It was a mantra during the final day of the est Training thirty years ago, “Your life is empty and meaningless.” There are a multitude of reactions to this statement; the most obvious being denial: The speaker is a liar and I have value. In an unexamined world, the denial is elected president for execution of the personal life plan. That’s all right if you don’t mind being ignorant and blind about your motivation. Many, many people like it that way, just like being plugged into the Matrix. That’s your vision (even if it is seriously myopic), keep it. It’s of little consequence by itself.
The nebulous reaction is pure freedom and challenge. If there is nothing required, what can I do that will be the most consequential? Oh, that is a question that few get to address. The chains do not disappear so much as that they now lay differently about the psyche. The landscape is no longer about barriers, but obstacles. Navigation in this same new world has changed, forever. Yet most get lost, at least for awhile. There is much clinging to old ways.
Some settle into agnosticism; agnostics aren’t committed. They’re holding out for more concrete, indisputable data, but have rejected the general dogma. In many ways, this is a more enlightened, responsible approach than that of the rabid atheist that is punching everywhere at anything out of pain and frustration. And both are holding on to old values in the face of solid evidence. The truly disorienting question after you face the meaninglessness of life, is how do we reframe our lives, our goals and efforts, without a concrete ethical system? The best answer is the hardest to live with: you don’t have to. You are free to change your mind, recommit to anything at any time.
The true atheist, much like a Buddhist, isn’t for or against anything. There is no doctrine to be believed. There are no services or gatherings or deacons (rabbis, mullahs) to look up to. You are alone, separate, yet part of the world you observe and participate in. What you do with that has no script, no expectations, no standards. The only values are the ones you allow or the ones you impose, it’s completely arbitrary. You are free to accept or reject conventional agreements including creating your own language. The world and your participation in it is wide open.
The caveat is that you get one chance and there are no mulligans. There is no support system and when you fall, it will hurt very much. If that’s too heavy to carry, join a church, plug back in. It doesn’t matter.