LETTING GO OF GOD is Julia Sweeney's one woman show which illustrates her "journey towards atheism" as someone once categorized the film. I haven't been a fan of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE since the original "Not Ready For Prime Time Players" left the show so I certainly wasn't a fan of Sweeney's "It's Pat" character (and it turns out, neither was she). However, I have been a great fan of her other one woman show "GOD SAID HA!" since the 90's: a dialogue relating her brother's battle with cancer and her own discovery that she had cancer too. Her brother died, she didn't. So regardless of the subject, I was already predisposed to be interested in any new one-woman-show Sweeney chose to undertake.
LETTING GO OF GOD is a refreshingly unrushed, funny and (most importantly) non-smug description of a few years in Sweeney's life during which she yearned to reconnect with her faith (she had been raised Roman Catholic) and went on a rather epic spiritual journey which ultimately culminated in her startling self-realization that she no longer believed there was a God. Through bible study classes and encounters with other Christian churches, a Buddhist pilgrimage and a new age drive-by from Deepak Choprah, Julia Sweeney's descriptions are always heart-felt, clear-eyed and follow a natural, unforced path which never seems predetermined until she finally reaches her destination. Perhaps the best thing about the one-woman-show, I think, is the aforementioned lack of smugness. No matter what your religious beliefs (or non-), and no matter what your sympathies towards atheistic beliefs (and I have some), atheists who gain a public forum tend to have an overbearing smugness (such as Bill Maher, for instance) that is off-putting; even if you're genuinely interested in what they have to say and they're making good points. Julia Sweeney never does that. In fact, her ultimate realization that she might well be an atheist is really a matter of her own personal journey (as these things SHOULD be) and she never pointedly puts down other people who happen to still believe. Instead, she opens a window on her own innermost struggles with faith and disbelief for two hours, lets us in on her final outcome and leaves us with a pretty clear picture of her openness, her intellect and her compassion for others. After all, if we all did a lot more of that and a little less beating each other over the heads with our own personal ideologies, wouldn't this be a much better world? Whatever personal beliefs each of us holds, it should be able to stand up to a little self-examination from a former SNL comedian. If that's all it takes to threaten one's faith then it surely must be a puny thing in the first place. As C.S. Lewis demonstrated in his own Christianity, he was not afraid to put it constantly to the test of critical and thoughtful examination. He emerged every time with an intact belief in Christianity. Julia Sweeney, through a similar process, emerged with a different belief system. That's what makes us all individual and . . . well, really interesting. We all, in the end, have to make up our own minds.
Julia Sweeney, at no time, comes across like she's trying to recruit for atheism. Instead, she comes across an an extremely entertaining raconteur who is interesting to listen to for a couple hours. It's the human quality and the personal search each and every one of us is on that makes LETTING GO OF GOD such a funny and uplifting experience. While some atheists use a sledgehammer and basically call anyone who believes in God an idiot, Julia Sweeney's approach is gentle and human; and her conclusions ultimately only apply to herself.