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The Atheist's Way: Living Well Without Gods

The Atheist's Way: Living Well Without Gods [Kindle Edition]

Eric Maisel
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product Description

In The Atheist’s Way, Eric Maisel teaches you how to make rich personal meaning despite the absence of beneficent gods and the indifference of the universe to human concerns. Exploding the myth that there is any meaning to find or to seek, Dr. Maisel explains why the paradigm shift from seeking meaning to making meaning is this century’s most pressing intellectual goal.


According to Eric Maisel, 'atheism' isn't so much a denial of god as it is a way to embrace the vagaries of being human and then to create a life of integrity and meaning without supernatural intervention. "The Atheist's Way" represents an exciting new direction in spirituality, one away from inward looking to a more active participation in the world but without a directive from some higher force. It isn't humanism, it isn't existentialism, it isn't spirituality, it isn't psychology, but it includes aspects of all of those approaches to what human life is about. Unlike recent successful books about atheism, this one doesn't rail against religion and believers or take up recent politics. Instead, it announces that an indifferent universe need not deter us from making personal meaning that is at once rich, sustainable, and real. Today, more than ever, people are burdened by the feeling that they and their efforts do not matter.The thought that they are disposable throwaways in a meaningless universe plays havoc beneath the surface, draining them of motivational energy and fitting them for depression.

According to Maisel, meaning is not a property of the universe but a poignantly human problem to be solved. The book focuses on presenting floundering unbelievers and wavering believers with a picture of the universe they can embrace and a complete life programme they can work. Maisel advocates atheism in part because of the heightened threat that religious belief poses to the survival of the species. It was one thing for human beings of another age to use god-talk to justify inquisitions. Now religious fundamentalists, claiming the power of God, also have or will soon have nuclear weapons and we must divest them of their cover. It is time to make decisions based on human rights and human good rather than on the dictates of an unseen God.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 779 KB
  • Print Length: 200 pages
  • Publisher: New World Library; Original edition (1 Oct 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #978,465 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixture of profound and simplistic 2 Mar 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Atheist's Way: Living Well without Gods
Having enjoyed some of Maisel's other titles-A WRITER'S PARIS, A WRITER'S SAN FRANCISCO and THE VAN GOGH BLUES-I was interested to get my hands on this, especially as atheism is a hot topic these days. By the way, this particular book is not directed particularly at writers or people who consider themselves creative, just at thoughtful people. Which is where my first beef with it comes in. The suggestion that anyone who thinks deeply is OBVIOUSLY going to come to the conclusion that there is no God (or gods) is one commonly made in such books and Maisel makes it here. It is an arrogant suggestion. And dodgy from a conceptual point of view too. If ALL your thinking, ALL the time is made up of the rationalistic, science-laboratory kind of thought (and that kind is useful in certain circumstances) it's more than likely that you will come to the conclusion God does not exist. But most people's thought is more diverse than that. It's also a fact-Maisel acknowledges it but very briefly and, I suspect, reluctantly-that there have been many deep thinkers down the ages who have also been believers.

I feel this book could really be better entitled The EXISTENTIALIST'S Way, as what Maisel appears to be proposing is a way of life that is based on authenticity. Now, again, he appears to conflate authenticity with atheism. In my own experience, there are many inauthentic atheists just as there are many authentic believers. I agree with him that too many believers unthinkingly accept things, and don't seem very engaged with being themselves, but this isn't a believer's problem, it's a human problem.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book helped me. 12 April 2010
This book was just what I needed to help bridge the gap from, meaningless to meaningful. Moving from searching for answers to creating my own answers. Life in the real world.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific, challenging book and needed addition to atheist canon. 26 Jan 2009
By Greg - Published on
Ever since Sam Harris first got our attention with "The End of Faith," a parade of atheist-themed books has come out. Thanks to people like Richard Dawkins, Victor Stenger, Taner Edis and others the scientific case for the implausability of religious dogmas has been largely made. Christopher Hitchens has made the politico-sociological case against the desirability of religion, and Daniel Dennett has gotten us to question religion and religious psychology. Many other authors have added distinct voices with unique views and areas of expertise (even a mathematician, John Allen Paulos, weighs in!), comprising quite a Devil's Breviary. But until recently, a few topics have been missing from our canon. Enter Eric Maisel and his "Atheist's Way."

"Way" presupposes atheism. Maisel wastes no time making a case for godlessness, a position he sees as too evident (perhaps because the case has been made elsewhere) to address in this slim volume. He has other, bigger fish to fry, anyway, rather than rehashing the same old arguments against cogent evidence for theism.

Maisel sets out to answer the question, "How then should we live?" in a godless universe, and he largely succeeds in providing challenging answers that provide philosophical courage and direction without succumbing to unrealistic, wishy-washy, banal "inspiration."

