Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Comedian Walked into the Atheists United Meeting...

On February 22, 2009, the Atheists United hosts their monthly get-together at 11am, at the Center for Inquiry. Comedian and author, Cathe B. Jones is the featured entertainer, providing comedy relief, and discussing her books, Godless Grief, and My Doctor Is Killing Me. The event is free, and the day show also serves as a luncheon. Cathe's humor is described as vibrantly witty, thought provoking, and emphatically not politically correct, taking on the topics of atheism, racism, and political satire.

Led by indomitable Bobbie Kirkhart, the Atheists United (a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization) has a three-fold mission:

* To promote atheism through education and outreach;
* To promote the First Amendment and the separation of government and religion;
* To create and support a vibrant atheist community.
AU has a full schedule of events, often inviting vibrant speakers, and highly evolved discussions. The meeting on February 22nd is held at Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angles CA. This general meeting is Free and open to the public, and begins at 11am.

Kirkhart is currently the president AU, but also led organizations including Atheist Alliance International, Secular Coalition for America, and serves as board member to Humanist Studies and Darwin Day Celebrations. Her first article published nationally was "I Protest: A Santa Claus God", and was written by a woman who was devoutly protestant. Later, she learned through the efforts of her work as social worker, that her world wasn't created by any religion or gods, and since 1983, she has been a member of AU. As public speaker, author, and leader she continues to inspire atheists here and abroad with her wit, fiery sense of purpose, and ability to reach even the most ardent of the religious right.

Cathe B. Jones has performed stand-up comedy in three countries, since 1981. She has three shows in Las Vegas, performing several times a week. As an Atheist Author, Cathe works to inspire other atheists to proactively promote the idea that kindness and free thought should be practiced in all aspects of life. As a writer, her themes are action-based and humanitarian based, serving advocacy pieces. Godless Grief is the first book written about loss for and from the atheist perspective. My Doctor Is Killing Me is a patient advocacy hand book for those who have not been heard by the medical community. Her husband, Mike Jones, is the music director for Penn & Teller, and they reside in Las Vegas with their pets and pianos.
Read more!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Hello, everyone:

As I mentioned at the beginning of year, among the issues I want to focus on in 2009 is meaning: on making 2009 our “year of meaning.” Toward that end I am commencing a “meaning coach” training in June, inviting readers to share their “existential difficulty” stories, preparing a book on meaning-making, and so on. In today’s newsletter, I’m sharing one reader’s story. Catherine’s story begins after a few announcements. If you would like to share your “existential difficulty” story, drop me an email (to ericmaisel@hotmail.com) and I’ll send you along some prompts and guidelines.

The next round of creativity coaching trainings begins the week of February 9th. For information on the next Introduction to Creativity Coaching Training and the next Advanced Creativity Coaching Training, and for information on becoming a free client in the next Introduction to Creativity Coaching Training and receiving free email-based creativity coaching, please visit:


A few spots remain in the March Deep Writing Workshop in London. For more information:


If you’re interested in the subject of making meaning, please take a look at The Atheist’s Way, which is now available from Amazon:


Last but not least, if you are thinking about taking the Meaning Coach Training that will begin in June (it will be the first of its kind), come on board soon. It is filling up. For more information:


Now, on to the main event. Here is Catherine’s “existential difficulty” story:

“Do you realize how disconcerting it is to feel like a teenager again - in your 60s?? And I’m not talking about the carefree, ‘Gee, it’s fun to be alive!’ kind of feeling that comes with discovering yourself and hanging out with best friends. No, I’m talking about the leaden, ‘Who am I, really?’, unfocused and unbalanced kind of feeling that so many teens experience as they’re discovering their identities, that feeling of just not belonging anywhere, of being unable to ‘land’ on recognizable soil.

“That’s the feeling I’ve been dealing with lately, and it has come to the forefront of my life within this last year. I’ve been retired now since 1999. I went into my retirement from nursing/office work with plans to have my own small practice of healing touch and doula work. I had high hopes for establishing my very own practice. However, in my neck of the woods, the Middle West, alternative and ‘new age’ practices are not much sought-after or trusted. So although I trained and met others in the fields I was interested in, I could not establish a community to work within - no one else wanted to meet with me for support or communication, and I found myself essentially alone.

“Well, that’s not how I operate best - I’m a ‘people person’ and I need the energy of others to keep me on my toes. I knew that from previous experience, so I really worked at contacting folks interested in alternative health. However, I had no success at building a community of alternative practitioners and after a short time, I had no clients of my own either. I lost interest in what was supposed to be my retirement job.

“Fast-forward through a move to a new home 15 minutes out of town, new grandchildren arriving on a regular basis, and some health issues, and here I am, entering 2009 and I still don’t know ‘what I want to be when I grow up.’ Life has become just a series of days to be gotten through, with no real focus and no real energy being directed at anything of importance. I wake up in the morning and often cannot think of why I should even get out of bed. If there’s nothing on my calendar, such as a lunch date or a babysitting stint, I have no reason to even get up.

