Thursday, February 26, 2009

Creating a life of integrity and meaning without gods.
Or how to be a meaning maker instead of a meaning seeker.

Book review:
The Atheist’s Way by Eric Maisel

I’ve read many books by author, Eric Maisel. I’ve found his thoughts on creativity and mindfulness in “Fearless Creating” and “Ten Zen Seconds” to be helpful and practical. As an artist, working in the solitude of my studio, his wise words served to anchor me during the art-making process. So when he asked me to review his new book about Atheism, I said, yes. Now, I’m not so sure.

I grew up with a god in my life. But pretty soon, I began to wonder, ask questions and get into trouble for being a little too curious. I was supposed to just ‘believe’. I wanted to be a good little girl and keep the nuns from smacking me, so I acted like a believer. But that’s all it was, acting. I saw through it all. Later, I got angry about all the ‘stuff’ and just quit going to church. Whew. What a relief that was, but I didn’t stop seeking. I studied other religions and philosophies finally thinking I was settling closer to eastern ideas, which Maisel calls ‘river religions’. The more I looked at it, I saw it still had many of the dogmas that western religions and gods do, just different names. Even though Tarot, I Ching and other supernatural beliefs attracted me next, I saw that again, there was the same problem here just a different name. After reading this book, I see that Eric Maisel agrees with me.

He says, “The god religions, the river religions, and the world of the supernatural enthusiasms do not serve you. They force you to rein in your intelligence, make claims that you do not honestly believe, and hurt your chances of taking a fearless inventory of your beliefs and charting a course that will make you proud.”

My question then, is, where do I go from here? Eric Maisel would suggest atheism. I’m not sure I want any ‘ism’, if you don’t mind. But one idea in his book that I do embrace is meaning. Specifically, meaning making.

He describes it this way, “You let go of wondering what the universe wants of you, you let go of the fear that nothing matters, and you announce that you will make life mean exactly what you intend it to mean.”

Sounds easy, but exactly how do I go about doing that? Eric explains, “We look forthrightly at the next hour, week, month, year and decade and we try to make conscious decisions about what actions are congruent with our heroic effort to live passionately and well.”

What does that mean on a day to day basis? That depends on our needs on each and every day. According to Maisel, when we need to act, we act. When we need to change our attitude, we can change it. We don’t give in or give up.

In other words, I do what I can do. If I’m not pleased with where I am or what I’m doing, I can change it. Making meaning does literally mean that I make it, every day. And since every day is different, mean making one day might be different that another day. At first I thought that sounded a bit like a license to be flaky, but that’s not the idea. The idea is to be grounded in the real world and respond to it in real time with what’s really meaningful. And being willing to respond to change by changing what needs to changed and doing what needs to be done.

I like that idea with or without the ‘ism’ attached.

For more reviews and information about Eric Maisel’s book, The Atheist’s Way,
Or his website at


Patrick Gracewood said...

Whew! Susan, That was deeper water than I was expecting. I think I can skip the book and just read your version.

The trouble with personal meaning making is that it is so easy to get lost, distracted and forget. At base I see religions as providing an anchor to ritual, a physical place to return to, they provide structures in which to practice. ( and usually they have great art.)

There's a good quote from Christopher Isherwood I'll find and tag it on. xpatrick

Susan GT said...

Hi Patrick,
I didn't know what to expect from Eric's new book, but after reading it, I also see it has many of the same info and themes as his last book, VanGogh Blues. Lots of meaning making ideas in that one, too.

I agree, many religious places do have great art even if it's been rigidly controlled in the past. I also agree, that they do provide rituals and structures. But as creative people, I think we can do that for ourselves, too. Do you ever see the rituals in your studio time?

Can't wait to read that quote,

Robyn said...

I've read quite a few Eric Maisel books. Now this one (or your review) is giving me plenty of food for thought. To get on with life without wondering what the Universe requires of you.....that's a new way of thinking for me.

Susan GT said...

Yes, to let go of the wondering what you should do or what is required of you free-ing. Of course there's the thinking, then, of what you might require of yourself.

Glad you found food for thought, here. I hope it helps nourish you.

©DGreer said...

I read this book, too, and am still somewhat dismayed at the exclusionary tone of it. Seemed dreadfully uncreative to me, to lock out so many philosophies, and to wipe out the power of belief, any belief. Joseph Campbell did a much better job of it.

I also have Helen Hollick's book for review... but came by via Susan Tweit's blog book tour. (lovely review.)

LOL. I guess you could say that *three* books drew me to your blog.


Susan GT said...

So glad you dropped by and were drawn in by the three book reviews. All such different books, too! I do agree about Eric's book. And glad you agree about Susan's is lovely and it was a joy to review.

Keep coming back...I love to hear what you have to say!