Finding Meaning in a Godless Life

For months now, I’ve been posting videos from Chris Johnson‘s multimedia book about atheists and what gives them joy and meaning in life.

Chris is halfway through his journey and he just posted a compilation of excerpts featuring some of the people he’s met so far. It makes me want this book to come out *now*… but we’ll have to wait a little while longer.

I’ll continue posting my favorite clips from his journey until the book comes out!

(via The Atheist Book)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • jose

    Not really getting the people who think if death is the end, then nothing means anything. That’s not how it works for everything else, is it? Everything ends at some point. Songs end. Songs mean something, don’t they? Concerts end. Books and poems end. Awesome sport games end. Presidential terms end. Civilizations end. Stars end.

    Even worse: in many cases, that they end is very important to make them meaningful. What is  Thelma&Louise without that ending? A basketball game without that winner three-pointer at the last second? The fact that stuff ends is why we work to make it end well. If shit never ends, then what’s the point? It’s not like you’re not going to have more chances. You’re always going to be able to leave whatever you feel like doing for tomorrow, because there’s always another tomorrow, so why bother at all? Just chill.

    Specifically on the subject of living in Heaven forever. Now that’s not very meaningful, is it? Not much to do, just staring at God all the time? Forever? What for? What’s the meaning in that?

  • Reg Metcalf

    i just want to quibble with the use of terms like “godless”. it may seem picky, but as a lover of language, i really think the words we use are important. i would rather say “god-free”. i don’t say i have “no religion”, i say i am “religion free”. i don’t say that i “don’t believe in God”, i say that “i am free of belief in God”. i think it makes a real difference in how i feel about myself, the beliefs i hold and the beliefs i am free of.
    possibly the worst offenders are some dictionaries that define atheism as “a lack of a belief in God.” i find that definition offensive. i do not “lack” a belief. i am FREE of that belief.

  • C Peterson

    I’ve never understood this concept of “seeking” meaning in life. That’s just something that’s there for most people, unless they are mentally ill. That applies to people regardless of their religious beliefs. It seems independent of religious belief.

    Now, it’s common for religious people to claim that their belief in a god is what gives meaning to their lives, but I think they are wrong. They say this out of some sort of habit, not out of any real reflection. I’ve never heard any theist or religionist give anything approaching a rational or credible explanation of just how their beliefs give their lives meaning, or how that meaning would be lost if they lost their belief in gods.

  • jose

    “And they lived happily ever after”. Stories fool us. They never end by saying “and they lived happily ever after and then they died” or even “and they lived happily until the last day of their lives”. Happy endings in stories imply people just never die. Therefore if death is involved, it’s not a happy ending.

    People storify their idea of what a life should be like, and they want the story to have a happy ending. Eternal life in Heaven is just another way of saying “lived happily ever after”.

    I wonder if this is a judeo-christian thing. Does anybody know if heroes in Asian tales (children’s books and so) die more, and more naturally?

  • C Peterson

    But “lived happily ever after” is a fairy tale ending, something largely reserved for children’s stories. We need not look to Asia… the richest literature of the West frequently ends with the death of the hero, a death which is revealed to give meaning to that hero’s life. No “happily ever after”, no “the hero went to heaven”.

  • Godlesspanther

    It does seem like an involuntary parrrot-esque repeated squawk. If they are so certain that I have no meaning in my life because and only because I do not accept their dogma, it seems to me  that they would have no problem giving direct and honest answers to some questions. 

    Would it be possible for a person to have meaning in their life without believing in god?

    What about people who embrace other religions — do they have meaning and purpose in their lives — or does it require a belief in you god and only your god? Why? 

    Is it possible for people who do believe in your god to lack, at least sometimes, a sense of meaning and purpose?

    Who would be a good example a person who has real meaning and purpose in their lives? Specific name and one who is well-known enough that I would know who you are talking about.

    If they declaration of the lack of meaning in my life is based on anything other than a repetition of authoritarian dogma, than they would be able to supply answers to these questions — real answers. 

  • Robert Freid

    The purpose of Heaven (at least in Jewish, Christian, Islamic theology) is more than just praising of God. It is to be reunited with loved ones as well.

