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Atheists... opinions please

(42 Posts)
GeoffLeopard Sun 09-Mar-14 23:03:12

I'm having an existential crisis. Don't believe in god and I've broadly made peace with that. But I have totally lost my way and everything seems futile. Can I ask..
How as an atheist do you find your purpose and meaning in life? And do you find it hard to truly acknowledge the thought that when you're gone, you're gone?

chocoluvva Mon 10-Mar-14 00:22:22

I went through a phase of feeling like that too.

I feel we just have to do our best to be good people as there is no alternative.

Now I'm middle-aged I'm much better at realising that however bad something feels, from past experience I can be confident that things will roll along and I'll feel better about after some time has passed.

Immerse yourself in a useful activity- so something for other people or something very physical - dig your garden, for example.

Also - it doesn't matter if there is no grand plan for us - little things are worthwhile.

I don't like the thought of being dead - but if I die of old age I might feel ready. Eventually the novelty of life will wear off.....

Do you mind me asking how old you are Geoff?

atthestrokeoftwelve Mon 10-Mar-14 06:43:43

There can be much purpose and meaning in life for an athiest. Humanity and this planet are amazing things. We can strive to give support to our fellow beings, to give some joy to others, to me this is no less important than the thought of some beared guy behind the curtain pulling the strings.
Embrace the personal freedom and responsibility that atheism brings, altruism is a human trait, not a god imposed one.

mrsnec Mon 10-Mar-14 06:54:56

I think I'm more agnostic than atheist. I sometimes feel that I wish I had a faith or a belief in a higher power but whenever I've needed it in my life and I've tried to find it I've always just found strength in myself or in positive thinking or with support from my loved ones. To me organised religion is just living under somebody's imposed rules and I don't agree with that. And I find rituals and religious festivals a bit odd.I have just aknowledged that when you're gone you're gone. Life has a beginning and an end and it's up to you what to do with the bit in the middle but I'm still open to proof I'm wrong.

LastingLight Mon 10-Mar-14 07:30:13

When you're gone you're gone but you can leave a legacy, e.g. the way you parent, the kindness you show to people, the community vege garden you started etc.

Thistledew Mon 10-Mar-14 07:59:23

Just because you don't believe in a deity it doesn't mean that life has to be meaningless.

I am confident in my conclusion that the probability of there being some sort of sentient, divine Being as described in any of the major religions is so small as to be no greater than it being my neighbour's cat. That doesn't stop me from wondering and pondering on what the meaning of it all is. There doesn't have to be a meaning of course, but there is no harm in speculating and trying to work it out along the way. I am quite happy to take inspiration from religious texts, but they carry no greater weight for me than does a well-written book of literature, a political essay, a thoughtful op ed in the newspaper or even a glorious sunset.

Being free from religious belief means that it doesn't matter if you never hit upon the 'right answers' and it doesn't prevent you from learning about and enjoying the sheer awesomeness and wonder of life.

headinhands Mon 10-Mar-14 09:33:00

Hi op. I'm wondering if you've had a series of transitions to deal with recently. Lots of change and shifting responsibilities. All of us find such changes difficult and cause reassessment and revision of our values and goals. These changes can be physical like a job change or cognitive/subjective like hitting a certain age.

When I'm feeling wobbly and vulnerable about change I get back to simple things that ground me. Laughter, kindness, connection with loved ones.


SirChenjin Mon 10-Mar-14 09:41:27

I find meaning in the important things, such as family, friends, love, happiness, kindness, compassion, peace, consideration for others, and so on. I think these things are what makes us human, and what gives purpose to our lives. I don't believe in any form of God, although I acknowledge that others do and that their faith brings them comfort in times of need. When you're gone, you're gone, but as someone said upthread - you live on in others, through their memories, or a trait or physical characteristic seen many generations later, or something good you've done - and you make way for others to live, and experience joy and love.

Martorana Mon 10-Mar-14 09:45:09

I love the feeling of being part of the wonderful amazing continuous cycle of life.

And I also love not having to scrabble for reasons that a loving, omniscient omnipotent God allows dreadful things to happen. If dreadful things happen it's just because they do, not because they are part of some vast eternal plan I am not allowed to know about but have to submit to.

chocoluvva Mon 10-Mar-14 09:45:26

Despite (because of?) having a degree in philosophy I feel that analytical thinking is often not very useful. When it comes down to it we behave compassionately usually, whether from an active conscience or a desire to be kind to fellow man.

