In Praise of Frivolity

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“How can life have meaning without God?”


Pretty much every atheist or humanist I know has gotten this question. It’s often asked in a smug, passive-aggressive way by religious believers who seem to think it’s a real zinger, a deal-breaker of a question that we’ve somehow never contemplated. But it’s sometimes asked in all sincerity, by religious believers who genuinely can’t comprehend what meaning itself could even mean without a divine creator handing it to us from on high. And of course, we humanists ask it ourselves. We ask it of each other—and answer it for each other—when we’re presenting a positive, public face of happy, ethical, meaningful atheism. And we ask it of ourselves in private, in all sincerity, in our long dark nights of the soul-less. The thorny question of life’s meaning isn’t magically answered by a belief in God—but it doesn’t magically disappear when we let go of that belief, either.

When humanists consider this question of meaning without God, of what gives us meaning and how we create it, we often answer with The Big Things. Love. Art. Marriage and family. Friendship. Community. Charity work. Making the world a better place. The never-ending search for knowledge. All of which are awesome; all of which are central parts of how I create meaning in my own life.

But I’d like to add a few things to that list.

Written By: Greta Christina
continue to source article at thehumanist.org

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  1. In euthanasia debates I discovered the essence of the Christian argument was you did not have the right to escape suffering because Jehovah owns you, and he does not like people vandalising his “property”. This applies to Christians and non Christians alike.

    So life with god is like living with an imaginary slavemaster. You create your own suffering to placate him. I would think the notion of life without god would as pleasant as any other emancipation or deliverance from delusion.

  2. Christians ask atheists “How can life have meaning without God?”.
    Jehohvah is odious in the extreme. Even as a fictional character terrifying adults into irrational behaviour, he is intolerable.
    If he were real, life would be unimaginably horrible. Everyone would become his abject slave. There would be no hope with such an all-powerful,
    sadistic, capricious,
    bully running the universe.

    • In reply to #5 by Roedy:

      Christians ask atheists “How can life have meaning without God?”.
      Jehohvah is odious in the extreme. Even as a fictional character terrifying adults into irrational behaviour, he is intolerable.
      If he were real, life would be unimaginably horrible. Everyone would become his abject slave. There wou…

      Nice string of adjectives Roedy. You wouldn’t want God as a drinking buddy…. as Randolph Churchill famously remarked,”God was a bugger.”

  3. All excellent points.

    However, regardless of whether god is real or imaginary, regardless of whether god is benevolent or a tyrant.
    If God were real and he were in fact completely benevolent, then any meaning he attributed to our lives would surely be just as arbitrary as the meaning we attribute to it ourselves. His meaning, would just be his decision, not based on anything higher than him, not based on anything intrinsic in the universe, not based on any self evident facts of life, just his whims. God would be nothing more than a middle man, taking advantage of his exclusive position and dictating to us what he wants the meaning of our lives to be.

    So why on earth religious people think god gives life meaning I have no idea. Perhaps it just removes the burden of figuring it out for themselves. “It’s ok if I don’t know what the meaning of my life is, god’s on top of it..”

    • In reply to #8 by Seraphor:

      …religious people think god gives life meaning…

      When God gives your life meaning, she has just given you a job, like it or loathe it. Choosing my own meaning, polishing it, sharing it sometimes…now that’s pure pleasure.

      Great article Greta. Life is so deliciously textured.

      I love the big things a lot. Purpose for me is to join in in the great big Adventure of Discovery, ourselves, each other, the universe….Thing is, all of Greta’s little things remind me of the big. How the miserable prospect of a meeting is banished by a beautiful cloudscape. How the smile it put on my face copies itself onto the shopkeeper’s face. How her smile carries me through a tough but productive day to a sense of achievement. Delight in the minutiae of things and people are the very fuel for our collective adventure, the wonder that they are so and thus.

      This is why I would like to draw attention to the problem of depression, which is the loss of this very fuel. Most of us have had such periods but certainly a full 20% are affected to the point of it becoming a medical issue. I rate depression more corrosive of our quality of life than just about any other illness………except perhaps the mind virus of religion.

  4. Epicurus had this figured out in third century BC. organise societies to maximise pleasure and minimise pain (not selfishly, but for all ) and take enjoyment from every small pleasure life has to offer; the good meal, the pleasant sunset, the scent of summer flowers etc…

    What theists mean when they say life can have no meaning without God is that life can have no meaning if it is finite. They then use the fact that people do have meaning in their lives to prove the existence of God.
    Its typical circular pre-supposionalist logic and should be rejected by pointing out that the human race was finding meaning long before the mono-faiths arose.

