The Atheist’s Way: Living Well Without Gods
My friend Eric Maisel has written a new book about atheism, The Atheist’s Way: Living Well Without Gods. Instead of being a tirade against religion, or an anti-apologetics polemic to try to disprove the existence of God, Eric has written a book about how those of us who already are unbelievers can live meaningful and productive lives without belief in gods. Here’s a short guest post by Eric. Enjoy!
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.