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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Quite right, I forgot.  Janice Joplin. 

A funny anecdote, being we're on the subject.  When she was starting out and getting a lot of attention and air time, I took in her show at the old Fillmore East on Second Avenue.  When I first saw her on the stage I could scarcely believe my eyes:  She was white. 

I heard her on the hippie radio station, WBAI, a few times but it never even dawned on me she might be a white girl.  See what pot does to you.  Lol

A bit of nostalgia:  When you walked into the dilapidated theater, the heavy hemp smoke hit you like walking into Aunt Jamima’s kitchen.  You didn’t even need to bring anything; just take a few lusty inhales and you were set for the evening.



We are the same as everyone else except we don't believe in super natural powers. I personally am very upset when believers say if I don't believe I am evil. I am not evil. I see believers as making it up as they go. We can see why things happen without god.

Norma, don't be upset.

To say nonbelievers are evil is one way that believers who feel weak protect themselves.

It's a simple form of protection: an attack.

Good and evil are simple concepts; they are a first step away from the use of physical rewards and punishments. People who feel strong can say "I like...." or "I don't like...."

Believers who feel strong might critique your beliefs. You can engage them or not.

No God .. no evil...just cruel stupid greedy humans the meanest baddest  animal on the planet 

Thank you Alan and I would have to agree.

I think the question is dubious. Conversations on this question usually have to do with the eternal vs the finite with the implication that the latter has no significance while the former does. The question also glazes over that "meaning" is a relationship between a mind and an object or concept.  Usually when this question is presented there's some bias towards treating an eternal mind as the only one that matters while finite minds have less significance.  When engaging this question I would first nail down who is/are the minds that are assigning purpose and meaning?

For me those minds are myself, my friends, and loved ones. Does my life have meaning and purpose to them? Certainly! in unenumerable and evolving ways. Does it have meaning and purpose to some one tha tlived 10,000 years ago or 10,000 years into the future? Probably not. And I'm okay with that. 

The problem with Christianity's view of this life's purpose and meaning is that it is only a trial run for the afterlife. If you deny yourself a full life now and devote your time to praising a non-existent being, you will gain eternity of harp-tuning and singing God's praises.

It's a one size fits all purpose. By definition one-size-fits-all takes from your life any individual meaning, but in the meantime you spend the few short years you have here in worthless pursuits, neglecting the life you could have.

Quite so, Doctor Clark,

Ironically, Pascal’s Wager appeared to be a good bet.  Compared to eternity, why risk one’s immortal soul for the pleasures of this short life?  But it’s a sucker’s bet because this life is all there is.  Humans had it all, but threw it away because this life wasn’t enough. 


The Bible should have listed ingratitude as the most grievous sin, instead of pride.


An interesting post, Richard.

I first heard of Pascal's Wager when I was leaving Catholicism's plantation; a college pal who was staying on the plantation posed the question.

After twelve years in Catholic schools, I was not yet thinking clearly enough to analyze the wager and see its four choices. It seemed suspicious, so instead of placing a bet I went on gathering information about Catholicism, other Christianities, and finally other religions. Existentialism was just reaching America and its demand that I take responsibility for my choices helped immensely.

Years passed before I again heard of Pascal's Wager. I was by this time thinking clearly enough to see the bets it offered and decided that I had bet correctly.

My conclusion: religion requires people to be unhappy. (Catholicism, the religion I know best, makes demands that keep its followers too busy to ask important questions.)

With a variety of neuroses from which to choose, most believers achieve lives of quiet desperation.

On ingratitude, one believer I know insists that gratitude makes happiness possible. I once asked him what he has gratitude for but he refused to engage. I concluded that he is protecting himself the best way he knows.

Tom, the way I understand it, Pascal’s Wager is a heads or tails shot.  You either bet God exists the way described by religion and live an obedient and conformist life to win eternal bliss with God, thus losing the sinful pleasures of this life; or you bet God doesn’t exist, in which case you win a life of sybaritic pleasure, but lose your soul to eternal hellfire.  With a perfunctory look it appears to be a no-brainer. 


But in my view it’s a bad bet.  There’s more to it than what appears.  To obey the church’s laws and live as a member of the “mystical body of Christ” is to virtually surrender your mind and independent thought.  You’re asked to abandon curiosity and live obedient to the parochial views of the majority.  Also, the concept of hell is a scare tactic, thought up at the Council of Nicaea in 325.  No prior ancient religion ever used the word “eternal” when describing divine retribution. 


As Pascal’s contemporary Voltaire proposed, I’d rather be conscious and miserable than live contentedly as an obsequious, mentally deficient serf.  (I don’t remember the exact quote or the reference, but I’m pretty sure it’s in there somewhere.) 



It seems to me that one of the sickest ideas of Christianity is that pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, is sinful.

This notion gives us the image of St. Benedict rolling in thorns and nettles until his whole body was bloody to suppress desire for a woman he had seen. That this is considered saintly rather than neurotic is unnatural.

The historian Edward Gibbon took a far saner view:

There are two very natural propensities which we may distinguish in the most virtuous and liberal dispositions, the love of pleasure and the love of action. If the former is refined by art and learning, improved by the charms of social intercourse, and corrected by a just regard to economy, to health, and to reputation, it is productive of the greatest part of the happiness of private life.

It seems to me that one of the sickest ideas of Christianity is that pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, is sinful.

Doctor, this is one of the major theses of my book.  Also, my friend Barbara Walker uses this theme throughout Man Made God.  Consider that nuns were often commanded to shower and bathe with their habits on, so as not to offend God.  So I think you should use the word “stupid” as well as sick.  God supposedly created their bodies, so why the heck should the ladies feel obligated to cover up even when cleaning themselves. 

As you probably know, the history of anesthesia goes back a long way.  Ether, one of the earliest, dates back to the alchemists, perhaps discovered in the 13th century.  But it wasn’t used until centuries later for fear of upsetting God’s plan.  Think of all the pain, especially to women in childbirth that might have been avoided or alleviated.  The unnecessary suffering caused by misguided and brainwashed church leaders is immeasurable. 

Many American Civil War amputations were performed with a shot of whiskey and  soldiers learned to “bite the bullet.” 

I’ve written extensively on my blog about this theme.  How about St. Dominic, one of the founders of the Inquisitive.  A bloomin’ sadomasochist and he has a New World country and a few cities named after him.  That’s him on the throne below. 





The text in the essay reads: 

That’s him on the throne below.  In the remarkable picture below, that’s St. Dominic on the throne, not even condescending to look at the condemned.  He reminds me of the Martian head in the fishbowl in the old sci-fi thriller, Invaders From Mars, 1951.  It’s the cold dispassionate detachment I find so striking, as if the holy man of God were stepping on a pair of insects. 



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