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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We are born without our own will to do so and after that we all desire to give meaning to our life. We set some goals for us and find fulfillment in pursuing them but this our way of finding meaning to our lives, for our satisfaction, for our ego. I too am no exception for this but the fact is that we are no better than the billions of stars and planets and the unfathomable empty space that is their abode. A star is born out of a nebula and may then become a supernova or a white dwarf. Is there any meaning to this? Similarly, we are born and we die. For what purpose? A star may be burning billions of tons of hydrogen every second and generating enormous amount of energy. If it had some power to think, can it say that that is a purpose of its life? Our endeavor to give meaning to our little life is merely to satisfy our ego.

Here I agree, Madhukar, no one asked me if I wanted to be born. I didn't find a meaning I enjoyed until, in college, I started in a computer class intended for employees. When after my third computer class people started paying me to tell computers what to do, my little life became hugely more fun.

If I hadn't found a meaning I enjoyed, I might have listened to a preacher who wanted to sell me belief in a future happiness. Or I might have self-medicated with alcohol.

Either Robert Byrne or Ludwig Wittgenstein once said: "The purpose of life is a life of purpose". Which goes along with how many atheists see meaning in life. We are self-aware, highly intelligent, mammals. We feel love and kinship with and from family and friends. We have enthusiasm for different subjects or objects that greatly interest us, and we find purpose from them in learning or obtaining. Most of us want to somehow contribute to bettering our world. Take your pick, or pick them all. Things like these give us enough purpose of our own choosing. We neither have nor need some predetermined purpose planned out before we were born.

As for the finality of death...being dead itself is not a bad thing, only the suffering you feel as you near death is bad. Mark Twain said

"I do not fear death, in view of the fact that I had been dead for billions and billions of year before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it".

You don't exist before you are conceived in the womb, you no longer exist after you die. Before you were conceived did you feel fear, pain, suffering, guilt or regret, or anything for that matter ? Do you have preconception memories ? No. And you won't after you die. That should make this one life more precious to you. Live it to your best, make the most of it, and try to make it better for your children and their children.

We are?

We do?

I didn't?

I don't remember.

I won't?

I did one thing right; I had no children.

I was an agnostic before I became an Atheist. That's just as bad. My mind was dysfunctional to the extent that I thought there was a possibility that spooks existed. Atheism liberated me and made me happy. The supernatural does not exist.

Religionists need to go through a painful process of accepting they are mentally retarded before they can improve themselves and become descent, upstanding, honourable and worthwhile members of society. The road to enlightenment, self-realisation and liberty may be full of pot-holes, damaging the suspension of your fucking car, you might need to steal petrol to get there or some arse-hole gives you wrong directions.

Whatever, try and remember the words of Napoleon Bonaparte; “Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.”

Napoleon was saying he was one of those Type A people. Go, go, go; unable to stop.

He invaded Russia, was defeated, and lived on. Ingloriously until he died.

I too chose agnosticism. At the student atheist club at U of Fla I heard members say they KNEW there was no god. I was studying math and defined know differently.

I'd studied enough science to be able to suspend judgment. I did that and lived happily for fifty years. About 12 years ago an elderly woman told me I was on a fence and I gave her several minutes of chatter about the difficulties of staying on a fence. She walked away looking so confused that I almost felt guilty.

Several years ago, figuring that no one would claim to have evidence, I decided to get off the fence. I tell people I'm a soft atheist; I don't kick crutches out from under people with walking aids.

Addictions cost money and have consequences, but if addicts are happy and don't tell me I need what they use, I leave them be.

I also contribute to organizations who are keeping what those addicts use out of school science programs.

Besides our biological needs for oxygen, food, water & shelter, there are three Vital psychological needs of competence, autonomy & relatedness, which when fulfilled make our lives meaningful.

Competence : is people's need to feel effective in their activities by engaging in challenges and experiencing mastery in the physical & social worlds. The need for competence leads people to seek challenges appropriate to their capacities.

Autonomy : is people's need to feel that their activities are self-chosen and self-endorsed, enabling them to organize and regulate their own behavior as an expression of their own interests & values.

Relatedness : is the need to feel a sense of closeness with others through attachments and feelings of security, belongingness & intimacy. It requires feeling connected to others whom we care for and who care for us. 

How Love, work & Play satisfy our Vital needs & make our lives meaningful

Activities in the realms of love, work and play can contribute enormously to satisfaction of the vital psychological needs of competence, autonomy and relatedness. Work is highly relevant to competence when it is challenging yet doable, so that people can perceive that they are effective. The failure to satisfy the need for competence is a partial explanation of why menial jobs are so unpleasant. Play can contribute to a sense of competence when it involves challenging activities such as sports, music and hobbies.

Satisfying the need for competence requires a degree of challenge, making it clear why some pastimes, such as watching mindless TV soap operas need not be counted as generating much value. Love, construed broadly to include friendship and compassion as well as romantic involvement, is clearly the major way to satisfy the need for relatednessPlay, of more frivolous sorts not tied to competence might also be justified as a distraction sometimes needed from the stresses associated with the more inherently valuable pursuits of love & work. Thus, work, play & love are clearly consonant with the needs for Competence & Relatedness, but what about the proposed need for Autonomy ?

There is some evidence from research that work is more satisfying when it is self-chosen & self-regulated, suggesting that the most enjoyable kinds of work help to satisfy the need for autonomy.

The problem with tedious jobs is not just that they do not permit feelings of effectiveness needed for competence, but also that they are controlled by others and hence do not permit people to choose for themselves & regulate their own behavior. Games & entertainment are plausibly more satisfying when they are self-chosen. People don't like being told what they have to do for fun.

This is how we non-theists can make our lives meaningful. At least it worked for me.

I don't worry about life having meaning, or finding some single purpose.  I have found that the beauty of atheism is not having to center my life around some central idea, or within the boundaries of some abstract construct.  My only boundaries are those provided by nature, and by myself.  Simply do the things you enjoy without infringing the rights of others to do the same, and the meaning of your actions will come to you.  Regardless of whether free will is truly an illusion, we all sense it just the same.  Enjoy it to the fullest!

Edison, I like!

If my always-working parents hadn't raised me to be a workaholic, my early adult years would have been as much fun as I saw other people having -- while I worked -- and as much fun as I'm now having.

America gives therapy to alcoholics and exploits workaholics.


I too like Edison's reply but I would like to differ with you slightly. I am a hard working man and have been so all my life. Workaholics in my opinion are self exploited people.

Madhukar, get thee to a dictionary; not every hard-working person is a workaholic. While you have the dictionary open, look up exploit.

I know people who are unable to refuse work suggested by other people or unable to delegate work to other people. They get burdened down, the work remains undone, they burn out, and blame others.

Just once, in 1953-54, I was the workaholic president of a college club. I won't tell you what happened and how I cured myself...unless you pay me to write about ten pages.

I used the word exploit because I didn't want to write benefits from the work of workaholics.

Your assignment: devise a one-word equivalent for gives therapy to. In English.

You do that and I be able to complete the sentence America _________ alcoholics and exploits workaholics.

I like your answer Edison.




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