“Life is like a ship on the sea, tossed by every wave and by every wind; a ship headed for no port and no harbor, with no rudder, no compass, no pilot; simply floating for a time, then lost in the waves.” – attributed to Clarence Darrow
Despite being raised in a Christian home, I’ve always be quite atheistic in my thinking. Very little of what I learned as a child ‘took’. In fact, the only thing I actually learned was that God exists and he answers prayers and that’s because I had it burned into my very being by years of experiencing the fact (See: Witches, Spells, Prayers and God). Because of my dearth of instruction, I existed in something of a vacuum. The big questions in life ‘Who am I? Why am I here?’ were never addressed.
Existential angst finally hit me in my first year of college. I remarked to a friend that I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going or why I’m going there, that I felt my life was pointless. She was stunned. “But your life isn’t pointless”, she said “God has a plan for it”.
The Meaning of Life
If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life? Does it really matter whether he ever existed at all? His life may be important relative to certain other events [others happiness, his happiness], but what is the ultimate significance of any of those events? If all the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate meaning of influencing any of them? Ultimately it makes no difference. – The Absurdity of Life without God
The question ‘what is the meaning of life’ gets many responses. They range from ‘you create your own meaning’ to ‘life is a joke’ to ‘life has no meaning’. Some people don’t get just how important the question was. My pastor today told the story of a teen who had carved with a knife on her hand, the word ’empty’. She could not see the point of her life. Take it from someone who knows: not knowing of a point to your life is bad.
Those who say that we create our own meaning are right. They are right in that we choose our own path/ purpose in life. We choose whether to be surgeons or pastors or teachers. We choose those because we want to help others or because we love children etc. They are also right in that we can do whatever has value to us: skating, surfboarding, building faster computers. But that just answers the question ‘what is my aim in life’. You can pick an aim.
The question most theists are thinking of when they ask for the meaning/purpose of life is ‘why the heck should I pick goals for life and go through with them?’. I can be a surgeon and save people from death, but when this boat we call our universe finally sinks, what would have been the point of it? Some people respond with: ‘making other people happy as long as they are alive’. They don’t get it. They’re simply expressing the human desire to help others and mistakenly assuming that fulfilling that desire makes life meaningful. It definitely pleases them, but whether cheeseburgers mean a lot to you and whether they mean anything in the grand scheme of things are two different questions. Don’t conflate them.
Think of the point to life as ‘What will last of my life after I am gone?’ Because if nothing lasts, It definitely has no effect, and therefore no importance, in the long run. The answer, on an atheistic worldview, is nothing. It all ends with the heat death of our universe. When we all die, it won’t matter if you were a fisherman or if you brought cutting edge technology to the world. You’ll be gone along with the happiness and cutting edge technology you helped bring.
So, why does your life matter? If you still think ‘because I’m doing X” (where X is something that you value: charity, what makes you happy, pursuing power, etc.), then go on riding that emotion. It’ll save you from needing Prozac.
If you have a different answer, pray tell: What is the point to life?