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I've recently become Atheist (I am 45).

I've slowly transitioned from my childhood's strong Christian upbringing; through Agnostic; to the point where my rational brain has now extrapolated the ridiculousness of Organized Religion to see all religions as simple cults. There is no afterlife. Dead is dead.

So why don't I just pop a bullet in my head (not about too! no suicide alert!). Philosophical question.

(P.S. I have no kids)

closed as primarily opinion-based by Joseph Weissman Dec 17 '14 at 0:00

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17 Answers 17

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This isn't really a philosophy question, but there is no atheism stackexchange and so it seems philosophy is the next best bet (we do address the philosophy of religion/religiosity and the lack thereof, but a question phrased like this is more of a psychology and/or cultural question). However, psychology wouldn't take this question and since I can't think of a better SE site for it, it seems we'll just have to keep accepting them for now.

My answer is this: It is an error to think that even the religious live only to satisfy a set of conditions that will help them reach the afterlife ("heaven"). Human beings are creatures who are imbued with a strong (genetic) desire to procreate and pass on their genes -- this is why we exist (and are successful) as a species. Concordant with that is a desire to raise a family. Many of us also want to do a job where we feel like we make a positive impact in the world, and so they live for that reason too. Others still live because even if they feel they can't help the world through their job, they can still donate money to charity or volunteer their time to help others, whether family or complete strangers.

The point is, virtually no one is actually just biding their time day by day acting kind only so they will go to heaven (and even if they were outwardly nice to others, you would think God would be able to see through their guise and realize that person was only in it for themselves). The "point" of our lives is very much constructed by ourselves and influenced by our genetics and the way we were raised. My parents gave me a perspective and an appreciation for what I have and as such I feel a strong desire to give back to the community and help others where I can. I have friends who feel no such thing, and just want to make tons of money and be lazy all day. We all make our own meaning / purpose in life.

I think this is the best part of being an atheist — your fate isn't set in stone, your book has yet to be written, a world of choices is open to you. You are free to do what you want, and part of the fun is actually figuring out exactly what that is. :)

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I've been an atheist for as long as I can remember (I never quite believed anyone could rise from the dead, walk on water and stuff without documented, repeatable proof) and I've never struggled with this question, for the simple fact that life is awesome.

I love many things: Photography, gadgets, my wife, my cat, my family, helping people. I get much personal joy out of these, and the people around me get joy as well.

To question a person's "point of existence" because of a lack of belief, is like asking them why bother living if you've never met Elvis? Just because they've met Elvis and it changed their life, doesn't mean everyone else's existence is worthless because they haven't shaken hands with The King.

And so why, if I have no faith, am I not running over orphans with my car and being a bad guy? Because I'll go to prison or be killed, or looked upon unfavourably by society and that'll limit how much time I can spend with friends, family, pets and the tech gadgets I love. Only then will I truly have nothing to live for and would consider ending it all.

Some might say that's a selfish way to live, but it's not. Because I'm helping others by volunteering, donating money or just assisting where I can. It's a win-win.

I hope this helps you out in some way. And congrats on "joining the dark side" :)

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    I'm sorry, I lost you at repeatable proof for walking on water... Was thinking of how the experiment would go. – kleineg Dec 15 '14 at 15:09
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    I feel the same as this answer except for the bit about morality. I don't do bad things because I have morals, not because I would get in trouble. – MiniRagnarok Dec 15 '14 at 16:59
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    @MiniRagnarok - I'd say you are both right. For example, I bet you don't believe that all the things which are currently illegal (deemed "bad" by some politicians) are also immoral. Whether you download a song here or there without any moral qualms, or drank alcohol while you were underage, or smoke marijuana in a state that currently doesn't allow it, or drove without your seatbelt, etc., I'm sure there are definitely things you do not do because you don't want to get in trouble, not because you are actually morally against them. :) – stoicfury Dec 15 '14 at 19:52
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    @stoicfury Your examples show that people follow their morality when they disagree with a law. Could you come up with some examples where someone would follow a law that they're morally against? I think that's going to be difficult with current US laws. I don't know that I've had the experience of having to follow a law that I'm morally against and that I ended up following the law. – MiniRagnarok Dec 15 '14 at 21:05
  • I think it's more of a pragmatic life than an selfish one. – ApproachingDarknessFish Dec 15 '14 at 21:37
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There are already several answers that hint at what I'm about to say, but here's my opinion on the matter.

