Funniest Story About Leaving Christianity
A Journey Choc Full of Emotion and Insight
Hilarious is not a word that I would use to describe deconversion stories. Yet the one-woman act “Letting Go of God” offers just that unexpected, spot-on hilarity coupled with searing insight on the contemporary spiritual search in America. The dramatic monologue was first performed in 2004 at the Hudson Backstage Theater before becoming a CD two years later and then filmed in 2007. This monologue chronicles the spiritual quest of a good Catholic girl, which begins when Julia Sweeney opens the door and begins talking to some Mormon missionaries. Her depiction is a dead-on recounting of Mormon beliefs mixed in with her own incredulity and it is hilarious. What makes Sweeney so refreshing in her hilarity is her knack for presenting honest critiques of other spiritualities she embraces along the way without the clichéd arrogance that has become associated with some commentaries. After the Mormons leave, she realizes she’s not so different. If someone told her the Catholic theology about the Virgin Birth, she would doubtless find the story every bit as insane and crazy as the story the Mormons presented.
After the Mormons leave, Sweeney realizes that she never thought critically about her faith in God. Faith in God had always been an aspect that she just felt. Thus begins her spiritual odyssey, which first begins with a deeper exploration into the Catholic religion she was brought up in. Unlike many of the sad stories about Catholicism today in which one hears about some kind of abuse, Sweeney acknowledges that growing up Catholic was for her a mostly positive experience. Looking at the trees and feeling the sunlight meant feeling the love of God. She even had a picture of Jesus in her room and talks about how she might have stuck it out with Jesus had she not discovered that she liked boys. In fact, it is that picture of Jesus that makes her realize her appreciation of the male gender. When she later decides to study the Bible for the first time, she describes the Catholic attitude as “The Catholics don’t really emphasize the book all that much. They’re attitude is sort of like, ‘Leave that book to the professionals.’” Having gone to Catholic school, I can't help but laugh because it is so true!
Her presentation of the books in the Bible are humorous and worth listening to as she provides a lot of information about some of it with her whip-smart analysis and humor. After a lot of study and encountering the sad reality that her questions aren’t met with anything other than, “Just believe,” she leaves. Her spiritual chronicle continues next with her becoming Buddhist, becoming an admirer of Deepak Chopra, trying to find God in nature, and then beginning to read a lot of books on science and how the mind works. This quest eventually leads her to becoming an atheist. In explaining her foray into science, she notes that in science she found the place where she could become increasing fascinated as she learned more about the material, not less.
The most compelling aspect this story offers is the emotional journey. Unlike some deconversion stories that focus just on the facts or just on some negative experience that happened, Sweeney portrays that deep emotional struggle of what it means to let go of God. At times, it is sad and she doesn’t try to hide it behind a veneer of intellectualism. When her mom later asks Julia if she isn’t more depressed now, Sweeney observes that now the world did seem grimmer without her faith in God. At times, the comedy rightfully fades and the inescapable sadness of life and what it means to lose faith is presented without apology or attempt to deny the sadness that followed. The story with all its implications just is. Yet strangely, Sweeney realizes that losing faith in God meant for her becoming more deeply aware of being alive.
As religion and spirituality continue to play an important role in how lives are still shaped, this work provides a hilarious, honest look at the kind of story that isn't encouraged in mainstream culture: deconversion. Yet Sweeney doesn’t just provide an analytical look at her deconversion from Catholicism, but other systems as well. Another inescapable part of the journey is her own acknowledgement of not having much background in science, which meant not being able to think as critically as she could about her blind acceptance of faith claims. In an interview, she noted that this was a common-ground area that many Americans share and commented on the negative implications of this in terms of people taking on a dangerous side of religious trends. Although her journey will doubtless offend someone, it is the kind of journey that can provide laughter while still provoking a deeper examination at spiritual beliefs held by any country. Essentially, “Letting Go of God” provides the intellectual clout, insightful humor, and bracing honesty that deserve a listen through by anyone who is on their own spiritual odyssey.
Watch and Laugh if You Dare
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