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?
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?
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.