This is one of those annoying statements that I have heard and read too many times now; hence this post. Actually I could refute it in a line or two as I do in comments elsewhere, but maybe it’s better to expand my argument a little, so that I can refer to it in future.
I hear this a lot, once even from a family member. The accusation goes that because I am an atheist, my life has no purpose or meaning. Also, because I don’t propose some alternative hypothesis to “god did it”, I have no purpose. He claimed that he has spent years searching for the truth, whereas I have done nothing. Therefore I am just coasting along in life without any goal.
Here’s the thing: I admit that there are things I don’t know. I don’t know how the universe came to be, or how life formed. But I don’t replace “I don’t know” with a placeholder, call it god, define it as eternal and go and judge people who don’t believe in my magic. And I certainly don’t claim to have a personal relationship with that placeholder, and claim that it gives my life purpose.
How convenient that you searched for the truth, and then came out of your search deciding that what you were taught as a child is the answer… It’s a lie. Accepting your indoctrination is not any way of searching for the truth. Yes, I have done nothing. I simply reject this magic placeholder for the unknown that you call god. But you have also done nothing… Even if you study the subject of your belief, you have studied a fiction. The difference between a critical thinker and someone who accepts their indoctrination is that the thinker doubts. Contrary to what they teach you in Sunday School, doubt is the most important thing for you to do with regard to religion. It’s the only thing to do. There’s no excuse for failing to do so.
So what then, is the meaning you get from your belief? Do you believe in some objective meaning? That is, is your meaning and the meaning of everyone else who believes in your god, exactly the same? If it isn’t, it didn’t come from your god. You imposed it on your god. Sorry but the placeholder is just that… a placeholder. It does nothing. It says nothing. It answers nobody’s prayers and has a personal relationship with nobody. All that shit is in your head.
So there must be something else going on. This…
When your beliefs are contradicted – and this doesn’t only mean that anyone criticizes them… it is enough for me to be a member of a closed atheist group in Facebook for someone to go out of their way to join so that they can tell me my life has no meaning, or complain that they are being persecuted for their beliefs (while persecuting me)… It causes a feeling of intense discomfort. This cognitive dissonance results in your attaching the subject of your beliefs to your identity. This is why it is justifiable in the mind of a believer, to accuse atheists of disrespecting them, just because we don’t believe what they believe. It is also why you can accuse me of having no purpose, because you irrationally attach your belief to your purpose, and see anyone who doesn’t do the same as a threat, even though there is no correlation between belief and purpose.
In fact, meaning or purpose does not follow logically from a belief in god. Instead, it is simply a matter of believers feeling threatened on a deeply personal level, a level to which they irrationally attach their very identity, when those beliefs are criticized, or when they realize that other people do not share those beliefs. It becomes ironic then, because when people respond this way to atheists, they either buckle down in their beliefs even further, or block us. (To be honest though, I was overjoyed when that particular family member blocked me on Facebook.) It means that our arguments are getting to them. So just at the moment when they almost understand what atheism is, they shut down the conversation. It’s a pity because many of us started out as believers, and we didn’t do that – we faced our doubts and resolved the cognitive dissonance that arose from our beliefs not making sense, thought about it, and came to the only logical conclusion. (God was created by man, the god I was taught of, and every other god ever worshipped. Furthermore, there is no evidence for the existence of any deity, a soul or an afterlife.) It’s also a reason not to give up on this argument. I’ll continue to write about it, debate online, and also in person to anyone who makes the mistake of preaching to me. And if some of those people block me or stop talking to me, so much the better.