i certainly wouldn’t be a Christian either, coz the man made Christianity SUCKS THE BIG ONE…. even with the visions and communications, i’m walking away from religion, but i’m not walking away from God, the real God is lovely….

    i mean honestly, if God doesn’t show up, how can ANYBODY be a Christian? even Jesus said, many are called but few are chosen… but i don’t believe in eternal hellfire and all that catholic stuff anyway… so you are fine, finding meaning in other things if you want, there’s no hell waiting for you…

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