It would be remiss to not comment on the subject of why we are here, usually expressed by asking what the purpose or meaning of life is. The answer from an atheist’s perspective is that there is none. Life is fundamentally meaningless and has no purpose. Certainly, when our sun finally dies, so will all life on our planet. It will be as if we never existed and we will be in the same position as those first aggregations of cosmic dust which eventually became the organisms which populated our planet so many billennia ago at the evolutionary beginnings.
Even though we are still here at the moment, information about most human individuals has been lost in the black hole of time, and the further we go back from the present the less information we have. Individual lives are transient and it is only the species as a whole that makes a lasting impact, but even that is temporary in the time lines of the universe. How many species that we know nothing about have evolved, flourished and gone extinct without leaving a trace? We overestimate our importance when we set up paradigms, religious or otherwise, which place us at the centre. The universe is not homocentric. We are an unimportant consequence of evolution on a world orbiting a small sun on the periphery of one arm of an insignificant galaxy. Our world could end tomorrow and it would make not an iota of difference to the universe. That is our true perspective.
Any meaning to be found in our lives can only come from our own minds. Our lives mean what we say they mean and our purpose in living is whatever we assign to it. It is completely under our own control, both as individuals and as a collective. Since there is no external assignment of meaning, any meaning we do give our lives is as valid as any other. This is an important point to understand. Religionists will often say that without a god to give our lives meaning we are lost and simply floundering about, not knowing what to do. That is not so. The meaning those religionists say comes from god, does not. It has been assigned by a man, perhaps several men over the ages, and is believed to be the purpose by many individuals. That is the point: belief in the validity of the meaning that we say is to be the purpose of our lives. To give our own lives meaning we simply need to accept that we control what that meaning should be and accept our own capacity to assign whatever purpose we choose, whether religious or secular.
This does not give license to justify behaviour which interferes with any other person’s right to live their life as they see fit, nor does it justify compelling others to live according to the purpose we have chosen for ourself, but if enough individuals have similar goals they could easily get together to accomplish those goals. However, reasons for living are not cast in stone and there is no reason at all why they could not be adjusted, or changed altogether, as circumstances merit.
To make it plain, since it may be thought that I am rejecting any religious basis for this, any meaning we assign to our own lives is valid. That includes a belief that there is a god controlling the universe who has a purpose for us. I do not believe that is so, but anyone who is convinced that it is may, of course, live according to it with as much liberty as someone like me can live according to the belief that it is not so.
Difficulties may arise here as some spiritually minded people feel that their purpose in life is to convince others that the beliefs they have are the only tenable beliefs and that the others should join their group. Whether we refer to these as missionaries, preachers, crusaders, jihadists or something else, and whether we call the activity preaching, converting, proselytising, testifying or witnessing, makes no real difference. The intent is to convince other people to accept another person’s beliefs and become a member of the group to which they belong. Usually this is by conviction, discussing various subjects with them using an external reference guide, often a type of scripture or a respected spiritual leader’s writings and opinions, until they become convinced the one teaching them is correct.
Sometimes it is coerced, forced conversion under threat of dire consequences if conversion does not take place. In the latter case the person who converts may not become a believer but just go through the motions necessary to avoid the punishment threatened. The advantage to the proselytiser is that they then have an opportunity to indoctrinate young children in the future for many generations, a large proportion of whom will become sincere believers. This approach has been very successful in the Americas, although there has been a resurgence of aboriginal spirituality in recent years.
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