I've been an Atheist my whole life (I was actually shocked to learn that other people took religion seriously), but the full consequences of my (lack of) beliefs didn't hit me until I was about 12, when I first realized that I would die and that every second was taking me closer to death. My mind was filled with unanswered questions, among them, "what's the point." And here is what I have decided:

"Meaning." "Point." "Purpose." "Reason for Being."

These are all ideas invented by humans to help us understand the world and to live our lives in ways that we perceive as "successful", ultimately in order to maximize our long-term progeny. But none of them have any basis in "reality" outside of the human mind. You can't go out with sensors and determine the purpose of a rock; it doesn't have one, and neither do we.

This may sound disheartening, but I find it to be in fact incredibly liberating: since there is in fact no fundamental purpose to our existence, we are free to create whatever purpose we choose for ourselves. This purpose can't be "wrong" because there is nothing "right" out there for it to ascribe to be.

So, the purpose of your existence is whatever you care about.

Leaving organized religion will give you more freedom to define yourself as an individual. A lot of the things that religion dictates as absolutes--purpose in life, right vs wrong, etc--are now for you to decide for yourself. If you love your family and friends more than anything else, you can make it your purpose to love and care for them. If nature is your thing, you can dedicate your life to exploring the beauty of our planet. Personally, I am most passionate about understanding, explaining, and comprehending the structure of the universe, so my purpose in life is to learn as much as I can. I find a very strong, 100% secular spirituality in science.

Hopefully, there's something already in your life that you feel so passionate about that you are willing to make it your purpose in life. If nothing comes to mind, you must be feeling an incredible hole in your life right now. Without knowing you personally I can't recommend anything in particular, but I do know where most people find there "calling" as it were: in college. I'm not necessarily recommending you go (back) to school, but maybe if you take a look at some resources directed towards college students you could find something that interests you. You certainly don't have to dedicate your life to academia, but I think it would be a good place to start looking. And if you do get excited about something new, whether it be improvised theatre or theoretical physics, it's never too late to start learning.

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I feel your pain. I grew up Catholic, but I lost my faith in my early 20s when I began asking questions and discovered answers that completely contradicted what I had known to be the truth. I'm actually upset that I lost that faith. As you're well aware, it provides comfort and gives you specific purpose in life - be good for 100 years and you'll have an eternity of bliss, or suffer for eternity if you choose the dark side. It's a good return on investment.

I struggled with it for years. When I went to war, I was the only person with my head up while our Chaplain led a group prayer. It was a surreal moment. Again, I'd give anything to have that faith back, but I know it'll never come.

So, I spend my time trying to be a good father and husband. I try to teach my children how to be good people. As I see it, the more good people who are left behind after my eventual death, perhaps there can be a little less suffering in the world.

It all comes down to where you end up emotionally and psychologically. If you accept your lack of faith and actively try to find purpose, you'll be OK. If not, sadly, you'll either have a miserable existence or may literally end up squeezing that trigger. I hope that doesn't happen to you. The fact that you're looking for a reason for being is a good thing. It gets better.

Several others here have mentioned helping others. It's what I like to do. Again, there's too much misery in this world. If you can, you may consider volunteering to help children or the elderly. If you're a veteran like me, you could help other veterans who are struggling. Your exemplary model could even help people who don't know you keep their faith and continue in that blissful belief that there's life after death. They see someone like you fulfilling whatever good their religion preaches and it strenghtens their faith. For you, it can provide satisfaction.

I think a lot about the fact that (in my mind) when I die, it's all over. Everything goes black and my consciousness ends. Strangely, I'm OK with that, as long as it's after my children are fully grown and I've passed along whatever knowledge and/or wisdom I have aquired during my life. If my children end up being religious, I will encourage it as long as they're not religious to the point of fanaticism. We see the danger of that in the news every day and the hate and misery it causes.

Becoming an atheist will turn your world upside down. In time, you'll become comfortable with it, when you find purpose for your existence. There are thousands of reasons. I wish you luck finding those that help you. It took me about 10 years to find mine, but I'm happy and content with the purposes I discovered for my existence.

