Letting Go of God

August 13, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

godLetting Go of God by Julia Sweeney

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This book (er … recording, I guess; this is only available on audio, since it’s a recording of her one-woman show, and was never published in print) was name-dropped a couple of times in Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I didn’t receive Dawkins’ message as well as I had expected, due to his tone, but I was still interested in reading about others’ experiences with atheism, and I thought hearing about it through comedy would be the way to go. At the very least, I figured Sweeney’s tone wouldn’t be as abrasive as Dawkins’.

I’m so glad I did, because this is such an enlightening piece. Sweeney starts her story at age seven, as an Irish-Catholic girl who enters the so-called “Age of Reason”, when she’s no longer considered a child, and can now be accountable to God for any sins she may commit. From there, she takes us through her life as a Catholic, as a believer, and her life as a rationalist, where she tries to make sense of the God she worships. It’s a fascinating journey, told with equal parts comedy and tragedy, one that involves discussions with Mormons and priests, nuns and hippies, and even a stubborn believer in intelligent design.

Sweeney’s story is intensely personal, as anyone’s story of faith must be. Major events in her life dictate her faith, such as her brother’s painful death from cancer, and she relates those events with the emotion they deserve. Interestingly, when faced with the possibility that there is no God, she finds herself asking questions about those very events, and asking what they meant to her when she removed God from the equation. Some people would view it as pointless suffering; Sweeney viewed it as an impetus to do more in life to prevent those sorts of things from happening to other people. It’s a perspective I’ve never considered, even though part of me has come to that conclusion on my own, just without putting it into those words.

Something else that stood out to me from Sweeney’s story is how religion and faith forces people to look inward, and see the world as a very small place. Once that faith is removed, one looks outward, not just to other people in the world, but beyond, into space, where suddenly everything seems more glorious, more perfect, and more inspiring, even as it humbles us for being such a small part of the cosmic whole. When you look at all of existence as something that was built for us, it’s less impactful than when you look at it as something that developed through the complex building up of happenings that brought us to this point in time. Carl Sagan said something similar in The Demon-Haunted World, but where Sagan gives it to us as something to consider, Sweeney uses it as the point of her own story.

Letting Go of God is an insightful, well-written memoir of faith and identity, told in a charming manner that uses emotion and laughter to carry us through Sweeney’s struggles. More importantly, she tells us her own personal journey, without mixing it up into something that is supposed to be a guide for others, like Dawkins did in The God Delusion. As such, it’s a piece that has value for any listener, atheist or agnostic or Christian or anything else. I can see myself revisiting this work many more times in the future.

Started: August 7, 2018
Finished: August 8, 2018

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