For those of us who were religious before becoming atheists, you understand how religion gave us meaning. If you follow the rules (especially in Judaism where there are many) and learn the right books, you'll get a big piece of heaven.

As an atheist, what gives you purpose and meaning in life?

As a "new" atheist (I just "came out" to some of my family and friends recently), this is something I am struggling with.

Thanks in advance.

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The meaning to life, especially one’s own, is not found by searching for “meaning”.

If you want your life to have “a meaning” then you must make the conscious decision about what that “meaning” is to be.

This is, of course, based upon the presumption that life should have a “meaning”  whatever that means.

I abandoned the idea of my life having any “meaning” quite some time ago, and made the decision to simply try to be a decent human being.

That, in itself, is a great enough task to consume all the effort I can give it.  


Do you have a close and loving family ? Or do you have an intense interest in some area or areas of scientific knowledge enough to research them as much as you can and learn the facts and not the fabrications ?

Do you like to help others when you're able ? Would you volunteer to help someone other than family ? Do you have any kind of aspirations to better your world ?

If the answer to any of these is yes then you can choose to let these be what you find meaning or purpose in.


I suppose I could claim to find meaning or purpose in the activities you mention, but I am of the notion that those endeavors have meaning intrinsically.  That is to say that with or without my participating in any of those activities their meaning precedes my participation.  I would simply be choosing  to attach myself to something already meaningful, and assume meaning to myself by osmosis.

I think I would find that somewhat unsatisfying, especially were I searching for meaning for/in/of my own personal life.

 Instead, I choose to approach the subject somewhat like the Buddha approached the search for “happiness”.  As long as you seek it, it will elude you.

I have concluded that this entire presumptuous notion that my life should have some sort of “meaning” is nothing more than religious residue.  Leftover from the idea that “God put us on earth for a purpose”.  

And that's O.K. if that’s what you want to believe.


Good luck with your journey after religion. If you are interested, I recently wrote quite a bit on this topic.

See here: Finding Purpose Without Religion.



Jeremy, I read and enjoyed your article.

Here's the thing: Religion tells you that your purpose of life is to serve god.

Problem: If you don't know if god exists, you stop serving him. Therefore you lose your purpose.

I don't see living without purpose (as some people here have suggested) a viable option for me.

Living with a purpose, even if it's wrong and an illusion, still gives you a feeling of purpose.

That feeling of purpose is lost for me, and it creates a hole inside of me. I'm trying to focus on "making the world a better place", but it's not 24/7 like serving god can be.

My purpose is to do everything and anything I can to help people, only because it's the right thing to do, not that I'm the best person, but I try to improve where I can.

Stephanie, I hope that your helping people brings you huge helpings of happiness. (The alliteration was accidental.)

Decades ago when my kid brother was freeing himself from Catholicism, he spoke of helping people. He said it in a way that to me seemed servile and I told him so. I had once expressed the same thought and found that helping others did not by itself work for me. I do better when I'm happy.

Yeah, a lot people seem to be like that, but that's just it, I can't stand it when something is wrong and I can do something, anything to help out. Now not everything is worth trying for, but  when there is this much wrong in the world, I like to know that something I did made for the better, and that is what makes me happy, and therefore I do better when I'm happy to :D.

Death stands at your elbow. While you are alive and it is within your power, be good for something. —Marcus Aurelius

That's the key to a meaningful life: be good for something.

I'm still struggling with this.  I think life has no real purpose.  I'm just killing time until I die.  Helping others makes passing the time a little easier.  But it's still painful.  The world can be such a nasty place at times.  Having no real purpose in life makes it worse.

Sierra, keep in mind that Marcus A. was a Roman emperor who spent much of his time at war, killing both time and people.

Find another purpose. Please.

Helping others can be fun, but only if what you're doing makes you happy.

I tried helping others for a while. I didn't do it right and burned out. I describe my experience this way: America gives therapy to alcoholics and exploits workaholics.

While in the Catholic schools my dad sent his kids to, nuns and priests made kids say The purpose of life is to know, love and serve god and be happy with him forever in heaven.

That was the Church exploiting Catholics. It was worse than helping others. I was most unhappy.

I quit Catholicism. Because there was so much I didn't know, I chose agnosticism.

Then I found work I enjoyed doing and people paid me well to do it. HAPPINESS!!!

Many people find happiness in having kids.

What kids do is keep parents busy. Five kids kept my parents busy but I decided I didn't want to work as hard as they did.

I've heard parents say they sometimes want to kill their kids. Many parents get even when their kids have kids.

I got lucky and met a woman I liked who also didn't want kids.

You'll have to find your own happiness.

Trust your intuition.

Unless you want to overturn society, don't leave tracks the sheriff can follow.


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