The atheist's choice
Humanists have a long tradition of drawing on literature, poetry and art to illustrate their arguments. Some use the works of Shakespeare, some use that of William Blake.
I'm going to use a late 90s science-fiction TV show.
'Cos that's how I roll.
For those who don't know, 'Babylon 5' was a series whose reach often exceeded its grasp – despite the low-budget and sometimes embarrassing dialogue it was never afraid to tackle philosophical and ethical issues and normally managed to say something interesting along the way.
In the following clip the main character, Sheridan, is caught between life and death (for reasons far too complicated to go into) where he's offered (again for reasons too complicated to go into) the chance to live – but only if he wants it enough.
The reason I've posted this clip is that the decision that Sheridan has to make here is, I think, based on perhaps the most important question that an atheist has to answer: Why should I live?
According to Alex, there is no good answer. We're simply complex units of matter in an indifferent universe. Whether we live or die makes no difference.
But to me this doesn't mean that there are no good answers, only that there are no good a priori ones. The atheist must confront the fact that the universe provides us no good reason to live: Kill yourself and, from the universe's point-of-view, it makes no difference whatsoever.
But that still leaves us with the possibility of good a posteriori answers. Atheists must decide for themselves whether life is worth living. We must look at what we know and how we feel and decide whether it's worth going on or not. It's a personal choice – not one that can be made by anyone else. For some of us this reason will come from our relationships with those around us, or from an appreciation of the aesthetic quality of life. For some of us no reasons will be found – though, given the only alternative, this is quite rare (and often the result of errors of thinking rather than genuine disregard for life).
Only once this choice has been made, once we've learnt to embrace life and “simply be”, can we get on with the business of living. (Although this isn't to say that once answered the question never re-appears: self-evaluation of this kind is likely to be a fairly constant feature of life on some level or other).