Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Atheists Way

I've been a fan of Eric Maisel for quite a few years now. I have a number of his books on creativity, which I think are excellent (and which would serve me far better, no doubt, if I made the effort to put more of his ideas into practice).

I was interested in reading his new book "The Atheists Way" because his publicity material stated that it dealt with the necessity of making personal meaning. The subtitle of the book is "Living Well Without Gods". I found a good deal to think about in this book, which makes it difficult for me to review it adequately - however, I signed up to do so today, so I will do the best I can and perhaps I will have more to say in the future when I have had time to consider his themes more fully.

He certainly covers very well, the struggles that the creative person must go through, to make meaning in their life and to maintain motivation for whatever avenue their creativity might take.

I'm not so sure about some of his other statements. Maisel is, of course, an atheist, otherwise he wouldn't be writing this book. His publicity material says "unlike recent books on atheism, this one doesn't rail against religion..." Perhaps not. It does, however, make it quite clear that he thinks belief in anything supernatural, whether gods, "spirituality", or whatever you may call it, is deluded. His examples of making meaning suggest that he believes that religion leads to selfishness and to anti-humanism - for instance, believers may beat their children to teach them the "right" way to behave, or persecute homosexuals, or amass wealth and anticipate rewards in heaven. Atheists on the other hand,he seems to say, think carefully about ethical dilemmas and make reasoned decisions based on morals and values. He makes statements such as this:

"The simple proof that they (believers) get more depressed than atheists is that beievers comprise the vast majority of Americans; and antidepressants are the most prescribed drugs in America. Who but believers are taking all of those antidepressants?"

Well, I trained as a scientist, and I can't take an argument like that as "proof" at all. Perhaps many of those who claim to be believers really aren't. Perhaps believers and nonbelievers alike get depressed. Perhaps 90% of Americans are believers and are taking 85% of the antidepressants (which would still make the nonbelievers more depressed, even though the believers were taking most of the antidepressants). Without a proper scientific study, we just can't tell.

Personally, I know depressed believers, and I know depressed nonbelievers. Probably I know more depressed nonbelivers than depressed believers, but I don't know enough of either to make sweeping generalisations.

I do attend church, but whether I still believe in God I'm not sure. I know that science can't prove the existence of God, but neither can it disprove it. Just as an ant can't understand the complexity of a human being, there must be things in the universe that are too complex for us ever to understand. I certainly don't believe in the sort of God that Eric Maisel doesn't believe in. If I still believe in God, it is the God who asks his followers to love him "with all your mind" (and heart and soul and strength) which means that blind faith is not an option, and making one's own meaning is demanded of the believer as much as of the atheist, which makes this a valuable book.

Overall I think it is an exhilarating book, and that it is best to set aside the question of whether God exists or not, and set about making meaning in one's life in the way that Maisel discusses, and let belief, or lack of belief, take care of itself.

Eric is a great publicist of his work, and has adopted with enthusiasm the idea of the virtual book tour (One of the wonderful benefits of a virtual book tour is that it doesn't harm the environment).

If you are interested in learning more, there is a calendar at his website with links to other bloggers who are also reviewing the book. Visit the virtual book tour calendar here


Anonymous said...

I really like the idea of the virtual book tour, too. How does one volunteer to be a reviewer? (I should know more about this, but I don't.)

Catherine said...

If you click on the link I gave, you will find in one of the red boxes on the right hand side a box that says "join the virtual book review tour"

Valerie K said...

Very thoughtful review. I enjoyed reading. Nice to visit your blog again!

Kay Cooke said...

'I certainly don't believe in the sort of God that Eric Maisel doesn't believe in.'
I like that. As always, your reasonable mind makes sense of things that can't just be taken on their own without a little salt ;)

(My word verification is 'colin' - for some reason I find that very funny!)

Jan said...

I've neglected blogging lately but aim to be back visiting more often.
No doubt you are looking forward to cosy winter evenings now as our days get lighter and longer.

20th Century Woman said...

Like you, I like to go to church, even though I don't believe in anything supernatural. I think religion does a lot of harm in the world, and though I know it also does good, I wonder which side tips the scale. I think it's here to stay, though.


I have read/seen some of your posts. I have seen the works of art you have displayed. I liked the same and would love to revisit your website.

If you like short stories and paintings, then a visit to my blogs would be an interesting one. I assure you that you would get value for the time spent in reading my literature and the articles on paintings.

The link is:
I write reviews of other friends' literature and paintings, too. You can see one of the reviews of a pencil drawing here:

Naval Langa