Reclaiming your head

Here’s a great listen for you – Julia Sweeney on Fresh Air. She’s got a one-woman show called ‘Letting Go of God’ at an off-off-Broadway theater, and she gives a pretty good run-through of the journey from theism to atheism in this interview. In fact it’s pretty hilarious what a lot she manages to get into thirty minutes or so – religion as consolation in despair, Bible study, Abraham and Isaac, perverse excuses for Abraham and Isaac, a wink-wink priest who explains that we sophisticated believers know better but myths are for the people, the anger and sense of treachery at being told that, withdrawal from the church, turn to New Age, in particular Deepak Chopra, being stimulated by his talk of quantum mechanics, which he cites to subvert science but she didn’t realize that at the time, reading about quantum mechanics because of Chopra-stimulus, being excited by science and the scientific way of thinking, seeing everything through that filter, that skeptical filter – that’s about the first five minutes. It’s good stuff.

There’s one bit where she talks about the way she used to have God in her head; she would talk to him, tell him about her problems, discuss things – he was very compassionate about my problems, she says with a cackle. So, Terri Gross asked, wasn’t it lonely when you didn’t have God in your head any more? I answered for Sweeney: maybe, but also freeing. Sweeney said yes but it was also liberating.

That’s exactly it, you see. It’s liberating. I think people underestimate that – people who emphasize the consolation of religion. It is consoling, of course I see that, but it is also – something the absence of which is liberating. It’s surveillance. The constant presence of someone you take to be real inside your head is (can be) consoling and companionable but it’s also relentless. Sweeney talked with some passion about realizing that her thoughts were her own, that what went on inside her head belonged to her and no one else. Well exactly.

And she explained, with some eloquence, how she finds skepticism and an interest in science themselves actually consoling. A great listen.

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