What Do Atheists Live For?

Edward Tarte got that question from one of his YouTube commenters and he responds beautifully in the video below.

As he says, there’s nothing depressing about there not being an afterlife, either. All you have to do is make the most of the time you have.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Great video!

    Just because a time-period is finite, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the time you have.
     
    Think of something that you really enjoy doing like spending a day at the park or some other activity.  Just because that day will end doesn’t mean that you can’t still enjoy the day… or that you shouldn’t bother getting out of bed. 

    Only from the mind-set of wanting to live forever and being disappointed that perhaps you can’t live forever can a finite time-period be robed from its enjoyment.  Just get rid of the mindset of wanting to live forever.

  • Vanessa

    What an amazing individual! I am so impressed and quite inspired by what he has shared. Could you imagine what the world would be like if every single person had the same attitude he has? It would be a wonderful, beautiful world, and it is MY hope that, someday, it will be a reality.

  • Anonymous

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will
    not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the
    virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you
    should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be
    gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories
    of your loved ones.”
    – attributed to Marcus Aurelius

    • Vanessa

      I love this. Love love love. I’m stealing it for future use.

    • Secular Planet

      Misattributed to Marcus Aurelius, that is. The first clue I noticed was the ending of a sentence with a preposition, something that was never done in Latin and something a professional translator would never do when translating it into English. More on the misattribution here: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Marcus_Aurelius

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, I know. That’s why I said “attributed to” in the first place. Still a good sentiment

        • 59 norris

          Sounds like Pascal’s Wager in reverse.

  • Sara

    I like his philosophy a lot and agree with it, but honestly, I can’t get out of the mindset of wanting to  live forever. Death, especially death as someone who expects oblivion, is still frightening. It doesn’t make my life meaningless in the slightest, but it sure does make for from scared thoughts.

    • Anonymous

      Living longer would be great. Maybe a couple hundred years. But forever is damn long. He is right that it would get boring at some point

      • Michael Appleman

        I don’t think it would get boring. Think of how much has happened in just the last couple decades, not to mention the past few centuries. Imagine what the next few decades or centuries may hold.

    • Anonymous

      Wanting/wishing to live forever is natural. Unfortunately, it is not the way life is. Living a life of illusion has its benefits and its costs.

    • Ronlawhouston

      I agree with Luther@a2c6ca54dab4f47563e9af2203994dab:disqus  the wish is natural.  However, if you think about it, even in contemplating an afterlife you’re taking precious moments away from enjoying what’s here right now.

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      I have people that rely on me and of course I don’t want to die before my time mainly for their sake. I hope I do have a couple (maybe even a few) more decades left but deep down I’ve accepted and am comfortable with the idea that we all get some time on the stage and then we have to get off and let others go on. That is just the way life works.

      No organism lives forever. The closest to immortality that physiology offers is to reproduce which kind-of re-sets the clock for the next generation. But all individuals die. Flies die, cats die, and humans die. That is just the way it works. I was just never socialized to expect anything other than that eventuality. I view death kind of like gravity. Sure it would be nice to fly around unrestrained by gravity but I don’t lose any sleep about existing within the gravitational field of the Earth. I also don’t lose any sleep about the notion that I won’t live forever.  It is possible not to have that “wanting and expecting to live forever” mindset.  Once you are free of that, you can just concentrate on the here and now and enjoy life without any nagging dread over about what might happen next in some kind of afterlife.

  • Gerry

    Brilliant and beautiful. I have been thinking lately of some of the language and terminology we have been immersed in and that seems inescapable. Here are some that I find particularly irritating!

    “People of faith” – I personally don’t know anyone who doesn’t have faith. Faith is what gets me out of bed in the morning! Faith is a usually deeply held feeling that the world, and the way we comprehend it, has some stability and continuity. Unfortunately, “faith” has become entwined with “religion” although they don’t automatically have a lot in common. A better word for this phrase would be “churchgoers”. It’s clearer and everyone knows exactly what it means.

    “Spirituality” – Means how we develop a personal understanding of the unseen but understood parts of the universe, and how we develop an individual point of view of what may happen after death. Also should not be entwined with “religion”, although there is some overlap.

    “Religion” – (Particularly “organized religion”) is an authoritarian, hierarchical and usually patriarchal system of social control that claims to deal with spirituality, and while there is some overlap, they don’t really have much in common.

    Thinking about these things gives me hope!

