Thursday, May 31, 2012

From the Search Logs: Religion and the Meaning of Life

So there I was, looking over the analytics for this blog, when I ran across this:
how would atheists respond to religion as a way of finding meaning in their lives
Someone stumbled onto my blog using that as a search string. Since they probably didn't find the sort of answer they were looking for, and since I am by nature always trying to help, here's my answer.

First of all, I can't speak for all atheists - and I wouldn't if I could. It's like trying to speak for all Christians, or all Buddhists; the term encompasses a wide variety of views. But, okay, how would this particular atheist respond to religion as a way for someone to find meaning in their life?

I'd say, "Does it work for you? If so, wonderful."

See, here's the thing: people are different. What works for me, might not work for you - and vice-versa. As an irreligious person, what I mainly want from religious people is acceptance of the fact that I'm not religious - not because I'm angry, in rebellion, or too attached to my sinful ways, but because in a fundamental way, religious belief doesn't make sense to me. It doesn't work for me; I don't seem to be wired for it, if that makes any sense. And if I'm going to ask for that acceptance from religious folks, it only makes sense for me to accept that their religious beliefs work for them, that they make sense to them.

There are, of course, some limits and conditions on my willingness to be accepting. To the extent that your faith helps you personally, and encourages you to right action towards other people, I'm in favor of it. To the extent that your religion encourages you to do things that are harmful to yourself or others, I'm opposed to it. (In most cases, I can't see that it particularly does either one; it's just a part of who that person is.) So if someone is practicing a particularly toxic sort of religion, I'm perfectly willing to try to argue them out of it... but the goal isn't to argue them out of their religious beliefs; it's to argue them out of hurting people. And if you feel like you can't quit hurting people without giving up your religion, then I have to ask if what you have is religion worth keeping.

But as far as being a way of finding meaning in life? Go for it.


  1. You can't see that religion encourages people to do things that are harmful?
    Hmmm...perhaps you need to get out more.

  2. Correction: I can't see that all religion inherently encourages people to do things that are harmful.

    You can't see that some religion encourages people to do things that are good and helpful? Hmmm... perhaps you need to get out more.

  3. I'm sort of in the same boat as you, Michael. I don't see what meaning religion has that can't be found in the secular world, but that's . . . you know, maybe part of why I'm athiest? I understand that my experience isn't true for everyone, but it's difficult to understand. But it's the same part that just doesn't understand why people do not find microbiology the most exciting thing EVER: you accept that some people would just rather wade through Hegel, admire the folks who are willing to sacrifice themselves on the altar of biochemistry so you can do your experiments on awesome stuff, and move on with doing what feeds your soul.

  4. The third comment was a different anonymous than the first comment. In case that wasn't totally obvious.

  5. I agree. And from the other side (as a Christian) I say that if you don't find meaning in religion, then what in God's name are you doing at church? Sitting there for hours listening to someone go on about something you don't think is true...

    I'd rather people feel fulfilled, emotionally, spiritually, however you want to put it, than agree with me on some big overall thing. We've only got a limited time on this earth, and when it's up we get all the answers. Until then, I don't much care what your guess is. I just care that you don't insult people who guess differently.


Feel free to leave comments; it lets me know that people are actually reading my blog. Interesting tangents and topic drift just add flavor. Linking to your own stuff is fine, as long as it's at least loosely relevant. Be civil, and have fun!