What's the point of anything?

I am currently 52 years old. I became an atheist 3 years ago and I’ve been having this philosophical struggle going on.

Since there is no “immortal soul” and no eternal reward as “heaven”, the what’s the point of anything in life?

When we die, our consciousness is forever erased. We’ll have no recollection of our existance or anyone we ever knew during our lives. All the higher education and skills we acquired will be for nothing.

It seems like a waste of time building an emotional attachment to a person or pet because the living being that dies won’t remember you and the surviving being will experience heartbreak and depression. It dosen’t make sense when people say to” live life to the fullest.” Even if you do, once you die, you won’t remember anything. What I get from being an atheist is that you’re born at Point A and will die at Point Z. Everything in between is just passing time by going through the motions. It dosen’t really matter what we achieve or fail to achieve. When we’re dead, there is no recollection of anything.

For people who’ve been athiests for years or even decades, I’d like to get your perspective on this subject. Thank you.

Posted: September 9th 2010

Mike the Infidel www

You’re right. There is no ultimate purpose. But that doesn’t mean we can’t create proximate purposes. As soon as you realize that the universe has no plans for you and doesn’t owe you anything, you’ll realize that we have to make our own purpose.

Posted: September 13th 2010

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Paula Kirby www

Life doesn’t have a point, in the sense of something imposed on it from the outside. The universe doesn’t care whether you discover a cure for cancer or lie down in a gutter and drink yourself to death.

But do we really need the universe to take a view on the matter before we can decide that one of these options is worth doing and the other isn’t ?

So we don’t matter to the universe. So what? Seriously – why should we matter to the universe? Have you any idea at all how small we are on the scale of the universe? If we are very very lucky and work hard to deserve it, we will matter to our friends, our families, and our colleagues. Some people may even excel at something to such an extent that they come to matter to other people too. And others are fortunate enough to be able to devote their lives to the people and causes that matter to them most. Isn’t that enough? Why should I demand that the universe cares what I do with my life too?

And if your life did have a 'point’ imposed on it from the outside, have you considered how restricting that would be? You would then be required to pursue that 'point’, even if what was valuable and meaningful in your eyes was something completely different. What would be the 'point’ of that, from your own perspective?

As for not living for ever – that’s just the way it is. You can spend your 80 years of life lamenting the fact, or you can try to make the most of them, and use them to identify and then pursue a point of your own making.

Posted: September 13th 2010

See all questions answered by Paula Kirby

Dave Hitt www

You’re asking a variation on the ancient question “what is the meaning of life?” As an atheist you get to pick the meaning of your life, the point of your life. You can pick as many or as few as you like. You can even change them as you get older and, presumably, wiser. That’s immensely better than devoting your whole life to worshiping some egotistical deity.

I agree with Stefan – leave the world better than you found it. A little or a lot – whatever you can do.

I like the POV Vonnegut expressed in Cat’s Cradle. You are one of the very, very few pieces of mud that got to get up and look around. Lucky you! Lucky mud! You don’t get to look around forever. In fact, in the context of time, you only get to look around for an eye blink or so. But damn, you got to look around! Celebrate it while you can.

Posted: September 12th 2010

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flagellant www

It sounds to me as though you haven’t yet managed the breakthrough necessary to dump all the old religious nonsense. That you choose to give such a sad analysis of living, and because you say – apparently with regret – that 'there is no “immortal soul” and no eternal reward as “heaven”’, makes me think that you still carry some of the belief baggage.

And why does life have to have a point other than an understanding which you work out for yourself? I happen to value love, friendship, knowledge, science, and the arts; Surely you must have things that similarly make you glad to be alive, too.

Self-knowledge is one of the joys of living and, like you, once I was able to admit to being an atheist, I still had some uncomfortable feelings that were hangovers from my church-going days. Jettisoning those, and becoming completely de-converted, took some time, so you may be going throught the same process. You can speed it up by concentrating on the irrational nature of religious belief and comparing it with the rationality of atheism. I had a wonderful sense of freedom, well-being, and excitement when I realised that the last vestiges of superstition had gone. Eventually, I was able to confess to being an atheist without a qualm and I hope you will too.

I agree with you that when we die, our consciousness is erased forever and it cannot be regained; there is no life after death and supposing something different is just wishful thinking. There is a joy in coming to terms with our mortality. As an atheist, I’d rather be right than comforted by nonsense. Atheism is about how life is, not how wishful thinkers would like it to be.

And while we’re alive, to know that we’ve reasoned things out and eschewed nonsense is reason enough. Enjoy your life; make the best of it: you won’t get another.

Posted: September 11th 2010

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What buoyed me as a young atheist of seven was the exciting recognition of my potential and the developing of processes. Therefore, religion did nothing for me as everything was written out—what I was supposed to think, feel, and do with the looming endgame of either hell or heaven (I was raised in a Catholic family/community).

This certainty was off-putting and boring. I felt if I embraced such a perspective, I would waste my life by not living for the moment and the moment after and the one after that, I would not yield to new experience and knowledge, I would not seek out how to become skilled in various social, emotional, and psychological endeavors, I would not be content, nor would I be able to help others and make positive contributions to society.

Therefore, I have had many decades honing this perspective making it second nature for me to focus on process and fulfilling my potential. My one life is for experiencing, doing, and learning. I am grateful just for having that opportunity. As my life is winding up or down or whatever as I am aging, I accept that this one opportunity will eventually end. That is the deal. Only living creatures die.