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    +1 This is a really insightful answer and I find it particularly useful to see the path of someone who was religious but then lost it. My only tidbit of advice to you on the subject of the finality of death is this: Perhaps it is wiser to view our existence as not a single individual, but as a connected whole with our families. Your kids are not separate from you, they came from you, genetically they are you and your partner, and how they behave and go through life can be very much like all the good parts of you if you raise them well. We may die, but the best parts of us live on (1/2) – stoicfury Dec 15 '14 at 20:20
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    forever through others. It matters not that our particular bodies die when we have passed everything important about us on, and this extends not only to our children or family, but to everyone we have positively touched in our lives. This is why I extend this feeling of "oneness" not merely to my family but to every living being (human or animal) in the world. When our hearts stop beating, we do not die; the passing of our genes and ideas forever to our children and them to their children IS immortality, just one part of this great being that is all life on Earth. (2/2) – stoicfury Dec 15 '14 at 20:21
  • If I believed nothing followed death, my goal would be one of two: (1) escape death or (2) kill everyone. Escaping death would allow more to be accomplished while killing everyone would bring an amount of peace. – Noctis Skytower Dec 16 '14 at 14:34
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Well, at 45, presumably you have quite a bit of life left to live, ant that there are intrinsic benefits to being alive (hence the appeal of afterlife religions). Cutting it short simply robs you of some "positive utility", to borrow an economic term. Of course, you may very well decide to end your life when you are, say, 90, and your quality of life has severely diminished.

More abstractly, why should the decision to live for the next, say, 10 minutes, depend on assumptions about what you'll be doing 1000000 years from now?

  • So what do you call that desire? God? – Rodney Nim Dec 15 '14 at 5:07
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    @RodneyNim Some people do. I'd call it evolutionary psychology. We are primed to want to survive, and need very compelling reasons to not live (per Rex's answer). It's a hard-wired drive, not a reasoned position. People don't, as far as I know, reason themselves into suicide...there is some pathology there. – user4634 Dec 15 '14 at 5:10
  • You just hit it on the head (I maybe didn't understand Rex's answer fully) - I'm just seeking wisdome. – Rodney Nim Dec 15 '14 at 5:17
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There is no afterlife. Dead is dead.

I think THAT'S the point of atheist "existence"!

To realize that there's no afterlife but that's a good thing.

At first for me this was a disgust with Christian, Brahmanical versions of eternal life... But now I lean toward the idea that any new existence is unwanted, that I should want to die.

It's difficult to coherently explain why I think willing death is a good thing, rather than death itself being good. I guess I see it as an obligation to want or enjoy that thing which cannot be undone.

This needn't lead to suicide if we agree that taking our own life could end with us regretting our life ending. Anyway forgive my waffling, you're doing OK IMHO.

  • an imperative to maximize how much we want to die? i dunno. – user6917 Dec 15 '14 at 10:56
  • Indeed, some people would find death mortifying (myself included) but living with no end is even more so. Imagine living for 1,000,000 years? You'll probably want to kill yourself already after just a small fraction of that time. But you cannot die. It's a curse - the curse of life. Death is indeed a blessing in disguise. – ADTC Dec 15 '14 at 12:58
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    I wouldn't mind at all living a million years, as long as i had a decent body to live it in. But i imagine it takes a certain level of detachment to not get bummed out by watching thousands of generations of friends die. – cHao Dec 15 '14 at 13:16
  • it's not that i want to die, just that i don't want anything after that. or: i want to die without anything ending. this is confused tho so ... – user6917 Dec 16 '14 at 2:03
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As an atheist myself, this is a question that I, personally, have struggled with. I've never been suicidal, or even had serious suicidal thoughts, but pondering my own existence and the reasons thereof is one of the things I often do during meditation.

Assuming you were apart of one of the three major Abrahamic religions (I do apologize if I am wrong), leaving the faith may leave a rather spiritual 'hole' that is difficult, albeit entirely possible, to fill. If this is the case, as it was with me, I would answer your question from a more spiritual point of view. First off, I will say that, though I don't believe that human life has some sort of cosmic or intrinsic value, I think you can give meaning to your own life by making another's life meaningful. Of course, this is both ontologically and epistemically subjective, and I'm not here to discuss moral theory, but hopefully you do have a working understanding of the fundamentals of ethics.

