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Atheists & Purpose

Do Atheists & Agnostics Have Purpose & Meaning in Life?


It's common for Christians to denigrate atheists as lacking meaning or purpose in their lives, but surveys indicate that most atheists do feel that they have meaning and purpose in their lives. One survey shows that three-quarters of atheists feel that they are clear about the meaning and purpose of their life; another shows that most atheists and agnostics feel driven to have a clear purpose in life.

It should be just as clear, then, that the popular prejudice about atheists is baseless.

The Barna Group has conducted a number of surveys from January 2005 through January 2007. One of the things they have asked about is whether people are clear about having meaning and purpose in their lives (margin of error: +/- 3.2%):

I'm Clear about the Meaning & Purpose of my Life
  • Atheists & Agnostics: 75%
  • Christians: ?

It's unfortunate that Barna didn't include numbers for Christians or for the general population so they could be compared to the responses from atheists and agnostics. I'm sure Barna does have the numbers and has done the comparisons themselves — they just haven't chosen to share those numbers. Why do you suppose that is?


The Drive to Find Purpose in Life

The Barna Group conducted another survey in May 2008 which asked about a related matter (margin of error: +/- 3.2%):

I Feel Driven to Have a Clear Purpose in Life
  • Atheists & Agnostics: 55%
  • National Average: 77%

It's curious that so many more atheists and agnostics would feel clear about the meaning and purpose in their lives, but a significantly lower number would feel driven to have a clear purpose in life. Why would that be?

Perhaps lots of atheists and agnostics think that they already have a clear purpose without ever having been driven to develop that purpose. Maybe it's just that some atheists find it easy to develop meaning and purpose in their lives — it comes so easy that they don't feel driven to find it.

But why is the national average so much higher? Even with the margin of error, the difference is pretty stark. I suppose it's possible being an atheist or agnostic in America would have a detrimental effect on a person's ability to seek out a purpose in life. Or, if atheists and agnostics are able to find meaning easily without feeling driven to do it, perhaps there's something about atheism or agnosticism which facilitates this.


Finding Peace in Life

Barna has also asked people about whether they feel at peace in their lives, something that could be related to feeling clear about having meaning and purpose in one's life:

I Feel at Peace in My Life
  • Atheists & Agnostics: 67%
  • Christians: 90%

Here Barna does provide numbers for Christians and there is quite a big difference between Christians and nonbelievers. On the one hand it's not a surprise for Christians to feel at peace if they are convinced that they are right about their religion and going to heaven as a result.

On the other hand, Christianity does tend to promote a lot of guilt and it would be a surprise if a lot of Christians didn't feel uneasy because of that. If you feel sure that you'll go to heaven no mater what then you'd still be at peace; if there is any doubt or question, though, there would be a lot of anxiety and not a lot of peace.


Atheists & Agnostics Having Meaning & Purpose

How do you feel about these questions? Can you claim to be clear about the meaning and purpose of your live? Do you generally feel at peace in your life? If these numbers are accurate, it would appear that Christians are at least more likely to feel at peace than atheists or agnostics and might be more likely to feel clear about the meaning and purpose in their lives. Do you think that's true and, if so, what does it mean?

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