Thinking On Purpose

By Thom Jonas

As someone who no longer believes in some kind of afterlife, I quite often come across the claim that life without belief in God or an afterlife must be meaningless and without purpose. I think the fundamental problem with this claim is that it is self-fulfilling. It is only true if you believe it to be true. But you don't have to believe it. There are other ways to look at meaning and purpose, just as there are evidently many ways to live a fulfilling life.

In this article I want to explore some of my current thoughts on meaning and purpose, especially in the context of someone who has left a strict, dogmatic, fundamentalist religion and way of life, and who must now navigate a somewhat unfamiliar world, and a new set of challenges.

A Christadelphian's Purpose

I will discuss my purpose as a non-believer in a future article, but first I want to talk about the purpose I had as a believer, and how my perspective has changed.

To start on a very positive note, as a Christadelphian I really felt the sense that I was forging meaningful friendships that would last into eternity. Ultimately, to be a Christadelphian meant being part of a larger community, more specifically a "family", and there was significance in not only making new friends, but in developing those friendships in a way that would lead to our mutual salvation (and thus guarantee the survival of the friendships into the next life). This sense of community and of working together towards a common goal is something I now miss greatly.


However, that is not the full story. What I have just described as my former purpose is actually not to be found anywhere in the Bible. Rather than endorse the concept of people working together to produce a better world, the Bible tends to dismiss the idea as futile, and to claim that we need God to solve our problems instead. While it might have been nice as a believer to reframe the Bible's message in terms that were more meaningful to me as an individual, I was continually reminded by Christadelphian speakers that, "God manifestation, not human salvation" was the ultimate goal presented in the Bible. And to a certain extent I think they were right. As the Bible presents it, according to the Christadelphian interpretation, God's purpose is to fill the earth with immortalised beings who will reflect his own glory back to him. If that sounds a little narcissistic to you, well, that's because it is.

For a long time before I was baptised, this conflict bothered me greatly. All around me I could plainly see that Christadelphians were in it purely for the reward of eternal life. That is, they simply wanted to escape death and suffering, and would do whatever it took - even if that meant singing lots of praises to this being called "God" and doing whatever else he might want them to do. This is succinctly captured in the question, "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30). The answer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved", then encapsulates virtually the entire point of the Christadelphian religion, at least as practised by the majority of folks I grew up with. Do X, and you will get Y. Of course they were very grateful to God for the offer - who wouldn't be? - but the driving force behind their devotion was and is clearly survival.

But this presents a conundrum.

What about God's glory?

How does a bunch of people selfishly doing whatever it takes to avoid death and maximise their own happiness ever give glory to God? Worse, what glory is there to be had for a being who invented such a system?

There is a lot more to unpack here. Let's zoom out a bit.

The Bible was quite clearly written to cater to human concerns, and one should be very suspicious about just how much attention the supposed all-powerful, "self-sufficient" god gives to humanity therein. The level of interest in human affairs is beyond petty. For example, a man is murdered for picking up sticks on a particular day of the week (Numbers 15:32-36). Another man is murdered for trying to prevent an idol (let's be honest here) from falling off a cart (2 Sam 6:7). And so it goes on. Are these really the concerns of a perfect being whose "glory" must be emulated by us? or are they rather the concerns of an ancient, primitive human culture?

The Bible describes a god who plays favourites among various ancient human civilisations and even among Israelite tribes, commands genocide/murder/rape, offers advice on how to keep and beat slaves, is intimidated by and jealous of the gods of other nations, and appears to be continually baffled when his plans inevitably don't work out.

If I am to believe that our purpose in life is to emulate this god and show forth his glory, well, er, just what glory is that, exactly?

What purpose?

This is where the whole divinely-appointed purpose thing unravels for me.

A popular Christadelphian view was (and perhaps still is) that our lives were not our own, but rather we had been "bought with a price" (1 Cor 6:20). In this view, any purpose we might have had as individuals was secondary, or perhaps even irrelevant. Best you give up on any "worldly" ambitions or desires, because your sole objective in life, both now and for eternity, is to worship and obey.

That isn't purpose. It is slavery.

Slaves have no purpose. Indeed they cannot have purpose. To say that the future saints will be fully united with God's purpose is to admit that they will either be too afraid to voice an original thought, or too dull to. Perhaps for some people, this is an acceptable trade-off. Is it still slavery if you enjoy it? Eternal Stockholm Syndrome, most probably.

