Atheism and meaning of life
One day I took a bath early in the morning. After I was dressed and ready, mom asked me to do puja, since I never did it on my own and rarely bathed early enough. I didn’t want to, and she said do it anyway. I claimed puja needs belief to have any effect, and it can’t be forced. She said do it anyway.
That was back when I was in class 11(or 10?). I’ve never been a theist in the classical sense. Still, back then, I did believe in some form of a higher power that enforced Karma, kept the good going, punished the evil, and kept running the world fairly and justly. I visualized it as a form of a supernatural energy field that took care of the world, like our Electromagnetic field.
In the years that followed, I kept reading new and better books and articles. I read about the nature of belief and faith and how they form. You see, humans have this innate distaste for uncertainty and ignorance. They need to know why stuff happens. Imagine you are an ancient Greek and witness a solar eclipse. You don’t know why the fuck the sun gets covered by some mysterious orb on seemingly random days. There’s uncertainty and ignorance. You want to fill that gap. So, you theorize that the crop god is angry and ate the sun. He needs a sacrifice of a lamb to release the sun. You can attribute all eclipses to that god, that higher power who takes care of everything, and sleep in peace yourself.
In a similar fashion, I had gaps in my understanding of a lot of worldly phenomena, including but not limited to evolution, creation of universe and stars, the existence of religions, etc. And so my belief in my form of god held for a while. I needed that to fill that ignorance. As my understanding grew over the years, or as I found better explanations than the existence of a God energy field, there were lesser and lesser ignorances left. (I’m not claiming to be an all-knowing person by any means if that’s what you’re thinking)
And so it was a minute and gradual process by which one day I lost my belief in any form of god. I like to believe the final nail in the coffin was the day I read about the quote,
which was etched at a wall of Auschwitz concentration camp. Then I read this.
Read about Auschwitz if you think this is an exaggeration. This was my final reminder that there’s no hand protecting good from evil. It’s us, alone, together.
When the intense restlessness and activity surrounding the 1st year slowly winded down, the existential question came nagging. You see, from a brutal rational standpoint, our lives don’t matter to the universe. Better people have put this in better words. But the gist is this: Whatever most of us do won’t matter in 100 years. Whatever the ‘best’ of us do won’t matter in a million years. So why live or do anything at all?
In this, I envy the theists. I used to take pride in my atheism. Now not so much. There’s no going back. Theists have their beliefs to fall into in times of crisis. Atheists who haven’t figured it out(which I’m confident is the vast majority of atheists), myself included, are beating their hands frantically trying to find something they like, something that gives them meaning. I haven’t found it yet. Not entirely at least.
What I’ve figured are things that don’t work, and things that seem to work.
What’s the most obvious answer to meaningless? Pursue a life of instant gratification. Spend your whole life doing whatever you feel like. Don’t care for others, don’t take responsibility. Say whatever you want. Work only hard enough so you can comfortably sit about eating what you want and drink your fill and watch what you want. This is a life of expedience and doesn’t look like the best way forward. Not to me.
Escapist attitude doesn’t work either. Trying to cover up the meaninglessness by continuous mental stimulation, be it parties, binging shows or books, youtube, news, facebook and co, shopping, trying to search for the ideal relationship, or even furiously studying and working in don’t work. This was what I’ve been doing. Not to say I’m against any of these activities in general.
I went through many books, videos, and articles and talked to many people, searching for that meaning. That’s all I can do, can’t I? Keep looking?
In particular, one idea did help a lot, from the book, 12 rules for life. Ideas are to an extent, from the book. Words are my own.
Life is, practically speaking, chaos and suffering. If we don’t do anything, by default, we degenerate into our worst forms and the world with us. Its the constant effort by billions of humans that keep entropy in check and keep humanity alive and thriving. We keep talking what’s wrong with the world: murders, rape, war, poverty, lies, harassment, discrimination, epidemics, etc. Not to turn a blind eye towards them, but we don’t realize how so many things are working brilliantly in all that mess. Every institution: educational, corporate, government, societal, is made by lone humans. It’s a miracle, so many of them work together to keep the world alive and moving. Some groups work very well, and some not so much, but most of them function.
So, how about a life dedicated to boldly go forward and take some of the weight of the world into our hands. A life where we learn and solve problems and create things for all people to use and appreciate. A life where we also enjoy the art and creation of others, in reasonable limits. A life where we expand ourselves by new experiences. A life where we engage in meaningful talks with one another and talk of the subtle events and nuances that make up our lives. A life not solely focused on getting better but focused on making the world better, from where making yourself capable comes naturally. A life where we bravely raise our voices and stand against injustice and evil. It is a life where we respect others and their views, but at the same time are unafraid to boldly put forward our opinions, especially when we disagree. A life where we are aware of the people in our neighborhood and around us through the day, and try our fill to cheer them up. A life where we’re unafraid to articulate our own desires and beliefs and test them for feasibility and truth. A life where we aren’t intimidated by the challenging and unknown but try our best to conquer it so that we are more capable when the world needs us.
This idea has been the most enticing for me, and I believe this is the right way forward. I’m still in the process of completely internalizing this. I’m counting on it to lay rest to my frantic search for meaning.