The Meaning of Life… Without God

I can’t think of a question that I, as an atheist (especially an ex-Christian atheist), have heard more often than this. Without God, what is the meaning of life? The second clause of that sentence is one that people have been asking without inclusion of the first since man’s brain was at first developed enough to realize it existed. Questioning the meaning of life comes with the territory of self-awareness. Man had trouble with this question long before he introduced himself to the supernatural, and he will continue to as long as he remains aware that he exists.

Great thinkers have always thrown the question around, and some have dedicated a good portion of their lives to finding the answer. Even theologians stand divided on their positions. Some would indicate that the true purpose of life is to spread the word of the Gospel, while there are some who believe in the predetermination of the soul and thereby leave out the Great Commission altogether. There are some who believe in working hard on this earth to lay up treasures in Heaven, and there are others who think only of the next world and its comforts. Thus, let me start out on this trek by saying that even with the inclusion of a celestial entity in one’s life, the meaning of that life is still not always so clear-cut.

Being a self-aware mammal, a high Primate to be exact, I’ve been told that my purpose in life could vary anywhere between swinging from trees eating bananas, to fearing my eventual burning for all eternity, to absolutely nothing. It’s exactly that sort of thinking that I would like to set out to disprove, knowing full well what my purpose in life is: to live.

The Constitution sets out certain fundamental rights that are native to every single human being regardless of race, creed, or orientation. These are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In short, the natural right granted to every person is the right to live their life. To expound on that, it is to live life with freedom and happiness, to pursue that which makes us most happy, and to attempt to realize our dreams without restraint, unless those dreams infringe on this fundamental right of others.

French philosopher and Christian apologeticist Blaise Pascal established what has become known as Pascal’s Wager. This concept states that one should live their life as though God exists, because if they are right, then they have everything to gain and nothing to lose, as opposed to not believing, in which case the nonbeliever has nothing to gain or lose. As fundamentally flawed as this argument is (e.g. Richard Dawkins’ theory that God could punish blind faith and reward an honest attempt to think using the brains he created for us, and the inconsistent revelation between religions of what constitutes salvation), it raises a foundation on which to build a larger argument. If there is no God, then the concept of an afterlife would also come into question. This would leave humankind with only this present life to live. Therefore, belief in God would constitute the squandering away of the only life we have to live in order to receive a paycheck that we will never be able to get cashed, while nonbelief would allow for the full utilization of this, our only chance to exist.

But what about a direction in this life? Without guidance, how can we live any kind of meaningful life whatsoever?

To be honest, the concept that life should have some kind of higher meaning attributed to it is both infantile and arrogant. Only the selfish human ego would believe it was so important that it would require the creator of the universe to ascribe it some kind of meaning. Our life has no more inherent “meaning” than an animal, a plant, or a mineral. The truly beautiful thing, in light of those seemingly hopeless words, is that we are therefore free to give our own life meaning. In the millennia that we have been fostering our primate brains, throughout the struggle of evolution and natural selection, our race has come out on top as having a mind that can process our sentience. It’s actually a step backwards to rely on Bronze-age myths to find meaning when we have the capacity and the freedom to find meaning for ourselves.

As animals, we do have one inherent “meaning” to our lives, the goal that every living thing shares: to engender progeny and carry on our species. However, we are not limited to that goal, and many people today have no urge at all to perform this task. In this advanced day and age there are other ways that we can support our species on its road to advancement. Some people spend their lives seeking out new knowledge that can benefit mankind, daily leading to technological, medical, and societal breakthroughs. Some fight for the freedom and betterment of their community through outreach and aid, political campaigning, and visionary activism. Some people just do whatever makes them happy and gladly stay out of the way. There are others, of course, who fight against the betterment of mankind, preferring betterment of the self, which is what led to religion and its destructive tendencies in the first place.

