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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God" Redux

And Also: Here is an interview with Melanie Martinez, who lost her job as a children's host because she allegedly did not disclose her role in two satirical chastity videos she did a few years before. Cf. The past antics of the likes of The Santa Clause actor Tim Allen.

Earlier this year, I discussed Julia Sweeney's one woman show, "Letting Go of God." I finally had a chance to watch the show over at the Ars Nova Manhattan. This is over near 10th Ave in the mid-50s, not too far from Columbus Circle. It also is right next where Steve Colbert does his show. Charming. There are plenty of places to eat along eighth and ninth, but we had our portobello sandwiches in the Bronx. Tasty deals ... with waffle fries. Apt meal to eat if you ever go to the Riverdale Diner. Powdered jelly cookie and coffee was fine as well.

Susan Jacoby in Freethinkers spoke about how there actually were some public speakers promoting the cause in the 19th Century, one in particular also promoting Republican candidates! But, these days such a person would be remarkable indeed. This suggests the value of Julia Sweeney's monologue and other efforts in support of the freethinker cause. The humor, charm, and grace (one person called her a nice Catholic girl*) of her God Said 'Ha!' is a perfect way to show the basic normality of all of this.

She has a line that hits things home for me. Sweeney basically says, "God, I have too much respect for you to believe in you any more." This reminds me of my annoyance at how religious freedom is so arbitrarily honored in this country -- I respect freedom of conscience too much to disrespect it in that fashion. As a friend of hers, who includes some nice pics of the daughter she adopted (Mulan made an appearance after the show) quoted:
God requires faith. Faith does not require evidence, right? But the more I thought about it, my faith was based on evidence. The evidence of how I felt when I prayed. The evidence of everyone believing in God, almost everyone I had ever met from the time I was a kid. The evidence of what I had been taught by other people I trusted, admired, and who ultimately had authority over me.

So, my faith in God was based on evidence. Well then, how could I not examine that evidence? But how did I examine anything? How did I know what I knew? I had to know! [...]

I thought of Pascal's Wager. Pascal argued that it's better to bet there is a God, because if you're wrong there's nothing to lose, but if there is, you win an eternity in heaven. But I can't force myself to believe, just in case it turns out to be true. The God I've been praying to knows what I think -- he doesn't just make sure I show up in church. How could I possibly pretend to believe? I might convince other people, but surely not God.

Sweeney tells how she had a visit of a couple Mormon missionaries, who told her the remarkable story that guides the Church of Latter Day Saints. This led her to decide to look into her own faith, including bible study, which led to a deeper awareness of what exactly is in there. She also read Karen Armstrong, whose "psychological meaning" approach to religious works was only of limited value to her. And, it led to study of other faiths, and science ... which she fell in love with. Sweeney in effect did the research. It adds to the show nicely.

Today's NYT Book Review, which I read on the way back from the show, coincidentally reviews a book disparaging belief in God. The review suggests the book is a bit snarky at times. The charm (and value) of Julia Sweeney, other than her humor and cutesy manner (with an edge that suggests her strength), is that she avoids that path. I like her style as well as finding her evocative and very funny.

[Update: Over in the comments of Julia's blog, someone familiar with the reviewed author's work supports his approach. I appreciate that there is a place for a hard-edged critical approach (as readers of my stuff know), but JS was critical too. When she says something is 'crap' at one point, it's not like she is saying "well, that's only me ... hey, maybe you think it isn't" ... how can one honor science and be that subjective?]

These are good qualities ... and since the show was only $20, I bought one of her CDs, the one for her second monologue concerning the adoption of Mulan (who she mentions a bit here, in a way that makes one want to hear more ... well, here you go!). So, more enjoyment is ahead.


* Her family plays an important role in her comedy, which makes it appropriate that she replaced Bonnie Hunt in the Beethoven movies. Thus, we hear a funny story about how her mom backdated her birthday so she would be able to start school on time. Well, hopefully my mom didn't do this without telling me now that I have my sign permanently on my back.