Even if there was a deity who has a 'purpose' for us all - what would be the point in that ultimately?

We're such an interaction of body and mind - our bio-chemistry and environment influence our thoughts hugely - the selfish gene and all that.

Have faith, confidence if you will, in your own strength. Do stuff however small.

'Religion for Atheists' by Alain de Botton is a good (and comforting) read IMO.

msrisotto Mon 10-Mar-14 10:14:56

I don't think my life has a predetermined purpose which takes the pressure off actually! I guess I don't feel the need for purpose but I do appreciate the wonders of nature, humankind etc.

chocoluvva Mon 10-Mar-14 10:25:00

When I was younger (I'm in my forties) I'd NEVER have imagined the pleasure I now get from small things, such as having successful plants in the garden, completing long-standing household jobs, having a day-trip somewhere new etc!

OneEggIsAnOeuf Mon 10-Mar-14 10:59:09

I just wanted to add that it is perfectly possible to be an atheist but to still believe that life has a spiritual dimension, just not one that has a supernatural deity pulling the strings. That's kind of where i'm at, so i see this life in the context of a much greater journey, and so anything but futile.

Even in purely physical terms there is beauty in the connection between all living things and in the cycles of nature, and a sense of peace in knowing that everything we physically are is the same stuff the stars are made of, our water is the same water that dinosaurs drank etc, and that we are privileged to be able to understand and contemplate our place in the chain of life. If that is all there is then it is still pretty amazing.

In terms of living without a faith, i agree that it is all about kindness, compassion, doing as much good and as little harm as possible. Make the most of each moment by being fully in the moment. I recently had a health scare that made me realise just how precious and important this life is, regardless of what may or may not be beyond it. If you think it is going to be taken away from you, you cling to it all the harder.

Have you ever looked at Buddhism? I'm not suggesting you need any kind of faith to find your way, but there are secular schools of Buddhist thought that may at least show you that there is a way to find meaning and purpose beyond the mundane, and without any recourse to gods of any description. This is a good place to start if you're interested.

fanoftheinvisibleman Mon 10-Mar-14 11:12:19

You have to create meaning in the things you create around you, people, memories and the way you live your life.

Personally I think any other expectations for the vast majority of us is just ego tbh. I don't believe the vast majority of us leave a 'mark' on the world other than the little ripple we make in our immediate circle. Why would we? We are just another species in nature whose purpose is to breed and continue the circle of life. We are just arrogant and vain enough (as a species, not having a go at anyone here!) to think we should have a higher purpose. I don't believe we have.

BackOnlyBriefly Mon 10-Mar-14 12:06:59

I know some religious people suggest that the alternative to belief is some dry, mechanical existence, devoid of feeling or joy. It isn't like that at all. You make your own meaning out of the little things.

The garden is beautiful and doesn't need fairies to make it so.

If you make someone (or yourself) happy today then that is a good thing in itself. It doesn't have to be part of a bigger plan.

After I'm gone I do think I will have made a difference, and yes it will be a tiny difference. I didn't discover gravity or invent the iPad, but that's ok by me. I'm content with being a small link in the chain.

HauntedNoddyCar Mon 10-Mar-14 12:12:57

I was going to say that it's just being a good link in a long chain which is fine if you have dc I guess.

Mostly though it just is what it is. Be nice because you sleep with a clear conscience. Try to enjoy the ride because it's more fun but the journey is important rather than arriving being the purpose.

I guess I've never felt the need to have any greater purpose to life other than living iyswim. As said above, enjoying the journey rather than fixating on the destination. I don't have any fear of being dead, although I don't like the idea of dying as a process and tbh I'd much rather carry on indefinitely as there's so much interesting stuff to experience.

I don't need someone else to tell me to treat other people the way I'd like them to treat me.

