Myth: Atheists find life meaningless
When Jason deconverted, I don’t think I bought a lot of the common misconceptions about atheists or atheism. Most seemed kind of silly to me. But I admit, this was one of the few that gave me pause and made me wonder if it had some teeth.
I think this is because, in a round-about way, there is an element of truth to it. And that small kernel of truth makes the whole thing seem true.
The problem lies in the word “meaning.” I would suggest that while religious and non-religious people are using the same word, we do not use it in the same way. And as happens with words when they are used differently, we can end up with some fairly substantial misunderstandings.
Generally, when Christians are speaking about life having meaning, there is a grander notion behind it. We were formed by God and we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). There is also the idea that God as a plan for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11). Through these and other verses, we see an inherent meaning in life given to us by God. If God has a plan for us, clearly our lives have meaning.
Because atheists eschew the notion of a divine plan, they would not use “meaning” in the same way. Instead, we are here by chance, we exist, we die. There is no inherent significance to being a human any more than there is any inherent significance in being a bacteria or blade of grass. Our time on earth is short and this is the one life that we are given. They will often state that there is no objective meaning to life.
This has led a number of Christians to believe that atheists find life to be meaningless. That without some sort of imposed purpose, there can be no meaning. This was taken to it’s more extreme conclusion in this billboard from Answers in Genesis a few years back:
The message is that without God, one is less likely to value life. Rather than finding life worth living, those without God are more likely to destroy that around them.
However, I have not experienced this “life is meaningless” attitude among any of the atheists that I have met.
Instead, I have found people who, because they believe that this is their one shot at life, they must make the most of it. Because they do not see life as having an objective meaning, or a meaning that is imposed upon it through God’s plan, they will search out meaningful relationships with others. They will find meaning in growing some food to share with their friends. They will discover meaning in a piece of music that stirs them or a bit of writing that makes them think. They will marvel at the intricacies of a unique human fingerprint or the vastness of outer space.
Those of us who are Christians find meaning in these same things. Close friendships. Good food. Powerful art. Natural wonders. Denying that one can live a meaningful life apart from faith denies much of our common experience and humanity. And that denial deprives all of us of a more meaningful life.
Next Week: Atheists are uninformed about religion
- I’m one Christian and my pool of atheist friends is not vast. If you want to know about what an atheist believes, ask them. Daniel at The Barking Atheist will be co-blogging with me for this series and he is as committed as I am to having a good conversation between Christians and atheists. Stop by his place for additional thoughts on each of these topics!
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