  5. But it’s sometimes asked in all sincerity, by religious believers who genuinely can’t comprehend what meaning itself could even mean without a divine creator handing it to us from on high.

    It’s really the same question as about philosophy and morality. -
    ” How do you have any if you don’t have a priest to spoon feed it to you?”

    Most atheists would recognise why dogma-fed faith-thinking believers need to ask this.

  6. Now I may well be a dimwit, but what gives Christians “meaning” in their lives? The same bloody things as give “meaning” to my life. I.e. real things, like existence, health, love, friendship, family etc. The arrogant view that nothing means anything without the guy who flooded the world to rid it of most humans, and most everything else, is absurd and just plain nonsense. Why would such a gangster give “meaning” to anybody’s life ?

    Jesus died for my sins? Oh bugger off ! (And He didn’t die !)

  7. Human minds insist on looking for a meaning to life…but our bodies seem to respond to our natural animal needs and survival instincts better…The only purpose of all the millions of life forms is to reproduce our genes and keep the great unbroken chain going and unfolding into the future in the best way we can – perhaps even until we are grandparents…..Why pretend there’s any more important meaning to human life than that…. our brains look for patterns and add significance to anything and we have such active minds, live long lives and dominate other plants and animals…that we make self important rituals and expect some meaning or purpose for our existence…

    What do I do that’s meaningful to me ? Sleep well, eat healthy, relax, laugh, love and guide my kids, constantly gain truthful knowledge, travel and interact with all peoples from all backgrounds, help people…share knowledge…that’s meaningful…..

  8. Very well put, Greta. Thank you for this uplifting essay. I’m often told that as an ER physician, I must feel very “fulfilled.” But, I have often grappled with that question of “what’s the point.” I remember some time ago, as a resident, I resusciated a still-born baby. Her mother still sends me a christmas card every year with pictures of her growing daughter. I know I made a difference in the mother’s life only to the extent it could’ve gone differently. The baby wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t saved her and the mother would’ve gone on with her life and probably had another child. So who’s to say I “made a difference.” So, I too have tried to make my life meaningful to ME. If it matters to me, it is important. Cat videos…extremely important to my well-being. The perfect latte, bliss. If I save a life, a job well done. If not, I only ask myself if I did everything I could. That has to be enough.

  9. Light Wave: “…The only purpose of all the millions of life forms is to reproduce our genes and keep the great unbroken chain going and unfolding into the future in the best way we can – perhaps even until we are grandparents…..Why pretend there’s any more important meaning to human life than that.”

    I’m sure you didn’t mean it in such a way, but I’d like to point out that that’s pretty insulting to those who either cannot or do not wish to have children.
    If your initial use of the word ‘purpose’ was to mean ‘function’, then yes, that is true, but where you infer in your last sentence that meaning is derived from this is a very different statement.

    • In reply to #18 by Seraphor:

      Your right I did not mean it in that way….I intended NO insult to any infertile people.
      I was aiming more to people who think only religion can give them meaning in their lives….Personally I think our main purpose is to reproduce or help raise the next generation and aside from that we have long lives to fill with loads of positive things that don’t need to be religious….This is my personal experience….

  10. One of my students wrote a wonderful poem (pity I do not have it to reproduce). It is called “When we ran with airplane arms”. The words are so powerful that I cannot get my head around the fact that a 16 year old wrote it.

    In reply to #21 by Smill:

    In reply to Phil Rimmer, post 20. You write that your purpose is to join in the big adventure of discovery and I know of a poet whose words could make you cry, and she writes about home and family. Her name is Olivia Mccannon, and she writes about her Liverpool childhood. So melancholy but beauti…

    • Thank you Smll and Crooked for the poetry.

      Poetry is entirely the essence of what is going on here, that scratching of an aesthetic itch; that and this- an “open-handed magic”. We see all the ingredients that go into an experience, the clouds like so, these few words in sequence, but somehow much more or more than expected comes out of it. I thought to use this term when I was lucky enough to see a performance of Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, stripped bare and leaving me puzzled as to where the happy tears had come from.

      For me it seems our life is, pretty much, our aesthetic life

  11. Glad I could bring a smile to your day!

    In reply to #23 by Smill:

    In reply to Crookedshoes, post 22. I was replying ‘seriously’ until I just read your post on another thread, “Bullshit put together by bullshitters to fleece the gullible.” and it made me laugh. Maybe there’s some poetry in that!? : )

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