Like many in my generation, I mostly remember Julia Sweeney as a cast member on Saturday Night Live during the show's early 90s heyday. Like some of her cast mates (Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon, Jon Lovitz), I hadn't heard much about her over the years. So I was fairly astonished to find out that she had gone on as a working actor, appearing in straight-to-video films and -- more importantly -- putting together a monologue entitled "Letting Go Of God".

I listened to this one woman show over the weekend, and found that Sweeney's story resonated a lot with my own. Raised in a traditional, mainstream religious home, where faith felt warm and cozy, check. Lingering doubts, check. Intellectual contortion to interpret the Bible as "poetically" (if not factually) true. Check. Adventures with traditional Buddhism, as well as New Age beliefs, check. Arriving, mid-life, onto the shores of atheism?

Check.

Her story tells -- in heartbreaking detail -- the tale of her approach toward/avoidance of god. Drawn to the idea, discovering it doesn't add up, re-defining it, finding THAT doesn't add up, continuously re-defining her ideas of god in response to a subtle but persistent social pressure and internal expectation to believe in something.

I've been thinking about my own journey with the "god idea" lately, and I've come to the realization that my history of leaving and coming back to god is a little bit like how a battered woman keeps going home to an abusive husband.

You have to understand that I grew up in a family where god was on the payroll as a sort of torturer-for-hire. If I verbalized any belief in something "weird" or non-mainstream, I was told that god disapproved (and we all know what happened if you died when god still disapproved of you, right?). God was a bully that my mom sicked on me to keep me in line.

Eventually, I left mom, of course. And, I told myself, I left that concept of god for something warmer and fuzzier. But, in my experience, that never, ever works out. I might have started out on the path of a nonjudgmental god, but inevitably, the further I got down any religious path, the more I found myself -- my own thoughts, feelings, and identity -- negated, subsumed under the controlling decrees of a cosmic tyrant and his flesh and blood minions here on earth.

And yet each time I went back. Like the woman with the black eye who begs you not to judge her man -- after all, it was mostly her fault. Like the woman who remembers all the good times. After all, he wasn't a monster, right?

No more.

If you talk to social workers who advocate for battered women, they'll tell you that most will go through a cycle of leaving-and-returning-to their abuser about eight or nine times before leaving for good. That puts me right about on schedule.

Goodbye, god. Please leave my heart and mind alone. I got away from you. You can't make me cry anymore.
Just. Leave.

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Comment by suzanne Buzz on July 13, 2010 at 7:18pm
Wow this is a really great post it touched me a lot because I've had similar experiences feeling this way about religion not just Christianity but with Wicca too. Over the years I kept leaving religion and coming back to it even though I kept getting hurt. Part of me can relate to the positive euphoria aspects of it such as a sense of community,acceptance and love that you get from belonging to a church or coven.

But their are lots of negative things about it such as how the bible supports slavery,sexism,etc Also when the euphoria goes away because of the bad experiences one has with religion then a sense of depression sets in that it hard to overcome. I think that is why so many have problems leaving religion behind. A lot of times when you leave religion behind you lose many friends and family members and it can be very painful.
Your a very talented writer I can't wait to read more of your blog:) I'll also check out your books too since your a writer:)
Comment by Sicile on July 13, 2010 at 10:00am
That was a nicely written piece. Interesting comparison. Luckily, I made a clean break the first time, but that old habit seems to still be back in the recesses of my mind, so who is to say I won't do the same one day. Anyhow - I enjoyed reading that.

By the way....She also did a show called, "God Said Ha!" I hear it's also great.

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