Julia Sweeney, former Saturday Night Live actress, has let go of God. She’s content, though she says that for her God was like a friendly uncle who lived in your head and always was willing to hear what you had to say.
“Now there’s nobody to listen to my thoughts but myself,” I heard her tell Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air show last night. Since I tuned in on the car radio shortly before arriving home, I found the NPR archive and listened to the entire interview today.
Sweeney is entertaining (not surprising, given her background). Also, fair and balanced, unlike Fox News. She doesn’t bash religion, though she’s become a non-believer after being dedicated to Catholicism.
She started off the interview with a story about how the breakup of a long-term relationship that she thought was going to lead to marriage left her depressed. Sweeney mouthed the words “heal me.” The room filled with light. God embraced her. She felt connected to the universe.
Later, Gross asked her what she made of the comforting experience now. “Firing of the right temporal lobe,” Sweeney said. She considers that she’d been coached by her Catholic upbringing to have those sorts of experiences.
“I look at it scientifically now. Now I have a skeptical way of looking at the world, and I mean that in a positive way. I see things rationally. My life is much better now.”
She feels free. I could relate to what Sweeney said about enjoying the new-found privacy in her brain. During her religious phase she’d not like someone, then hear an internalized proscriptive voice in her brain saying “You should like them.” Now she follows her own heart without a meddling middleman.
Who, of course, was herself all along. But before she believed that God was watching what she thought and did, taking an interest in her daily life, offering up advice. Like, “Be a good person.”
Gross said that some people consider that you can’t be a good person without religion. Absent a religious moral code, your baser instincts will take over and you’ll do god knows what. Sweeney disagreed.
She pointed out that whole societies like Norway and Sweden are decidedly non-religious, yet have much lower crime rates than the hyper-religious United States. She said, “I feel that I’ve become a more moral person.” We’re social animals, she noted, and instinctually want to get along with our fellows.
Sweeney spoke about her brother’s difficult death from cancer. Looking back, she feels that religion kept her family from being in touch with reality. At the time she believed that God deals a hand of destiny cards and watches to see how you handle what you’ve been given.
Now, she rejects the notion that events are preordained. Her brother’s dying is simply what occurred. Bad things happen. That’s part of life. To her, this is “beautiful and comforting.”
Her “Letting Go of God” CD is available next month. Some excerpts can be heard here. I listened to the Deepak bit. Sweeney has read many of Deepak Chopra’s books and has educated herself about the reality of quantum mechanics—which is a lot different from Chopra’s New Agey simplistic “we create our own reality” interpretation.
She concludes that Deepak Chopra is full of shit. On the whole, I agree.
Sweeney also has a blog. I was impressed that her blog archives go back to November 2003. As a writer, and also as a seeker of truth, she seems to be for real.
Julia Sweeney on TED talks http://www.ted.com/tedtalks/tedtalksplayer.cfm?key=j_sweeney
Posted by: R Blog | October 28, 2006 at 07:53 AM
This is a wonderful story, a journey that is really well studied, and because Julia is a performer, well practiced.
I am struck by how you could substitute painting for religion in this story. Julia learns to finger-paint at an early age, grows up and realizes that there is more to painting than fingers and acrylics. She studies the other possible ways of representing the world to herself, and puts behind the art of her childhood. Finger painters from the fingerpainting school insinuate that there are other media; she studies, and eventually rejects the rococo stylings of Chopra; and now finds she needs a way to introduce a small child to painting. She wishes she could let her child finger paint, but afterall, she has a much more sophisticated vision now than she once did. Like Alan Watts went from tie-dye to batik.
Importantly, she does not hold her parents responsible in her disabuse, even accepting a fingerpainting group as completely supportable for her ailing father.
Leaving behind our juvenile religions for more mature and meaningful beliefs is a good thing. Julia's journey is a great representation of that.
But it is not more. A religious experience, outside of organized religion, is called growing up.
Posted by: Edward | October 29, 2006 at 01:14 PM
For months and weeks while I was sick, I used to wonder why God/Creation/All That Is would not reach down and heal me immediately. Pain, suffering, ill health, all make sense to me. If He were to heal all the suffering and pain in the world, we would turn from him as surely as Ms Sweeney did upon receipt of His grace.
I can testify that I personally used to pray for Ms Sweeney, so she didn't heal herself.
Posted by: benandante | October 29, 2006 at 01:21 PM