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Chapter Seven: Beyond Religion

Section 3: The meaning of life

Life's only meaning is the meaning we give it.

Meaning, in the sense of purpose, significance or ultimate goal, is a human concept that only applies to human actions. People are self-conscious: we are aware of ourselves and our actions. We ascribe significance or purpose to many of our actions - and we often assume that other phenomena also have meaning.

But where there is no self-consciousness, there is no meaning. Galaxies, stars, planets and perhaps even the universe itself come into existence, change and eventually end - all without meaning. On earth the tides ebb and flow, the sun shines, rain and snow fall, plants grow and wither and animals are born, live and die - all without purpose, significance or meaning. Even human life, viewed objectively, is meaningless.

It is because we are so accustomed to ascribing meaning to our actions that we think our lives have meaning. From infancy we never stop asking "why?" Some "why?" questions have answers - "I went to the supermarket to buy crackers", "she killed him out of jealousy" - but other "why?" questions - in particular "why are we here?" - have no answers at all.

Many people find that concept - that the question "why are we here?" has no answer - difficult to accept. They assume that it must have an answer and that the answer is God.

But take a step back, remove all prejudice from your mind, and think about it. Once you accept that there is no God, it becomes obvious that in the wide universe we live in, human existence has no special significance.

It is difficult for many people accept that life is meaningless. It is particularly difficult for some who have a low sense of self-worth. They need God and the meaning God gives

A new beginning

How do you live when you realize that religion is false?

Do you descend into despair? Lead a life of crime and depravity?

The opposite, actually. Atheists appear more likely to live moral, happier lives than those who are stuck in superstition.

7.1: We should all be Japanese
Where atheism and morality come together

7.2: Facts and illusions
Knowledge and reason overcome ignorance and superstition

7.3: The meaning of life
Meaning comes from within

7.4: Suffering and death
No-one can avoid them

7.5: The pursuit of happiness
There is no higher goal

7.6: You or me?
Who comes first?

7.7: This wondrous universe
Nature inspires awe

7.8: War and peace
How atheists should respond

7.9: Yule enjoy Christmas
Let's all celebrate

7.10: Protect the children
Leave religion to adults

7.11: Who knows? Who cares?
Moving on from atheism

7.12: An atheist's credo
What we believe

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life to validate their existence. Some of the angriest, loudest believers are men and women who fear the void within themselves if God is taken from them.

The fact that our lives are meaningless is not a reason for despair. It is a simple fact, in itself neither good nor bad. And if our life has no objective meaning, that need not make it meaningless. Each of us can and should give our own lives meaning. We can seek goals such as wealth, power and happiness for ourselves, justice and freedom for others, we can seek to become great artists or loving spouses, or even both.

We want life to have meaning. That's a worthy goal. But instead of searching for meaning in an imaginary God, we should accept that life's only meaning is the meaning we give it.

For other perspectives on the meaning of life, see also

on God would be an atheist:
Of earthquakes and elephants and Pleasure and happiness.

on other websites:
"Why do you want to know the meaning of life?":
"The meaning of life is to increase fitness": Principia Cybernetica Web
"Forty-two": Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as discussed in Wikipedia

And a question for believers:
It is often argued that God created us to worship him, and therefore the purpose of our lives is to worship God. If that is true, what is the purpose of God's existence? And who or what ordained that purpose? And if God's existence doesn't need a purpose, why should our existence need a purpose?

Chapter Seven: Section 4
Suffering and death

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

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