“Or, if I do manage to get up and going, there’s nothing ‘calling to me’ that I really want to spend my time and limited energy on. One thing I have done is taken up writing … and that has probably saved my sanity. I have managed to join some writing groups that offer me some goals to work toward on a monthly basis. But writing, for me at least, is easy and doesn’t require a lot of effort. And it’s also lonely … I spend lots of time all by myself at the computer preparing for those infrequent times of sharing my writing with others in my groups.

“I have no illusions that what I write will make it into the ‘outside’ world and make me famous or even give me a sense of having contributed to the betterment of my world. It’s just a way for me to pass some time, and maybe something I write will from time to time evoke a positive response from someone in my group. But overall, I sense that there is something missing here … something being wasted, and that time is running out for me to discover and use that talent or gift before I die.

“That sense of limited time, of needing to hurry or else lose what I have been given, is what differentiates me from the teenager - I don’t have the luxury of a lifetime ahead of me to ‘work on myself.’ The feeling of emptiness, of waste, is exacerbated by the sense of fleeting time passing me by at a rate that astonishes me and leaves me frustrated. I have devoted most of my life to being a wife and mother and to the needs and schedules of others. Now that I am here, by myself, everyday, with no one to work ‘for,’ I am lost. And there seems to be little hope of finding myself before time runs out … but I continue to work on it.”

As the year proceeds, we will look not only at these stories of existential difficulty but also at how to effectively meet these challenges. If you would like to read along and to think along as we examine these matters, I recommend two of my books, The Van Gogh Blues and The Atheist’s Way. Let’s make 2009 our “year of meaning”!
Have an excellent Sunday.

Read more!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Click on this to view a video of an Atheist program on public access television in Austin, Texas. The caller is darn near precious. She really has her work cut out for her, trying to convince two well-informed Atheists that her god exists because bananas are shaped to fit into the human hand and point toward the human mouth.

Apparently, this idea that bananas are proof of the existence of god or intelligent design is being commonly referred to as the Atheist’s Nightmare by folks who genuinely think that, even if the banana weren’t cultivated by humans to be more flavorful and convenient for human consumption, as proposed by the hosts of the Austin public access program, one piece of fruit actually proves the existence of their imagined god.

A nightmare? Okay, maybe the stunning ignorance of people who will twist their own mental faculties into pretzel knots to keep perpetuating their favorite myths can be qualified as an unpleasant dream. And who among us doesn’t wish we could wake up from that?

But the nightmare is that this kind of thing is being taken seriously by anybody at all. That anyone with the mental capacity to remember a phone number could actually believe this nonsense about tropical fruit. Or think that their mistaken assumptions about that fruit would constitute any kind of “nightmare” among freethinking people unencumbered by religious programming.

The nightmare might be that there are people I come into contact with on a regular basis who would be quick to accept that the notches on a banana peel, as well as the direction the fruit inside it points, are compelling arguments for the certainty of god’s existence.

People who cling steadfastly to their outdated belief structures are going to greater and greater lengths to defend their positions. I’d find it laughable--bananas prove god, really?--if it weren’t so utterly tragic how the human mind can be manipulated, even in the face of so much readily available information...by a simple banana.
Read more!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

God's Favorite Plane Crashes


To believe that gods are monitoring human affairs means the following. You have to believe that a god gathers 165 individuals he wants to have die in a certain plane crash, presumably because they are sinners or something of the sort (including the infants and the children) and matches them with a pilot, copilot, and flight attendants he wants to have die for their sins, and sends them aloft together to burn in a fiery crash, making their death as painful as possible. At the same time he makes sure that the Detroit Lions lose all their games (for some obscure reason) and that dysentery, malaria, and drought bring tens of millions of Africans (who, presumably, deserve the pain) down to their knees. Do you really think that there are gods minding these matters, making decisions about who should live and who should die, and figuring out how to make those deaths as painful as possible?

Get your copy of The Atheist's Way today! Read more!

Friday, January 9, 2009

God's Favorite Football Teams


Doesn’t it make you slightly insane when a football player, interviewed after a win, praises god for the victory? It is impossible to fathom what must be going on in a mind that believes that some god has a rooting interest in one team over another. That believers constantly employ gods in this nonsensical, narcissistic way is further proof of their gods’ non-existence. The secret reason that so many sensible people want to see parochial schools lose at sports is that with each loss those defeated student bodies may be forced to doubt just a little. Yes, it is small of us, but it is hard for an atheist not to experience a tiny tingle of pleasure when Notre Dame, SMU, BYU or TCU loses. Nor do we have to apologize for our unseemly pleasure; after all, their god ratified the loss and presumably celebrated it right along with us.

Get your copy of The Atheist's Way today! Read more!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Pain of Glen Gould's Greatness


How hard is it to keep meaning afloat? D. N. sent me the following:

“The novel, The Loser, is written by Thomas Bernhard and is one of several novels that I've read of his. He's an existentialist who is always confronting his protagonist with indecision and decisive action by a secondary character. The loser has three characters, Glenn Gould, Wertheimer and the narrator who all studied with Horowitz in Salzburg. His novel is perfect for me to be reading once again as he writes of "comparisons" that we artists often make in lessening our selves and our works.

