Many religious people wrongly believe that atheists, secular humanists, and others who don't believe in a personal God (most Buddhists and Taoists fit this category) lack meaning in their lives. Actually, we do.
Most of my friends and relatives are atheists. They live deeply meaningful lives.
In his book, "Finding Purpose in a Godless World," psychiatrist Ralph Lewis explains how an unguided universe contains people who lives caring, loving, purpose-driven lives. Below is a summary of key themes in his book from the final chapter.
I've written a couple of other blog posts about Lewis' book:
"Why God is an illusion, along with other supernatural stuff"
"Why God is a psychological illusion"
Here's the excerpt from Finding Purpose in a Godless World. I want to point out that while Lewis calls our world "random," "unguided" is a better term for the world. Obviously laws of nature aren't random, or they wouldn't be laws. They just don't proceed from the guidance of a God.
A random world -- which according to all the scientific evidence and despite our intuitions is the actual world we live in -- is too often misconstrued as nihilistic, demotivating, or devoid of morality and meaning. My hope is that this book will help people to see the scientific worldview of an unguided, spontaneous universe as awe-inspiring and foundational to building a more compassionate society.
Nonbelievers and doubters of religion, as well as those who remain believers, can be reassured that the increasing trend toward loss of religious faith that is occurring in modern societies is not leading to a generalized loss of morality or to an alienated feeling of purposelessness and meaninglessness.
Far from being nihilistic, the fully naturalist worldview of secular humanism empowers us and liberates us from our irrational fears. With its emphasis on humans having to rely on ourselves and each other, it motivates us to live with a sense of interdependent humanistic purpose. This deepens our feelings of value, engagement, and relatedness.
The secular humanist worldview reminds us that while the universe doesn't care, people do.
We have seen in this book that biological, evolutionary factors can explain how it is that we are inclined toward generally prosocial, cooperative, and motivated behavior. Biological evolution enabled morality and purposive, meaning-oriented human behavior; cultural evolution refined it. We will need to continue to work actively toward this collective goal of more caring societies in order to further strengthen the progress of our species.
If, like me, you started out on this journey with a vague sense that our lives and the universe are somehow directed, then I hope you have experienced this book as a gentle invitation to move beyond the naive, soothing stories we have been telling ourselves about a purposeful universe. I truth you have encountered in its place a solidly science-based, yet deeply humanistic worldview, freed by rationality from neurotic torment.
In countering fears of societal nihilism, this book has walked a fine line, just as I try to do every day with my patients -- a line between cautious optimism and realism.
Societal progress in our increasingly secular modern era has been uneven and faltering; catastrophic derailments have occurred along the way and will always be a risk. But the long-term positive trend toward more compassionate, purpose-driven societies has been strong and unmistakable. Developing more caring societies is a realistic, far from naive project for humanity.
Those who have embraced science, not only as a profession but also as a worldview, tend to be among the most inspired and purpose-driven members of society. It is my hope that the worldview presented in this book might motivate you, valued reader, to become just such a person.