A common gripe about atheism (or existentialism, or better yet, simply a lack of belief in any higher power) is that it inevitably leads to egocentric self-indulgence. The Christian cliche goes something like this: You have to believe in something greater than yourself, or everything is just about you, and your whole life becomes a selfish, hedonistic mire.
First let me state the obvious: Even if this were true, it doesn’t mean there’s actually anything greater out there. This is one of the infamous Chrisitan arguments for why their belief might be useful – but it doesn’t say anything about whether it’s true.
Now, the point is that if one believes there is nothing greater than oneself, it will lead to selfish – presumably even rapacious – behavior. I don’t consider this a very viable argument, since it presupposes something: That because nothing is greater than you, everyone else must be less than you. But isn’t it just as reasonable to say that although you believe nothing is greater than you, you still believe everyone else is equal to you in value? Thus, you would have no logical reason to harm them, deny them aid, or victimize them.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say that this notion is correct and lack of belief in something greater makes you a selfish jerk. Then the question becomes, why must that “something greater” be supernatural? Why does it have to be a god, or the notion of karma, or whatever? To give an easy example, it’s quite possible to hold a simple moral precept up as “greater” than yourself, such as the notion that everyone’s life and happiness has just as much value as yours does. However great a moral precept might be (and plenty of them have certainly proven their value to humanity), it doesn’t mean that it’s supernatural in origin.
I can’t speak for other atheists and doubters out there, but for me, the “something greater” is the easy part: It’s called life. Life is bigger than you, because it’s not just about you. It’s about the people you touch and the people who touch you. It’s about the way you interact with your fellow human beings, and the happiness you enjoy together. We don’t have to believe in any supernatural notion of love, forgiveness, or greatness; we can believe in the love, forgiveness, and greatness that our fellow human beings are capable of, and we can aspire to be capable of the same.
That’s definitely something greater than myself and worthy of my conviction – and it doesn’t require any ghosts, goblins, or genuflection.