“In Bernhard's The Loser, the narrator's first encounter with Glenn Gould's piano expertise as a performer is devastating to his career as a concert pianist. Wertheimer is likewise devastated. Both Wertheimer and the narrator abandon their careers eventually because they are not as good as Glenn Gould. Of course, they wanted to be the very best in the world and nothing less. The narrator commits suicide and Wertheimer gives up and goes into science. Thus the title to the novel, The Loser.

“The subject matter interests me as to how an artist deals with comparisons when reaching for being ‘the greatest artist.’ It need not even be ‘the greatest artist’ but perhaps discovering that some other artist arrived at one's imagery before and is recognized as the first one or originator. And then there are all the awards that tell us as artists that we’re great; and for those who haven't received any awards - well they're 'less than'.”

Yes, this is yet another reason why it is so hard to keep meaning afloat!

Get your copy of The Atheist's Way today! Read more!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Comforts of God-Talk


It is not mysterious why we would want to hold the death of our child or our fatal illness as part of some god’s plan. Why rob us of that comfort? Because god-talk is a scourge and, if we want to extinguish it, we must rail against wherever it is used, including by grieving people facing dreadful circumstances. It will not help civilization survive to strive to eliminate god-talk everywhere but tacitly support it in foxholes, hospital wards, and cemeteries. It is warm comfort to believe in gods and cold comfort to take pride in eliminating god-talk even when you desperately want to believe that some dreadful thing has a silver lining. But the coldness of that comfort notwithstanding, for civilization’s sake we face brutal reality with our eyes wide open.

Get your copy of The Atheist's Way! Read more!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Atheism as a Non-Prophet Organization


A charmingly apt anonymous saying: “Atheism is a non-prophet organization.” Therefore each atheist must make his or her own way. The very essence of making personal meaning is nominating yourself as the hero of your own story and making your own way in life, listening for echoes in the observations of others but never following in another person’s footsteps. Your circumstances are unique; your causes are yours to choose; one day you can play, one day you can be serious, one day you can rest, one day you can exhaust yourself. Make your own way: even the slightest pull to follow opens the door to mischief.

Get your copy of The Atheist's Way now! Read more!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Freud and the Future of an Illusion


Freud described religion as an illusion and explained in The Future of an Illusion (1927) that “what is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes.” Gods are created by human beings, and then accepted by other human beings, because human beings wish them to exist. What can you say to someone about his illusions when they represent something he desperately wishes to be true? You can say exactly what you might say to a writer who would like his novel to be done without him having to write and revise it or to a short, slow, uncoordinated man who would like to play center for his local basketball team: “Wishing won’t make it so.” If we keep saying, “Wishing won’t make it so,” we may at least reach those on the edges of belief who are able to distinguish fantasy from reality.

Get your copy of The Atheist's Way today!. Read more!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

God-Talk as Betrayal


Douglas Murray wrote, “Anyone can be a bigot. But divine bigots must count as the most intractable; the most infuriatingly impervious to reason.” Indeed, one of the joys of belief and one of the primary reasons for believing is that a bigot’s bigotry is made impervious through god-talk. I argue in The Atheist’s Way that god-talk is a betrayal of our common humanity and that we must not permit it, not by outlawing belief but by repeatedly asserting that god-talk is exactly that sort of betrayal. If enough people point out this betrayal often enough, maybe we can turn the corner on this particularly odious use of language, using made-up gods to justify any piece of bigotry.

Get your copy of The Atheist's Way!. Read more!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

James Baldwin and the Personal Self


James Baldwin wrote, “The development of the meaning attaching to the personal self, the conscious being, is the subject matter of the history of psychology.” This is how it ought to be; as it is in reality, psychologists have taken the easier path and dubbed their field “the science of behavior.” For this reason, questions of human meaning have failed to enter their investigations. In psychology as it is practiced and studied, there is no human being who wrestles with meaning; there are only symptom pictures and behavior patterns. The person who resembles you and me vanishes. Isn’t it time that the narrowness of the academic’s interest in some pet peeve, pet love or funding possibility be replaced by genuine curiosity about actual members of our species?

Enjoy The Atheist's Way in 2009!. Read more!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Anais Nin and the Meaning of Your Life


Anais Nin wrote, “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” And who writes this book? You do. You are the author and you are the hero of your own story. No, you don’t get to set every plot detail. Many of those are circumstantial. But much of the plot is yours to write. Upon what path do you want to set yourself? What qualities do you want to manifest? You are the author of your own story and you decide.

Read and enjoy The Atheist's Way in 2009! Read more!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Viktor Frankl Thought As Our Year of Meaning Begins


I am dedicated to making 2009 our mutual “year of meaning.” But for many people—could it be for most people?—thinking about meaning takes them to a painful place. Why, then, go there? Viktor Frankl put it well: “If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load that is laid upon it, for thereby the parts are joined more firmly together. So, if therapists wish to foster their patients' mental health, they should not be afraid to increase that load through a reorientation toward the meaning of one's life.” That is why. We go there to grow stronger, even if the journey increases our difficulties. Read more!