Even if there really is some force somewhere out there in the universe that fits some definition of the word “God,” that doesn’t change the fact that all of the religions humans have written into books are mythologies. They’re based solely on ideas human being made up, not divine intervention.
You shouldn’t cling to a belief system that isn’t based in reality. That’s immature. Part of growing up is understanding reality and acting accordingly. The reason being sane is mature is because thoughts and actions based on reality are more meaningful and more productive than thoughts and actions based on fantasy.
Granted, at least mythology is something. It feels safe and secure. It gives your life some kind of structure and purpose even if it’s twisted. Like a drug, once you get used to it, the prospects of living without it can be terrifying. Without it, you can easily feel completely lost, like you’re doomed to walk the earth with no direction, purpose, hope or motivation until you wear out and die… for no reason.
That’s a legitimate concern that everyone who stops believing in mythology has to face. What do you do with your life if you’re not basing your decision on an instruction book? These questions may seem dizzying at first, but there are answers to life’s questions, and a lot of them are basic common sense.
If you’ve left religion and are feeling lost, here are a few things you could be doing to bring structure and meaning to your life outside of religion.
1: Commit to finding your own answers.
If you’ve stopped believing in mythology I would strongly advise against resting on your laurels and spending the rest of your life patting yourself on the shoulder for figuring out that the universe wasn’t created by a bi-polar unicorn as you go about your business simply commuting back and forth to a job you don’t really like and spending your evenings watching television, giving yourself diabetes, and popping out children to make you feel like at least something good and long-term came out of your life. Granted, going with the flow and ticking off all the boxes society tells you to is still preferable to believing in mythology, but there’s more to life than that.
If you’ve stopped believing in mythology, then the first thing you should consider doing is donning the responsibility of figuring out life for yourself. To this, you might reply, “But nobody knows or will ever figure out the meaning of life. I’m certainly no Socrates. So where does that leave me?”
Even if it’s true that you can’t conclusively prove the meaning of life, you’re still here. You still need to figure out some kind of philosophical framework that explains what you should do here despite the fact that you can’t know the ultimate meaning of life. To this, you might reply, “But that’s so vague and really hard.”
To that, I would reply, “Welcome to the universe, life and growing up.” That’s the hand we’ve been dealt. The sooner you stop complaining about it and start addressing it the sooner you can chisel out some meaningful and useful answers.
To this, you might reply, “You still haven’t explained why I should do any of that. What’s the point if we just live in an inanimate universe and that’s it? Why should I bother accepting this supposed responsibility of becoming a philosopher?”
To that I would reply, “Have you ever looked up at the night sky? The universe is a mind-blowingly vast yet intricate place. It’s nothing short of awesome. And the fact that organic life exists at all, let alone organic life capable of contemplating its own existence and deciding its own fate, makes the universe all the more amazing. Life is so surreal and amazing we should all just be sitting around all day staring at our hands in perplexed awe asking ourselves, “How is this even possible?”
Life is the rarest, grandest adventure. It’s not something to be mourned, feared or ignored. It’s there for the taking. Everything good is laying out there before you. It’s up to you to take it. You’re responsible for embracing that responsibility in the same way that if someone gives you a free all-expense-paid trip to the best amusement park in the world, you have a responsibility to not let that opportunity slip through your fingers. It’s not like you have anything better to do.
You can’t make the most out of life if you don’t understand it. So if you’re feeling lost, a great place to start getting your bearings is at school… or anywhere you can learn something new.
2: Define the value of human life.
If the prospect of figuring out life for yourself seems overwhelming, it may just be because you’re making it harder than it has to be. The corner-stone of any overall life philosophy is the value of human life. Once you establish what that is then a lot of things will fall in place. So figure that out. Then write your answer on a piece of paper and stick it to your refrigerator door with a magnet.
To this, you might reply, “Oh, well that’s easy. Life is infinitely valuable.”
To that, I would reply, “See. That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
But make sure you articulate a reason why life is valuable. The more concrete your reasoning is, the more useful it will be. The vaguer it is, the less it will mean anything to you, and the easier it will be to act contrary to that belief.
