Guest BloggersReligionReviewsSkepticism

The Atheist’s Way: A Guest Post by Eric Maisel

A while back I mentioned the book, The Atheist’s Way: Living Well Without Gods written by my friend Eric Maisel. Today, as part of Eric’s blog book tour, I’d like to present a guest article by the author and a few blurbs about the book from other atheist authors. I hope you’ll take the time to check out this book. I think it’s time for secularists, atheists, humanists, skeptics (yada yada yada), to start talking about what’s positive about living a life without belief, rather than just spending time putting down the beliefs we disagree with. This book is a good start.

The Atheist’s Way: Living Well Without Gods
By Eric Maisel, Ph.D.

I see my new book The Atheist’s Way: Living Well Without Gods as primarily providing a roadmap for non-believers who are looking for an answer to the question, “How can I invest my life with meaning if the universe takes no interest in me or in human affairs?” At the same time, I think it will serve the many believers who have questions about their belief system and who harbor a lurking doubt that believing in gods makes good sense. For both groups, I see The Atheist’s Way as providing real answers and a vision of an “atheist lifestyle” characterized by personal responsibility, meaning adventures, and joy.

In writing the book, I thought it wise to skip the arguments for the non-existence of gods. Those arguments have been presented many times already, sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes thunderously. From my point of view is made better sense simply to state that there are no gods and to proceed on to the really important next questions. For the non-existence of gods is a starting point, not an end point, and merely sets the stage for the play. On that stage, human beings must make sense of how they want to represent themselves, how they intend to construe meaning, and what value they want to invest in the next hour, the next month, and the next decade.

In The Atheist’s Way I focus on meaning, because meaning is the issue of our century. There were certain other areas that I wanted to touch on, for instance whether believers or atheists got more depressed, what the journey was like from belief to atheism, and the long and honorable history of the atheist tradition. I also wanted to provide a picture of the challenges that atheists face as they deal with family, friends, and society and as they deal with their own occasional supernatural enthusiasms. But those amount to tributaries; the main river is meaning.

When you have as your baseline the clear understanding that nature does not care about you or your species and that no spiritual enthusiasms are warranted, you must come up with your own language of meaning and your own robust vision of what your life is to mean or else feel bereft and depressed. In The Atheist’s Way I provide that language of meaning and I argue that the robust vision required is rooted in a certain paradigm shift. The paradigm shift I have in mind is the shift from seeking meaning to making meaning.

For thousands of years meaning has been thought of as something “out there” that, until found, is lost. It is past time to let go of that misconception. Meaning must be construed as a choice, not as a lost object. There is no meaning until a person decides to make meaning and to invest meaning in values, activities, and relationships. The flip side is that meaning is a renewable resource, since, as long as you are alive, you can make new meaning and engage in new meaning adventures. You treat your life as something in which you intend to take pride, you align your meaning choices with your cherished principles and values, you nominate yourself as the hero of your own story, and, by living this paradigm shift, you never run short of meaning again.

In my view, belief is a betrayal of our common humanity. As soon as people presume to know what gods want, decide to follow dogmatic laws provided from on high, and refuse to look the facts of existence in the eye, they align themselves against their neighbors and head down a slippery slope toward narcissism and grandiosity. There is no one grander or more narcissistic than the anointed believer who points to a passage in a book and exclaims, “God says you are evil!” It is time that, as a species, we stop promoting this self-serving arrogance. We must humbly admit that we come and we go—and that while we are here we have plenty of good work to accomplish.

Reasonable people know that it is time to eradicate god-talk and dismiss the pantheon of made-up gods from our common discourse and our communal lives. But a multitude of these reasonable people, if they are to make the leap to authenticity and rationality, need support in conceptualizing how they are to live once those gods have been banished. I hope that The Atheist’s Way provides that support by painting a clear, beautiful and vital picture of what living well without gods looks like.

Eric Maisel, PhD, is the author of more than thirty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Coaching the Artist Within,The Van Gogh Blues and A Writer’s San Francisco. Maisel is a creativity coach and creativity coach trainer who presents keynote addresses and workshops nationally and internationally. He holds undergraduate degrees in philosophy and psychology, master’s degrees in counseling and creative writing, and a doctorate in counseling psychology. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. His website is www.ericmaisel.com.

