What is the Purpose of Life of an Atheist?

What is the Purpose of Life of an Atheist?

The Dread Word "Purpose"

For the scrambling and harried purveyors of world religion, “purpose” is the last, tenuous redoubt. No longer able to hawk protection from demons or the guaranteed intercession of angels, their hell out of sync with a less vengeful age, and their heaven finally being recognized for the extended juvenile fantasy fugue that it is, priests and holy men are in a mad whirl to find something that they, and particularly they, can offer.
For some, that answer is a community, but the smart ones have already forfeited that ground for purpose, which is something less tangible and therefore more manageable. 

Purpose, in bold and italic with a little star over the letter “i” that isn’t even there, is a get-out of-obsolescence elixir that they’ve been brewing for a few thousand years now and finally have cause to use. 

What’s more, by slowly and insistently foisting extra metaphysical baggage onto an already loaded word, they’ve been able to make everybody else use it, too. The peddlers of religion say, “We know your purpose, your reason for existence.” 

We Atheists should know better than to enter the fray, but too often natural combativeness or pride overcomes our better guiding lights. 

Not to be outdone, we counter-clamor, “No, we’ve got a much more sublime purpose for you. It comes complete with contemplation of the universe, and the joys of shared human experience! And it’s narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson!” 

Being an Atheist is pretty awesome, but to start listing all of the ways that Atheism gives you a sense of purpose is to have already lost. It lets religion reinforce the notion that our actions are not legitimate unless they are sanctioned from outside our “merely personal” sense of social industry. 

Mired in that lexicon, we must be either charmingly insincere (“I know I don’t mean purpose, but I’ll say it anyway for the cameras to keep those Christians from scoring a point”) or honestly uninformed, and neither of those bodes well for the long game. 

The fact is, the purpose is a cloying term that radiates the illusory light of freedom and fulfillment to mask a basic need for control. 

Originating in honest curiosity about the nature of human life, the purpose has since been metaphysically refurbished to restrict individuality by mandating the boundary between normal and perverse. 

This is a legitimate purpose of life, that is not. Its very existence calls priests, as the grim arbiters of purpose, into being. And as long as we believe in purpose as an evaluative category, so will the godly castes be there to wave its tattered banner in our faces. “But gosh, life’s gotta have a purpose, don’t it, Mister?” Well, kids, it’s like this.

 As primates with gregariousness turned up to eleven, we humans are chemically addicted to each other. Our brains, like those of our bonobo and chimp cousins, are elegantly wired to internally model everything we see each other doing. 

We live the lives of those we observe almost as much as we live our own. We find absolute delight in the laughter of others and, so long as we haven’t been conditioned against it by the massive machinery of theology, relive keenly the pain of others. 

We help each other, feel comfortable with each other’s casual and even insistent presence, and feel inhuman when deprived of it because, chemically, we cannot do otherwise. We seek out professions and relationships based on our chance strengths and random opportunities, all under distinctly determined and thoroughly lovely laws in which we have positively no say. 

Those of us who respond to talk of purpose is, more likely than not, already in the process of turning around on our own steam. And for those of us who, by circumstance or basic nature, never quite make a go of life, the chant “find a purpose” will do little but breed resentment and despair. Goals, on the other hand, are good. 

Unlike purpose, goals are generated from within and they change with time and disposition. Goals bring with them a vocabulary far less heinous. You can fail to reach a goal, but you can’t betray it. 

You can lack goals at the moment, and be perfectly fine, but to say you have no purpose is to put yourself in a class of sub-humanity that, in all theologically sponsored accounts, ends in a drunken shamble towards self-destruction. 

After having pumped up the term with such supernatural power and significance, religion has made a disease where before there was only a question. It’s the primary rule of advertising: Create a need, and then make people ill for the want of it. 

Only in this case, the illness isn’t a passing yearning for a Skeletor with Rotating Battle Damage, but a civilization spanning, unquenchable malaise hypocritically serviced by its creators. Human life is something that happens—as does gravity, as does the emission of a photon when an electron drops to a more stable orbit—and purpose is a shabby fit for all three. 

Life comes pre-loaded with its own satisfaction mechanisms that Christianity has spent the better part of two millennia feverishly attempting to snuff out to place church-approved purpose in its place. 

And they’ll continue to do so as long as the concession is made that purpose is something worth talking about. Pursue yourself, to the subtlest drive and the most tantalizing neurosis, because, sorry, you’re stuck with the brain you came with, and there will be no refunds on the unused portion thereof. 

Pursue other people, because unless you are a fascinating mutant (and some of us are), that will take care of everything your needy primate brain hungers for. Pursue goals that match you and the people you’ve surrounded yourself with and, if you succeed, then your brain will reward you. 

If you fail, nothing crucial has really changed. If we pursue a purpose above and beyond our actual selves, we’re playing somebody else’s game while begging for recognition from indifferent idols. 

Through it all, we will have only recognized ourselves dimly, as something foreign to be lived down in the pursuit of something we’ve been told we must have, by pundit and priest alike. But oh, the times are changing. 

Maybe once we stop seeking impossible approval, the remaining reality will be something we can, at last, follow to the full measure, knowing it is ours, along with the glory of its pursuit.

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By Dale DeBakcsy 

Author of the weekly Atheist webcomic The Vocate, co-author of Frederick the Great: A Most Lamentable Comedy, contributor to The Freethinker, and former editor of the online Rivets Literary Magazine. By way of feeding his children, he is also a physics and mathematics teacher.

First published on American Atheists Magazine 2015 (2nd quarter). Republished on Fadewblogs courtesy to the author.

Cover photo by Lola Russian from Pexels.

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