One of the common misconceptions about atheism is that it equates to existential nihilism, the belief that “life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value”. If there’s no God in my life, how can it have any meaning? That strikes me as a silly question, as I will try to persuade you that life has greater meaning without a belief in an afterlife.
I do not believe in an afterlife, so if my life has any meaning, it is to be found in my current life. I love my daughter and value my relationship with her, and hope that I can make her life better through my parenting. I love my family and friends and hope that their lives are better off for having me in them. I will try to make scientific and philosophical contributions to humankind in the future, although that means a lot of learning in the present. I may also leave a legacy when I die, but I personally don’t care what is thought about me after death, because I don’t believe that I will be around to care.
Let’s compare this belief with that of someone who thinks there is an afterlife. When defining afterlife in this context, we’re going to assume it’s eternal, as all known forms of afterlife except reincarnation are eternal. This type of person believes that life is infinitesimally short compared to their afterlife. So naturally the biggest part of their existence will be invested in their afterlife.
To get a sense of the word “value”, let’s imagine the afterlife as a party. You’ve been invited, but you merely need to give the correct password at the door to get in. Anyone who’s familiar with any of the monotheistic traditions can understand the similarities between this and the entrance to an afterlife. Life in this context can be seen as everything in between the invitation and the entrance. If the whole importance of this situation is getting in to the party (and I don’t think anyone will disagree with the value placed on entrance into this eternal party), then the value of life is similar to the value of coming up with the correct password at the door.
Now you may place emphasis on the value of your trip to the party. Sure, you want to make sure you spread this password to all the people you love, and you need to feel certain that you have the right password. But in the complete analogy, the person inviting people to the party (God) is actually the one responsible for all of this. If we are to assume that all of these things are going to be done by Him with or without your help (after all, you’re just the “tools” that He uses to make His will happen) then your responsibility is simply to get to the party with the right password. Life’s value is equal to that of a doormat, just a stopping place on the way to your ‘real’ existence.
Now maybe you don’t believe that God will fulfill these responsibilities without your help. In that case, any time spent not spreading the password (preaching to the unsaved) is valueless. You’re wasting your life.
In either case, you may place value in those things that I place my value in, the betterment of lives outside of your own. As I don’t require a God for those values, then neither do you. With that in mind, I truly wonder why this objection to an atheist’s life having value keeps coming up over and over and over. I’ve heard it from everyone I’ve debated the existence of God with – no exceptions (not that it’s evidence for God’s existence being true, but rather evidence for why God’s existence would be desirable).
I don’t see life as merely an entrance exam to paradise. Life is what I put into it, and therefore it has as much value as I want it to have. If you’re living to appease a God who doesn’t exist, and to teach a false doctrine, and to lead others down a path that leads nowhere, then what value does your life have? It has the same value as mine… with undue emphasis on the aspects of your life that actually gain you nothing.