Based on the book The Atheist’s Way. Copyright © 2008 by Eric Maisel. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com or 800/972-6657 ext. 52.


 And here’s what some other authors have to say about Eric’s new book:

 

 

“Eric Maisel has given us a lovely, thoughtful book about belief outside of the narrow confines of organized religion. The Atheist’s Way offers an uplifting positive answer for anyone interested in how to live life without gods, superstitions or fairytales. For atheists it is a must read; believers should read it as well, so that we can get beyond the divisiveness of belief versus non-belief.” — Nica Lalli, author of Nothing: Something to Believe In

“I find Eric Maisel’s writings more witty than Hitchens, more polished and articulate than Harris, and more informative and entertaining than Dawkins. A 5-star read from cover to cover! My only complaint is that Maisel is going to leave the rest of us atheist authors in the dust.” — David Mills, author of Atheist Universe (more than 35,000 copies sold in the United States)

“Eric Maisel elevates the tag ‘atheist’ from a mere denial of the supernatural to a calling: a calling to a high-hearted life of diligence, creativity, and ruthless honesty in maintaining one’s integrity in the face of uncaring nature.” — David Cortes, Secular Wholeness

“With this book, Eric Maisel does what none of the New Atheists have succeeded at doing: elaborating what atheists do believe. Maisel invites religious believers to live life as an atheist would, opening their eyes to worlds a religious outlook cannot see.  For people who can’t even imagine a Godless outlook, I would gladly hand them this book and say, ‘Read this and you’ll know what goes through my mind every day.’ This is a guidebook for brand-new atheists and for anyone wanting to learn how an atheist thinks.” — Hemant Mehta, I Sold My Soul on eBay

“Unlike many other books on atheism which deal with the question of God’s existence, The Atheist’s Way attempts to answer a different question: So you don’t believe, now what? How do you bravely face the world as it is and create meaning for yourself without the crutch of a divine benefactor? Eric Maisel’s wise suggestions, musings, and insights are a wonderful resource for your quest.” — John Allen Paulos, author of Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why The Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

Related Articles

15 Comments

  1. I bought this book about a month ago and read it on my bus rides to work. Take my review with a grain of salt, as this is the first atheist book I’ve ever read so I can’t compare it to others. I’m about 3/4 of the way through, and as of yet, I’m not terribly impressed. I want to like it. It’s great that he adds personal accounts in there, but it seems that the author’s only friends are artists, writers, and actors. The book seems more for people who are having a crisis of non-faith, than those who are established in their beliefs. I’m selling my copy once I’ve finished reading it.

  2. I found the book very useful. I agree that it’s more addressed to people who have deconverted fairly recently (as I have). The more you were involved in your religion, the more you’ll need to hear the advice in this book.

  3. Eric is absolutely right. The key orienting idea is that we can and must create or make meaning in our lives, rather than to go out and look for meaning that we can acquire, ready made and at retail.

    I was never religious and never thought that the universe owed me meaning or that I could acquire meaning from some Special Book or from membership in some organization.

    I will eventually buy and read this book — I participated in some on-line Q & A that Eric conducted last year — but it is not high on my list.

  4. @writerdd: “I think it’s time for secularists, atheists, humanists, skeptics (yada yada yada), to start talking about what’s positive about living a life without belief, rather than just spending time putting down the beliefs we disagree with.”

    I disagree with the fundamental premise of the book. As I have said before, if one is going to apply full and complete skepticism to all of everything in their life, including their theistic/atheistic beliefs, then the only defensible position is agnosticism.

    There is no valid argument for the non-existence of God. Equally there is no valid, repeatable, evidence that can be provided for the existence of God. The two premises have equal weight as neither can be proven or disproved by any act or investigation within human means.

    So, what I don’t understand, is why skepticism constantly then gets lumped in as if it equals atheism.

    At best, the assumption that skepticism = atheism is a flawed assumption that drives away many potential allies of the skeptical movement. At worst it is intellectually dishonest.

    As for why I keep beating this drum? Because I see a double standard that is easily demonstrated. Would the book have ever received a positive mention if it was ‘The Christian Way’? What about if it spent every page in the book selling the idea that a Christian must be a skeptic in order to actually be Christian? What if it spent the entire book selling science to Christians?

