Eric Maisel

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Eric Maisel (born January 14, 1947) is an American psychotherapist, teacher, coach, author and atheist.


The Atheist’s Way (2009)[edit]

All quotes from the trade paperback first edition, published by New World Library, ISBN 978-1-57731-642-8, 2nd printing

  • There are no gods (including God). Like all species, ours is a product of nature. This is not something either to celebrate or to mourn. But it can prove a transformational and mind-opening experience to put all gods, religions and supernatural enthusiasms aside and to explore the world from the point of view of a human being who lives, dies, and is as natural as a tiger or a dove.
    • Introduction: We Embrace Atheism (p. 1)
  • The atheist’s way is your way. You will take your journey, and it will not be identical to my journey.
    • Introduction: We Embrace Atheism (p. 3)
  • Not only is the atheist way more accurate and more truthful than the god-talk way, but it also confers great advantages. The first is that you feel very free. You are free to think your own thoughts and to have your own feelings. If a passing pastor accuses you of sinning, you feel free to rebuke or ignore him. You know that he has no special knowledge and that he is only betraying your common humanity by quoting gods. You know that no one has any special knowledge about the purpose or lack of purpose of the universe, that there is only scientific knowledge, with its limitations; the speculations of consciousness, with its limitations; and some amount of mystery, shared by us all and quite likely to remain unexplained until the end of time.
    • Introduction: We Embrace Atheism (p. 4)
  • You are free to cut off contact with toxic people and to eliminate toxic beliefs from your system.
    • Introduction: We Embrace Atheism (p. 5)
  • There are so many believers with good hearts! But that doesn’t make their belief systems any less faulty or, ultimately, dangerous.
    • Introduction: We Embrace Atheism (p. 5)
  • The god religions, the river religions, and the world of supernatural enthusiasms do not serve you. They force you to rein in your intelligence, they make claims that you do not honestly believe, they smell of illegitimate shortcut, and they hurt your chances of taking a fearless inventory of your beliefs and charting a course that will make you proud.
    • Introduction: We Embrace Atheism (p. 7)
  • That is what is in our hearts when we conclude that the universe is meaningless. We don’t doubt that it has order, but we recognize that it is not our parent, our sponsor, or our caretaker.
    • Introduction: We Embrace Atheism (p. 8)
  • Any modern person, believer or atheist, can feel this way (i. e., that the universe is meaningless). The believer, to take some comfort and to find some solace, allows his brain to perpetrate a trick that it is quite willing to play: to conjure a god and a more pleasant universe. So he turns to religion, even if to find that solace he must ignore his religion’s monstrous contradictions, swallow his doubts, smile at ludicrous claims and accept that he has transformed a metaphor into a pseudo-reality. Before the advent of modern science and the last four hundred years of increased knowledge, believers may have believed in some seamless way, uninterrupted by doubts. Now every sensible, educated, modern believer knows in a corner of consciousness that she is buying her solace on the cheap—she knows that the pope is not infallible, that god did not give the Jews a piece of land, that there is nothing like nirvana, and so on. So she bites her tongue and tries to get as much out of her religion as she can, covering her eyes to all the rest—and not really dealing with the central issue of cosmic indifference.
    • Introduction: We Embrace Atheism (pp. 8-9)
  • We are on the threshold of understanding a shining idea: that each life can have meaning, even if the universe has none.
    • Introduction: We Embrace Atheism (p. 9; repeated on p. 53)
  • We need atheism to grow as a movement because we need to remove the god card from the hands of the selfishly self-interested.
    • Introduction: We Embrace Atheism (p. 11)
  • Religion is excellent cover for the unscrupulous; it is much harder to think than it is to pray.
    • Introduction: We Embrace Atheism (p. 11)
  • Let others find themselves alike,
    My will is obstinately I.
    My winter blinds are wide to winds
    And long, in cold,
    My curtains fly.
    • Chapter 1, “We Have Our Traditions” (p. 19; quoting Kuo P’u)
  • On religion, many are destined to reason wrongly; others not to reason at all; and others to persecute those who do reason.
    • Chapter 1, “We Have Our Traditions” (p. 23; quoting Voltaire)
  • Every time that we say that God is the author of some phenomenon, that signifies that we are ignorant of how such a phenomenon was caused by the forces of nature.
  • As men’s prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease of the intellect.
  • They are alive, but they are not engaged in the project of their own lives. No one has ever taught them otherwise. Why aren’t we offered any existential training? Because one of society’s unacknowledged goals is to minimize existential thought. A company making widgets doesn’t want you to wonder about the meaningfulness of its widget. It wants you to be attracted by the widget’s design and to buy two of them.
    • Chapter 3, “We Make Our Own Meaning” (pp. 45-46)
