‘How do atheists find meaning in life?’
By PAULA KIRBY - WASHINGTON POST ON FAITH
Added: Wed, 18 Jan 2012 20:33:12 UTC
The correspondent was blunt: “Why don’t you atheists just go out and kill yourselves right now?”
True, most Christians phrase it rather more delicately, but atheists are regularly informed by a certain kind of believer that our lives can have no value if we do not believe in their God. What is the point, they ask, of being kind or loving, caring about suffering or doing anything at all, if one day we just die?
It is true that in the absence of a divine plan our lives have no externally determined purpose: an individual is not born for the purpose of becoming a physician or creating a spectacular work of art or digging a well in an arid corner of Africa. But are the sick less cured, the pleasure to the art-lover less intense, or the thirst of parched villagers less slaked, simply because a man sought his own purpose rather than following a diktat from on high? Do we really need a deity to tell us that a life spent curing cancer is more worthwhile than one spent drinking in the gutter?
Why should we not find satisfaction in alleviating suffering or injustice, just because we’re all going to die one day? The very fact that this life is all we have makes it even more important to do everything possible to reduce the suffering caused by poverty, disease, injustice and ignorance. To describe such attempts as meaningless is to say that avoidable suffering does not matter, hardly a moral stance.
Many Christians claim we have no reason to care about others if there is no God. But this is itself a religious claim, arising from the theological concept of Original Sin, which declares humankind fallen and corrupt. We can safely ignore it, for in reality we do not need childish stories of eternal reward or damnation to coerce us into being good: research shows that the least religious societies have the lowest incidence of social ills, including crime and violence. Healthy humans have empathy built in, and the explanations for this lie in psychology and evolutionary biology: no gods required.
Life cannot be meaningless so long as we have the capacity to affect the well-being of ourselves and others. For true meaninglessness, we would need heaven.
- - BBC News Comments
A new poll suggests that atheism is on the rise in the US, while those who consider themselves religious has dropped. What's the cause? Two writers debate.
- - human rights first Comments
Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions”
Ed Kilgore - Political Animal Comments
update - too crazy even for the evangelical right
Barton’s Fall From Grace
David Barton says his documents prove that the Founding Fathers were deeply religious men who built America on Christian ideas - but do his sources check out?
Cory Doctorow - BoingBoing Comments
Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich has given a tremendous closing statement, which is a masterful summary of Russian oligarchy
Graham Veale - Saints & Sceptics? Comments
Refuting Richard: Dawkins Doesn’t “Get” God
- - BBC News Comments
The government has launched an action plan to tackle child abuse linked to witchcraft or religion in England.
MORE BY PAULA KIRBY
Paula Kirby - Washington Post - On... 39 Comments
Your right to practice your religion no more entitles you to try to save souls in your employer’s time than your right to a family life (equally guaranteed by Human Rights legislation) entitles you to take long phone calls from your spouse during working hours.
Paula Kirby - Washington Post On Faith 108 Comments
[The God Delusion is] absolutely chock-full of things Richard Dawkins really does believe. Which is handy, because it saves everyone the trouble of making them up.
Paula Kirby - BBC Local Radio 35 Comments
4 BBC local radio interviews with Paula Kirby of RDFRS UK, discussing the Ipsos MORI poll.
Paula Kirby - Washington Post On Faith 296 Comments
Christianity is like a big, chunky sweater. It may feel cozy, it may keep you warm, but just let one stitch be dropped and the whole thing unravels before your very eyes. Evolution is that stitch.
Paula Kirby - Washington Post - On... 50 Comments
Religion is a parasite that feeds on all that is good in humanity as a whole and then proclaims it as its own gift to the world.