    *sigh* I’m actually not trying to take anything away from this book, and I’m not trying to be contrary, (I don’t want to get into an argument about God, or atheism, or any other such). I do want to make the point that the constant tendency to blur the line between skepticism and atheism only works to alienate a lot of people who could otherwise be very useful to skepticism.

  5. I consider myself an atheist because I see no evidence of any gods. I do not believe in gods for the same reason I do not believe in werewolves. The insistence that an atheist must prove the nonexistance of something seems absurd to me. I can not prove that werewolves do not exist either so if someone asks if I BELIEVE in them should I say: well no one can know anything with 100% certainty so I am unsure?

  6. @JOHNEA13: I do not insist that an atheist prove the nonexistence of any god. It would be a stupid and pointless demand.

    Additionally, your analogy is poor and has little or no actual value for addressing my statement that atheism and theism each start from equally valid, though differing, premises.

    Feel free to mis-characterize my position as many times as you would like though. It may be entertaining.

  7. @MoltenHotMagma: “I do not insist that an atheist prove the nonexistence of any god. It would be a stupid and pointless demand.”

    Right, and what this author does is assume there is no god, since there is no evidence for it. I’d bet my boots he’s “technically agnostic,” but most people don’t bother making that distinction just as I don’t mind calling myself an “a-teapotist” with regard to Russell’s celestial ceramic vessel.

    “There is no valid argument for the non-existence of God. Equally there is no valid, repeatable, evidence that can be provided for the existence of God. The two premises have equal weight as neither can be proven or disproved by any act or investigation within human means.”

    Um, no. Teapot/no-teapot do not have equal weight.

  8. @MoltenHotMagma: “I’d bet my boots he’s ‘technically agnostic,’…”

    Which is fine. Ultimately, my post was not to start picking apart the book. It was aimed at what I perceive to be a double standard for this site based upon a flawed linking of atheism to skepticism.

    “Um, no. Teapot/no-teapot do not have equal weight.”

    Ahhh.. the brilliant, and pithy, use of a completely inappropriate analogy once again fails to accomplish anything.

    First, I disagree with your conclusion, then I disagree with your choice of analogy.

    In your conclusion you say that Teapot/no-teapot do not carry equal weight. That is only true if one already knows if there is or isn’t a teapot. If I walk into someones kitchen for the first time, then at that moment either ‘Teapot’ or ‘no-teapot’ can be taken as a starting position with equal validity. Once I start looking to see if one is there, however, the clear presence of a teapot, (or its lack), will invalidate one position or the other. Until that moment, however, each position holds equal weight.

    The above aside, it is a completely invalid analogy for the question of the existence of a God/gods or not unless the question being discussed is one of an inanimate god which is subject to the whims and controls of humanity, (your teapot). In the case of an animate god with any intelligence of its own the analogy falls apart. A more appropriate comparison situation would be something like:

    – I say that an eccentric, shy, homeless guy named Frank exist and is a friend of mine.

    – You say that Frank doesn’t exist.

    This case is more similar, (though still not an exact analogue), to the God/No-God question

    The person saying that that Frank exist can have seen him, talked to him, and witnessed Franks’ funny eccentric commitment to going around fixing things when most people aren’t looking. This person is completely justified in saying that Frank exist.

    The person who has never seen Frank is completely has no good reason to believe that Frank does or doesn’t exist. Having never seen him, never heard him, and the only people they meet who say frank exist are either homeless or strangers; well, taking the position that Frank doesn’t actually exist is a safe place to start from.

    In this situation, if I wanted to convince you that Frank existed, I could only do it in a couple ways: I could convince you to come look for Frank with me and we could hope we found him, (he’s shy, doesn’t like meeting new people most times, and is both homeless and always moving around, so this could be hard); I could count on finding Frank myself, (I know him already so he is more likely to make it easy to find him), and then try and convince him to come meet you; or I could try and ambush Frank, then drag him to meet you whether he wanted to come or not.

    In all three cases, one has to deal with the very real fact that Frank can make decisions for himself. He isn’t subject to the will and direction of the people who know him just because they are friends of his.

    In such a situation, Frank/no-Frank both have to be given equal weight and respect until such a time as some greater agency gets called in and settles the question with absolute certainty, (eg. the police arrest Frank or some such).

    @JOHNEA13: That’s too bad. I don’t think his reply was much better.

