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

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."

Again, if your personal subjectivity is useful for deriving joy and for staying out of trouble, fine; this is how we muster the wherewithal to keep going.  I won't gainsay that.  Your approach is certainly better than some random groping, or self-destruction.

Rather, the question is about the overall significance of doing what you propose.  You live your life as you best see fit, according to methods that best suit you.  But to what has all of this amounted?   If your mind's creation is wondrously effective for you, but is after all no more true that mythology, how is that not self-delusion?  And how is that any superior to the religious self-delusion, which assigns to us a purpose and meaning by reference to some diktat that we're supposed to accept without demand for evidence of its truth?  Now of course you are the author of your own mythology; you're not accepting the mythology of some one else.  So you are to be commended for your intellectual independence, and I mean that in all sincerity.  But I am still troubled, gravely troubled, by the disconnect between personal persuasion and external reality.

Here is the problem in all of its awfulness: do we really only have three choices: a dissimulating self-deception such as religion or its personal equivalent, a purely animal life without abstract reflection, or nihilism?  If not, what else?

Big picture? I don't think life objectively amounts to anything. The very nature of "meaning" is subjective. Meaning is, itself, a human invention. I don't think it is possible to truly "know" external reality. Our sensory experiences even define external reality subjectively. I'm afraid that subjective knowledge is as close as we get to anything approaching external truth.

Michael OL, you ask "If not, what else?"

Try happiness. It guarantees that you won't ask such questions.

Happiness is not a purpose, any more than victory is a strategy.

Very well stated, I'll save that one as an email signature :)

Who are charging that the rubric is self-delusional?

The charge can easily be their self-delusion.

Steph, this is a really meaningful and thoughtful post, as is your handling of the responses.  I've been watching it but not commenting, because I really don't have any answers myself. 


There are things I think I SHOULD do in life.  I have a sense of responsibility, duty.  It must come from within, but who knows why.  As for the scheme of things, whether there is meaning or purpose, I'm pretty nihilistic.  I seem to need to defend the vulnerable, protect what/who needs protecting, promote what needs promoting.  I'm not crazy about narcissistic people.  I am drawn to certain ideas, and to things related to life, and nature, and history, social justice, and I think that we should think.  I think we are part of life and part of history.  It's important to me do "do good" and also to plan for whatever live brings.  I just don't know about purpose or meaning.  Maybe not everyone has that option.

Hello Sentient.


Thanks so much for your reply. I really appreciate all the thoughts and ideas I've received here.

I really like your statement here and I feel the same.

"I seem to need to defend the vulnerable, protect what/who needs protecting, promote what needs promoting."

That is what Wonder Woman is all about (always helping others) -- and I try to be like the fictional superhero. She's like a role model for me and has been since I was little and looked up to her.

Where was it that I read something like "I am no longer a child and I gave up the things of a child"?

I have a collection of Calvin and Hobbes comics I occasionally reread and enjoy.




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