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Letting Go of God

December 24, 2007 Popular Culture, Religion 25 Comments

The wonderful Julia Sweeney, perhaps best known from “It’s Pat” on SNL, talks about her explorations of her faith and beliefs in the monologue, Letting Go of God. She did an excerpt, just over 16 minutes in length, on TED:

Ms. Sweeney, raised Catholic, is currently on the Advisory Board of the Secular Coalition for America:

The Secular Coalition for America is the national lobby for atheists, humanists, freethinkers and other nontheistic Americans. From our office in the nation’s capital, our full-time lobbyist and support staff engage public policy makers and the media to increase the visibility and respectability of nontheistic viewpoints and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all.

Her personal journey is a very interesting story.


Currently there are "25 comments" on this Article:

  1. citizen says:

    People with no faith have a hard time believing in neighborhoods trying to make a comeback. It’s interesting when you visit with residents of some of the most downtrodden neighborhoods. Most of the time they open their meetings with prayer. I wonder how much time Ms. Sweeney and her fellow advisory board members spend in the living rooms of people living in our nation’s most depressed neighborhoods?

  2. dude says:

    this is your Christmas eve post? Don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to Christmas eve mass at the cathedral. I’m bringing my ipod for the homily because I know Burke is saying mass.

  3. constant change says:

    I disagree that people who don’t have faith have a hard time believing in neighborhoods. I think that people who take strong action see results, be their actions strengthened from faith in god, confidence in self, love of architecture, a history with, love for, and/or a future vision of a neighborhood, or even just the almighty dollar. Some of these hood turnarounds are near miracles, but both the faithful & the scientific mind are bored of the burbs and making it happen.

  4. citizen says:

    There are many scientists with a faith in god. Often, it is after much education that people become the most faithful, for they learn how small we really are. The internet can make some people feel big, but it’s a self-obsessed illusion. As far as constant anything, one of the few things that connects people over the very long term is a faith in god. Not sure how many of the readers here spend much time in VERY poor, 99% African American, neighborhoods. It is in those settings where faith is often called upon as a source of strength when facing issues of poverty, abandonment, crime, discrimination and hate. Together neighbors hold hands, and meetings are opened with prayer. I’ve participated in meetings like these 100 times, or maybe 500. Letting go of god? They’re not.

    [SLP — This is what makes freedom of religion so important: Individuals having the right to self determine what works for them rather than have a government mandated belief system.  By the way, how is that prayer working out for these poor neighborhoods for which you speak but where you don’t reside?]

  5. citizen says:

    You’d have to ask them that question.

  6. constant change says:

    Want to note that I regularly post as constant change, wasn’t meaning it as a cute nic specific to this thread.

    I spend all my time in poor black neighborhoods, and the people who’ve abandoned, are commiting the crimes, discriminating, and hating are quite often of faith, too. The subconcience power of God’s forgiveness in today’s world can be appauling. While I agree that using religion as a community tool (mostly christian in America) can bring and help hold people together, others twist it to mean whatever suits them at the time, or just don’t notice that they are full boar sinners, and drag you along in the name of God, Allah, Whatever, it seems. My current veiw (which also contantly changes) is that religion induvidually and locally is a usually a good thing, but globally it is the fuel of war and the opiate of the masses.

  7. John W. says:


    I would counter that it’s after much education that MOST put distance between themselves and religion, and most often only through inculcation in early childhood does one build the foundations of RELATIVE faith that form organized religion. Faith RELATIVE to learned associations and traditions are not what will ultimately hold a desperate community together, but rather the power in seeing others care enough to make a difference. True faith must be detectable in the absence of all other learned traditions, and is seen when those who cannot hide their empathy with others act in a way that demonstrates this. I am agnostic, not atheistic, and will remain as such while those who act out the often trite formalities of an organized religion continue to disappoint.

  8. citizen says:

    People of faith would likely see the guiding hand of god present in the buildings of St. Louis, or the healing art of a physician. While Ayn Rand would likely disagree, many faithful St. Louisans would be inspired.