One thing that I would highly recommend is meditation. As I stated, I am an atheist, but I am also a (provisional) naturalist in the sense that I acknowledge that there has been no demonstrated reason to believe in supernatural beings and I simply do not believe that meditation, in any way, must relate to some other-worldly entity or realm, but simply requires solemn introspection and a calm focus on ones own purpose and goals.

Please take what I say with a grain of salt as I am merely 18 years old, but I have spent a relatively long time studying philosophy and discovering my own spirituality, and I am only giving advice on what I feel would be best for you.

Good luck!

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There is a lot of Ben and Jerrys left to be eaten, places to see, and so on.

As with everything else in life, just because the fun will eventually end, does not imply that you need to end it early.

Have you ever met a kid that don't want to go to Disney land, for the reason that you eventually will have to leave?

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It's up to you to choose.

One option that is immediately appealing to many, especially the young, is simply to enjoy what life has to offer. Cultivate friendships & socialize. Travel. Experiment with drugs. Whatever floats your personal boat. Variations on this include self-improvement pastimes such as academic learning, art & craft, musical proficiency.

Having explored self-indulgent thrills, some people start to then look ever-higher up Maslowe's hierarchy for the meaning in their lives. Can they contribute more? Give back to their family? Their friends? To groups and communities they belong to? To wider society? How can they help those who are less fortunate than themselves?

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You could pop a bullet into your head, but you would have no progeny, nor would you aid the reproductive fitness of your relatives.

So you probably won't, because your ancestors were not so self-destructive and they out-competed the ones who were.

It's not really a philosophical question, once you notice that there is no amazingly sound argument why you should kill yourself.

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    OK; I see that (after respectful and thoughtful contemplation my friend). But you have told my why I wrote "not about too! no suicide alert!", not answer my question. – Rodney Nim Dec 15 '14 at 5:26
  • @RodneyNim - But I did. You're not logically required to commit suicide, and you don't want to because you're (necessarily) descended from creatures who didn't want to (except under really extraordinary conditions). – Rex Kerr Dec 15 '14 at 9:38
  • @RexKerr: Your argument seems to assume that the suicide gene always kicks in before one has had kids. If it doesn't, the argument kinda falls apart -- once the next generation is born, what's the point? – cHao Dec 15 '14 at 19:38
  • @cHao - Support to tribe and kin has evidently been very important in human evolution or we would not have such lengthy post-reproductive lifespans (in post-menopausal women). – Rex Kerr Dec 16 '14 at 0:46
  • @RexKerr: The two might not be related. There are at least two other feasible explanations: (1) first-world development (long lives have only recently really become a thing, and mainly in countries that can afford better medical care), and (2) that women already had to be well-equipped just to survive childbirth; if a woman did manage to live through her reproductive years, she'd already have beaten the odds, and on top of that, would no longer have that stressor to deal with. – cHao Dec 16 '14 at 3:57
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One reason not to "pop a bullet" into your own head is that it would probably deny you the DMT trip one is supposedly entitled to upon dying: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N,N-Dimethyltryptamine

DMT is the substance suspected for near-death experiences, and if we must go one day, then flying away into the DMT clouds is probably more enjoyable than whatever sensation accompanies the partial destruction of the brain by a bullet.

As for the "point" in an Atheist's existence, I suppose that if religion can give one's life purpose, then there is a good chance that other sources exist which may make your life worth living.

For me personally, being a non-materialist, I find consciousness and existence to be an unfathomable miracle and an endless source of wonder.

EDIT

Here is an interview that I love with Woody Allen about the meaning of life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MsuqvLIttk

It just seem like a big meaningless thing; now, you can't actually live your life like that; because if you do, you just sit there and why do anything, why get up in the morning and do anything ? So I think it's the job of the artist to try and figure out, why, given this terrible fact... why do you wanna go on living ? What do you care about anything ? If this terrible truth, this meaningless end of everything; and you have to try to figure out knowing that is true, not giving yourself a fake heaven and hell and nonsense, but knowing the worst; figure it out even knowing the worst why it is still worthwile. That's a tough assignment to explain to somebody why it's so terrible and why it's still important to go on. And this is a challenge for artists all the time to try to figure it out.