Surpassing our animal nature, we don’t have to be limited to the task of raising a family and populating future generations. We have the ability to choose our path in this life, and to follow our dreams. It is a sore loss when people fail to see this. As long as we don’t tread on the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of others, we are free to live out our own hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

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About capnjammer

An ex-Baptist pastor and missionary, I turned my back on religion... all religion... after years of hard soul searching and study. This blog is my attempt to help others who need out find their way, and to bolster the anti-religious community.
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6 Responses to The Meaning of Life… Without God

  1. very well thought out.
    do we use our pure, so called ‘reason’ to.. love? to appreciate beauty? I’m not sure, but I don’t think we can call reason mutually exclusive from faith because we use these together and always will. (in reference to your title) If I can ask, what was the thing, or build up of things that turned you from being a pastor and missionary? and calling religion ‘a fight against the betterment of mankind’? I do see in the history of religions and presently too aspects of that, but it’s about the people in these groups, ‘fundamentalists’ which do not and cannot stand for the whole group. I’m not really going to argue here, because it can never end, and I probably have a limited knowledge on these issues, just also curious. I feel quite the opposite on the issue of betterment of self vs mankind… I feel that this modern society has a focus on the self which seems to promote self improvement, personal desires etc etc(and, as I have seen, lack of ‘religion’), whereas (well as I see it) ‘Christianity’ focuses on forgoing yourself in order to help others, pure selflessness. (Of course this is not shown through many Christians etc but the core of it is that philosophy)
    what is your opinion on morals and are they “written in our hearts” or just modeled on our, seemingly spiraling, society values? ok I’m probably making no sense anymore and ranting too much, sorry. thank you for your insight, i’m interested in your story.

    • capnjammer says:

      Thanks for your comment. I was actually working on a follow up to this post that will answer some of the questions you posed to me. In the meantime, I’ve posted a somewhat succinct testimonial of my conversion.

  2. John B. says:

    Welcome to WordPress, fellow atheist! People must realize that the meaning of life for a self-aware being is whatever that being decides. If you live your life under the impression that your actions (or inactions) will earn you eternal life or eternal damnation – then your life is without meaning.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future!

    //jb//

  3. Pingback: Morality Without God | Walking Away

  4. Cal Peters says:

    I, too, am an former Baptist who, although not a preacher, was a “soul winner” who taught Bible study and preached in church. I almost went into full-time service when the doubts I’d been having hit me like a ton of bricks. My doubts were simple: If God hears and answers prayers, why then are prayers so randomly “answered?”

    We believed Mormons were as lost as any heathen and that God didn’t even hear the prayer of the unrighteous. How and why then, did Mormons (I use them as an example because of friends I have from that faith) claim “Heavenly Father” answered THEIR prayers? Why did only SOME of “ours” get answered? I knew all of the standard explanations: God moves in a mysterious ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, we can’t know everything in this life, maybe you only THINK He didn’t answer your prayers, etc. None of that was intellectually satisfying and after Easter Sunday in 1986, I left church and only went back twice the next month or two and have never set foot in a church again.

    My best friend from high school enlisted with me in the Marine Corps. We talked about these kinds of things in 1975 and we still talk about them every week on the phone. He was a Mormon but hasn’t been “active” for 30 years. I find Mormonism bizarre but no more so than any other faith system. I could spend hours talking about what I find troubling with religion and why it nonetheless still beckons to me after all these years. After all, it’s only our “eternal fate” which hangs in the balance and death is the ONLY certainty in life. Therefore, it’s only natural to want there to be something more even though my life has pretty wonderful with the exception of the death of my son Garrett in 2008.

    I’ll finish by saying I’ve concluded pretty much the same things you shared here and have decided I will never know the Truth for the same reason it seemed only some prayers got answered. That is, there’s no One listening which means He can’t reveal Himself to me to answer my questions. I either re-embrace all of that by sheer faith and ignore the disconnects in reality or I create my own reality based on my daily and sum-total of my experiences. I can’t do the former so I’ve chosen to be content in having embraced the latter. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter. I’m forwarding this link to my friend, Bob.

    • capnjammer says:

      Thank you for your testimony. I’m truly sorry for the loss of your son, and in some small way I guess I’m glad it didn’t call you back to “the other side.” When my father died, I refused to receive counselling because I “knew” he was in Heaven. All that did was build up unchecked emotions that started tearing me apart. It would have been so much easier for me if I hadn’t been living with a “beautiful” lie.

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