  9. John W. says:

    I would hope no one, with or without faith in a religion would be able to appreciate that there are those who see things through the lens of their faith first, and therefore take no offense or be bothered that those of faith believe that even material things are manifestations of a higher power. As an agnostic, I certainly am not bothered, and know that what makes our lives on this planet so rich is that all have a perspective on life that is different enough to keep these oral traditions going. As for Ms. Rand, objectivism can be as flattening to our culture as it unfortunately has been to our nation’s economic potential to improve life, but I suppose progressives such as myself will always find libertarian attitudes towards governmental matters irksome.

  10. cptmrpants says:

    “People with no faith have a hard time believing in neighborhoods trying to make a comeback. ”

    – Citizen-

    In terms of religion, I always find it best for both sides to talk of the QUANTITATIVE (facts & figures) and NOT the QUALITATIVE (feelings and beliefs)- it keeps absurd claims to the minimum.

    As in most cases, faith can play a function is all aspects of life- but that is not to say that the absence of faith would make anyone behave differently.

    I don’t see any correlation with faith and urban renewal trends- though that’d be an interesting study. Anecdotally, haven’t they had to combine parish’s in the city?

  11. citizen says:

    The DeSales Community Housing Corporation, one of the first reinvestors in the Fox Park and Tower Grove East neighborhoods, was spun off of DeSales Catholic Church. There are many similar organizations around town.

    [SLP — So based on your arguments a belief in God is a must to rehab the city?  How is it then that all these faithful people weren’t able to keep 500K people from leaving the city?  Did everyone loose faith in God for a few decades while the city emptied out?  Or did we simply lose faith in cities.  I’m a firm believer in the freedom of religion — it works for some and not others.  Just don’t make it out as though a belief in God is mandatory to care about the future of St. Louis.]

  12. citizen says:

    Steve, no arguments here, just observations. Here’s another-I can’t think of one faith based group leading DT revitalization, and some would argue it’s doing the best of any neighborhood. So, maybe we’re better off with the corporate model of revitalization?

    [SLP — it is never as simple as ‘faith-based’ or a ‘corporate model.’  DT we have groups like Christ Church, Centenary and St. Patricks center being a part.  We have numerous developers — both local and out of town.  We have local shopkeepers and restaurant owners.  We have the DT Partnership and the DT Residents Association (which includes renters, btw).  I think by not having a single group out front the process is more natural and organic.]  

  13. citizen says:

    The different groups you mention point out that there are many assets and interest groups downtown. At the level of the outlying, depressed neighborhood, they aren’t so blessed. Maybe in those more vacated environs, faith in a higher power helps to fill the void?

    [SLP — Maybe?  Or the reliance on faith keeps non-faith groups out resulting in vacuum of ideas.]

  14. citizen says:

    If non-faith groups shy away from communities of faith-based residents, what does that say about the unfaithful’s commitment to urban neighborhoods? Sounds pretty depressing, and hopeless. I suspect that faith based residets, often led by elder groups, would rather keep their faith, than look for support from outside groups to make a difference. People tend to stay inside of their comfort zones.

  15. constant change says:

    I don’t think I would shy away from a neighborhood of faithful if it wasnt being pushed on me, but I’d prefer a mix of religious and non religious, along with good mix of cultures. I love talking / listening to old people, about anything and everything, from the hidden obvious to the plausibly absurd.

  16. citizen says:

    If you don’t mind opening or closing a meeting with a prayer, or being led in prayer by a local preacher, or holding hands in prayer, you’d be good. I wonder what would happen if a non-faithful person declined the invitation to open a meeting with prayer? In most cases, those prayers are very specifically offered to Jesus Christ. When it comes to “urban review”, the interrelationships between groups of people is what makes St. Louis an interesting place. Being known as a “neighborhood city”, means those interpersonal exchanges are more interesting than in less personal places. Whether those meetings are in the barber shop, the liquor store, church, the ward meeting, or in an alley, there’s more texture and depth to our connections between people. Just look at the new “Concerned Clergy for the City of St. Louis”. They are getting headlines, stemming from a personnel matter in the city of St. Louis. Ask them whether they prefer an urban scaled new home or suburban styled one built on a vacant city lot, and they’d probably give you a funny look.

