Thursday, September 03, 2009

Life's Purpose

I promise I'll get back to that Edgar Rice Burroughs/planet Mars thing, but something just came up in an email discussion that I'd like to share.

A fellow atheist asked me, "How do we keep from being depressed believing life has no purpose?"

Here is my reply:

I agree that not having a purpose can be unsettling and depressing. But purpose doesn't require a god. Anyone can declare the purpose of anything they do.

Here's a simple example: yesterday I stopped at a gas station on my way to work. What was the purpose of that? To put air in my car's tires, which were getting a little low. I could have chosen to stop there for any number of different reasons. I could have put it off, or asked my spouse to do it, but I didn't. This was my choice.

You may be thinking, 'hold on, I meant ULTIMATE purpose, not mere transient achievements'.

What's the difference? It's true that the tires will lose pressure again, over time. But it would be silly to say that my visit to the gas station had no purpose, just because the tires won't remain inflated forever. The purpose of the visit was completely valid despite the fact that nothing permanent or 'ultimate' was achieved. Heck, if I'd gotten there and failed to get the tires inflated (because the gas station's air pump was broken, for example) I would STILL have had a valid purpose in going there.

Life is exactly like that. Why are you here? For whatever purpose you decide. Look around - I'm sure you can find something you think needs to be done. When you pick it, that becomes your purpose. It will be a completely valid purpose, even if you change it later, even if it doesn't result in any permanent or 'ultimate' achievement, and even if you wind up utterly failing.

No god could do any better job of choosing a purpose for you than you can choose for yourself. If God Almighty had personally commanded me to get air in my tires, would that have made the purpose of my visit to the gas station any more valid? Of course not. Exactly the same thing would be achieved, and the result would be just as impermanent and just as prone to the risk of complete failure.

Some people do find it easier to see validity in orders they receive from someone they feel is wiser or more important than themselves. Maybe you're like that, and that's fine - you certainly have the right to decide that your purpose in life is to assist some other person, organization, or cause. That's just as valid a purpose as any other that you might choose. But again, no god could provide you with a more valid purpose than any human leader or organization could.

I hope that helps!
-Jeff Dee

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