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.