  9. You’ve seriously never heard of Russell’s teapot?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot

    Are you 50/50 in your belief about, say, ghosts? ESP? Both propose something supernatural, and though they have failed every attempt to prove their existance so far, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Also, it would be impossible to prove that ghosts and ESP don’t ever exist under any circumstance.

    You didn’t think my reply was much better because you didn’t understand it.

    Your Frank/no-Frank example is a poor analogy, because we know people exist, and a claim of someone named Frank is not very extraordinary. We don’t know the supernatural exists (and there’s no reason to think it does), and claiming that a supernatural creater being exists is very extraordinary.

    But, like almost every “atheist,” I’m technically agnostic. I admit it *could* be true, but that doesn’t immediatly mean 50/50, no more than it means 50/50 for my “toothfairy agnosticism.”

  10. @Hanes: You have missed my point.

    From Bertrand Russells own words, “…But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense….”

    I am not saying that it is invalid to question the existence of a god. If I were saying that, then your reference to Russell would have been useful and on target. However, since that isn’t my position, an argument addressing that position fails to address anything useful.

    “Your Frank/no-Frank example is a poor analogy, because we know people exist, and a claim of someone named Frank is not very extraordinary.”

    I can’t tell if you are obtuse, or just incapable of bringing yourself to actually look at the arguments I’m presenting.

    My point with the ‘Frank/no-Frank’ analogy was intended to highlight the point of the third party aspect of this debate. How would you like me to have made it more palatable for you? Should I have said Frank spends every waking moment sneaking around doing good deeds? How about we add that Frank is immortal? Oh! and add to my analogy that Frank has super-powers! Do these things and there is no change needed to the structure of my analogy in the slightest. Yet hopefully, now, it is suitably extraordinary for you to consider it.

    I’m really not sure what position you think you are arguing against right now. I agree with Dawkins that organized religion is a blight upon the earth. I agree that the burden of proof does not rest with the disbeliever.

    My point, however, is that the very simple origin premises, ‘God / No-God’, have not ever been presented to me in a way that logically made a case for one having greater validity than the other.

    What people do with those premises and the twisted logic they apply to them is a problem. I will readily grant that many positions taken by people based upon the ‘God’ premise are unsound, but that is a failure in the logic after the presentation of the premise. It is also a failure that occurs with those using the ‘No-God’ premise.

  11. @Hanes: “You’ve seriously never heard of Russell’s teapot?”

    *sigh* Sorry, I forgot to answer this question. Yes, I’ve heard of Russell’s teapot. However, since it usually comes up in a debate about ‘burden of proof’, and since I agree with his position on that matter, I wasn’t thinking about it. So, no, I didn’t realize you were clumsily attempting to shoehorn a very good analogy from a very logical argument into somewhere it was never intended to go.

    Had I realized those things, I would have acknowledged your reference before re-framing it similarly to what I stated anyway.

  12. @MoltenHotMagma:
    “My point with the ‘Frank/no-Frank’ analogy was intended to highlight the point of the third party aspect of this debate. How would you like me to have made it more palatable for you? Should I have said Frank spends every waking moment sneaking around doing good deeds? How about we add that Frank is immortal? Oh! and add to my analogy that Frank has super-powers! Do these things and there is no change needed to the structure of my analogy in the slightest. Yet hopefully, now, it is suitably extraordinary for you to consider it.”

    Yes, this does make it a more approprate analogy. In this case, it’s clear I wouldn’t give it 50/50 odds of Frank existing. Would you? Say I said the same to you, substituting my friend Ted, an imortal and infinitely good man, would you give him a 50/50 chance of existing?

    The only think I’m debating about anything you said is this from your first post,
    “The two premises have equal weight as neither can be proven or disproved”

    No, they don’t have equal weight if one option is less reasonable than the other. The existance of an “immortal Ted” is less likely than the non-existance of an “immortal Ted,” even if I phrased the question such that there could be no evidence either way (such as saying he’s intangeble/invisable/etc). Sagan makes that point very clear with his example of the “dragon in my garage,” which is itself just an extention of Russell’s teapot.

    If you had to bet your life on the topic of Ted’s immortality, would you bet on it or against it? Why?

    “From Bertrand Russells own words, ‘…But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense….'”

    Let me paraphrase Russell, because you exactly missed the point of what he’s saying there. “Just because there is no way disprove it, doesn’t mean my hypothetical belief in its hypothetical existance isn’t rediculous.”

