Atheism And The Meaning Of Life. Pt. 2: Motivators




If you missed the first part of this blog series, here it is:

Atheism And The Meaning Of Life. Pt. 1: A Distinction

All animals, including humans, are driven by motivation. Hunger motivates us to eat, tiredness motivates us to sleep, sexual desire motivates us to engage in sex. In that sense we are much like any other animal is.Our brains contain machinery that makes things feel good, and to a large extent just enjoying day to day life gives our lives meaning. Some people don't want to admit to such blatant hedonism, but the opposite is telling.
In psychology and psychiatry, anhedonia (/ˌænhiˈdniə/ an-hee-doh-nee-ə; Greek: ἀν- an-, "without" + ἡδονή hēdonē, "pleasure") is defined as the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, e.g. exercise, hobbies, music, sexual activities or social interactions. While earlier definitions of anhedonia emphasized pleasurable experience, more recent models have highlighted the need to consider different aspects of enjoyable behavior, such as motivation or desire to engage in an activity ("motivational anhedonia"), as compared to the level of enjoyment of the activity itself ("consummatory anhedonia").[1]
People who suffer from anhedonia are likely depressed. To them life feels a lot like that of Sisyphus[2], where life essentially starts feeling like a huge chore. Lacking in motivation or pleasure, they wonder what life is about and whether the whole thing is worth a damn to begin with. Our little daily pleasures play an integral role in why we find our lives meaningful. Without them we would struggle to get up in the morning.  

When it comes to death, the fact is that nothing motivates us to die in any normal circumstances (of course being in pain, mental anguish, or self sacrifice for the sake of an ideal break this rule, but I'd like to consider the mundane life of the average person). If the ultimate end of all actions is death, then there is no ultimate motivator. It could be said that for the believer, the afterlife is a worthy motivator, making continued living desirable and much more meaningful.

There is a problem with this view in that human beings, like any other animal, don't live their day to day lives with any ultimate goal in mind. By claiming that the afterlife is a motivator for living, the believer devalues every single motivator that normally drives us, chief among which is the pursuit of pleasure. This is something I like to call theistic existential nihilism (I will refer to it just as theistic nihilism for brevity). Theistic nihilism is the view that no motivators in our mortal lives make life worth snot. In the next installment of this series, I will explore theistic nihilism in more detail.

The primary take away point of this post is that without motivators, we would be completely inert. We require biological motivators in order to continue living at all. Basic biological motivators are pretty shallow, and it must be realised that there is a whole other layer of motivators when it comes to humans.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anhedonia
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisyphus

Click here for part 3: Atheism And The Meaning Of Life. Pt. 3: Christian Existential Nihilism
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