    [SLP — I have no issue with a group of people wanting to pray.  Where it becomes a problem is when everyone listens to the preacher who says they need to raze buildings to have more parking for folks driving in from the burbs for Sunday services.  Churches can be a wonderful stabilizing aspect of any community.  However, just like Starbuck’s drive-thrus, you can also get too many.  People have been praying about neighborhoods for decades —- it is time for less praying and more work.  And I bet most of those clergy would have no issues with front facing garages like they have in the suburbs.]

  17. citizen says:

    It is increasingly understood that prayer without work is of little to no value. If a students prays, “God, I pray that I pass this test” without studying, there’s little God can do to help the student. Same goes for neighbors praying for neighborhood rebirth.

  18. Adam says:

    “It is increasingly understood that prayer without work is of little to no value.”
    some might say that this demonstrates the impotence of prayer.

  19. Adam says:

    “Ask them whether they prefer an urban scaled new home or suburban styled one built on a vacant city lot, and they’d probably give you a funny look.”
    are you suggesting they don’t know the difference? or don’t care? isn’t that a little arrogant? here’s an idea: SHOW THEM the difference between an urban-scaled home and a suburban one and then ask them which they prefer.

  20. The Genius says:

    “People of faith would likely see the guiding hand of god present in the buildings of St. Louis, or the healing art of a physician. While Ayn Rand would likely disagree, many faithful St. Louisans would be inspired. ”

    People of faith flew airplanes into the twin towers.

  21. equals42 says:

    “People of faith flew airplanes into the twin towers.”

    There was also a few atheists (Stalin and Mao to name two) who killed a few more people than the 9/11 terrorists.* Faith isn’t a necessary ingredient of evil. Faith is more often a good thing than bad. It can however be used as a tool to achieve horrible ends and/or promulgate bastardized tribal beliefs as in Pashtunwali.

    I find that church is one of the few times people in my community assemble to discuss the “greater good” rather than concentrating on personal issues. Without these weekly gatherings, many adults would never have another source for cultural bearings than the media.

    For Stalins record (not including the deaths attributed to the forced collectivism) Russian writer Vadim Erlikman, makes the following estimates: executions, 1.5 million; gulags, 5 million; deportations, 1.7 million (out of 7.5 million deported); and POWs and German civilians, 1 million — a total of about 9 million victims of repression.

    The U.S. State department in 1976 estimated that there may have been a million killed in the Mao’s land reform, and 800,000 killed in a counterrevolutionary campaign. Mao himself claimed a total of 700,000 killed during the early years of 1949–53. However, because there was a policy to select “at least one landlord, and usually several, in virtually every village for public execution”, 1 million deaths seems to be an absolute minimum, and many authors agree on a figure of between 2 million and 5 million dead. In addition, at least 1.5 million people were sent to “reform through labor” camps. Mao’s personal role in ordering mass executions is undeniable. He defended these killings as necessary for the securing of power.

  22. john w. says:

    equals42- I believe that will bring us back to where we were originally. Those who choose the path of faith, and believe in its power to transcend earthly encumbrances will do so, those who choose the path of faith in others to see themselves through earthly emcumbrances will do so. What you have detailed regarding Stalin’s record could be simply transposed to Hitler’s, and Hitler was a man of faith.

  23. The Genius says:

    Exactly. Hitler was a christian. The fundy nuts hate that.

  24. SpikedHeelsOnLongLegs says:

    John W is one smug arrogant holier-than-thou know it all Christless bleeding heart slogan repeating blow hole who has yet to add anything of value to any of these conversations other than an aloof and hateful bad taste. Merry Christmas John W, I look forward to your next insult to intelligence, human kind and peaceful existance. Johns idea of clever reparte’ is to accuse someone of watching Fox news and shopping at Walmart. John is the classic example of a big man behind a keyboard, behind a username, behind a closed door – little man, little ideas, big words.

  25. NeonCity says:

    Ditto what spiked heels just said.

    [SLP — You know, ‘Justmyview’, posting multiple comments using a different name to make it look like people agree with you isn’t really a good idea.  Busted!]


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