Today I got an email message from someone who asked a great question about finding contentment with an atheistic world view. I dashed off a response right away, because I loved how this person described their quandary, and how clearly their youthful angst was expressed.
Speaking of love, which the person said was their "entire meaning in life," you'll see that I didn't mention love in my reply. I thought about this only after I'd sent my response.
It isn't that love isn't important to me, or that it isn't a big part of my life.
I guess it is more of a backdrop to my life, rather than something I consciously am aware of in the foreground. And as you can read below, I mentioned Selflessness and Service as two themes that are central to my atheist world view -- both of which seem closely akin to love, since they involve a diminution of self-centeredness.
Anyway, here's the message I got, and my reply.
The message I got
Hi Brian, I'm new to your blog, but I'm glad I found it. I grew up nonreligious but still found myself to be the only person I know to question the nature of the universe as I do. I don't know if our beliefs are exactly the same, but I expect they're similar enough that you could give me advice as to reconciling them.
I've tried to believe. No minister or priest I've given the third degree to would believe that, but I needed them to convince me. Even the ones that said they could prove their claims eventually told me my heart was hardened and prayed that Jesus would soften it. I'm not a Christian, that I've concluded, but I haven't given up on believing in God. Maybe just because I still need to believe in something.
Love, or the illusion of it, is my entire meaning in life. The realization that true altruism doesn't exist, that emotions are biologically wired into us for survival, and no relationship we form will survive death, is breaking me down. I don't need to believe humans are special or the last evolution (we're clearly not), but I'm afraid to believe in absolutely nothing.
My need to believe in these things is impeding my ability to come to true conclusions on the known and unknown. I'm wondering how you were able to come to grips with an atheistic world view and still find contentment.
You ask a great question at the end of your message. When I was about your age, actually a bit younger, I was heavy into existentialism, Sartre, Camus, and such. But after a year or two I grew tired of the message that it is up to us humans to find meaning in existence. That just seemed so damn exhausting. Why couldn’t meaning be given to me, free of charge?
I’m a political activist in Salem politics. Last night a City Council candidate I support seemingly won her race. Her campaign chair emailed me this morning that what I did was key to her being elected. I almost cried, because it felt so good to do something that wasn’t about me, but about someone else who could make a difference in our part of the world.