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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I would put it a little differently: life has no intrinsic purpose, a one-size fits all purpose, but it can be made purposeful by choice. Helping others is one way, but there are others—creating something that was never there before, rescuing something in danger of being lost, biringing order where there is chaos.

Indeed the world can be a nasty place, and in time we all lose everything, but you can choose a purpose and make life more worthwhile by carrying it out while you are here.


I am a firm believer that whatever we find to be purposeful and that also makes us happy, such as doing good for others or what have you, is real purpose, real meaning. I do not believe in any way, shape, or form, that purpose must come from without ourselves, imposed or assigned, by some god or other. Yes, this life can be nasty, painful, and unfair at times, but that's just part and parcel of being alive. You don't need some god to give you purpose or happiness or meaning. Despite the evil that can sometimes befall us, we still have a share of happy times, good times, however fleeting. I find my happiness, meaning, and purpose, in trying to educate other people about the psychological and physical harm that religion ultimately leads to, and how atheists are not the evil beasts the majority of people believe we are. I also find happiness in an unreachable, but worthy goal I set for myself years ago. That goal is to learn everything about everything. I know I will never reach the goal of learning everything about everything. That would take more than several lifetimes for any person. But I have learned much over the years, and I have fun in the process, because to me learning is the most fun thing there is to do. There's nothing I love more than learning.

For me, Atheism, by itself, gives me nothing. But this nothingness forces me to look for something. But not anything. The something that I look for needs to be credible.

And that is where science comes in. Only science can give you credible answers.

The problem with science though, is that it isn't easy. Take general relativity for example. I don't understand the maths behind it, at this point in time. It is too hard for me to understand. I have had a go at understanding it a couple of times but have given up on it each time. Biology is much easier though. But even biology can be really hard to get through, depending on how deep you'd like to go. Just read Nature or Nature reviews(cancer) etc and you'll find out what I mean.

Remember, only science can give you answers for the natural world.

As for life after death, that is not the realm of science. 

This is where religion comes in, and this is the great thing about religion. It gives you easy to understand answers about life after death. But these answers come from personal opinion based on imagination. And none of it is provable during your life time.

From my point of view, religion is what people turn to, in order to make themselves feel better about mortality. For some people mortality is a scary thing. And this is one of the reasons why I rarely argue with theists about religion. I would never want to destroy the psychological safety net they have made for themselves.

As for me, I'm looking forward to my death. I want to die. I need to find out if there is an afterlife or not. If there is an afterlife, great. If not, it doesn't matter. But before I die, I'd like to contribute something to society that is of benefit to society.

As an aside; I don't think atheism is the opposite of theism. Atheism is not believing in the god of the theist. I think atheism is a neutral position. But I do think science is the opposite of theism. The reason for this is: Science requires proof. Rigorous and repeatable proof, that is provable to everybody. But religion is the opposite of that. It's just personal opinion, that is forced on people regardless of proof.

Nice question by the way. 

For me, Atheism, by itself, gives me nothing.

For me it removes the illusions of religion and clears the path forward toward understanding existence and life.

"For me, Atheism, by itself, gives me nothing"

For me it removes the illusions of religion and clears the path forward toward understanding existence and life.

I guess I can only agree.

One thing I have have never really understood about American atheists, is this the big deal they make over being an open atheist. Or 'coming out Atheist'. Never having been religious, I guess it's impossible for me to have an innate understanding of this problem Americans have. 

So I think I'll change me original opening statement to something like:

If I had been indoctrinated by Christianity, since childhood, maybe ...........

I don't think I can imagine what it would be like to be indoctrinated with religion from birth. 

I think it's best to leave the answers to such problems to other ex-theists. People who understand this problem by way of experience. As I have no experience in this, I don't think I can help. Sorry for the confusion. 

Relgion, especially Christianity, teaches that every life fits into the same meaning. Obedience to God gets you eternal life and disobedience gets you eternal damnation. Once you get rid of that notion you are free to choose the meaning for your own life, to develop your own ideas of what your life is about. In other words you are free to be yourself and to live life fully according to your own views. That also means you are free to make mistakes, as we all do, but you are not constrained by someone else's ideas of how to live. are free to choose the meaning for your own life, to develop your own ideas of what your life is about.

And yet, the freedom we enjoy is a burden to others. They need someone to obey.

leveni, I like the clarity with which you state your views.

I was halfway through first grade when my dad transferred me to Catholic schools so I heard and felt that religion's long indoctrination.

You wrote above that none of [religion's answers are] provable during your life time.

I agree, they aren't provable. As a Catholic however I felt threatened with eternal punishment if DURING MY LIFETIME I didn't comply with the church's demands.

When I quit, I began to hope that someday the law will treat the religious bullying that's done in Catholic school as child abuse.

As a Catholic however I felt threatened with eternal punishment

religious bullying that's done in Catholic school as child abuse

This is a difficult one. Because it makes my statement:

I would never want to destroy the psychological safety net they have made for themselves.

unhealthy, especially to the ex-atheist, in the long run.

And it also makes my statement wrong. It's wrong because they didn't make that safety net for themselves. It was the church that made that safety net, and it was the church that forced that safety net onto the believer (victim). 

Therefore this "psychological safety net" is ultimately detrimental to those that can escape religion. But is an essential part of being for those that still believe.

How sad.

Sad indeed, but I don't kick crutches out from under people who need them to walk.

Beautiful comments leveni.

I've never been concerned with meaning and purpose, even in my 55 years as a believer.  

Now that I'm an atheist, I know there is no meaning and purpose to life.  It just is.  The closest I get to purpose is just trying to be happy and enjoy life, but I don't see that as a purpose.  I don't feel driven to them.

Perhaps I'd be happier if I gave myself a purpose, but I doubt it.  Most of the times I've set a goal for myself (usually from religious pressure), I've failed to reach it 100%, and that depressed me, so I've learned that I'm happier without goals, and I've not set one for probably 30 years.

Sometimes I'll think of something I would like to accomplish and will start it, but I don't make a big deal out of it, and try not to kick myself too hard if I don't finish it.  

This spring, I somehow discovered I had 100 times the ambition I normally have, and set-out to modify my soil to please the watermelon I wanted to plant.  I dug up the soil in an 11 foot diameter section of my garden, down to 3.5 feet deep.  As I filled it back in, I mixed it with a large amount of manure, compost, and organic matter, as well as sand, because watermelon like well-drained soil.  I even added two feet of the mixture above ground level.

However, I gave myself permission to quit anytime it became too much for me.  After all, I'm 72 years old and was 80 pounds overweight when I started.  I also did it all with hand tools.

I finished the project without a firm goal and lost 37 pounds of fat in the process!


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