  • It requires your constant analyses because all meaning is subjective: the only way you can opt for settled meaning, objective meaning, or received meaning is by giving away your freedom.
    • Chapter 3, “We Make Our Own Meaning” (p. 48)
  • Every argument for the objectivity of meaning is merely someone’s attempt to elevate her subjective experience and her opinions above yours and mine.
    • Chapter 3, “We Make Our Own Meaning” (p. 50)
  • You and you alone are the sole arbiter of the meaning in your life. The second you turn to someone and say, “What does life mean?” or, “What should my life mean?” you have slipped into a mind-set that courts inauthenticity and depression. The second you agree with someone simply because of her position or reputation, whether that someone is a guru, author, cleric, parent, politician, general, or elder, you fall from the path of personal meaning-maker.
    • Chapter 3, “We Make Our Own Meaning” (p. 53)
  • These doubts must be met in the following way. You announce that meaning does not exist until you make it, and then you don the mantle of meaning-maker. The minute you do this, all previous belief systems, both those that told you what to believe and those that told you that there was nothing to believe, vanish. You suddenly enact the paradigm shift that I believe we are now ready to embrace: the shift from seeking meaning to making meaning.
    You let go of wondering what the universe wants of you, … and you announce that you will make life mean exactly what you intend it to mean. This is an amazing, glorious, and triumphant announcement. The instant you realize that meaning is not provided (as traditional belief systems teach) and that it is not absent (as nihilists feel), a new world of potential opens up for you.
    • Chapter 3, “We Make Our Own Meaning” (p. 54)
  • To define what we are is to reduce and distort what we are: to say that we are nothing but our desires or nothing but our self-interest is to misrepresent us.
    • Chapter 4, “We Invest Meaning” (p. 62)
  • Before you can make meaning, an odd kind of election process must occur. You must nominate yourself as the meaning-maker in your life and as the hero of your own story. Then you must consciously elect yourself to that position.
    • Chapter 5, “We Nominate Ourselves” (p. 65)
  • You nominate yourself to be the one who will courageously do what you think ought to be done, even if everyone is pressing you to do something else.
    • Chapter 5, “We Nominate Ourselves” (p. 65)
  • Few people actually nominate themselves in this way. Most defer to the meaning-making apparatus of their culture, taking comfort in the fact that others have built a meaning nest for them. This built-in cover allows them to avoid taking responsibility and at the same time causes them to grow grandiose, narcissistic, and egotistical. As soon as you put on the robes of your culture and add gravity to your mere humanness by wearing the badge of your profession, your club, your gang, or your clan, you … refuse to engage in the process of personal meaning-making, with its requirements of honesty and self-awareness.
    • Chapter 5, “We Nominate Ourselves” (p. 66)
  • To nominate yourself as the hero of your own story is to step outside society, not with the intention of turning your back on it but with the intention of not allowing it to dictate to you.
    • Chapter 5, “We Nominate Ourselves” (p. 66)
  • This individual is regularly nominated not only by himself but by others as well: by the ordinary townsfolk who beg him to save their town, their world, or their galaxy because they see that he has the strength and integrity that they lack.
    • Chapter 5, “We Nominate Ourselves” (pp. 66-67)
  • “I nominate myself” means “I won’t follow.” This isn’t hubris: it is simply the fruit of your decision to live on your own terms.
    • Chapter 5, “We Nominate Ourselves” (p. 67)
  • The smarter, braver part of you knows that a tradition is only of value if it is of value.
    • Chapter 5, “We Nominate Ourselves” (p. 71)
  • It is simply not true that atheists, because of their convictions and their worldview, are as a group more depressed than believers.
    • Chapter 6, “We Get Blue Sometimes” (p. 80)
  • We may feel blue because we see clearly, and what we see saddens us. We see that the amount of intelligence displayed by most people may not be intelligence enough for the challenges faced by our species.
    • Chapter 6, “We Get Blue Sometimes” (p. 81)
  • As atheists we have the opportunity to be more honest about the blues that we experience...We get to honestly look at the thing itself and not shift the issue to our relationship to some nonexistent god.
    • Chapter 6, “We Get Blue Sometimes” (pp. 85-86; ellipsis represents elision of examples)
  • Human beings have always had the potential to know meaninglessness. Modern times activated that potential.
    • Chapter 7, “We Deal With Meaninglessness” (p. 95)
  • The rose’s fragrance, the garden’s lushness, and the night sky’s grandeur affect us because we are built to appreciate beauty and to experience awe. To leap to a supernatural source for these powerful but ordinary feelings is to indulge in wishful thinking, romantic embellishment, and metaphoric fantasizing.
    • Chapter 7, “We Deal With Meaninglessness” (pp. 96-97)
  • Meaning is a choice, not a lost object.
    • Chapter 7, “We Deal With Meaninglessness” (p. 100)
