Finding purpose without a god

What is the Purpose of Life as an Atheist? (Finding Meaning without God)

I often get asked by religious people how I can have meaning or purpose in my life as an atheist and sometimes even encounter atheists who have trouble wrestling with this question, because they’ve been so indoctrinated into thinking about life through a theistic framework that the creativity to think outside this religious box is borderline crippling. Here is my response to this over-parroted quandary.

What is the purpose of life? What is the meaning of life? The reason no one seems to be able to answer these questions is that they’re asking the wrong questions. And the problem with these question is the word “the.” “The” meaning of life? As if there’s only one. As if, in spite of the multitude of differences setting you apart from 7 billion other humans, you all share just one purpose, and don’t you dare think to draw outside the lines. And with one fell swoop, you’re fooled into surrendering your autonomy. What a shame.

After marinating in a thousand sermons for the first two decades of my life, the echoes of religious platitudes still resonate in my ear canals. You can’t have purpose without God. Money, Sex, Drugs, Fame, and Alcohol never satisfy. Yes, but neither does religion. Religion leaves you feeling worse off than when you started by telling you that you’re broken, messed up, sinful, and a slave. It re-defines even the best of life’s heroes as inherently sinful. Gifting us with the inescapable bollocks of original sin. But I refused to be tea-bagged by religious flimflam.

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Money, Sex, Fame, Alcohol, if they become the end game in themselves, are life’s narcotics for those who lack a purpose. These simple vices are heavily underrated by the religious, but do they bring purpose?

Money by itself isn’t fulfilling, but try living a life in fear of starvation. Stressing over the source of your next meal will make you appreciate a steady source of income. And studies have found that as a person’s salary increases, so does their happiness up to about $70,000 a year or so in the US, at which point you experience diminishing happiness returns.

Sex can be extremely rewarding when done in the right way and with the right people. When there’s jealousy, guilt, shame, and dishonesty, then or course it leaves you empty. But if two consenting adults are honest about their hopes and objectives and respect each other’s freedom, autonomy, and wishes, then even a short term sexual encounter can be one of the most fun & beautiful human interaction anyone can have. And the depth and closeness of a sexual relationship can be fostered and increased over time, with or without marriage, as you learn each other’s emotional and physical needs, and develop a stronger trust and emotional connection. But it’s always religion that takes this amazing, natural action and makes it shameful. Teaching you to feel guilty.

Fame in itself, while it shouldn’t be the end game, can be rewarding as a measure of your success, knowing that all your hard work is now tangible and publicly recognizable.

Alcohol like anything, can be abused, but sitting beside a fireplace with a glass of wine and loved one in your arms, or enjoying a book and a fine scotch at the end of a long day is immensely satisfying.

Religion too, can offer temporary satisfaction. But it offers a false sense of momentary clarity, based on ancient guesses (most of which are wrong), and then it hands you guilt, manufactures a problem, instills in you the fear of hell, and traumatizes you with it to no end while demanding subservience, self-hatred, and never-ending worship. We’re supposed to believe it because some wise old ancients offered it as life’s antidote, to explain suffering? Religion itself is the source of even worse suffering than that which it attempts to alleviate without even fixing the initial problems, but merely distracting from them.

There’s no reason to believe that the early wanderers on this planet actually figured out the meaning of life. They were mere babies on humanities time scale. We stand the beneficiaries of thousands of years of human learning, growth, and advancement that they never had. And yet people still parrot the old trope “without god, what is the purpose of life?” to quote Dan Barker, this is like asking, “If there is no master, whose slave will I be?”

Let’s take the most extreme example of religious devotion: Becoming a celibate nun or monk. This social isolation doesn’t reveal life’s meaning, it robs you of a life for which to have meaning in. These people have no lives. After all, if you have no life, then you don’t have to worry about finding meaning or purpose in one! Is the prospect of freely deriving our own meaning in life really so terrifying?

Religions con their constituents into a hopeless and intoxicated stupor before leaving them with the hangover of artificially concocted shame. A disease for which they claim their snake oil is the only cure. And when you’ve been convinced that you’re damaged goods, you’ll sell yourself to the first beguiling swindler who comes along.

Happiness is like a long term investment. The reason that drugs and alcohol only bring temporary happiness is because the high they bring is temporary and wares off. And money can’t buy happiness – only rent it. Because it’s purchases lose their gleam.

You know what really does bring lasting happiness. Deep, meaningful friendships that age like a fine wine. Helping others, building a family, leaving a positive legacy, creating something of value – whether that’s art (a heart-wrenching song; a brilliant poem; a novel) or whether it’s a technological breakthrough (curing a disease, building a tool or app to solve a problem and push humanity forward). Expand your knowledge of the world, read a book, take a hike and enjoy nature, travel and stop taking the things you have for granted. At the end of the day, it’s these things that leave your life enriched and full.

It’s these things you can observe as you age with the heart-warming realization that you’re responsible for that. You did that. You made the world a little bit better. Not because it was dictated to you as some type of top-down, cookie cutter construct crapped on you from the aging bowels of a religious codger. You derive your meaning. No one else. Because you are free! And for that you can and should be proud!

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What is the Meaning of Life as an Atheist? (Finding Meaning without God)
What is the Meaning of Life as an Atheist? (Finding Meaning without God)

What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of life? The problem with these questions is the word "the." As if there's only one. Pastors often ask how you can have meaning without God. But to quote Dan Barker, this is like asking, "without a master, whose slave will I be?" The beauty of life is that as an atheist you're free to find your own meaning - finding beauty, purpose, and happiness in the things that mean something to you.


  1. Too many terms being used with moral implications (as if morality is objectively real) and that assumes there is a purpose (a way anything ‘should’ be) for me to believe that the above ‘flim-flam’ (emotionally driven) drivel is anything more than someone hoping the reader WILL guzzle the Atheists Kool-Aid. if you’re going to persuade me, you have to at least be consistent!

  2. Well done your lengthy evaluation. I agree with you in that sex, alcohol, fame, and money stimulate only temporary happiness. You go on to talk about what it takes to create long-term happiness. Truly, all of these things sound great; however, what are these values such as creating friendships, helping others, and building a family come from? How do you know that you as an atheist has “ made the world a little bit better”? How do you know that loving and helping others are necessarily good if you have no divine being to confirm that these things have meaning? All of these values mentioned above are all based on a higher moral standard. What is “good” in this world cannot be determined by mortal beings alone. What we know as “right” or “wrong” stems from a divine being’s standard. How else would rape and murder be considered wrong? I know you want to say that it is what society has determined, but who in society first determined this and where did they get this idea from? How would they know rape is morally incorrect? Since you as an atheist, do not believe in a god, you do not have the right to comment on what is right and wrong. Moreover, I hate to be a negative Nancy about this, but friendships die and people don’t live forever, so if the people that you have lived for passes away, then what’s next? What’s your purpose? Are you here on this earth to obtain happiness only to waste away again? What you are describing is not “purpose” it is a temporary means to happiness. There is no purpose in life if there is no eternal being. He gives us something to live for; something to look forward to even after we die. Don’t you want that? Don’t you want to live for something that is eternal rather than temporary? Religion is not intended to make you suffer. It is meant to teach you the correct moral values and it allows for you to build yourself into a human being with purpose. I would also suggest that you do not generalize religious rules seeing as every religion has separate rules.

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