I often hear from theists that they could never become an atheist because they are afraid that they would have no purpose and meaning to their lives.
While I was a dedicated Christian I do not recall what was so meaningful and purposeful about my life during this stage. Nor do I recall why I feared that these feelings would dissipate if I ever lost my faith. The reality, if my memory is not too distorted, is that this part of my life was not particularly happy or especially meaningful. All I can recall is that there were a number of nice emotional "highs" relating from the feeling of being "right" and in warm supportive company (when it was). There were also emotional highs from the hypnotic music, chanting, meditation and mind focusing. But that's all.
I recall a catecism phrase which intoned that: "Man's chief end in life is to glorify God". The language was quaint and always made me think of another saying: "Man has two ends: one to think with and one to sit with. His success in life depends on which he uses the most." This was prior to the consciousness raising of the women's liberation movement so I failed to notice the implied sexism in these statements. What, pray, is Women's Chief End in Life?
Obviously, now that I have been forced to cross the bridge, the fear of meaningless proved to be unrealistic. Life just simply went on and the gaps filled in relatively quickly, like skin growing over a wound. I don't recall ever actually perceiving a "hole" where religion used to be.
Can anyone recall their own experience?
Has anyone here ever recieved anything more than frothy answers from Christians, or followers of other religions, about what they percieve to be the "meaning and purpose" of their life? My suspicion is that theists would be greatly embarrassed if they were asked to justify their claim that they experience better or more "meaning and purpose" than non-theists.
In my experience, people's perception of meaning various enormously. It is extremely fickle. Changes in hormones and brain chemistry is enough to upset it dramatically. People with religious beliefs are no less prone to developing clinical depression and just as likely to commit suicide as any other group, given the same set of predictive factors: personality type, poverty, social isoloation, genetic history, precipitating experience, etcetera.
How do theists explain the "meaning and purpose" in the lives of those with serious medical conditions, especially when they affect the brain and the personality of the person. What is life's "meaning" for someone with Alzheimer's Dementia? Parkinson's Dementia? Frontal Lobe injury (affects the personality and ability to make and carry out decisions)? Children dying young of an incurable disease? Memory loss from accident (near drowning, CO2 poisoning) or disease (prolonged vomiting, persisent seizures? Prolonged coma? In fact, what is the meaning and purpose in life of a whole heap of suffering people?
The theist might claim that their god has a purpose for these lives, but is it something which the individual finds positive and meaningful? Does this even make any sense when the person in question cannot think or perceive properly? Does it make any sense when pain is so severe that it blocks out any existential consideration? Does it make any sense when the person is so spaced out on pain killing medicine that they live in a virtual dream world where the internal and external merge in fuzzy confusion and nothing matters save the timing of the next dose of blissful release?