What life is made of

Zooming back in again, I used to often reflect on my life as a Christadelphian, and wonder what it all meant. What was the purpose of it all? When people claim that a life without God must be without purpose, they tacitly assume that a life with God automatically has purpose. Does it?

Sunday mornings, I used to spend a couple of hours sitting in a meeting hall, singing songs (badly) and listening to an exhortation that usually consisted of listing all the reasons we were wretched sinners and needed forgiveness. Somehow that seemed to give other people comfort. I still don't understand how. I suspect many Christadelphians became very good at reinterpreting all criticisms to be about "other people". Probably a lot of them were narcissists. I felt some comfort when it was over, so there's that. It was difficult if not impossible to be a Christadelphian and simultaneously feel like a generally good person. Apparently it was virtuous to feel like a terrible person, and also to believe you were incapable of doing anything good without divine help. Ugh!

Many aspects of Christadelphian life just don't make any sense to me now. Even as a Christadelphian I remember having many, "What am I actually doing here?" moments.

So much Bible reading and study, as if the purpose of life was to solve a divine riddle. Really? Why? How does that benefit anyone? Others followed Matthew 25, and tried to feed the hungry etc so as to obtain Jesus's future approval. Helping those less fortunate is commendable and noble, but surely it is better to do that for its own sake rather than because the Bible offered a reward. Otherwise we're back to, "if you do X, you get Y".

Why did so many Christadelphians focus so heavily on dress code? Were the suits really to impress God, or just each other? Why the petty doctrinal arguments? If it was so clear, why so many disagreements? If it wasn't, why not address that instead? Think about it - if a god gave unclear commandments via ancient languages, to imperfect humans who often misinterpreted each other, and threatened to kill (or "not save", take your pick) anyone who happened to misinterpret his commandments after they had been translated into English, then perhaps you might rethink whether this is the kind of being you want to spend eternity with, let alone worship!

Make sense, it does not.

Purpose worth living

When I look back at my life as a Christadelphian, my purpose came from two main areas.

On the one hand, I saw myself as lucky to be part of God's plan, and I was motivated to "follow the script" to do whatever it took to "be saved" and escape death. I tried my best to do Bible readings, Bible study, attend meetings, and so on, believing that God would someday reward me for my efforts. I also knew that faith was a key requirement so I did all the relevant faithy things as well, praying often for forgiveness, and offering all the standard platitudes and reverential phrases to God, should he have ever been listening (I never did figure out how to tell). I know I've made it sound like it was all a farce, but I really was sincere at the time.

This is the part that I find utterly meaningless now, especially given the complete lack of any evidence for it. I find this kind of "purpose" more like "false hope" and a major distraction from things that would have been far more beneficial to myself and those around me. I see no reason to believe such a god even exists, but in any case, a being that demands to be worshipped is not worthy of it. The idea that we have been given freedom of thought and action, only to be required to completely sacrifice both in eternal servitude is, quite simply, barbaric. If the choice is between temporary freedom and eternal slavery, then it's an easy one, and any god that required such a sacrifice (especially one it itself could not make) is simply immoral. Again, I do not believe such a god exists. It saddens me to imagine how many hours are spent praying to the sky, when the only real solutions that improve our lives actually require human hands.

On the other hand, it was great to feel part of a community and to help out when people were sick or in need of help - even in minor things. Making friends and sharing experiences, and enjoying the outings and evenings together - those were some good times.

The thing is, none of this requires religion. These things continue to be meaningful to me, and still provide a sense of purpose in my life. It's true that my life is temporary, and thus so are the connections and relationships with people around me, but that only makes it all more valuable. Of course it would always be nice to live a bit longer, and healthier, and happier, but those wishes are not reality, and so I will make the most of what I have. In fact I will put far more emphasis on making the most of what I have than someone who doesn't believe it is temporary.

Probably the biggest change between then and now is the belief that my life matters, and that I matter. My purpose isn't dictated by a superstitious book, or an imagined Master. It is determined by me. I am now free to think far beyond a fixed statement of faith, to question former beliefs and update them any time I encounter more reliable information, to expand beyond the suffocating borders of a minority religion, and to live not as a member of a tiny, rigid sect, but as a citizen of Earth.


  1. How does a bunch of people worshipping God because they fear his punishment give glory to God? Is Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, glorified because he kills those of his subjects who don't adore and obey him?

