When I first accepted atheism as my own personal philosophy, I could feel the excitement of rebellion as well as a comforting relief "knowing" that God wasn't real, and neither was Hell. I've found some wonderful people with very diverse views and comprehensive, intelligent understanding of the universe and our place in it. It's been a grand, exciting time for me.
And yet I can't shake that one unending, horrifying sensation that's been at the back of my mind the whole time: abject terror of death.
I suppose it's one thing to say that spiritually that our bodies pass on and some part of us lingers to do something else. Maybe have grand adventures within the greatness of our galaxy or develop into something grander than just entities in hollow human shells. But as an atheist, I cannot accept this. I'm forced, by virtue of scientific progress and personal comprehension, that once I kick the bucket, I'm gone. All I'll be is wormfood and happy memories to a mournful group of friends and family.
I have a very dear friend who is losing someone very close and dear to him to cancer. He's told me (and I'm sharing his feelings) that the biggest reason he can't accept atheism is because he doesn't want to imagine his sister as wormfood. He wants to imagine that he can see his sister again happily on the "other side". And in grief, he's demanded that I keep myself open for that possibility, and I've agreed. How could I not, when I feel the same fear he's going through?
In all the beauty, grandeur, and glory of the natural universe and the fantastic amazement one can have for its processes, there's one undying fact that won't be ignored: we are all tiny and meaningless to this universe in which we live. We exist for not even the tiniest fraction of existence and pass on without a single thought. Now, instead of saying, "What's the point of doing anything now when there's something in the afterlife?" I'm saying, "What's the point of doing anything now when there's no point except to get up, live, then die?"
I've heard the argument that it's a cold, frustrated, bitter imagination that refuses to accept this world for what it is and demand that something must be behind it or must have created it. But it feels even more inhumane to say that we are tiny, insignificant dots in the grandeur of the universe.
And some atheists wonder why the religious hold onto their "bullshit dogma". Sometimes it seems like there's greater peace in ignorance than coming to terms with your own meaninglessness.
For the most part, I am comfortable with knowing that one day, I will die, completely cease to be, and ultimately become food for worms and other insects. Though at times, the thought does terrify me.
I can certainly understand how existence seems utterly pointless when facing the knowledge that there is no "ultimate purpose" for any of us. But it is, I believe, reality.
While I'm still alive, my life has meaning to me. I am grateful to be here, for whatever length of time, to take in the odd wonders of the world, and when I do die, so what. I won't care, because I will no longer exist.
Is there a point in doing anything? Ultimately, probably not. Yet because we are here, it is up to us to decide for ourselves what we wish to do for the duration of our lives. We create the meaning, it doesn't create us.
If there is anything I have learned from life so far, it's that nothing is ever simple. ;)
However other people create or define meaning in their lives is really up to the individual. I couldn't even try to answer that question.
But I can say that I find meaning in my own life through reading, genuine connections with people I care about, trying to light a cigarette in a wild thunderstorm and failing desperately. For me, meaning comes when I can shed the feeling of utter isolation that I think often comes with being a cognizant being.
personally I'm the die hard type too. Not in a religious way but a scientific way. I suggest you research a bit on life extension, cryogenics, suspended animation.... though I guess they'll never admit to it scientists want to extent human life to the indefinite, with good reason they keep this secret, such humans wouldnt be considered humans more like mutants and to some that means abominations mainly because a god didnt make them. Some say by the year 2050 we will have enough technology and bioligical know how to make humans immortal and it's no big deal if you think about it, we are occupying a minute place in the universe, and immortals can't fill up infinite space Lol.
So bear with us, and to the thing of a loved one being gone, you're not really gone as Einstein might say you just don't exist if you think of it a huge time before you and a huge one after you will come where you're not there so if you're not part of the immortal human race what's to stop time traveling you from visiting mummy and daddy (time travel is not considered improbable by any scientific law and you can visit them in this and many other alternate universe where in many you're not yet born).
We are becoming more powerful and now we are this powerful...
It's a matter of focusing on life, not death. Find your meaning right here & now in how you choose to live your life; what kind of legacy you'll leave for your children & friends. Do what you can to make the world, or at least your corner of it, a better place after you're gone.
The afterlife fallacy keeps people from doing all they can in life, since they imagine everything will be different after they die. Your real life isn't in some heavenly fantasy, it's right here, right now. I never understood how an afterlife, which has no bearing on our daily existence, is supposed to add meaning to our lives anyway.
Somewhere (and I'm sorry - I tried to find the reference but was not successful) Robert Heinlein wrote words to the effect that, sooner or later, we all will discover what will happen after death. Therefore, why waste time worrying about it?
And I refuse to come to terms with my own meaninglessness. Sorry, but we are not insignificant dots in the grandeur of the universe. While we are part of this universe, we owe it (to ourselves, if no-one else) to consider ourselves the best damn thing to ever happen.
When we help someone get their car out of of a snow-bound ditch, for one brief instant, we are the center of that person's universe.
When we teach a child to ride a bike, we are heroes.
When we create a work of art, bake a cake, give of ourselves, we are not specks of anything.
When we return home and see that look in the eyes of a significant other, we become the world for that person.
Sorry about the rant, but if I refuse to accept that "we're not worthy, we're not worthy" bullshit from the religious fanatics, there's no way I can accept it from a self-described atheist.
Very well said, Gordon. To me, the meaning all comes from connections with other people and nature. What's the difference if there's a larger point?
We're fortunate to be here and life can be pretty damn good, so why not focus on making it so rather than worrying about some esoteric meaning.