Your life is no more futile than that of someone who subscribes to a religion. Everything you do causes ripples, changes the experiences of others for good and bad - it all has meaning even if it's the tiniest change to your immediate environment. Just because things inevitably end doesn't mean that the fact of their existence was pointless. At some ridiculously unimaginable point in time our Sun will die, and this planet will fail - all our history and the people who lived it would still have had value and meaning.

kentishgirl Mon 10-Mar-14 17:24:26

Does life really need a bigger, deeper meaning beyond how we choose to live - are we happy, do we contribute, do we have friends and family? I don't think so. we don't need a 'purpose', any more than a dolphin or a cockroach or a daffodil needs a purpose. Well, thinking of biology of course, everything's purpose is to pass on its genes and the individual itself isn't important.

That doesn't bother me.

I love the idea of being a very small cog in a very large universe. Every part of me used to be part of the universe, now its me, and it'll be part of something else again. It's a big continuing cycle over millions of years. I'm part of that. It's great.

I don't mind there being nothing after death. It's the same as the nothing before I was born. No-one's scared of the nothingness they were before their mum and dad bumped bits.

atthestrokeoftwelve Mon 10-Mar-14 17:26:54

I don't think being god's plaything would make me feel purpose driven tbh.

poorincashrichinlove Mon 10-Mar-14 17:46:30

I've found peace through Buddhism, with a focus on good living every day rather than existential concerns. There are courses and groups. In most cities.

GeoffLeopard Mon 10-Mar-14 21:49:44

Thanks for all your replies. I like the idea of going back to basics like laughter, kindness connection with loved ones. I haven't ever looked into Buddhism properly though I like some of the principles. Thanks for the link Oneegg, I will check it out. Chocoluvva I'll also look into that book recommendation. Comforting sounds good.

Headinhands - I think you've hit the nail on the head there. I have had a prolonged series of life changes/disturbances/upsets in the past 10 years. Nothing too out of the ordinary but they seem to have hit me hard, having children in particular. I had PND after my second daughter so part of this is me being depressed. But part of it too is that I'm just trying to make peace with the full ramifications of my spiritual beliefs.

The points you all say ring so true to me and I'm relieved and soothed to read them all. I believe in what you've all said too and I live my life accordingly, but I've just become lost, aimless. It's like the connection between my head (what makes sense to me) and heart (how I feel about it) is broken. Can I ask your opinions on some things?:

1. I read some Sartre. What I struggle with is in trying to live in the moment, if that moment isn't a good one then it's a heartbreak as that's that moment gone forever. How to cope with that?

2. Even though there is meaning in life as an atheist, how do you deal with the fact that we are all ultimately, alone in the universe? If someone dies, you'll never have the chance to talk to them again.

GeoffLeopard Mon 10-Mar-14 21:51:56

ps. Chocoluvva I'm 36. Am loving the wisdom and confidence that comes with getting older. As a woman, you only hear the bad stuff about getting older... but the wisdom is wonderful. I will try and remember that 'this too shall pass'.

happybubblebrain Mon 10-Mar-14 22:08:40

1. Why do you have to try and live in the moment? If it's an enjoyable moment then live there, if not think about happy things in the past, or look forward to things you are planning to do. There are far less rules as an atheist, unlike most religions, you can think what you want to think. As long as you aren't harming anyone else, there are no rules. Do what makes you happy. One of the best things about being an atheist is the feeling of freedom.

2. Make the most of the people in your life while they are alive. Any day could be your last/their last. Most of us aren't alone while we are here, when we're dead we won't know that we are alone. It's not really something to worry about.

I have found that when I do the things I love to do (being creative, spending time with loved ones, going to new places etc) then life is full of meaning.

I like some aspects of Buddhism, others make no sense.

holmessweetholmes Mon 10-Mar-14 22:17:08

I think it's important to remember that living in the moment is not the same thing as living FOR the moment. It's not about each moment being perfect or terrible and wanting to cling desperately to the perfect ones. It's about being fully awake and aware of all the moments - both good and bad. Because this is what makes you a grounded and fully aware human being. I am quite attracted to a lot of aspects of Buddhism but certainly think Mindfulness is a good thing.

atthestrokeoftwelve Mon 10-Mar-14 22:18:24

happybubble I agree, living in the moment is not always the best place. I'ts good to keep a positive approach and make the most of every day, but I had to wait 20 minutes in the bank to be served today.
I made the most of the time by reliving a lovely family holiday last year, thinking over the special times, then started to plan ahead some meals for later in the week and made a mental shopping list.
Living in the moment at that time would have been very dull, and living in the past and the future was just the ticket!!

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