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      theology  —     fantasy in search of a rationale

    • Anonymous

      When someone tells you they are not religious but that they are spiritual, you need to ask what they mean.

      Some mean they meditate.

      Others mean they believe in ghosts etc.

      Noting strange with atheists meditating, yet somebody that believes in ghosts is not atheist in my book.

    • Elliott776

      I think people (often Theists) interchange religion and faith with philosophy and belief. I’m talking about those who think Atheism is a religion.

    • Elliott776

      I also am very confused by your definition of faith. I’ve never seen it that way and frankly it doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. I don’t understand the universe or how it works. And thoughts of the universe definitely have no bearing on how I live day to day. If anything, they entertain my imagination once in a while, but that is all.

    • Anonymous

      People certainly believe in lots of things. But faith is belief without evidence. The only thing I have faith is maybe some people – but in that case it’s just another word for “trust”

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Every one of Edward Tarte’s videos have left me happier, more hopeful, and more determined to have a positive effect on those around me. 

  • Trace

    “What do atheists live for?

    Chocolate, what else?

  • rhodent

    It always boggles my mind how believers think they know what we think.  We have nothing to hope for?  This is news to me.  I always thought I had hope for a world made better for our actions.  I always thought I had hope for social and scientific advancement that would let us live longer, healthier, happier lives.  But apparently I was wrong.  Because I’m an atheist.  And we have nothing to hope for.  Just ask any theist.

    Truth be told, that doesn’t bother me much.  What gets me is that they presume to think they know our thoughts better than we do, yet somehow we are the arrogant ones!

    • 59 norris

      I know how you feel.

  • Steve

    What gives me hope is all the outrageously beautiful Sunday mornings I spend not sitting in a church – and, knowing how precious they are because they will come to an end some day. As for Mr. Tarte, I like that he traveled so far down another road which could have ended much differently for him and backed up. I hope he can share more of his wisdom with us.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Wow!  I hope Mr. Tarte reads these comments because I want to tell him he’s an amazing fellow.  Kudos on a life well lived.

    I absolutely loved the comment by Trace.  I’d give it a thousand likes if I could.  Why must we have some grand purpose to live?  Chocolate is enough reason for me.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think boredom would be the problem with living “forever”. There would always be something to read; there would always be something to learn (well, for a good, long while, at least).

    Continually losing loved ones would get you down eventually, I would think. I wouldn’t want to live forever in some kind theocratic, or any other kind of tyranny. I wouldn’t want to live forever if things were like The Road.

    But boredom wouldn’t be much of a problem. 

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know if you understand forever, then.  Read every book ever written and you still have an eternity ahead of you.  Discover and learn every single natural law of the universe and you still have eternity ahead of you.  Spend the equivalent of a full day examining each and every particle in the universe, and you still have eternity ahead of you.

      • Anonymous

        I’d like to start with a few hundred thousand years so I can visit some exoplanets.

        • Anonymous

          that’s the rub, innit? most theists don’t really think about what ‘forever” means. they want a long, long existence, but rarely think about what comes after they have been able to do everything they’ve ever wanted, as i suppose most of them imagine heaven will allow. so you’ve fucked every one of your 72 virgins 1000 times. you’ve eaten of every fruit tree in the The Garden. you’ve praised jeebus and gawd and allah so much you’ve sung every song in their honor ever created. what now?

          i don’t long for death, but i do understand, in the way that Tolkien described, the burden of immortality. i really like the way he poses that the immortal elves wonder at the human fear of death. “you don’t understand, Illuvatar has given you a True Gift. the weariness of life unending is a greater burden than you can know. release from it is mercy.” sure, JRR was all about gods-laden fantasy, but he understood the atheist critique. 

          thank you Hemant, for introducing me to this guy. he rocks. nothing like an ex-priest to give silly faith based ideas the business. 

          • 59 norris

            Actually, in an Aristotilean/Thomistic view, eternity is not a really long time, it is being outside of time.  No before, no after, just a perfect now.

            Make of that what you will, it is, in any event, not a situation in which one becomes bored.

            As an ex-Catholic priest Mr. Tarte should know that.

