Embracing Your Humanity: Finding Purpose without a God
By William Cooney
What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Does it matter? These are questions mankind has asked of itself for a long time, and the answers are by no means trivial.
Where we look for these answers says much about who and what we are. The secular perspective values humanity itself and its capacity to reason, learn, love, and evolve. The religious perspective assumes the existence of a “supreme” being, one who commands its subjects to live according to its dictates. For whatever reasons the religious meme has proved dominant in most cultures for a very long time. But perhaps times are changing.
There are many myths perpetuated by religious people about Atheists. Among them the idea that without a god and faith there is no purpose to life and no hope for the future. This is a shallow criticism devoid of any meaningful consideration. The truth is the secular worldview is a decidedly hopeful worldview, one brimming with purpose. While Christian doctrine proclaims man’s failures, brokenness, and sinfulness to be his most defining characteristics, the atheist/humanist vision is founded in man’s reason, potential, and thoughtful self-examination.
We Atheists are often asked, “Where do you turn to—or whom do you turn to—in times of trouble or need?” Our answer is straight forward: We turn to ourselves and to one another. We find strength in each other’s personal character, material skills, emotional experiences, and capacity for love. Put simply, we find strength in each other’s humanity. We are fully aware that navigating this wonderful yet challenging world cannot be done alone, but we see no need to conjure a being whose very existence is a matter of serious debate.
This does not mean, however, that we see no reason to engage our religious brothers and sisters. Somewhere between our common need for food, clothing, and shelter and our profoundly differing perspectives about life and its meaning, there no doubt lies much more common ground. And the most readily accessible terrain for this lies in our shared experiences. We may disagree about whether or not a god exists, but surely we can agree that feeding someone who is hungry, clothing someone who is naked, and giving comfort to someone who is troubled or otherwise suffering are all things we can—and should—aspire to. To be sure, there is nothing uniquely Christian about tending to our fellow man. It is incumbent upon each of us, regardless of our religious or non-religious views, to look out for each other’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.
As far as our purpose in life is concerned, the most meaningful is simply that which we assign to it. And it is more than sufficient to serve as a motivating force in our quest to be the best human beings we can possibly be. Beyond that, it is common scientific knowledge that we were born of decaying stars, i.e., the elements that make up all of the matter in the universe came into being when great stars spent their fuel and ended their life cycles. And whether we choose to accept it or not, returning to the stars is our fate. Not a single atom of our bodies is lost when we die; they merely change form and become less organized. We leave it to others to contemplate the notion of an everlasting soul that survives us. That it may provide comfort is understandable, but the fear of death should not be so disquieting as this.
Embracing our humanity is precisely what gives our lives meaning. Making “now” the most precious moment satisfies our need for finding purpose without a god.