  • We have not answered the free will-determinism question, but we have decided to come down on the side of personal freedom, to assert it whether or not it exists. Just as we make our own meaning, we make our own freedom. If this is a cosmic joke, then let us be the ones laughing.
    • Chapter 8, “We Choose Our Meanings” (p. 108)
  • Billions of people may not be free enough to let go of their made-up gods. You will not allow that sad fact to prevent you from proving the exception. Billions of people may not be equal to seeing beyond limited self-interest to a more mindful self-interest that takes into account the future of the species. You will not allow that sad fact to prevent you from proving the exception.
    • Chapter 8, “We Choose Our Meanings” (p. 109)
  • You will stand up and be counted, even though only you are doing the counting.
    • Chapter 9, “We Make Idiosyncratic Meaning Choices” (p. 116)
  • We respect science because it tests its hypotheses. We respect ourselves when we do the same.
    • Chapter 9, “We Make Idiosyncratic Meaning Choices” (pp. 120-121)
  • You can see why you must nominate yourself as the hero of your own story. It is your right and obligation to make idiosyncratic meaning choices, but asserting that right and meeting that obligation only launch you onto an arduous path of lifelong effort. Time and again you will find yourself dissatisfied with your meaning results, shaken by new meaning problems, confounded by the dynamic complexity of your competing meaning interests, and exhausted by the work required to live authentically. Only a hero would bother with this. An ordinary person would settle for gods and greeting card maxims.
    • Chapter 9, “We Make Idiosyncratic Meaning Choices” (p. 126)
  • There is no way to complete the sentence “The meaning of life is...” without producing a small, sad result.
    • Chapter 10, “We Maintain Meaning” (p. 137)
  • I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there are no gods. We arise from nature—and nature is not a moral entity.
    • Chapter 11, “We Make Our Ethics” (p. 141)
  • To be ethical is to make ethics, not to mouth ethics.
    • Chapter 11, “We Make Our Ethics” (p. 143)
  • The universe does not care about fairness; nevertheless, you may decide that you would like to advocate for fairness.
    • Chapter 11, “We Make Our Ethics” (p. 143)
  • This is your chance! You get to make existential magic, and you need no longer despair that there is no place for you in our mock-pious, bottom line-driven society. As an existential magician, a conjurer with amazing skills bestowed on you by the universe, you can create your own stepping-stones and your own journey, guided by your own moral calculations. You make your meaning, and you also make your ethics. Nature being what it is, you are the only one entitled to do either.
    • Chapter 11, “We Make Our Ethics” (p. 144)
  • All that we have on our side is that inner voice that knows better.
    And that is enough.
    • Chapter 11, “We Make Our Ethics” (p. 151)
  • I hope that our discussion of meaning-making and ethics-making has made it clear why we must stand firm in disputing god-talk: god-talk is at once a betrayal of our common humanity and a barrier to both meaning and ethics. That is not to say that you rise up in arms when you are visiting your parents’ home for dinner and grace is said or that you leap into the fray every time you hear some piety uttered. No one has the time or the energy for such vigilance, and no one wants to become a pariah. But you do need to pick some fights and then fight them. If you are upholding values such as justice, reason, fairness, equity, and decency—if these inform the meaning and the ethics that you make—then you are obliged to stand up to god-talk at least occasionally.
    • Chapter 12, “We Stand Firm” (p. 153)
  • Life is a project to live, not a mystery to unravel.
    • Chapter 12, “We Stand Firm” (p. 155)
  • This looks to be a moment when atheism is capturing the imagination of many millions of people. At exactly the same time, fundamental religious belief is growing unchecked. These two events are likely intimately related, as rational people are frightened back to their rationality by fundamentalism and believers dig in harder against liberty, justice, and reason.
    • Chapter 12, “We Stand Firm” (pp. 162-163)
  • Want a guarantee? Join another species. Our species just makes decisions.
    • Conclusion: We Find Life Amazing (p. 166)
  • We do not know why the universe opted to make a creature that can suffer from a toothache one day and rouse his fellow human beings to righteousness the next, but here we are.
    • Conclusion: We Find Life Amazing (p. 167)
  • This, then, is my version of the atheist’s way. I think that it is a realistic, unsentimental, arduous, and beautiful way that allows for love, good works, and human-size happiness. At the same time it avoids humbug, especially the crippling and dangerous humbug of god-talk. Take from my version whatever makes sense to you, and heroically fashion your own atheist’s way.
    Residing as you do in a universe without gods, you must take the lead in creating yourself, making your meaning, and living your ethics. Nothing less than your righteousness and your happiness are at stake. Aren’t you glad that the universe has entrusted these tasks to you and not to some squabbling gods or mountain sprites? Good luck on your atheist’s way—may you make yourself proud!
    • Conclusion: We Find Life Amazing (pp. 174-175; closing words)

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