    According to the Christadelphians Christ is going to raise me from the dead and then punish and kill me because I don't see any rational reason to believe in him. If I repent and worship him out of fear I will be saved. So if I become a good Christadelphian again am I glorifying Christ and God? No, I would be demonstrating that they are a pair of vindictive bullying tyrants attempting to create a personality cult.

    1. It gets quite difficult trying to make sense of it all, doesn't it?

    2. Hi John Bedson don't worry about the so-called punishment because it's only death and not eternal torture in fact there is no real point in been raised because you will only die again since death is the end of life you got nothing to worry about so eat drink have fun

  2. Thom, it's a bit of a tangent, but you remind me of a couple of quotes I saw recently.
    Firstly about the devil's rebellion (no, not by a Christadelphian...):
    "I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to deduce that the penalty for continued rebellion against God was bound to be extremely severe. Satan should have recognized that his estate was far less glorious than what he had in heaven with God. But evil is irrational by its very nature. People (and demons) who have lowered themselves want nothing more than to drag others down with them."

    And yesterday at the site of the first (and only?) Victorian convict settlement:
    "Of the 27 convicts who tried to escape, only William Buckley was successful. Twenty returned to camp, six perished in the bush. Collins [the governor] could never understand why convicts wanted to escape when chances of success were so slim."

    The general idea being that you should accept the will of those in authority if you'll be materially better off for doing so. But I think they don't appreciate the importance of being free and in control, able to live life on your own terms and not on someone else's. OK, you're never in complete control, but that doesn't mean that you should just surrender. The freedom is worth something, even if it seems to an outsider that it's just an empty gesture.

    And to me there was something of this in quitting Christadelphia. I didn't know whether things would get better, but I did know that I had to leave - in fact, that I had put off leaving for too long. Others (including you) had told me it would get better, and I hoped it would be true, but I couldn't know it till I tried it. Which is why it annoys me when people say "Why can't you just accept this lovely hope we have on offer for you?" (what you justly call "false hope") Because I tried to hang onto it, and couldn't because it just wasn't true, no matter whether it contained my former life purpose and community. I get why it could be appealing (or at least I did get it once upon a time), but I can't live on wishful thinking alone, even if to those still "in" it looks a much more comfortable life.

    There was also what my Christadelphian upbringing had taught me, in principle if not in so many words, that unbelievers in The World were terrible people, and that I would probably slip into all kinds of vice and live miserably without purpose. And I mostly rejected that, intellectually at least, because I knew plenty of non-Christadelphians and even non-believers who seemed both good and happy, while I also knew life as a struggling Christadelphian was unhappy. It was still a concern, but it was a step I had to take.

    Now, I am free to make choices - some good, perhaps some not so good. I can explicitly choose new purposes, or (what has happened at least as much) drift into things without thinking it through and decide it's worth doing more of them. But the point is, they are mine, and they are free from the prison of conforming to a correct Biblical interpretation and trying to wiggle away from the consequences of some of the uncomfortable things in that interpretation.

    And now, I see lots of people say even if they were convinced the God of the Bible was real they would feel it their duty to resist him, and I kind of feel the same way (and I think you suggest the same here?) Even if this hypothetical being were all-powerful and vengeful, there's still something to be said for living by principles you have decided rather than having them imposed on you.

    1. Yes, I couldn't agree more.

      Trying to make reality align with the Bible was an ongoing struggle and it's nice not to have to do that any more.

      I, too, tried to hang on to my faith for what I now think was far too long. I doubted my own reasoning and trusted others that I deemed smarter and more knowledgeable than myself. I thought my doubts would eventually be allayed once I discovered what they knew. That never happened. The more I discovered, the more I came to realise that those people I thought were so much more knowledgeable, were actually just experts at deflecting difficult questions. They rarely gave a straight answer, especially on public forums, and often tried to obscure the truth.

      There's no question that leaving a religion like the Christadelphians is difficult for many people including myself, and it's not all roses afterwards either. To a Christadelphian it must look like we've given up a huge prize of eternal life for a measly temporary gain. But those of us who have left have the greater perspective - because we can view it from both an insider's and an outsider's perspective. To an outsider the promise of eternal life is empty and fake. It's a lie. As I see it, I've left behind the mental enslavement to a set of life-limiting false beliefs, and now I enjoy a more authentic life, preferring evidence and reason rather than magical/wishful thinking.

      In the words of Carl Sagan,

      "knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal"


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