My atheist friends often speak with pride about how they have chosen the way of science and reason and have rejected religious superstitions and myths. Theirs is the way void of religious mysticism, unlike Christians or those who believe in God.
We’re often given the impression that the way of atheism is the way free from mysticism. But I am not convinced of this, especially as we consider the question “What is the purpose of life?” Ironically, it seems that many of my atheist friends have chosen a path bereft of evidence and logic, one that actually embrace a position that is CONTRARY to the facts, were naturalism true. I would say that my atheist friends actually end up embracing a position of irrational mysticism.
We begin by considering the implications of naturalism, or the view that there is no such thing as God, or the supernatural. If naturalism is true, humans are not designed or created: we are the accidents of impersonal evolutionary forces acting upon time and chance. We happen to exist, but there is no intended purpose for us being here—for there to be a purpose there would need to be some kind of personal agency to assign purpose, a person who has the legitimate authority, right, and power to do so (something the Christian believes God gives).
Purpose always requires some kind of personal agency. The story of naturalism is that we humans are evolved apes and one day our species will evolve into something else. Furthermore, one day the sun and universe will die, and all that we ever accomplish or do will be forgotten and seen to be utterly inconsequential. There is no afterlife for anyone, just a few brief spins around the sun on the meaningless planet we call earth.
The logical conclusion of an atheistic worldview is nihilism. There is no purpose to human life except for the arbitrary one we give it. One person can strive to save the planet and another to destroy it, each has his or her own purpose and each is just as arbitrary. There is no real standard above humans informing them why they exist or what is there purpose. All we have is our own opinions and perspectives on how to make the most of our meaningless existence. This is where the mysticism comes in.
After one recognizes that atheism logically implies nihilism my atheist friends should logically conclude: life is meaningless, except for the arbitrary meaning I give. But instead, we hear a protest that life is not meaningless because WE give it meaning and purpose. (Further, claims of arbitrariness are dodged or side-stepped). Yet, such a posture is one of irrational mysticism. If there really is no purpose to our existence, then creating a purpose does not help the situation. Life is still meaningless. Like a drug that may block out the pains of the moment, a created purpose in a naturalistic universe is just a myth one embraces to give meaning to a purposeless life. It may make us feel better in the moment, but any such attempt at creating a purpose—when there really is NO purpose—is a form of irrational mysticism. Even if a created purpose (living to help others, living to feed the poor or take care of our grandchildren) gives us a sense of purpose and meaning and joy, we are just closing our eyes to the fact that all of it in the end is utterly meaningless.
Here we see how the person who embraces both a naturalistic worldview and claims to have purpose in life is living in a form of irrational mysticism.