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In a sense, your death will always be with you --there's no possibility that you'll lose the chance to die someday. On the other hand, you could lose your life permanently and irrevocably at any moment. Therefore, it only makes sense to make whatever you can of the resource that is limited and temporary (life) while you have it.

It's also worth noting that you don't know what significance you might discover in life someday in the future --only that you won't discover it if you end your life now.

You don't even know for sure that you'll always continue as an atheist. While you may have decisively, to your satisfaction, debunked the beliefs of your youth, you might yet discover deeper meanings to religion not bounded by the beliefs you now consider superstitious.

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I have to say, as an atheist I am a bit suprised by the notion that life without god might be not worth living. That sounds more like something an addict might say about life without his drug. But religion is not supposed to be a drug. (Or is it? Then who would be the pushers?)

However, obviously the problem is very real for you, and I guess also for a lot of other people. So I'll try to provide an answer.

You are asking if there can be a meaning of life without god. To find an answer, the first step I'd recommend is to consider the definition of the question. What do people usually mean when they speak of the "meaning of life"?

I see two common concepts:

A) The meaning of life is a secret task given to you before your birth. You'll have to figure it out yourself, but hopefully when you die someone who's supernaturally wise will pat you on the back and say: "Well done, son! You did the right thing! You gave your all and achieved all we hoped you would manage, and more."

Obviously, atheism cannot promise a similar secret destiny overseen by supernatural forces. However, I think the most important reason why that concept is so appealing is that you work for a purpose greater than yourself. And that is still totally possible without god. There are lots of worthwhile projects which contribute to a better society and a better future for mankind. You could also try to make a difference on a local level and get more involved in your community. Or you could try to contribute to the progress of science, or to an open-source software project. Or, the most obvious: Raise a family. :) The possibilities are endless.

Remember, it is a common misconception that by rejecting god atheists also reject ethics and become egoists who are only interested in their own pleasure. However, if you always dreamt of giving non-stop partying a try, no one's stopping you. ;)

B) The second concept: The meaning of life is just something that provides you with enduring happiness and satisfaction. I guess most people discover after a while that pure pleasure-seeking and partying cannot achieve that. What do they try instead? I already mentioned raising a family, or getting involved in a humanitarian or idealistic cause. Others choose a life of ambition and competition, whether in sports, politics, business or whatever. That's probably not so idealistic, but nobody expects atheists to be saints anyway. ;)

I assume that religion was not the only source of happiness in your life so far. Just focus on the other things that inspired and impressed you, and build upon that.

Nevertheless, a possible problem for someone in your situation might be that losing religion not only left you without directions, but also charged your happiness with a straight handicap. That might take one of the following forms:

1) A feeling of guilt. A christian education often emphasizes that you should feel guilty if you do not believe in god strongly enough. Paradoxically, not believing in god at all would than result in an even stronger feeling of guilt. Despite the obvious logical contradiction, it's quite possible that your emotions cannot adjust so easily. That needs time and patience. In that case, I'd recommend focussing on the fact that you have a clean conscience, since your conscience now is only about what you do to other humans. God can take care of himself.

2) Loss of community. If being part of a church made you part of a lively community, it's obviously tough to lose that. Even worse would be if your friends and relatives are shocked and suspicious about the sudden appearance of an atheist in their midst. Hopefully, with time and patience they'll learn to deal with that. Otherwise maybe you'll have to move on. Lots of people have managed to start a new life.

3) Missing prayer. I suppose that prayer, if done the right way, can have a very positive effect on one's emotions. Atheists must get along without that. But they can find adequate replacements. You might try meditation, or seek the feeling of inspiration and awe that can be found within music, arts or scenic nature.

4) Fear of death. If one does not believe in a life after death, doesn't that make the thought of death to terrible to bear? From my experience, not at all. Of course almost everyone is scared in a life-threatening situation. But in that case you'd be high on adrenaline and probably occupied with other things than the philosophy of the afterlife. In quiter situations, it's trite but effective to remember that as long as you can worry about death your worries have not yet come to pass. :) I suppose the actual experience of death is probably not very different from fainting or losing consciousness in an accident. People manage to deal with that all the time. And even if you don't manage so well: It probably takes only a few seconds, and nobody will criticise you afterwards. ;)

I guess what could actually cause panic in the face of death is the thought that you have important unfinished business, or missed to do all the things you still wanted to do, or have not done anything with your life yet. But that's probably nothing else than the feeling of not having found the meaning of life, so that discovering a way of life that feels meaningful will protect you from that panic. If you work on a business that you actually and deeply consider important, then I'm pretty sure that even if death interrupts you before you can finish it, you will feel satisfied that working on it was reward enough.