This is the path of existentialism that looks reality in the eye unflinchingly and determines to create in our meaningless universe a source of boundless meaning from within. We nominate ourselves, we invest meaning, and we take off on a hero's quest. Some statements within the book reminded me of my favorite line from Joss Whedon's TV series, "Angel," in which the title character says, "In the greater scheme or the big picture, nothing we do matters. There's no grand plan, no big win....If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. 'cause that's all there is....All I wanna do is help. I wanna help because I don't think people should suffer as they do. Because, if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world."

Dr. Maisel might take exception to some parts of what Angel said. It is perhaps a little facile. But as a statement of principle for the character, it rather nicely reflects the attitude of "The Atheist's Way." In one sitting, I read it cover to cover. It took a couple of chapters to get into the book, but once I was hooked, I was hooked like a hungry trout. Too few atheist writers, even the best ones, seem to know how to address the problem of meaning--not for themselves, but for others. It is fine for the relatively well-off and well-known to make brash proclamations about a godless universe without ultimate purpose, but where does that leave the overweight stock boy in Kansas who wants to be part of an epic struggle between opposing forces to give his life some meaning? I found "Way" has the answer: Anyone can be involved in an epic, HEROIC struggle against the forces, external and internal, that would seek to drain life of meaning. It truly is a heroic undertaking, and has the added virtue of being true in a way that demons, angels, and apocalypses never can be.

This is a book to challenge and improve an atheist's life, and to show the skeptic who is afraid of embracing atheism a clear-eyed view of what a life free of superstition can be. It is simply written, direct, accessible, and potentially life-changing. There's no excuse not to read this book, and I urge all atheists to do so. Frankly, we need a better class of non-believer, and adherence to the "Way" laid out in this book can help produce that.

The most loathsome movie character I know is Cypher from "The Matrix." Knowing what was real, he chose to re-enter the imaginary world of the matrix to experience fantasy comforts and pleasures rather than bravely facing a grey, bleak reality in which painful struggle could make him an actual hero. This choice is somewhat analogous of what Maisel lays out for the reader. As a life coach, he provides the insight, the motivation, and the methodology to make selecting the hero's journey seem not only achievable, but noble in a way that will satisfy the self.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The ups and downs of motivational writing 19 Mar 2009
By David - Published on
Full disclosure here: Eric Maisel, perhaps because he'd read my book "Secular Wholeness," did me the honor of letting me read a draft manuscript of this work. I favored him with several hundred words of commentary, most of which, aside for a few typos I had spotted, he cheerfully ignored. And that's appropriate; Maisel has a clear vision of what he wants to say, a vision that arises from long experience coaching and lecturing to creative people, and he has stuck to it.

What he wants to do is to inspire you to a high-hearted life of self-definition. Or as he writes (p.165) "you announce that you are the arbiter of the meaning your life, you nominate yourself as the hero of your own story... You stand up as a simple human being who must earn her own sense of pride and heroism, and you... identify how you want to represent yourself and which values you want to manifest."

As another reviewer noted, this is no more or less than Sartre's vision of living the "authentic" life, but Maisel is not even slightly interested in the mechanism of philosophy -- in laying down axioms, in defending theses, in weaving firm and subtle arguments into a fabric of logic. Far from it!

His interest is in inspiring the fallible, troubled human to muster the diligence, creativity, and honesty that are required to live the life of self-authentication. He does this in part by quoting from the first-person stories of many of his clients and friends. He does it in part by manifesting great sympathy for the difficulties the cold universe throws in anyone's paths. And he does it in part by trying to get you to adopt a "vocabulary of meaning," a mind-set in which you see each of your daily activities as either "investing" or "draining" meaning from your life.

For the right reader, this is going to be wonderful stuff: inspirational fire to help you wrest conscious control of your life from fate. That "right" reader will be, in my opinion, a "right-brained" one, who prefers to deal with life from the big-picture, broad-brush, humanistic and emotional perspectives. For that right (-brained) reader, this could be a terrific book, possibly a life-changing one.

That said, I need to say also that the wrong reader for this book is a left-brained one who, like me, favors tight definitions, crisp terminology, and nicely-enumerated, practical rules. I don't say this book lacks those things entirely, but that is where the nits could be picked in it. If your first act on being given a horse is to check its teeth very carefully, this is perhaps not your book -- but if your first act is to go for a gallop on your new horse, you will likely find Eric Maisel wonderfully inspirational.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A crucial message in a light tome 4 Jan 2010
By Paul Fidalgo - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The atheist has it easy, and the atheist has it hard. One the one hand, in rejecting notions of the supernatural, the unprovable, and the dogmatic, the atheist can live free and unburdened by nonsense and superstition. But with that rejection, we lose the comfort of religion and spirituality's existential fiction that life and existence are innately meaningful because God or some other force has bestowed it with meaning. Without that myth as metaphysical scaffolding for one's view of the universe, the atheist can, in his or her freedom, feel very much alone in a bleak, cold cosmos. Not all of us can be Carl Sagan.

