Letting Go of God
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(Nov 21, 2008)
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FINDING GOD'S FUNNY BONE By Rob Kendt Religion is just too easy a target for mockery. Seen from the outside, any supernatural belief system can seem absurd. You drink your God's blood? You could be a gnat in your next life? You can't eat what? Which is why Julia Sweeney's brave, hilarious, ultimately moving new solo show "Letting Go of God" is a gale-force breath of fresh air, into the mostly politic dialogue about religion in our time which liberals of every faith have largely ceded to fired-up fundamentalists. The humbly sage Sweeney has needling questions that can't be swatted away with the laughing, lukewarm tolerance we typically afford faith-based humor, as if to say: Gosh, people believe funny things, but don't we all? We shouldn't laugh so dismissively, Sweeney insists, at others' beliefs or our own assumptions. While she scores some easy, flawlessly deadpan laughs at the expense of Mormonism, Deepak Chopra, astrology and Catholicism, the tradition she says she was happily raised in, she is after much bigger game than cheap disdain. As she says to an imaginary God she's at last parting with near show's end: "It's because I take you so seriously that I can't bring myself to believe in you." Looking very at home with herself, on a set dressed like a study rife with religious books and artifacts, Sweeney delivers her monologue with her trademark blend of ironic confidentiality and best-friend candor. Believers of all stripes and intensities, as well as nonbelievers who may scoff a little too facilely, will be challenged and disarmed with stick-in-your-throat laughter by Sweeney's utterly uncynical, blisteringly honest testimony. --The Los Angeles Times (this review if for the stage show)
ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, JULIA Sweeney lets go of the Lord and takes hold of the world By PATRICK CORCORAN While Bill O Reilly and his fellow right-wing bully boys were busy defending Christmas against the creeping secular threat to Western civilization by saying Happy Holidays, they should have taken a side trip to Hollywood, where a self-deprecating Irish former Catholic has been happily demolishing the entire edifice of Christianity. In Julia Sweeney s monologue Letting Go of God, her particular crisis of faith is prompted, paradoxically, by two Mormon missionaries, who bring her up short with the question Do you know that God loves you? She d always felt God s love, she tells us, but the query prompts her to explore for the first time, rationally, what she knows about God. Naturally, she heads to the source, the Bible, and that s where the trouble starts. Rather than being an inspiring document of God s love and a blueprint for a holy life, the Bible she discovers is an internally inconsistent, blood- and depravity-soaked indictment of a vengeful, jealous tribal madman. As poetry, it s a psychedelic nightmare; as philosophy, it s an incoherent mess; as the literal word of God, it contradicts itself about the origin of Adam and Eve in the first two chapters of Genesis. Sweeney s priest tries to guide her, but the answer always comes down to faith. Religious historian Karen Armstrong advises in her writing that the Bible isn t literally true, but is psychologically true. So are The Iliad and The Odyssey, or any number of foundational myths, Sweeney argues. What makes this one true? Wherever she turns, she s advised to ignore what s before her eyes, or to see it through faith. Here is Sweeney s great rebellion: She simply cannot accept short-circuiting her reason in order to believe. As poignant as her quest is, it s mercifully filtered through her neighborly, self-effacing charm. She finances a spiritual trip to Nepal through the humiliating experience of filming the straight-to-video sequels Beethoven 3 and 4 I hate to wave my credits around. She explores self-pleasuring as a teen under the dreamy gaze of a matinee-idol portrait of a blue-eyed Jesus. She does a wicked Hayley Mills imitation. Her family is a source of warmth and trepidation. She tells her mother she s been reading the Bible, and the unexpected response is, Why on Earth would you do that? When Sweeney informs her she doesn t believe in God anymore, Mom wants assurance Julia s not leaving the church. Her father wishes she had instead announced she was gay: At least that s socially acceptable. But acceptance, if not understanding, does come. The moments Sweeney chooses to dramatize are the highlights of the piece, no matter how short. The tight-lipped disapproval of church busybodies at her father s funeral suggest entire worlds in a few deft strokes. Whether skewering Deepak Chopra in a phrase that ought to be stitched onto a pillow, imagining a public apology (for pretty much everything) from the Pope, or ripping up the intellectual sloppiness of intelligent design compromisers, her sweet-faced air of being constantly on the verge of public embarrassment takes the edge off material that s profoundly challenging to a vast majority of her fellow citizens. But, most of all, Sweeney is gently hopeful. Looking into the howling abyss, she feels, not despair, but wonder. Lacking a God to seek out to heal the world s ills, she feels a sense of responsibility. It s our world, and welcome to it. --Los Angeles City Beat (this review is for the stage show)
About the Actor
Julia Sweeney is best known for being a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1989 to 1994, and for her popular character, Pat. She is also known for her other monologues, all of which she has performed in Los Angeles and New York: God Said Ha!; (which was made into a film) and & In The Family Way; (which is available on CD.)See all Editorial Reviews
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What really makes this film work, whether you're a religious believer or not, is that it's not presented as a lecture or polemic. It's very much a personal, individual story: "Here's what happened to me, and here's what I came to think afterwards." She never tells us what to think or believe, nor does she pretend to have The Answer For Everyone (one size fits all). But in her own quiet, often humorous way, she does invite us to think about the core values & beliefs we probably tend to take for granted as natural laws of the universe, when they're actually just one among many belief systems human beings have created for themselves over the millennia. She takes these questions seriously & so encourages us to do the same. Most importantly, she's asking us to consider the true meaning of our own lives -- what matters most to us, and how we arrive at our own worldviews. Even more, she asks us to examine how much of what we believe is truly ours, and how much is actually what we've been imprinted with by immersion in family & culture. Never strident, she presents a compelling case for a richer, deeper, clear-eyed model of reality, without the necessity of the supernatural. And in doing so, she leaves us with much food for thought.
Most highly recommended!
This is part auto-biography and part stand-up comedy, but it is 100% thought-provoking. It is not uproariously funny or academically scientific, but it really captures just how illogical and blind religious belief tends to be. She is careful not to present herself or her thoughts as arrogant or insulting, which I find very appealing. That was a small problem I had with Bill Maher's Religulous, though I still enjoyed that as well.
Religulous,Bill Maher: But I'm Not Wrong,The God Delusion
Unlike many other atheist comedians' takes on religion, this is not an anti-religious tirade. It's just Julia Sweeney telling her own story in a genuine and thoughtful way.
Sweeney was brought up as a Catholic, but she also touches on several other religions, from Mormonism to Buddhism. But ultimately, blind faith in anything that doesn't make sense upon close scrutiny doesn't satisfy her. This is the story of a woman who is wholly devoted to discovering the truth.
This leads her on a surprising journey, ultimately turning to a scientific worldview (after a brief detour having to learn to discern between genuine science and the New Age pseudo-science of the likes of Deepak Chopra). Philosophically, Letting Go of God is very good. One of my favorite parts was her rejection of the Christian concept of the atonement---I could identify with this, because her problems with this issue were the same reasons that eventually led me to take my own quest, which mirrored hers (questioning my faith and learning to judge for myself the validity and soundness of various ideologies, finally discovering a naturalistic philosophy).
In short, Sweeney is both admirable and hilarious. I highly recommend this engaging performance to anyone interested in these issues. I have it on CD as well, but the DVD is even better when you can watch it. Buy them both!