If you’re an atheist, then you know as well as I do that life is a yawning chasm of despair and hopelessness, and you surely long for sweet oblivion to finally put an end to the whole pointless charade. But fret not! Spit out that handful of pills, put down the razorblades and step away from your wrists! Life doesn’t have to be empty and without meaning just because you don’t believe in a god or an afterlife.
Let’s look at this supposedly miserable atheistic worldview. We’re all going to just die, and then that’ll be it. All our feelings and emotions, and everything else that makes us who we are, will one day come to an end. We will effectively become nothing, and so will everything else. The effects of every single event that has ever occurred will eventually be nullified. Nothing lasts forever, and all will one day be forgotten.
Seriously, put down the razorblades, I’m going somewhere with this.
Although this might sound rather bleak, does it really change anything all that much if you insert God into the mix? Assume he comes pre-packaged with that “eternal life” deal he’s often said to provide, for all those “souls” he apparently dishes out left and right to just about anyone with the sense to be born. If that’s really true for us, how much does it actually affect the purpose of our lives?
In this scenario, we’ve got an eternity stretching out ahead of us – Heaven, Hell, reincarnation, some combination of the above, or something else entirely. Why would this add significance to anything we do in this particular life-span? Things which have profound and hugely affecting resonances in this world will, presumably, be forgotten and rendered moot in an insignificant sliver of time, compared with our infinite future. Although it might seem like a big deal now if I murdered your family, they were all immortal anyway; it’ll only be a short wait before we’ll have countless trillions of years to stop caring about anything that happened in this lifetime.
I really can’t fathom any good reason why people should believe that only a universe with a god can provide our lives with any purpose, except as a knee-jerk reaction to the scary idea that we might one day cease to exist. Feel free to chip in and tell me what I’ve failed to consider.
Changing tack a little, I know some people who both believe in God, and like eating cake. Let’s call one such sweet-toothed churchgoer Mabel, because I think it’d be cool to have a friend named Mabel. When Mabel’s chomping away on some gateau, is there anything involved in her enjoyment other than the chocolatey goodness? Does she have any long-term goals in mind, relating to the fate of her immortal soul? Would it sadden her, and destroy her ability to enjoy her baked treat, if she believed that one day there would be no more cake? Is there likely to be anything even remotely connected to her religious convictions on her mind while she helps herself to another slice? Or is she simply delighting in how delicious and moist it is?
The world has so much for us to take pleasure in, of which cake is only one small part. We can ascribe value and meaning where it suits us, without being ordered to suck up to the Big Guy in the clouds and told that this is the only way we can make our existence worthwhile. We can live this life as if it were our last, without having to be constantly watching and moderating our behaviour with some uncertain eternal future in mind. Whatever seems like a big deal now, is a big deal. We can make things matter to us. We can make our purpose.
And when we die, maybe that’ll be it. Hopefully we’ll have found some fulfilment, however we defined that, and left some worthwhile legacy for the people who helped give our lives that purpose. Or maybe that won’t be it, in which case we’ll see what happens next. I’ll be fascinated if it turns out that there’s more to come, but if not, I’m enjoying myself while I last.
I’m hungry now. Anyone got any cake?
Or pie? I could settle for pie.