Despite this appreciative grasp of this one opportunity, I can feel deeply the poignancy of it all. But, I do not get depressed because though my individual life is finite, I can rely on my skill set to assist me in learning what I need in order to continue to the end.

From the information given in your question, you are not at this point. It is perfectly understandable that you feel profound sadness because you have given up something resulting in a state of upheaval and uneasiness for which you have no skills to cope yet.

These skills that you haven’t got are the ones that you have to source and develop. It will take time. One source is other people. However, you need to be discerning and discriminating and find people who are empathetic in the sense that they will listen and support you in your ups and downs as you learn how to wield your new handle on coping with the one life you have. They may not be easy to find but keep looking. Until then, use net sources to assist you in regaining your balance including this site. I encourage you to ask as many questions as you want.

As far as focusing beyond yourself in terms of others and society, you need first to be kind and gentle with yourself. And the rest will come.

Bon courage!

Posted: September 10th 2010

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Stefan www

There is a question that runs all the way down from atheism vs religion to empiricism vs faith. And that question is: Do you choose to believe things that you want to be true or do you honestly and humbly look at the world and work with what you get?

What I’d like to be true is that I’m the most important person in the universe and my happiness is the universe’s primary objective. Unfortunately, the fact that we’re some species somewhere on some planet that exists and perishes like most any other thing, living or not, doesn’t give you much to work with. Look at religion as an elaborate attempt to pretend otherwise.

But even more than a naturalist I am an optimist. So let’s look at what we do have to work with, shall we? The universe is awe-inspiring. Whatever it’s origin or purpose, whatever lies beyond what we can perceive (and I think there is a very good argument to be made that there is far more yet to be discovered) – one thing we can say for sure: It is truly, mindbogglingly, astonishingly amazing.

It’s clearly debatable, but I think the most beautiful thing in the universe is complexity. How much hydrogen has to be fused just to get a small amount of heavier elements. How much matter gets taken out in collisions, black holes, suns or floats through space until one planet with a stable orbit forms. How many planets does it take until there is one where life can emerge. How many organisms have to die until there is one that is sentient.

It seems complexity can only be gained through lots and lots of trial and error and I believe that rule continues to apply. It’s impossible to say what the next step is after sentience. But it will – by definition – be even more special and even more beautiful.

That I believe is the point of our existence. Not to be happy, but to leave the world better than we found it. Because if we do that, we live on in it forever. If you create something useful, something beautiful, something interesting, if you have children, if you have done a single good deed no matter how small, the effect of your existence will literally echo in an endless string of cause and effect forever.

The universe doesn’t give guarantees and it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. But the fact that we cannot see what the goal is is precisely what makes this goal extraordinary. That’s partly why I prefer this to the religious meaning of life. In religion the meaning of your life extends precisely to… you. You will live forever in heaven, granted, but what then is the point of that? You will be happy, but your existence doesn’t matter outside of yourself.

If however there really is something even greater than sentience and if we have even a small chance to get there, you do matter outside of yourself. You matter in ways that – without knowing the future – you cannot even understand. And most importantly, this is not a story that plays out on some other plane, this is the very story we are already a part of. As sentient beings we have an unprecedented opportunity to not just passively wait for a better future to arise. We can create one with intent.

So my advice is: Leave the world better than you found it. Whatever the point of life is, with the limited means we’re given, we have one chance to contribute to it. Don’t waste it.

Posted: September 10th 2010

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I think you need to back up a step.

Why do you think there has to be a point for our existence? It might make things tidier and more comfortable from a philosophical perspective, but I’ve found that the universe tends to be inhospitable to my personal desires.

I understand that if you were a theist in the past it can be hard to adjust from “god has a purpose for me and after this life is over I will be in heaven”, but, as I just noted, the universe doesn’t care about those sorts of things.

Life is a journey. Enjoy the journey and try to leave a positive impression on the world.

Posted: September 10th 2010

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

Blaise www

I think the problem here is that though you’ve started down the path to freethought, you still haven’t given up some of the assumptions that come with a supernaturalist mindset. The question you should ask yourself is, “Why do I believe that there needs to be a point to existence?”

If there’s a 'point’ to existence, then you have to constantly look for one, or follow endlessly mind-numbing rules trying to achieve it. If you relinquish that cherished belief, most likely impressed upon you by your religious upbringing, you’ll find it the most freeing of attitudes.

There’s no one 'atheist’ philosophy to cover this. Everyone finds their own peace. Personally, I look at my life as an opportunity to learn and experience as much as I can, and use that to build something that will outlive me, be it children, art, philosophy, what-have-you.

Your old religious attitude taught you that life is meaningless, a prelude to your 'real’ existence. You still seem to believe that. Being an atheist gives you permission to think that your life is meaningful, both to yourself and others, because it’s the only one you get!

Posted: September 10th 2010

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George Locke

Will the things you find valuable now cease to be valuable when you’re no longer around to say so? This is basically the position you’ve put yourself in. Your idea is that once you die, the things that you worked for and enjoyed in life no longer matter — to anyone. Isn’t this a rather egocentric viewpoint?

You also seem to think that if something won’t be valuable forever, it was never valuable in the first place. Well, maybe no one will remember how much you enjoyed watching Kolchak reruns, but that doesn’t mean your enjoyment was worthless.

There are at least two things that make life worth living. First and foremost, being alive is an amazing experience. The struggles and joys of life are ends in themselves. Second, there’s what you leave behind, both in terms of your works and the memories of those around you. Of course, when someone you love dies, you’re sad, sometimes heartbroken, but that doesn’t negate all the reasons you loved that person. The love sticks with you.

Posted: September 10th 2010

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