Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cherry-picking online arguments and tearing them down is a favorite pastime of people with a soapbox and either no opponents or a weak platform in need of some easy wins.

But hear me out, these are comments from a friend and their friend, from a religious circle close to mine, and a view of non-believers I think many may relate to, so I'm going to do exactly that.


"For many faith [or, life] is not about finding peace but rather trusting that the struggle is meaningful."


And for atheists, life is essentially meaningless.


Life isn't quite meaningless for atheists. They may find meaning in family, hobbies, work, personal achievements, and more, but, those things provide temporary meaning, and so one is often drifting from place to place, thing to thing. Faith provides tangible, lifelong meaning that carries you through all walks of life.


One may make their own meaning in life but overall, there is no purpose. No plan behind the scenes.

This appears to be meant to illustrate a fundamental lack of value of atheism or, I'd rather say, absence of a belief-positive in god.

I am surprised by, and disagree with, both assessments, though the first moreso.

I don't believe there is a fundamental lack of value in the absence of a god, in fact I believe the opposite and here's why.

Some background about me

I don't believe in a specific god, only the possibility of a god. And I believe in the certainty of much more than we know now. In fact, infinitely unknown -- and therefore likely of what we'd call "spiritual" nature.

This is written as if spoken to the original commenters.

Observer-actor disconnect

First, assuming that an atheist experiences life the way you imagine them doing so is a fallacy -- called the Pyschologist's fallacy (wikipedia). You're assuming your own objectivity for analyzing not just a fact but someone else's subjectivity.

You don't know whether I experience meaning in my own life or of what nature that meaning is. You can only know that you imagine it doesn't feel like what you'd place meaning in.

How do I find meaning?

Second, I'm here to tell you life feels far more meaningful to me now. I don't know how you experience belief in god, but I experienced it as a life void of my own meaning (purpose). All my usefulness in life was defined externally. There was no need to discover self-reward, or intrinsic meaning, because I was told my actions would bring about a literal external (extrinsic) and eternal reward.

As it was, I was also always putting my actions to the judgment of an external set of rules.

When I decided that I didn't care whether I got a reward or not, as long as I knew that as time passed I had been a good person --

-- by that I mean, no matter what actions I take, I will always try to do better --

-- then I realized this meant I believed I was a truly good person, with a good heart. And with innate good inside, I could realize that external rules were actually a crutch keeping me from developing a better conscience. If I kept leaning on those rules, my internal compass never needed to strengthen. The only thing that would increase would be my confidence of my behavior matching the rules.

Of course, this belief doesn't jive with your core beliefs. That's fine. However, you're stating here that believing otherwise makes life meaningless. But my experience, as the person you are talking about, shows differently.

This change of mind allowed me to value myself and my lived experience as the thing most important at the center of my circles, not an external set of rules and externally promised future reward of which we have never observed.

When I saw that value, it follows that every life has equal value at the center of their own circles, which overlap and affect me. So every lived experience is the meaning itself.

We have no knowledge of what will follow -- only beliefs. So a belief in no god (or the likely absence of a god) actually put the entire meaning of one's experience into life itself, based on -- 1. ourselves and 2. every person we interact with, from each and every person's own perspective.

This is the principle "love your neighbor as yourself." We value what we love, therefore life has meaning.

What kind of meaning is it?

Is it temporary, or less inherently valuable?

An atheist only has possibility of meaning of life by the awareness of their own existence. But the same goes for a believer of God. So the potential for meaning is unlocked for both.

So why is the atheist life, just because one may believe they came from dirt and will return to dirt, ascribed to have less meaning?

A believer in god may suppose that the difference in the "meaning" is (from some statements above):

  1. the ever presence of what their purpose in life is
  2. the everlastingness of their life
  3. the reward to come
  4. a greater purpose, or plan behind the scenes -- an external plan which is about all of us.

but contrast this with me:

1. All of this purpose and belief I'm telling you now also go with me everywhere. If I got knocked out, lost all my things, and taken to a foreign country with just my life and my mind, I'd still have all the same meaning.

2. Maybe a longer existence gives more meaning?

Comparing "forever" to a fixed lifetime is a function of time progressing, or in other words, future events.

If an atheist believed in permanence of their influence, an atheist has the same potential for meaning from everlasting purpose.

But even with a belief in a likely dissipation of their life's influence on others over time, an atheist has only the present to apply sure meaning.

Given that the present is what we actually sense, not future events, surely this means the atheist has as much or more faith in the meaning of their present existence?

3. Maybe it's because faith gives knowledge of an immense worth of the reward?

Whether the reward is valuable because it's ongoing or because the experience is so much better than we now have -- you may conclude differently -- I don't believe that some ongoing reward is better than the current experience.

Life itself; the events, experiences, senses, feelings, thoughts, have an intrinsic reward.

Imagination of experiencing this, or any other good feeling I've had, as a reward forever is not an actual experience, so it does not hold intrinsic value to me.

Therefore, my meaning -- as I experience it -- is greater than what I logically gained when I was trying to live life for the future reward.

4. Maybe the meaning comes from knowing we're all working together, a super-plan or the value is for a master plan or all people?

Again, go back to my first statement. Life is the reward, and therefore all lives have a reward. This value is every bit as great to me as if it were part of plan to which we are all bound.

And if it was some master plan, I don't value the feeling of believing I'm doing something according to a grand design any more than I do the inherent experience. That's just me, but again I am the one who observes and therefore values my own meaning.

Family, hobbies, work, personal achievements are merely the actions I may participate in or seek in this already-meaningful system of values. The people and my own experience are the inherent value, so as I said it goes with me no matter what I have or where I go. Time progresses, and as I experience things, meaning therefore exists.

"Drifting from place to place, thing to thing" actually makes it sound like it adds meaning to me, because the variety of my experience increases, instead of repeatedly driving the same path, becoming more numb to the small differences with each passing.

I'm sure god-believers' lives have meaning under their belief systems; but that doesn't mean that they can know whether mine holds meaning for me or not. And while this perspective may not provide meaning for all without a god-centered system, this is hopefully an explanation of why it does for me.