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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Love the turn this discussion has taken. Bravo!

Me too Chuck! I'm so lucky to have such wonderful replies. Very appreciative to you all.

Re the Soviet Union, was it really an atheist state? If we accept the narrowest definition, yes.

Widen the definition to include the political. Tyrannical rule differs from authoritarian rule; a tyrant relies on a religion-like belief system for control while an authoritarian doesn't. 

As I recall, Joe Stalin had been a theist and trained for the priesthood. He quit theism and made himself the nation's "god", demanding of the people what the most tyrannical religions want.

Widen the definition more to include the emotional. Tyrannical rule again differs from authoritarian rule. A tyrant relies first on the religion-like belief system to stay in power, which lowers the cost of control, but uses fear when the belief system fails. An authoritarian, having no belief system, relies solely on fear.

Be wary of philosophy-class definitions. If you ignore the real-world similarities between religion and tyranny, fundamentalists might argue you into a corner that's difficult to escape.

Good point.  It’s similar to the distinction between dictatorship and totalitarianism.  The former seeks to control and oppress all forms of behavior while the latter seeks to control thought.  The best example is in 1984 where you can go to jail for “thoughtcrime”.  I’d say North Korea is the closest we come in the modern era. The best example of the former, where the state seeks mostly to control behavior would be certain parishes in Louisiana. 



As a student of ethics, I do not think that Humanism is the Answer, but there is certainly more truth in it than in religions. Humanism is a great start, but I am quite sure we can do even better. There's no need for me to get into the technical stuff though - if you are heading towards Humanism and away from religion, you are, in my mind, clearly heading in the right general direction.

What are Humanism`s limitations?

Well the primary limitation is how broad of an interpretation Humanism gives to morality. In this regard it is like atheism, it's a blanket statement that morality is something that comes from our experiences as human beings, and from that point you can understand it in so many diverse and contradictory ways that it no longer becomes a helpful statement. For example, as a Humanist, I can believe that we should all be communists, or I can go in the other direction and believe we should all be anarchists or Libertarians. It's just very vague, and it is hard to see how you can clear up so much of the moral confusion from such blanket statements.


I will of course admit that I am no expert on Humanism, and I may be wrong in what I have just said. If it looks like I'm going to get a lot of pushback on this, I'll just have to start a new discussion topic and explore, with the help of our fellow esteemed members of A|N, just exactly what Humanism means.

If you translate humanistic principles and values -- among them life, liberty, autonomy, compassion, avoiding coercion and violence -- into a political system, one that fits quite well is the limited government model expressed in the Constitution. 

It's not perfect, and it's certainly not the only way to circumscribe govt. power and intrusiveness (Britain doesn't even have one), but at least it's a plan.  That's why I've always thought that libertarianism (not to be confused with anarchy) and humanism are two sides of the same coin. 

Yes, Jedi I can see interpreting Humanism can be vague. They define it for themselves on the AHA website. That might help you. I posted something like that in the Humanists group here.

Point well made, Rich.

Yes, it seems that personal morality is independent of religious belief.  Some atheists are truly SOBs.  Where's the inner moral compass, the ability to refrain from violence or fraud (talking to you, Bernie Madoff - you probably went to synagogue on the High Holidays like the rest of the hypocrites)? 

Most people believe what they're told to believe.  Or as the genius Paul Goebbels put it, "the truth is what most people believe.  And they believe that which is repeated most often."

Idle question: with all the religious BSers spewing their crap on the airwaves and in the halls of government, where is the commanding presence -- a 21st century Robert Ingersoll, preferably many of him -- to denounce religion from a position of high visibility and influence?  If a Pope dies, they replace him with another.  But when a Hitchens dies, no one steps up to take his place.  Why not?

Let me just say without directing it toward anyone except Steph, this is the grooviest thread I’ve read in quite a while.  It’s like everybody is high on some dynamite ganja.  I dig the level of intellectualism.

Just a historical note:  Dr. Joseph Goebbels was a polio victim and ended his pathetic life with the final note in his diary:  “I have always hated humanity.”

Mudderfukker, WWII is a pretty sad commentary against bullying ism. 

To address the question, Bill Maher immediately comes to mine.  But our movement is young and we’re making great strides.  Certainly Professors Dawkins and Dennett will have their place in history. 


Thank you so very much Richard. I am honored that you think this is a "groovy thread". I am so pleased by the participation I have received here. I couldn't do it without you all. I am very thankful.




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