Going Without God

Critic and comedian Julia Sweeney talks about how she gave up worrying and learned to love science.

UW-educated Julia Sweeney—Columbia Pictures accountant–turned–star of SNL, Frasier, and Broadway, Film Comment critic, and best-selling author—returns to the Paramount Theatre this weekend to perform her new monologue, Letting Go of God, and divine its deeper meanings with Ira Glass. We caught up with her by phone at the airport in Los Angeles.

Seattle Weekly:This is actually a rematch after your bout with Glass on This American Life, an unusually popular episode, right?

Yes, the most popular one he ever did. So we thought it might be fun if I did an hour and 15 minutes of the show—it's two-and-a-half hours long—and another hour discussing it with him. We're opening off-Broadway the weekend after Labor Day. A CD just came out, and a book next spring, My Beautiful Loss of Faith Story.

For a consultant to Sex and the City, you know a lot about theology. Didn't you say St. Augustine doubted that women are human?

Human, but of lesser status. He speculated on how women were conceived—he thought it was because of having bad thoughts at the moment of orgasm.

Helpful for family planning. How did this show germinate?

I had this terrible breakup at 38, eight years ago. I went into a spiraling downward depression from which I didn't think I could ever recover. I had this religious experience—I felt like someone was in the room. A couple of Mormon missionaries asked me, "Do you believe that God loves you with all his heart?" I did feel that God loved me, but I didn't know if I actually believed it. They inspired me to rejoin the Catholic Church. I joined a Bible study class and just went crazy learning about all the underpinnings of how the Bible is put together. And that led me to this big thing where I had to let go of Christianity, and then I decided I was a Buddhist. I tried to visit all the places the Buddha was, and then I investigated and felt like it was just as much crap as Christianity. And then I decided God was nature. I loved Deepak Chopra so much that I took a class on quantum mechanics. And realized he was full of shit, too. Yeah, I could say God is nature, but that's not a God that cares about me. Nature doesn't care about the individual.

"The lion shall lie down with the lamb"—but the lamb won't get much sleep.

So I let go of God altogether, and then I felt really sad. But it turned out to be a profound experience, because I discovered science.

Did you read Robert Wright?

I cannot tell you how much I love him. When I read The Moral Animal, it fucked me up so bad, I never recovered. 'Cause I like to think of myself, even in my godlessness, as completely altruistic. When I read that book, it was like, "Oh, it's all self-serving!"

It's like the Catch-22 character who says, "The God I don't believe in is a kind and just and loving God."

So, then, the last part of the show is that my parents disowned me.

Since you gave up on God, they gave up on you?

For, like, a few months.

Then they gave up on giving up on you.

Yes. On the CD, I changed the title to Letting Go of God? Question mark.

How like your character Mea Culpa, the ultimate Catholic girl.

Yes, exactly. Letting Go of God???

I'm sorry, God! I don't mean anything by it! People who only know you as SNL's Pat don't realize you're actually a writer. Can Seattle's cinema-nerd circle claim you as one of our own?

Yes, you can.

God Said, "Ha!," a previous show you wrote and performed, is the best movie its producer, Quentin Tarantino, has made since Pulp Fiction.

I . . . feel similarly.

And you're filming Letting Go of God.

There is gonna be a movie, at least like God Said, "Ha!" But I have a script where the movie is much more elaborate, and we're in the process of getting the financing. It's kind of expensive. If we don't get all the money we need, I'll film it like I did God Said, "Ha!," which is much cheaper.


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