“Life’s objective’s to make it meaningful.”
“I’m so afraid to, I couldn’t stand to waste all my energy on things that do not matter anymore.
Many readers of my blog probably have heard the following sentiment: “If God does not exist, why should we bother living? What’s the point of it all?” When I hear this sort of sentiment, I think in quite a charitable and optimistic way believing that the person uttering this statement simply has not considered the issues at hand. I contest that the ‘god question’ is completely irrelevant to questions of meaning; regardless of whether any gods exist, persons can establish meaning in their lives. Additionally, even if a person believes that there is no meaning, we can find various reasons to continue living.
Generally, the phrase ‘meaning of life’ is concerned with the purpose and significance of one’s life. Meaning, though, it seems, is quite a subjective matter and often an ill-defined term. Some consider meaning to be found in appealing to a deity who has some objective for humans. Others (like myself) find meaning in appealing to experiences in life that are fulfilling. Some believe meaning can only be found in events that are significant in a cosmic sense; these persons believe that if there can not be a ‘grand significance’ for the future, no meaning can be had.
Some theists, as mentioned, believe that atheists have no reason to continue living and presumably seem to believe that the only way an accounting can be given for meaning is by appealing to God. Can belief in God really be the only way to arrive at meaning? Should atheists simply commit suicide because they don’t believe in God?
Consider the following hypothetical:
Joe believes the Christian god exists. He goes through life experiencing much joy, looks forward to the future, has a great deal of social connections and support from said connections, has a well-paying job, and can list many accomplishments that are important to him. Joe, every night, prays to God and thanks God for being able to experience so many opportunities that he believes God allows. With God, Joe believes, meaning is possible.
At a later age, Joe came across a new friend — Bill — a dentist who happened to be an atheist. Joe, quite confident in his Christian belief, engaged the atheist in discussion. Bill asked Joe how he can believe in the goodness of a god who rules a world when considering natural disasters, disease, and grievous dental problems. Joe’s responses of ‘the devil,’ ‘free will,’ and a ‘fallen world’ went nowhere in the discussion as Bill was able to provide solid refutations. Going home later in the day, Joe was wrought with doubt and decided to embark on a journey to find a good argument to justify his Christian belief. After about a year of research, Joe relinquished his Christian beliefs and realized he was an atheist.
Are we to believe that all of what Joe had accomplished prior to realizing he was an atheist was in naught? Prior to realizing he was an atheist, Joe found meaning in his life, but he attributed the meaning to God. Shall Joe enter into some emotional despair and commit suicide like many theists would think (without God, some maintain, there is no reason to live)? Such a response would not seem justified. With or without God, Joe can cherish the here and now, the past, and find many reasons to continue living. No matter how Joe establishes meaning in his life (or even if he admits life is meaningless), he can still value his experiences and find reasons to continue living.
Despite some theists believing that meaning can only be found by appealing to God and believing that life is only worth living if God exists, we see many godless persons living and enjoying life. I’ve never heard even one case of a person committing suicide because he/she realized that he/she was an atheist. Meaning or no meaning, we atheists should be enough ‘proof’ for theistic persons to rid themselves of this ‘there is no reason to live if there is no God’ idea.
As a philosophical naturalist, I believe that the natural world is all that exists. I don’t find any compelling reasons to suggest that any sort of afterlife or second life of any kind exists. Consciousness, it seems, is dependent on brain activity; when the brain completely ceases to function, there is no consciousness. How am “I” supposed to experience anything when my brain completely ceases to function?
I have found my life, despite many hardships I have faced, to be very fulfilling and thus value my life. I can find many reasons to continue living whether or not there is any meaning or any gods exist. I have actually found more meaning in my life since I have realized I was an atheist; many doors have opened, I have learned a great deal, met many more people, shared my ideas with a large audience, have intellectually matured, and so much more.
Whether or not God exists seems to have no bearing on whether meaning can be found in life. With or without God, persons have found many reasons to continue living. Persons would do well in relinquishing this idea of life being utterly pointless if gods did not exist. No matter how we give an accounting of meaning — or even if we admit that life is meaningless — God is not necessary to maintain a reason to live.