Christians ask me less about the rational reasons for atheism than they do about the emotional consequences. They ask me questions like:
- “How can you be happy without God?”
- “Without God, what hope do you have?”
- “What is the meaning to life if everything is just bouncing particles?”
- “How does your life have any purpose without God?”
Frankly, they seem not so interested whether or not atheism is true, but instead whether or not it would be comforting. Understandably, people want a worldview that hugs them warmly and tells them nice stories, not one that demands we face reality for what it is.
But still, these are good questions. Today, I want to address two of them.
Do atheists have less purpose?
Christians believe that the entire history of the universe – covering billions of years of time and billions of light-years of space – was a vast conspiracy to produce us, who have a crucial role in this cosmic play, for which the center stage is an out-of-the-way dustball called Earth.
The life of a Christian quite literally “echoes for eternity.” His actions have eternal consequences. He has a cosmic “calling” on his life from the Creator of the Universe, which tells him what his role is in the most epic battle between good and evil imaginable, played out by earthly creatures and magical spirits for thousands of years.
So yeah, Christians have some serious purpose to their lives.
Do atheists have less purpose than that?
Atheists have less purpose because we accept that our actions will not have eternal consequences. We accept that we are but tiny ants on a dust speck circling a tiny star in a tiny galaxy in an irregular galaxy supercluster amongst millions of other galaxy superclusters. We exist for the blink of an eye, and our influence lasts only a few blinks more.
But there is purpose to an atheist’s life. It’s not like there’s no reason to attend a party just because it will be small and it will end. The difference between Christian purpose and atheist purpose is that atheist purposes might be real.
What is that purpose? It can be many things. I will suggest one major purpose in a minute…
Do atheists have less hope?
Christians have the hope that at the end of time:
- all pain and suffering will end for the righteous
- every evildoer will be punished, every good person rewarded
- those who believed in Jesus will be sent to a place of eternal bliss and reunited with their loved ones
That’s a lot of hope. It’s false hope, but it’s a lot of it. Do atheists have less hope than that?
Atheists have less hope than Christians have in the same way that adults have less hope than young children on Christmas Eve. The adults know that special gifts do not come from a jolly man in the sky with infinite resources. Young children – and Christians – have not yet grasped this.
But this does not mean atheists are without hope. It just means we hope for more realistic goals. It also means we face reality square in the face, figure out how reality works, and use that knowledge to better mankind.
One example is Norman Borlaug. Instead of praying that the hungry would be fed, instead of telling the hungry comforting fantasy stories about eternal bliss, Norman got busy. He got a Ph.D. in plant pathology and genetics, and used his scientific training to figure out how to modify existing plants so that they would produce more food per acre and better resist disease. As a result of his work, poor countries can afford to feed much more of their population on the same amount of land, and Norman’s crops have saved nearly a billion lives.
As an atheist, I have hope that this is the kind of thing humans can achieve if we decide to move beyond superstitious incantations and delightful fantasy stories.
I’m a dreamer. I dream of a better world, and I think we can make a better world if we decide to figure it out, together.