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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The God Delusion

June 29, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

godThe God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

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It’s been about seven years since I declared myself an atheist. I was hesitant to make a big deal out of it, since, like a person’s religion, I felt it was a private matter that didn’t have much bearing on day-to-day life. In a world where evangelism is common, where the converted will knock on your door to talk about Jesus, I felt like it was appropriate to keep it to myself.

Richard Dawkins doesn’t feel this way. In fact, I wonder if I’m even the target audience for The God Delusion, since his intention with the book is to convince religious people to give up their gods. His arguments are intended to knock down the tenets of religion, leaving believers with no choice but to give up God and become atheists. In short, the book is evangelism. It’s atheist evangelism, to be sure, but it’s evangelism nonetheless.

The book is also unnecessarily confrontational, and even insulting. When looking at opposing arguments (religious ones, that is), he uses words like “silly” or “infantile” or “ludicrous”, and I can’t help but wonder how he thinks he will convert people using language like this.

This is all a shame, not only because he takes this approach to the subject matter, but also because the arguments he makes are meritous and worth considering, religious or otherwise. I waffled with whether I was agnostic or atheistic for years, and had I read this book when I was younger, it would have helped me realize my position much sooner (had I been able to get beyond Dawkins’ tone).

I listened to the audiobook edition of the book, which was narrated by Dawkins and his wife. In one respect, it was helpful to have two narrators. Dawkins quotes long pieces from other works, and it helps to know when the quote begins and ends, since one narrator will pick up the quote and return to the other narrator when the narrative returns. In another respect, though, it was distracting. Sometimes they shifted speakers for no reason, and it was sometimes hard to manage the thread of the conversation.

I found a lot to like in The God Delusion, but I found a lot I didn’t like, too. It’s a weird blend of good content buried under a stratum of aggression, but those who can stick with it will leave with a lot to think about. I have a hard time seeing how a Christian would (a) choose to read the book, or (b) be convinced by Dawkins’ arguments. I think it’s a book best geared toward those who are examining their own lack of faith.

Started: May 8, 2018
Finished: May 19, 2018

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Faith

August 12, 2015 at 6:00 pm (Quotes) (, , )

“The whole system works on faith…. Faith in a company, faith in a product, faith in the value of a currency. The stock market stays up because the gamblers have enough faith to buy in, not sell out. … Money is no different from any other religion, it works on reverence, awe, and blind goddamned faith.”

–Royce Hoffman
(Daniel Hecht, Skull Session)

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Parallels

October 21, 2013 at 6:34 pm (Quotes) (, )

“It was at this time that I began seeing some rather uncanny parallels between my life and the life of Jesus. … Neither of us really had a home to speak of.  Neither of us ever married during the course of our lives.  Neither of us ever actually held a job during the course of our lives.  We both just basically traveled around the countryside irritating people.”

–Kinky Friedman
(Kinky Friedman, Elvis, Jesus & Coca-Cola)

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God

January 7, 2010 at 10:00 am (Quotes) (, )

“Fraser’s concept of God was still really that of his childhood.  That God was a bad-tempered sociopath who you could placate with sycophancy and ritual.”

–Craig Ferguson, Between the Bridge and the River

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Gods

March 10, 2009 at 8:33 am (Quotes) (, )

“For the images of the gods are much easier to misuse for human purposes than the gods themselves.  Images have no will and no desires.  Statues stand for nothing but the goals of the rulers.  …  The word of a god is, in truth, only the word of the one who erected his statue.”

–Sekhmet, The Flowing Queen
(Kai Meyer, The Glass Word)

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Dreams

January 10, 2007 at 10:35 pm (Quotes) (, , , , )

“I want to believe that what underlies all of this is something more intangible than The Human Manifesto: that the ideas within it are merely a psychotic’s way of explaining away the divisions that we seem addicted to. But then it occurs to me that the book many claim as the first novel, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Years, was written in the aftermath of a disease that swept the whole of Europe, and could have been blamed on the way we live together, cheek by jowl; and that our major forms of entertainment, film and television, both burst into true flower immediately after world wars. I begin to wonder if fictional landscapes and aspirational schemes became important as soon as we started to live together in towns and cities, and if this explains the birth of organized religions at about the same time. The more crowded our way of living, the more interdependent we are, and the more important our dreams have become — almost as if all of this is there to bond us together, to help us aspire to something missing, and so to edge us toward a humanity that is more than merely being human. … The closer we’re brought together, the more we seem to understand what we are.”

–Ward Hopkins
(Michael Marshall, The Straw Men)

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Hell

September 25, 2006 at 3:19 pm (Quotes) (, )

“Sunday morning … is designed to let sinners have a sample of the first day of an eternity in hell.”

–Alvin Miller, Jr.
(Orson Scott Card, Seventh Son)

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Light

September 23, 2006 at 1:39 pm (Quotes) (, , )

“When you’re surrounded by light … how do you know whether it’s the glory of God or the flames of hell?”

–Old Ben
(Orson Scott Card, Seventh Son)

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Prayer

July 8, 2006 at 8:50 pm (Quotes) (, , )

“‘What is prayer but a focus of the mind, a focus of consciousness … and if consciousness is a quantum phenomenon, then prayer is a quantum phenomenon.’

“Lisa understood. ‘And like all quantum phenomena, it will and must measure and influence the result.’

“‘In other words….’ Gray waited.

“Lisa stood. ‘Prayer works.'”

–James Rollins, Black Order

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