Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Atheist's Way by Eric Maisel

If you've been interested in improving your creativity at all in the last twenty years, two names are probably familiar to you: Julia Cameron and Eric Maisel.

Julia, who wrote The Artist's Way, approaches creative recovery using the tools of addiction recovery, including the dimension of a higher power or Great Creator. Hers is an unabashedly spiritual program. Eric has written Fearless Creating and countless other books, and is the world's leading creativity coach. His background is as a writer and a behavioral psychologist, and his hands-on approach includes cultivating the empowerment that comes from assigning meaning to one's creative practice.

Both are humane, gentle approaches and complement each other. I have just about every book by each of them on my shelf. But I didn't realize until recently that Eric is an atheist.

I expected his new book the Atheist's Way to be a stretch for me. I grew up Catholic but left the church because of its dogma. One could say of any organization started with the best intentions that hierarchy and middle management eventually will subvert its members' experience. :)

So I'm not a fan of organized religion, but I'm an astrologer and the granddaughter of a Christian mystic. Eric's premise is that reliance on any supernatural experience is false and damaging. I'm not entirely sure. I think there might be a place for individual mystical experience.

He is right that the our country has a fundamentalist shadow that is problematic. We project it on our enemies, but express it ourselves. Blind faith, fed by (to put it nicely) major distortions and intolerance are considered justification for damaging policy.

Any system of belief needs to withstand critical testing. Any belief that makes you sign over control of your life to something outside you (even the Flying Spaghetti Monster) is not necessarily benevolent.

So this is a very useful little book about making individual meaning, and in some ways is the clearest and most direct of his meaning books. Making meaning means examining your values, and then choosing to live them full-time, reassessing your values constantly, and changing them when you need to. To really make meaning, says Eric, you have to go deep, making moral and ethical choices thoughtfully. The work is difficult but the rewards are great: “The painter creates a world, the writer creates a world; and you create a world, your own force field of ethical action. This is at least as beautiful a creation as any symphony or poem—more beautiful, really, because without it, civilization would soon collapse.”

We are the heroes of our own stories. Eric shows that atheism is not merely a dogmatic negation of gods, but a positive, active moral choice.

I consider it brave of Eric to write this book. Those who fly in the face of the status quo, who choose to make their own ethical choices, need validation. His book is necessary, encouraging, and eminently readable.

This is only one stop on the Atheist's Way blog tour. To see more, visit here.
Eric's blog on the Atheist's Way is here.
Purchase The Atheist's Way here.


Here's an excerpted interview with Eric Maisel on The Atheist's Way:

You’ve written many books on creativity—more than
fifteen. Why a book on atheism from you now?

Like many lifelong atheists who want to communicate the
beauty and wisdom of the atheist worldview and lifestyle,
I’d wanted to write a book like The Atheist’s Way for a
long time. But the publishing industry had shied away from
books of that sort. Then, when several atheism books
became bestsellers, a few publishers took a second look at
their reluctance and stretched in the direction of providing
atheist authors with a platform. This is a book that I’ve
wanted to write for a long and now the times allow for it to

What is the central message of The Atheist’s Way?

There are three central messages. The first message is that
there are no gods and that the use of god-talk is a betrayal
of our common humanity. Anyone who plays the god card
is playing a dirty trick on his fellow human beings. The
second message is that a paradigm shift is needed from
seeking meaning to making meaning. Until people realize
that human-sized meaning does not exist until they make it,
they remain stuck embracing supernatural enthusiasms or
else pining for meaning. The third message is to describe a
beautiful and attractive atheist lifestyle, full of effort and
ethics—a complete way of life—that I hope people will
decide is exactly right for them.

What’s the real harm in believing in gods?

The harm is that it makes a person more stupid than he or
she would otherwise be, more authoritarian, and more
antagonistic to solving our shared human problems. It
amounts to a complete betrayal of our common humanity.
The instant a person gives in to the urge to answer difficult
questions about the facts of existence with false, slogansized
supernatural answers, he makes himself a smaller,
more frightened, less democratic person, lowers the critical
thinking bar, and endangers our freedom. Just imagine that
I started mouthing the made-up belief, “God says that blue
is bad.” Wouldn’t you immediately begin to fear that your
blue rug puts you in some undeserved danger? People
should not do that to other people.

Why should it matter to the rest of us whether or not a
person believes in gods?

A belief in gods is not an innocent thing. It is a position visà-
vis the world and vis-à-vis one’s neighbors. It is a refuge
for scoundrels who want their views to count more than the
next person’s, it is way to enslave the minds and hearts of
children, it provides cover for bigotry and prejudice, it
causes sharp divisions among people, and it makes the
world a less rational and a more dangerous place. Therefore
it should be the hope of every thoughtful person that beliefs
in gods wither way and the practice of every thoughtful
person to indict god-talk as a betrayal of our common

Your book is also being billed as an “atheist lifestyle”
book. What does that mean?

When you’re an atheist, you’re obliged to figure out how to
live as an atheist. It isn’t just that you’re convinced that
god-talk is a human contrivance and a human weakness.
That’s only a small part of it. It’s a complete vision about
the finiteness of your time on earth, your intimate
relationship to nature, the sources of your values, and all
things human. If you’re addicted and intend to recover, you
recover as an atheist. That’s how an atheist recovers—
without god-talk. If you’re an artist and intend to create,
you sit down and create—you don’t wait for divine
inspiration. That’s how an atheist creates—by doing it.
Atheism supports and demands a completely atheistic
lifestyle, a way of life free of supernatural enthusiasms, full
of personal effort and responsibility, and beautiful in its
clarity and honesty.

Where do atheists get their values and morality?

How does a believer decide whether to stay at home with
his sick child or go off to war? He thinks about it, brings
forth his cherished principles and his ideas about right and
wrong, and makes an agonizing decision. That’s how every
human being who is not brainwashed into accepting the
slogans of god-talkers decides what is right for him to do.
He thinks about it, using his brain and his natural sense of
ethics. Every moral person is moral by virtue of the fact
that he is trying to be moral, that he is making the effort to
think through what is right and wrong. An atheist who is
thinking through what is right to do is more moral than a
believer who is mouthing some authoritarian slogan.

Isn’t atheism something of a fad?

Atheism is as old a tradition as the world’s religions. 2500
years ago Heraclitus wrote, “Religion is a disease.” At the
same time, Aristotle explained, “Men create gods in their
own image.” 2000 years ago Cicero wondered, “What old
woman is so stupid now as to tremble at those tales of hell
which were once so firmly believed in?” When the
disciples of Confucius wanted to debate the spirit world he
reprimanded them, “Why talk of spirits when you do not
understand men?” For thousands of years intelligent men
and women have been identifying god-talk as man-made
and religions as scourges. Atheism is not a fad: it is a
vibrant tradition and our best hope for the future.


Nancy Famolari said...

Very interesting post. I didn't realize Eric was an atheist. I can't say I agree with him, but he makes interesting points.


Valerie K said...

Hi Nancy! Thanks for reading and stopping by!


Catherine said...

Hi Valerie, I enjoyed your thoughtful review. (I have been busy, sorry for coming to this a bit late)