  13. @Hanes: “…No, they don’t have equal weight if one option is less reasonable than the other….”

    Interesting, so if I am understanding you correctly, the logical equality of two premises should be reduced to a subjective question about ‘reasonableness’?

    This isn’t quite the response I would have expected.

    “Let me paraphrase Russell, because you exactly missed the point of what he’s saying there. ”

    No, I didn’t miss what he was saying there. Nor am I unfamiliar with Sagan. Perhaps, if you weren’t so busy hiding behind the words and thoughts of others you might have spotted what I’m saying by now instead of constantly missing it. So I’ll lay it out for you.

    The valid position for atheism, (no-god), as a skeptic is as the null hypothesis. This has nothing to do with reasonableness and everything to do with falsifiability. At the core, the claim that there is no god is falsifiable and the claim that there is a god is not falsifiable. Therefore, of the two positions, only one can be viewed as a valid null hypothesis as only one is potentially ‘testable’. Therefore, it makes sense as the default starting position.

    Under this case, (that of the logical starting point for any consideration), then the premise that there is no god is clearly superior as a starting point.

    However, the case I just presented above is a fundamentally different case than the one being presented so far by you or anyone else here. What I tend to see is the case for ‘no-god’ as presented by you. Which seems to fundamentally boil down to –

    Conclusion -> premise : ‘no-god’
    Support for position: because it seems to make the most sense to me and no one has shown me any evidence to the contrary that I accept so far.

    At that level, the ‘no-god’ premise is on exactly equal footing with:
    Conclusion -> premise: ‘God’
    Support for Position: Because it seems to make the most sense to me and the evidence I see seems to support it.

    The big failure in this whole approach is your emphasis on ‘reasonableness’ and judgments of how ‘rediculous’ {sic} a conclusion is. Your choice to base your conclusions on emotional assessments instead of firm logical footing is what demands that the two premises be given equal weight for this case.

    Back to the case I presented above, though. The case of ‘no-god’ as null hypothesis. This is where ‘Frank’ comes into things. Lets say that you have started from the null hypothesis of ‘no-Frank’. This is not only reasonable, but it is more importantly the logical choice. After all, as you said, an immortal anything is getting kinda difficult to believe. Add in all the rest and it is certainly the safe bet that ‘no-Frank’ is the way to go for a starting position. However, if you then start running into people who claim to have actually met Frank things start to get interesting. Ultimately, though, you are justified in holding to the null-hypothesis all the way up to the point where you not only meet Frank, but that he somehow proves his immortality and superpowers to you.

    Now, here is why I find that case interesting. It is because you would be justified in disbelieving Frank even if he did really exist and even if other people you knew had actually met him. In this situation, you would likely believe the people who insisted Frank to be real were somehow damaged in the mind; likewise, the people who had actually met Frank would find your refusal to believe he existed to be nothing short of boneheadedly baffling.

    And this brings us full circle. In the ‘Frank’ case, you can say that ‘no-Frank’ has greater validity than ‘Frank’ as a starting position, but that is all you can honestly and logically say. If someone claims to have met Frank you can not actually differentiate between if they are telling the truth or if they are delusional without the intervention of Frank himself, (though if they are delusional there are usually other clues ehh.). So without any way to look inside the minds and lives of other people we are back to a situation where we have to give each position equal validity as a conclusion, (even though one is clearly false).

    There is, of course, another possible permutation of the situation. The case of there really being no Frank. At this point, the null-hypothesis would hold. The question then becomes ‘what evidence are those who believe in Frank using and why do they believe in frank?’. Once again though, even in this case, the best one can do is disprove specific factual claims made by the ‘Frankist’. The problem here is that from the position of the ‘no-frank’ person the world in this case will be virtually indistinguishable from the previously presented case of a world in which Frank exist but is horribly shy. So once again, all that can be achieved is to grant one position greater validity as a starting point, but grant equal validity as conclusions, (though obviously the reasons for having reached those conclusions can be questioned).

    *bah* I’m tired of this now.. I’ve now written way more than I wanted to about this topic and I feel like an ass for having hijacked the thread from it’s intended point. If you don’t get what I’m saying by now I doubt I’ll be able to explain it any better than I already have. I’m out. Make of that what you will.

Leave a Reply

You May Also Enjoy

Close
Close