          • Someone Small

            Ok, but here’s the dfference- Tolkien’s elves did not live in Heaven, they lived on earth (or Middle Earth, rather). Of course living on earth forever would be terrible, and certainly no Christian is saying that that would be a good or even desirable thing, let alone something that is going to happen. If you’ve ever listened to the Lord’s Prayer, you would realize that it asks for an end to suffering, hate, evil, et cetera, ie. The end of earth, and the coming of Heaven. And no, there would be no need to frivilously entertain yourself in Heaven like we do on earth. It seems to be a common misconception that Heaven is boring. There is much to say on this topic, but I think that Lewis’ book “The Great Divorce” hits the nail on the head when he describes the people who all live perfectly normal but excrutiatingly boring lives as the ones who are experiencing the pains of Hell, certainly not like Heaven, which humans have no ability to concieve the likes of.
            Just wanted to get that straight :)
            PS
            Tolkien was a DEVOUT Catholic. I’m fairly confident LotR has no atheistic underpinnings…

      • Anonymous

        And despite all new events and people you can watch, study and interact with, there would still be a lot of repetition. People would do, say and write about the same things over and over again.

  • Mattincinci

    another great video Edward!

  • AthiestAUS

    you rock man, great attitude good luck enjoying the rest of your life

  • Kent

    God damn. If ever there was such a thing as a soul, this man has among the kindest, gentlest out there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.j.jordan Scott James Jordan

    Imagine there’s no Heaven

    It’s easy if you try

    No hell below us

    Above us only sky

    Imagine all the people

    Living for today

    If more people didn’t waste the only life they’ll get fantasising about an imaginary heaven or fearing an imaginary hell, the better the world would be.

    • ACN

      Incidentally, the thing that made my brother realize that religion was bullshit was when his sunday school teacher told him that “Imagine” was the work of the devil because the utopia it imagined was apart from god.

      Even at 15, he knew that there was something much more Lennon’s meditation here than there was to the supernatural bullshitters.

  • Anonymous

    “I hope to leave the world a little better place than it has been.”  What a wonderful attitude.

  • Anonymous

    What do Abrahamic theists have to live for? I don’t see how their world view really solves anything, because it pushes existential issues onto a god instead of themselves.

    Wouldn’t it suck if theists get to “heaven,” and then realize that their existence still lacks meaning & purpose?

  • Justin

    I hate it when people pull the, “you have no hope” bullshit.  They fail to see that hope and fear are two sides of the same coin, both equally worthless.

  • Stuart Ellis

    The great physicist Richard Feynman said that you can wish as much as you like but nature is what nature is. Wishing won’t change that! Not knowing is also OK. The void doesn’t have to be filled with something (e.g. God).

  • Noni

    This is wonderful.

    My bio mother was just diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, which is genetic. I have a 50/50 chance of having it to.
    I feel like atheism has helped prepare me for the test results. Even if I test positive, I will keep living every day to the fullest. The world around us is so beautiful, and whether I live 40 years or 100 years, it doesn’t change that.
    I imagine if I believed in a god I would be feeling so resentful right now. But without god, there is no blame. There is no anger. And that’s really nice, because I don’t think I could handle those negative feelings right now. :)

    • http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com/ Tea Cosy

      I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s diagnosis- Huntington’s is an awful illness.

  • LLCoolJ2

    I find that most atheists are super-literal and limited when it comes to their interpretations and arguments against religion.   If the Bible, for instance, is taken for a book of poetry and metaphor meant to give an idea of existence to people that had no frame of reference to discuss God and particle physics, the ruling out of a creator because the book doesn’t reference quantum mechanics or dinosaurs falls apart. The idea of a boring afterlife is based on 3 dimensional limitations put upon a soul that would obviously have to exist outside of 3 dimensional space. A human being can’t conceptualize a 4th spatial dimension and no one knows why we experience one directional time, yet the atheist argues against a specific afterlife tied to that experience based more on the words of men making their money preaching than the Bible. People don’t get bored with bliss.

    • Anonymous

      We just take the common Christian myth, don’t blame us if it lacks imagination.  Personally I have no concept of an afterlife, the idea seems preposterous that we will somehow live on without bodies.

      Oh and human beings are perfectly capably of conceptualising additional spatial dimensions.  Some of us can conceptualise eleven of them without our heads expoding.

  • guest218

    Why then would you a devout atheist, help the poor or try to make this place better for future dwellers on this planet. I am an atheist as well, and I would like to take what you said a step further… If you see as clearly as I do, you realize that helping the poor is unnecessary and genocide and euthanasia are topics that are evidently okay. Think about it, NO GOD means the ideas of morality and the idea of a conscience is a hoax. Live your life according to how you please, and when you see that beggar on the street, I dare you to say fuck you like I do. Our lives should be characterized by selfishness ALL THE TIME. 


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