What Kind of Religion Is There for Nonbelievers?

Nonbelievers have often denied that any meaning can be found in the universe’s existence. They say there is no reason for the universe, or us: we just happened to show up. In The First Three Minutes the physicist Steven Weinberg wrote, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless” (154). In Wonderful Life, the paleontologist Steven Jay Gould wrote that “we are only an afterthought, a kind of cosmic accident, just one bauble on the Christmas tree of evolution” (44).

But I think nonbelievers can do better. Much, much better, in fact. There is a way for nonbelievers to see transcendent meaning and purpose in the cosmos, and in human life.

To get there, nonbelievers have to show that that meaning emerges inevitably, inexorably, out of the basic physical processes of the universe, and that it is not optional or accidental. They have to show that it provides a guide for action here on Earth, that is, it has to help us make moral choices. They have to show that it offers a coherent explanation for suffering. Finally, they have to show that that meaning is good enough, interesting enough, and rewarding enough to be worth teaching and celebrating. That it provides occasion for reverence and – just possibly – prayer…Read more.

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