3: Create a logical system of ethics.
Once you’ve established the value of life, then you can ask yourself what logical implications that has on how you should treat others as well as yourself. The more you explore that question, the more guidance you’ll have in life. You can and should constantly question your answers and update your code of ethics. The more you improve your system of ethics, the more useful it will be. The less you define it, the more haphazard of a life you condemn yourself to.
Some of the ideas you come up with may already be written down in one or more mythological texts. Feel free to take those concepts and ignore the bad ones. Consider every idea you find regardless of the source, but don’t take or reject any of them on faith.
Write your conclusions down. That forces you to articulate them, and if you can look at all of your ideas on paper it will be easier to update them, fill in the gaps, see where they’re going and add to them, consolidate them, share them and get feedback on them.
4: Achieve self-actualization.
Even if we don’t know the meaning of life, we still know we exist. We’re proud of the fact that we’re the only beings in the universe who know we exist, can articulate that fact to ourselves and have unique names and identities. We’re proud to be alive, and we’re proud to own our own identity. Who you are is priceless, and you knew that before you ever learned to read. The thing about that is, if it matters who you are then it matters who you become. You have the potential to become more you, and that’s a big deal.
The more you grow and find/create yourself the easier, more enjoyable and meaningful life will become. Growth is its own reward, and it affects every aspect of your reality. After all, your mind is your reality. Everything you know and experience happens in your mind. When you improve your mind you effectively improve your entire universe. If you want your life to be ten times better than it is now, then learn ten times more knowledge. Reflect on your life ten times more. Ask ten times more questions. Become ten times more self-actualized, and your life will get ten times better. Even if there are external forces like shitty bosses and unmanageable bills that are making your life suck, you’ll be ten times more likely solve those problems once and for all if you become ten times more self-actualized.
If there really is any such thing as a soul that maintains your unique perspective after death, then it must be based on your identity… or at least, that’s what we hope. We hope that the conscious sum of our identity and perspective continues to exist after we die. Well, if you’re so worried about what happens to your soul after you die then you should be putting an equal amount of emotion into cultivating who you are before you die and don’t have any more chances to improve the one thing you expect to take to eternity.
5: Do what you will, harm no one.
What do you do with your life if there are no ultimate answers and we were all born doomed to wander the earth so lost we don’t even know how lost we are until we finally die a meaningless death that is unaffected by our mortal deeds?
Well, have you ever tried swimming? If you’ve never been swimming, it’s pretty fun. You should try it. If you have tried it, and you liked it then you should think about doing it again. Sex is also good. I highly recommend safe sex. And if you ever make it to Italy, try the gelato. It’s to die for.
If you’re still looking for something to do, there are plenty of rewarding hobbies available on earth as well. If you liked swimming you could get into scuba diving. Other things that a lot of people find really rewarding are: hiking, skydiving, drawing, painting, sculpting, making music, theater, construction, teaching, designing… the list goes on.
Life is here to be lived, and there are a lot of fun, rewarding things to do out there. Go do them. That’s living. That’s where happiness comes from. You don’t need to be a prophet or a professional philosopher to know that it’s important to enjoy the world we were given.
More importantly, having new experiences and doing the things you love is half the process of finding/creating yourself. So if you don’t know what else to do in life, go have some fun. You might find yourself along the way.
Just don’t hurt anyone. You may have the might, but you don’t have the right.
6: Make the world a better place.
If you just can’t make heads or tails of life and are completely confused about what to believe or do, the very least you could do is try to make the world a better place. And it’s a safe course of action if you believe there’s any chance that reincarnation, karma or the afterlife are real. If you’re gripped with fear over what happens after you die, you should consider exerting that amount of emotion into making the world a better place. If you think the answers may be out there but we’re just too primitive to grok them, you should consider devoting some of your time and energy to making the world a better place for future generations to set them up to fulfill humanity’s potential. If you value life at all you should devote some of your life to making the world a better place.