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.”
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.)