Peter Watson: The Age of Atheists: How We Live Without God

UnknownThe other day I presented a review, at the Albany Public Library, of Peter Watson’s book, The Age Of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God. For the full text of the talk, click here. And here is the concluding bit (slightly edited):

So how does one live without God? This book doesn’t give a single answer. But I will give you my humanist summation.

First of all, to read this book, you might think we’re obsessed over the meaning of life. But what life is mostly about is going to the store, washing the dishes, working at your job, gossiping about the foibles of other people, and so forth. God or no-God doesn’t enter into any of that. I believe the true meaning of life is in what we actually spend most of it doing. And you can live it just fine without ever pondering some deeper meaning.images

Watson quotes Dawkins: “do any of us really tie our life’s hopes to the ultimate fate of the cosmos anyway?” And I’ll add a line from Viktor Frankl, who wrote Man’s Search For Meaning: “What matters is not the meaning of life in general, but the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”

And there is no deeper meaning; there is no transcendent aspect to existence; no cosmic purpose. Only the purposes that we as individuals choose.

In doing so, we must ask ourselves: What really matters? Now, you can come up with a lot of answers, but they all finally boil down to one thing: the feelings experienced by beings capable of feeling. Nothing can ultimately matter except insofar as it affects such feelings. You might say, for example, that the health of the planet matters. But why so, if there were no feeling beings affected? Without them, even the existence of the universe wouldn’t matter. Who would it matter to?

images-1So here is our purpose in life: more positive feelings and less negative ones; more pleasure and satisfaction, less pain and suffering. In your own life, and then in other lives. In my own life, my primary source of it is my marriage to my wonderful wife Therese, but there is much more besides. Get it wherever you can: in love, food, sex, wonder, sunshine, music, laughter, ideas, friendship, play, excitement, beauty; or collecting coins; or matchbook covers. And even in library talks. Squeeze the fruit dry.

True, life is limited. But that makes it all the more precious. What being dead will be like is hard to grasp, but I prefer to ponder over what being alive is like. And I don’t take it for granted; there was no cosmic necessity that I should exist at all; I consider it a supreme gift.

We live in hope and striving for a better world, a more inclusive community, with more liberty and justice, more happiness and less pain. Unknown-1We recognize that we human beings are all in the same boat, all of us facing a life that is often challenging, always finite, and struggling to make of it the best we can.

That gives us all the meaning and purpose we need.


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8 Responses to “Peter Watson: The Age of Atheists: How We Live Without God”

  1. Gregg Millett Says:

    Beautiful! and did you mention awe?

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    Aw, shucks, no.

  3. Dr Emily Nolfo Says:

    I am really enjoying your posts.


  4. Herb Van Fleet Says:

    Excellent post. Reminds me of the late great paragon of Humanism, Paul Kurtz, who underscores your comments, “The meaning of life is not to be discovered only after death in some hidden, mysterious realm; on the contrary, it can be found by eating the succulent fruit of the Tree of Life and by living in the here and now as fully and creatively as we can.”

  5. rationaloptimist Says:

    Thank you for quoting Paul Kurtz — who “blurbed” my “Rational Optimism” book.

  6. Enjoying New Zealand Says:

    “We live in hope and striving for a better world, a more inclusive community, with more liberty and justice, more happiness and less pain. We recognize that we human beings are all in the same boat, all of us facing a life that is often challenging, always finite, and struggling to make of it the best we can.”

    Completely agree that that is how “we” live as people who have a basic common moral and ethical foundation. I have a question for you from a practical POV: How do you propose responding to those fomenting the various wars/internal conflicts and those whose sense of liberty applies only to themselves or their group and not to “us”? Thanks for your further thoughts.

  7. rationaloptimist Says:

    Yes, if only everyone in the world thought as I do! But seriously, this is something I’ve repeatedly addressed on this blog, as in the case of Israel & the Palestinians recently, and particularly with regard to the Muslim world generally, which is centuries behind in gaining a humanistic perspective. Obviously, they cannot be bludgeoned into it. But people, and cultures, do change. I believe that our way is better, for people’s lives, and we should not be reluctant to so argue in the marketplace of ideas. Over time, better ideas will prevail.

  8. Gregg Millett Says:

    A better world? I was wishing I had something to say — but didn’t — until a bit of reflection — I’ll say this. We need to soften our boundaries — family, friends, nation, ethnicity, race, ideology — toward the family of man concept. I think we’ve come a long way from our small and very violent tribal ancestry and I think we are in a time of radical opening up — the internet, social media, travel — I have friends in Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, England and China which would not exist without the internet. And on the local level I have friends which I would not have if it were not for an openly inviting social organization, Singles Outreach. And religion, in general, is a BIG barrier! oops, and so are national boundaries!!

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