2

I think that Buddhism teaches that it's self-evident that "suffering" exists.

"Suffering" is a poor translation of Dukkha.

This is an important observation: it's the so-called First Noble Truth.

One you accept there's such a thing as a "self" and that you're "sentient" then your object may be to minimize or to end (i.e. to prevent the arising of) suffering.

Presumably you don't believe that "bullet in head" is a skillful way to prevent the arising of suffering, nor to 'live a good life'.

Buddhism also constructs an ethical system of virtues and faults: faults like greed and anger, and violence (which cause suffering); and virtues like equanimity and loving-kindness, and harmlessness (which prevent suffering).

And it does this without believing in a God (well, more specifically without a God you'd recognize as such).

1

I have thought about this question a lot, that my life means nothing and when I die the world will continue without me. But my hope is as I am young(17), that science will provide some kind of extension to life. I'm not saying immortality but I'm not denying its possibility. My vision is we will be able to transfer the mind into a computer. Which I for one, would gladly undergo this procedure when it presents itself.

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    would you gladly undergo the procedure if it was on condition of destroying your physical body? – nir Dec 15 '14 at 19:31
  • Her name is Caroline... that's all I can say.... – 0112 Dec 15 '14 at 21:25
  • If you think your life means nothing... Mine means an awful lot. To me and many other people. I've only got one, so I'll make the best of it. – gnasher729 Dec 17 '14 at 22:18
  • If you are able to watch "Black Mirror: White Christmas" I think you won't find the idea of your mind being transferred into a computer so compelling anymore. – gnasher729 Dec 19 '14 at 16:53
1

Rdney, to properly understand your entries, I would need to ask you several additional questions. Since it is not practical, I will answer them as I interpret your entries. I see two questions and one assertion. The first, and main question, can be answered if you simplify it by removing "an Atheist." That leaves, what is 'the "point" to existence'? The point is, to continue (and propagate) existence!

Your assertion, that "There is no afterlife," is impossible to prove. The reason is that it is impossible to prove that "something" does not exist! However, if "something" does exist, it might be possible to prove it. On the other hand, not being able to prove that something exists, does not mean that it does not exist.

Whether the "afterlife" exists or not, should not be the factor that guides/influences your life. The "golden Rule" would be more appropriate. Since one of the "byproducts" of most religions is the Golden Rule, then you could easily choose to follow a particular religion, or no religion at all (you can follow the Golden Rule on your own).

The second question as to, "why don't I just pop a bullet in my head?" the answer has nothing to do with religion (or lack of it). Assuming you are not suffering from depression (or mental problems), the answer depends on whether or not, you feel that there is a useful purpose to your life. Most people that have committed suicide, come to the conclusion (justified or not) that their life does not matter, that there is no useful purpose to their existence, and therefore, might as well end it. So, a person with a useful life purpose, most likely will choose to continue to live, whereas a person with no purpose, most likely would choose to end it.

0

I realised I was an atheist (though I didn't know the word) when my granny made me write thank you letters to Uncles and Aunties for gifts I recieved from 'Santa'. Until then I had accepted that there was a Santa, a God, a tooth fairy, a boogy monster and all the other things that people I trusted told me existed (ie Adults tell children). When I worked out one was made up, I knew the others were too. As such, I have never lived in the expection of an afterlife, so I have never known the fear of punishment or hope for reward that you had in your upbringing.

Why am I a good person? For the same reason you are. I was brought up to know right from wrong and good from bad and to prefer right and good from wrong and bad. You can argue the toss about all the grey stuff in the middle, but something is not good or right just someone says it is, even though what you are told often enough will shape your opinions.

As to your final question? I live because living is exciting, scary, rewarding, fullfilling, challenging, frustrating, heartbreaking, terrifying, disapointing, boring and a hell of lot more fun then any alternative I can envisage.

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