Enter self-help author and creativity coach Eric Maisel and his book The Atheist's Way: Living Well without Gods. Maisel's important mission is to help atheists face the truth of their circumstances, and in his book he gives some guidance as to what to do with once those circumstances are honestly understood. His message, I found, is crucial. His execution, however, is somewhat flawed, if nobly so.

This book offers a vital message that I think any nonreligious person needs to hear, even if they don't realize they need to hear it: There is no inherent "meaning of life," existence really is a random, pointless phenomenon, and any meaning for which we may pine must be created by ourselves. Maisel levels with the reader, and insists that we establish our own parameters and values based on our consciences and intelligence, and encourages us to live these to our best ability.

Less generously, the skeptical reader (which would be, I imagine, just about all his readers) will no doubt take Maisel's position to its logical next step, and say that he is telling us to invent our own myth, our own fiction, just as irrational as any other. It is hard not to have this idea nagging at one's head in reading The Atheist's Way, but it misses the point. In Maisel's terminology, the idea is to "nominate" oneself as the "hero of your own story," that your exercises in meaning-making are not based on a fiction, but on a structure of values and wishes that you have knowingly constructed for yourself. Neglect this, and you leave yourself open to existential depression. Embrace it (not fictions or fantasy but the reality of your constructed situation) and you have a chance at fulfillment.

The other important aspect of this to realize that "meaning-making' is not, and cannot be, full-time. Along with accepting the fact that life is inherently meaningless, we must also accept that any meaning we wish to imbue can only be done when real-world time allows, because yes, there is no meaning to most of the nonsense we have to do day in and day out...and that's okay, so says Maisel. Again, it is about acceptance of reality, and the reality for most of us is that most of the time we are engaged in activities that are required of us, but offer no fulfillment or sense of purpose. These times have to be a down payment of "meaning capital," to be invested in those times and tasks that do feel important and valuable to us. We choose to make the most of those moments, and also allow ourselves to be "meaning-less" when toiling at drudgery or relaxing in front of the tube, because those things are necessary.

The problem: Maisel's book is written at a fairly low-comprehension level, and often feels like a stretched-out pamphlet. It has the tone of an Oprah-ish self-help screed, repetitious and far too reliant on letters and "testimonials" from atheists going about their lives (the penultimate chapter is almost entirely made up of such passages). I suppose a less dense book of this sort is necessary, for not all atheists are biologists, philosophers, or neuroscientists (nor am I), but it does not make for a satisfying experience as a read. Indeed, the self-help aesthetic ironically saps the book of some of its own potential meaning. It is highly accessible, of course, and in this way may reach more potential theological fence-sitters than, say, the works of the New Atheists.

But let me be clear: All in all, The Atheist's Way is worth reading if for no other reason than that it elucidates a critically important message for the nonreligious person struggling with finding purpose. Though I suspect the book will be somewhat too simplistic for many readers, and is certainly weighed down by filler (for example, a seemingly endless list comprising a "vocabulary" of verbs to place before and after "meaning"), the need for Maisel's message cannot be understated. Reality is something that must be faced not only by institutions, but by individuals. That reality is all we have to work with, and so we'd better make the best of it.

*** For more from this reviewer, see my column at [...]
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and thoughtful 22 Jan 2009
By Pamela Y - Published on
This is absolutely my favorite book about living life the atheist way and offers much that's worth reading for just about everybody else too. I'm not an antheist but there is so much in Eric's book that surpasses that; it encourages us to be brave thinkers as individuals, find our deepest values, learn about meaning-making in our own sense of it, seek an authentic life as circumstances allow, nurture what is good and just. This new release by Eric Maisel continues his stream of consciousness about learning to live life responsibly, fully and creatively from a deep sense of connection to our sacred humanity. As a spiritual person I found a lot in Eric's book that rings as true to me as it does to my atheist friends.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Inspiration 9 Feb 2009
By Jeffrey Mark, Author, Christian No More - Published on
This is an amazing book that is sure to reach the top of the charts. If there was ever a book that's a cross between "atheist" and "inspirational" it would be this book. I highly recommend it for everybody -- Christians who don't believe atheists can live fulfilling, happy lives; Atheists who are looking for more in life; and especially former Christians such as myself who have taken the frightening step of jumping out of their faith and into the new world of atheism.

I especially recommend it for my own readers who have read my book and are looking for some inspiration on moving forward.

Five stars for this book.

Jeffrey Mark
Author, Christian No More
Christian No More: On Leaving Christianity, Debunking Christianity, and Embracing Atheism and Freethinking
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