In my efforts to discover the true meaning of life, I keep thinking about the differences between the principles of atheists and theists. The former professes that there is nothing beyond this and therefore whatever we do we either get punished or rewarded for it in this life but entirely within our control with no consequences beyond death. The latter professes that of everything we do in this life, we’ll reap the rewards or punishment in full in the after-life, whilst also benefiting, or being required to persevere in this life, which ultimately adds to the rewards in the after-life.
If we are to assume that the atheists are right, I can’t help but wonder how that would play out because there’s so many more questions that arise as to the purpose of life. If we only had this lifetime to worry about, then why restrain ourselves at all? I mean, if I go off the deep end and abuse, molest and destroy anyone and everything at whim, why should I bother about the repercussions if I believe that there is no accountability for a life poorly lived except whatever physical pain, suffering or discomfort is imposed by my fellow man in this lifetime? Why should I entertain the idea of wanting to improve the quality of life of others if any efforts of mine cease to benefit me the moment I die? Why should I care if others live a better life as a result of my efforts? Shouldn’t my efforts then be solely focused on my own gratification since I will only reap the rewards during this lifetime? And since this lifetime will occur only once without any second chances, isn’t it even more critical that I not waste any time in benefiting others unless there’s an inherent benefit for me? This potentially starts a vicious cycle of licentiousness since instant gratification is all we should live for given that we could die at any moment, and given that there would be no account after death.
Now let’s assume that the theists are right.
Suddenly my moral compass would be guided by the dangling carrot of a reward that far outstrips my efforts, and makes my sacrifices seem noble. Because now, I can focus on improving the lives of others, treating them with kindness and all those other wholesome ideals, while living in perpetual hope of attaining a state of bliss that will cause me to instantly regret why I didn’t sacrifice more or apply myself in even greater measures during my lifetime. Suddenly, I need to make the most of this lifetime because it is a precursor to a much greater experience. It’s almost as if I’m earning my credentials to lay claim to a specific level of comfort or pleasure in the next life. So I need to follow specific rules and live within specific guidelines that ultimately work towards determining my quality of life in eternity.
But here’s the real clincher for me. Assuming that the atheists are right, theists would live an equally inconsequential life within the context of the individual, but would inherently be driven to strive more for their fellow man than atheists. To me, the logic dictates that atheism depends on the benevolence of the individual, whereas theism depends on the benevolence of the Creator. Given the state of this world, it’s safe to assume that benevolence in man is a rare commodity, and I call it a commodity because we live in a time when everything has a price. Look at the disparity between the spend and effort to resolve first world problems versus third world problems, and immediately the void of benevolence in man is blatantly obvious.
So how does it end? We already protect profit margins more than we protect life, that’s why we pay trillions in bail outs to help those nations that refuse to live within their means, and count every penny and attach inhumane conditions to the contributions we make to feed a starving child, or provide drinking water to the thirsty. The attribute of humanity itself, except by individual choice, is not a prerequisite to live a life as an atheist, whereas it is a precondition to achieve anything meaningful as a theist. So what’s the point? I guess, for me, the point is that if my life were to cease to have meaning beyond my current existence, I would have lived a more fulfilling life as a theist than an atheist, although it can be argued that the selfless efforts of an atheist are potentially more sincere than those of a theist.
However, judging the intentions of man is impossible, even by the one reflecting on their own intentions, and therefore the measure of sincerity cannot weigh in on this argument. Self-preservation drives most of our motives, and therefore, in the absence of accountability to a greater power, or at least the belief in such, what else would there be to keep us honest and true?