Letting Go of God

April 30, 2008

Some months before I listened to The Year of Living Biblically, I had checked out Letting Go of God by Julia Sweeney, another recent audiobook that uses humor to question the sanity of religious belief. The two books are very different. First, The Year… really is a book (it was abridged somehow for the audio format), while Letting Go…, is really a one-person show recorded in front of a live audience. A smallish book comes inside Letting Go‘s CD case, but I chose not to read it.

As Letting Go‘s title might indicate, Sweeney is reporting on her spiritual quest. Her story begins in childhood as a young happily Catholic girl, but her journey doesn’t really get underway until early adulthood when she is diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease. Predictably, she turns to her childhood faith for solace and hope only to discover that the Catholic understanding of God no longer satisfies her. Spiritual experiments of various sorts ensue, but ultimately she decides that the most sensible course of action is to “let go” of God entirely.

Sweeney is a gifted comedian and performer, and her descriptions of religious encounters are often amusing, and occasionally hysterically funny (warning to LDS: fast-forward through Sweeney’s encounter with her neighborhood missionaries; everyone else be prepared for a good chuckle). However, the humor is of the standard “I can’t believe they [followers of religion X] really believe this” variety and it grows stale, especially for someone of my age for whom bizarre religious practices (and what ritualized practices aren’t bizarre in some respect?) have lost most of their shock value.

The humor is periodically punctuated by a much too serious “confession” on the spiritual nature of life, God, faith, and rationality. I guess something like this was felt to be necessary; otherwise, one would be left with an uninterrupted and slightly sanctimonious screed against religion. But satire and confession mix as well as oil and water. It isn’t the message so much as the way it is delivered.

Bottom line: a mixed blessing.

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