Meaning and Purpose Among the Nones

Reading through the comments on this post it seems things got a little off the rails :-).

Since, from prior conversations, I have found Patrick to be a thoughtful person who writes from a well-informed perspective - I wonder if it might be helpful to approach this from another direction. Let’s take the “God” question out of the issue. The question of meaning and purpose in life appears to be a constant issue for human beings. So, those who have no Christian (or even Deistic) leanings have also wrestled with finding meaning in life. Alfred Camus for example argued that the only question of philosophy ought to be: why not to commit suicide? Nietzsche, though I don’t agree with his conclusions I must recognize his brilliance and his fearlessness in going where his ideas led - recognized that nihilism is a very real threat without God (since, in his estimation, the Enlightenment killed God…and he’s not entirely wrong in his assessment). Sartre, Heidegger, Derrida, all took up this existential issue…the list could go on.

So Patrick, I am not convinced that you are correct that the millennial None will be free from these existential questions, nor possibly, the angst that often accompanies them when left unaddressed. Why would they be any different from the the majority of humanity that came before them that found such questions compelling and deeply important? Now, I am not in anyway suggesting that they will come running to the Church for their answers. However, as a parish pastor, I am not unaccustomed to discussing such questions with a millennial None. And, in some ways, I think the millennial None may be more likely than some to consider such metaphysical questions as post-modernism has brought such questions to the fore. How they resolve the existential angst or what resources they use to wrestle with these questions…now that’s an intriguing question.

Patrick, I wonder if you’d disagree much with my assessment of the situation? Some? All? I look forward to your feedback and your perspective!


I strongly agree that millennial Nones are NOT free from these existential questions. In fact, I think it is harder for today’s millennial Nones to find purpose and meaning in THEIR lives. They realize that society at large doesn’t care about them one iota. If they have the cash, they can live a decent life in America, if they don’t society is cold and uncaring. I meet a lot of educated, children of well off parents, millennial Nones under 30 years of age. Some are happy and some are sad. I really am unable to put my finger on the vast differences, but it is not education, money, relationships, politics, nor religion. I have never gotten a satisfactory answer when I asked a millenial what was the purpose or meaning in their lives so far. I usually get “I don’t know” or “haven’t thought about it”.

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Did Patrick say this? It doesn’t seem that he did in his quote. Just because they’ve come to a different answer, doesn’t mean that they are different in this respect.


This is to what I was referring.

But why does that suggest they expect to be free of existential questions, or do not find such questions compelling or important?

In my opinion, the main divide seems to be between extrinsic and intrinsic values. For some people, life needs an extrinsic meaning, such as the universe having been created for you or there being a reward after death. Others see an intrinsic value in life, such as the emotions and well being they feel when they interact with family, friends, art, science, or nature. So the question I would first ask someone is if they are looking outside of themselves for a meaning in life, or are they looking inward. Is living in and of itself enough, or do they need something more.


Greetings, @T_aquaticus, @Patrick, and @John_Dalton! Just out of curiosity, what would you (personally speaking) say is the purpose/meaning of your life (or human life in general)?

P.S: Greetings to @Mlkluther as well (I should really get around to responding to you on BioLogos :slight_smile: ).


The Hitch said it quite succinctly:

I find it extremely difficult to see how life could be meaningless when I am with family and friends. If you have even a little bit of curiosity, gaining knowledge is one of the greatest things one can experience. Experiencing the emotions of the arts also gives my life meaning. If it makes you smile and dream about it, then it gives life meaning.


That’s all very well said. Such interactions with other people, their works, and the natural world certainly give my life meaning.

Purpose is a bit of a different question, perhaps. I don’t think there is a larger purpose to human life. If there is, it’s inscrutable. It seems to me that we live and we die, and it’s up to us to make the most of it while we can.


That’s why Christianity makes perfect sense. The fatherhood of God explains it perfectly, not that there are not some mysterious and inscrutable aspects to it – Isaiah 40:28, Romans 11:33.

I hear lots of nonsense about atheism implying meaninglessness, nihilism, etc.

So here’s my question. What is the rate of clinical depression among religious people, and how does that compare to the rate of clinical depression among the non-religious.

I’m guessing that the research has already been done.

It certainly implies no ultimate purpose. We live on a dying planet.

And since [if you believe] there is no ultimate purpose and no ultimate justice, if you’re unhappy at school or anywhere else, why not take an AK-47 or an automatic rifle with a bump stock and shoot anything and everybody you please.

That’s a non-sequitor.


Nietzsche was many things…nonsensical was not one of them.

@Mlkluther, @Patrick, @T_aquaticus, @nwrickert, and @John_Dalton, I think there is an issue here with conflating Nones with atheism. Most Nones are spiritual, and some even believe in god(s), but do not identify with a religion. The amount of non-religious, non-spiritual people among the Nones is very low compared to Nones who claim that they are non-religious but spiritual. You can look at the Pew report here. This same research found that the percentage of people who are spiritual in America is at a steady 75%.

While spirituality or religion is not necessary to find meaning and purpose, it is easy to see how Nones might find them in their spirituality.


What’s a non sequitur? (Not what does ‘non sequitur’ mean. :slightly_smiling_face:)

This is a valid point. How one defines “spiritual” can be a bit slippery, but your point still stands and is important and helpful to keep in mind.


Your claim doesn’t necessarily follow from your premise.

Which claim? (And whatever doesn’t have to necessarily follow to not be a non sequitur.) “Why not?” is not a claim, if that’s what @swamidass was referring to.