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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Yes, You Can Give Yourself Purpose – Response To A Theist


Sometimes, I feel like Spider-Man or Batman, just sort of drifting over the city, looking for people who might need help. Except, in my case, I’m surfing through the blogosphere for people misrepresenting what an atheist is and what we believe. It’s pretty much a neverending torrent of theists assuring their readers they know what atheism is and who atheists are and have some form of authority on the topic. They utter idiocies like, “according to evolution, rape is okay!” or “how can something come from nothing?” I spot the offending theist (heck, sometimes it’s an atheist), swoop down in my cape and throw a few correcting roundhouse kicks.

Today, the offender is a theist explaining what the purpose of life is. This is a tired topic, a relic that should be laid to rest. Purpose is self-driven but this theist is stuck in the stone age, still looking to the sky for his own purpose. Of course, in order to explain this, Jon must first address atheists and how they’re wrong (because I know, when I define my own life’s purpose, I have to first cut down a random group of people):

For the atheist denies the existence of God and therefore creation, attributing our existence to random occurrence.

We don’t deny the existence of God. We merely lack a belief in his existence. When we have reason enough to believe, which, for most atheists would require some demonstrable evidence, we would accept his existence as true.

We also do not attribute our existence to random occurrence. We attribute the diversity in species, and therefore the existence of our own species, to evolution. For some reason, you only see two options: God did it or it was “random chance”. We’re here to tell you, there is a third option: evolution. Evolution is not random and has nothing to do with chance. It’s about what works in an environment. Sure, mutations occur randomly, but whether or not they are successful mutations or the sort that dies out after a few generations, is anything but chance. The success of these mutations depends entirely upon how suitable they are for the environment in which they occurred. The mutations that reduce species suitability to their environment will die off, precisely because that mutation makes life more difficult and deadly for said species. Dead members of a species cannot reproduce and pass on the mutation in question, and so, that mutation comes to an end, eventually. This is anything but random. This is quite precisely selective.

we are equal to every other living thing on this planet, be that a dog or a sewer rat, if neither it nor we were made, but evolved, then our life is no greater than it

Correct. On a scale of one to Aleister Crowley, how uncomfortable does that make you? For me, I feel honoured to be amongst the other earthly species and view each and every creature, tiny and massive, as worthy of its life, of its existence and of its own purpose. I wouldn’t wish the guilt I feel after killing a spider on anyone. I know they do good. I know they curb the fly population and help get rid of mosquitos. I know all of this, but my terror over these eight-legged beasts forces me to see it as a kill-or-be-killed situation and I kill the thing before it can take me down. But the guilt… Jesus balls, the guilt afterwards is crippling. It’s a cognitive dissonance I likely will never get over. The point is, though, that just because we’re an intelligent species, it doesn’t make us more valuable than all other life. Life is a system reliant on all parts functioning in order for us all to move forward. Even the sewer rat has his purpose: when New York City ended its feral cat problem, their rat population exploded and when their rat population exploded, they bombed the city with rodent poison and sterilized as many rats as they could. When the rat population finally dwindled, the city experienced an uncontrollable bed bug problem. We are not above rats or below rats. Instead, we are all functioning parts of an ecosystem that has, over billions of years, worked to balance itself out. We are, each of us, a cog in the machine that keeps life going.

Our purpose is completely what we decide it to be because there is nothing better to do with our life then what we decide to do!

You’re saying that blindly and unquestioningly following orders of a deity that can’t be bothered to show himself to us is better than taking the reigns of one’s own life, making good choices and moving forward via no one’s efforts but your own? Being accountable to an old myth you can’t verify is true is somehow more meaningful than holding yourself accountable? That, essentially, being babysat by some celestial guard dog gives your life more meaning than taking control of it yourself?

Oh. Dear.

Right and wrong are only what we decide they are because there is no higher authority to tell us differently.

Right, there is no higher authority to tell us differently, however, there are outward influences that do. For instance, after New York City decimated the rat population, as in our earlier example, and they found themselves with a serious bed bug problem, they could deduce that perhaps killing all the rats is not such a good idea. Similarly, most people have felt sadness, anger and other negative emotions before and allows us, based on our experience, to recognize it in other people. It also helps us to be able to make fairly accurate predictions regarding what sorts of actions on our part may cause anger or sadness in others, and helps us to avoid those. This is what we like to call empathy: when you know something doesn’t feel so great when someone does it to you, and so you try not to do it to other people (or animals) yourself. Yes, we make our own decisions as a species regarding right and wrong, and those decisions change as we gain more knowledge. The more we know about the world around us, the more we understand what actions, laws, mores and taboos are going to move us, as a species, forward with rich, fulfilling lives, and which will hold us back. Morality, like life, is an ever-evolving thing and that’s kinda why your holy book doesn’t cut it anymore. It calls for things like killing witches. It’s just a textbook full of outdated ideas that had its day and needs to be retired. In fact, it’s probably fairly likely that you, Jon, don’t take it word for word. In other words, you make your own choices regarding which rules set out in your holy book are good for you and which are bad. You decide for yourself what right and wrong is, based on outward influences, just like I do.

To question the purpose of life is to say that there is purpose, and if there is purpose that implies that there is a plan, and if there is a plan then there must be a planner! And if there is a planner then who are we to decide what we do with this life?

Who are we to decide? The planners. We are the planners. I plan my own purpose and you plan yours.

Proverbs 16:9 says “The heart of a man plans his path, but the Lord brings order to his steps.”(Translation my own). This verse shows us something. That we must have the Lord in order to have order in life!

According to your book, none of which I believe.

I have purpose, Jon. As do my fellow atheists. Yes, it is self-determined. I look around me and see my kids and my husband and my dog. I see a beautiful world and pages of ebony words on ivory pages and I see a purpose in all of that. I didn’t need a book to tell me I want to do right by my kids and give them a great life. I didn’t need some spectre in the clouds judging me to know that I love writing more than just about anything that doesn’t breathe. I don’t need the threat of eternal torture to want the best for my fellow humans, animals and the planet we inhabit. All I needed was to live down here on Earth, find myself grounded and pay attention to what’s going on around me.

My purpose is my own. My morality is my own. I am accountable to myself. And yet somehow, I still manage to do good. I take credit for it. There is no threat of hell for me and I still manage to love and care and work hard. You, Jon, need a magic man in the sky to be able to do the things I do on my own and yet, you write as though your method is better. You’ve done all but come straight out and say that morality and purpose is not something you can handle on your own. The problem is, that you’ve assumed we all have the same difficulty. We don’t, Jon. Us atheists can handle purpose and morality just fine without a god.

There is a slight twist, though, Jon. Something that might make you feel uncomfortable but it’s still the truth: so can you. You can handle purpose and morality just fine without a god, too.

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