  • Guest

    Why does life have to have meaning?

  • jose

    Sucks for everyone who loves a non-christian.

  • jose

    Sucks for everyone who loves a non-christian.

  • Robert Freid

    That depends on your perception of Heaven. If; you believe in Heaven, I assume you do not. And didn’t I just say “at least in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theology”?

  • C Peterson

    In terms of nature or the Universe, life has no meaning. “Meaning” has no meaning in that context. But humans do seem to have a need (or desire) to see some sort of purpose or value in their lives, which they call “meaning”. It’s simply a part of our nature.

  • Oliver Morgen

    Your religious beliefs are
    not your conclusions. They were given to you before you could think
    on your own, by those who received their beliefs before they could think. But
    there is a plan.

    Religion is based on
    discovering ways to get you to behave. They created a father figure whom you
    should love, and of course, who loves you. He disciplines you to encourage
    proper behavior. It is based on the family. He is the head of the household [a
    misunderstood concept] and who sees that the family will do well – if only they
    will obey. 

    Well folks, that hasn’t worked in the last 5,000 years, has it? And
    it never will.

    I discuss this on my blog. Feel free to check it out:

  • Blacksheep

    A Christian perspective would be that we only have a longing for meaning because we sense the divine, that it’s built in to our psyche, that if we were truly accidental beings (Came into existence from the billions of sequential mutations that brought us to ever higher states to where we are) that we would not have that longing. We would be content with food, water, warmth, sex, atc. (All good stuff on its own). 

    It doesn’t “have to” have meaning, but it does, and we know that. One has to fight against that feeling to come to a place where one is comfortable with a world with no meaning. In that way, the concept of religion does come first, and comes naturally. It’s atheism that has to be cultivated.

  • C Peterson

    In that way, the concept of religion does come first, and comes naturally. It’s atheism that has to be cultivated.

    A bizarre and unsupported conclusion, if ever there was one.

    There is an element of theism that seems to come naturally to most people, what is often called spirituality. But to see religion as anything other than a manmade tool to exploit that native spirituality for political or social control is to ignore history.

    We are all born atheists. If our questions about nature go unanswered, we probably develop false, “spiritual” ideas of our own in an effort to answer them. If we receive good, supportable answers, however, we don’t usually develop into theists. Theism is born out of simple ignorance. Religiosity is born out of both ignorance and deliberate deceit. Certainly, religion is totally unnecessary to provide a person with any sense of purpose or meaning.

  • chicago dyke

    because wiccans, buddhists, jains, doaists, animists and universalists don’t exist. oh, wait…

    but anyway, the ‘meaning’ question annoys me. why does life have to have “meaning?” what is meaning? according to whom/what? i am alive. i exist because the two people who made me have genes that gave them reproductive pressure upon which they acted. i’m not here to prove anything, to anyone, about any thing. that includes religious ideas about the meaning of my life, as well as those not based in religion. 

    sometimes “am” is just “am,” which is ironic given that the major monotheisms worship an invisible gawd who it is claimed once said the very same thing. 

  • Robert Freid

    Good question. And yes, I know that Wiccans, Buddhists, Jainists, Daoists, Animists, Universalists, neo-Pagans, etc. believe in Heaven and exist as religions. I was using those three Abrahamic religions as an examples because they all have core foundations.
    That’s true, the impronouncable name of YHVH, meaning “I Am.”

    Now, I can’t tell you what the meaning of life is. Because I am like alot of people, I just don’t know. Because you are an atheist you live the life you are granted, enjoy as much of it as you can, then die. The meaning is up to you to define. I hope I am not sounding gloomy or rude. Most religions have some sort of afterlife, either eternal salvation or eternal dahmnation. 

    Which is also ironic, if most religions believe in eternal salvation or eternal dahmnation. Then the atheist view of death (of eternal nothingness after we die) is right in the middle between the eternal salvation and eternal dahmnation that most religions teach.


  • Desiree Bell-Fowlks

    Religion never came to me naturally.  I was born an atheist and still am.  The indoctrination to christianity did not take.  There’s lots of atheists that would counter your lie.