Pretty much every atheist or humanist I know has gotten this question. It’s often asked in a smug, passive-aggressive way by religious believers who seem to think it’s a real zinger, a deal-breaker of a question that we’ve somehow never contemplated. But it’s sometimes asked in all sincerity, by religious believers who genuinely can’t comprehend what meaning itself could even mean without a divine creator handing it to us from on high. And of course, we humanists ask it ourselves. We ask it of each other—and answer it for each other—when we’re presenting a positive, public face of happy, ethical, meaningful atheism. And we ask it of ourselves in private, in all sincerity, in our long dark nights of the soul-less. The thorny question of life’s meaning isn’t magically answered by a belief in God—but it doesn’t magically disappear when we let go of that belief, either.
When humanists consider this question of meaning without God, of what gives us meaning and how we create it, we often answer with The Big Things. Love. Art. Marriage and family. Friendship. Community. Charity work. Making the world a better place. The never-ending search for knowledge. All of which are awesome; all of which are central parts of how I create meaning in my own life.
But I’d like to add a few things to that list.