Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Letting Go Of God

In April 2007, The Ottawa Citizen -- the largest circulation newspaper in Canada's capital city -- published a commissioned op-ed piece by me, which I called "A Bright Idea for Atheists." In that piece, I took to task some of the people who are currently trying to overcome the problems religions causes in our world: the fight, I said, was noble, but the sneering techniques being used by Richard Dawkins and others were counterproductive, and would change few minds.

(Now, I in fact love Dawkins' book The God Delusion, and have given it as gifts, and in The Globe and Mail: Canada's National Newspaper, I named it the most important book of 2006 -- but I'm not blind to its flaws, which are mostly not of content but tone.)

My piece in The Citizen was occasioned by the grand opening of the Centre for Inquiry, Ontario, at which I had been a featured speaker, and concluded, "If the Centre can really bring a new voice (one that's polite and charming) and a Canadian voice (one that's self-effacing and inclusive) to the Modern Skeptical Movement, then it might actually do some good."

Well, some atheists reacted negatively to my piece, and several said I was setting an impossible standard because one couldn't talk to religious people without becoming sneering and arrogant, since, well, atheists are right, right, right, and any idiot should be able to see that.

I had some ideas of my own in the op-ed piece about how to better approach the issue, but I didn't have a widely available work to hold up as a better choice than The God Delusion to give to believers that might actually change their minds -- that might actually lead a few more folk to embrace reason instead of superstition.

But now I've found that work: the one-woman stage show Letting Go Of God, by Julia Sweeney, perhaps best known as the androgynous "It's Pat!" from Saturday Night Live.

Ms. Sweeney's monologue -- which is now available on CD and from, -- is everything I'd asked for: polite, charming, self-effacing, and inclusive. It's also laugh-out-loud funny, hugely intelligent, and brilliantly delivered.

Letting Go Of God covers all the bases: the journey from childhood religious indoctrination to freethinking adulthood, the contradictions in the Bible, the silliness of New Age thinking as a substitute for reason, the prejudice against atheists, and, most of all, shows that you can be a good, kind, loving person without God (indeed, it's hard not to be totally in love with Sweeney by the end). It never sneers, never uses condescension, and never once tells anyone else what to think -- it trust that the members of the audience can find their own way.

A tour de force; I recommend it highly and wholeheartedly. Get a copy for yourself, and buy others to give to friends.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At July 25, 2007 6:11 PM , Blogger Josh said...

Rob, back when you posted about the op-ed piece, you mentioned Calculating God in response to a comment I made. I didn't get a chance to answer, but I'd actually already read the book long before; and I imagine you've heard this before, but after reading it, I really had no idea which side of the God debate you came down on.

Anyway, I think that's a credit to your writing, and to you. Speaking as a practicer of religion myself, I'd much rather see healthy, friendly debate than for, um, "my side" to win by stifling that. I haven't heard Julia Sweeney's show (and I might not, just based on, you know, how busy I get), but I'm sure I'd love it -- and I like to think God would, too ;-).

At July 26, 2007 2:26 PM , Anonymous Michael Krahn said...

Hey Rob,

I posted an article on Dawkins at Digital Journal that you might be interested in. The article can be found at:

If you haven't heard of Digital Journal... I was accepted as a writer there a few days ago and if your writing is good, you can get paid for submitting articles.

At July 27, 2007 3:35 PM , Blogger Ryan Oakley said...

I enjoyed your op-ed piece but, being me, I sneer at both atheism and religion. They both have blindspots that you could drive trucks through. So do I. So does everyone.

The atheists probably bother me more because they often act like they have no irrational beliefs. They even make a virtue out of that and making virtues is a bad habit.

I like irrational beliefs. Anyone can believe something proven and logical. But it's the illogical and unproven beliefs that show who we are.

At July 31, 2007 4:00 PM , Anonymous DB Ellis said...

I sneer at both atheism and religion.

And and lets not forget that there are atheistic religions---wouldn't want anyone left out of the sneerfest.

Seriously, though, the thing I love about Sweeney is the total lack of contempt with which she views people she disagrees with.

She's the best and probably most effective of the outspoken nonbelievers.

At December 09, 2009 8:54 PM , Blogger Felicity Walker said...

Well done, Mr. Sawyer. I was treated badly by a mob of atheists a couple of years ago ( ). It made “atheist” a dirty word to me and actually pushed me further *toward* everything they hate--not just God, but so-called magical thinking, flying saucers, pyramidiocy, you name it--if a bunch of skeptics love to look down their nose at it, I’ll give it respect just to balance things out.

It pops a red flag in my mind when someone identifies as an atheist. Immediately I’m braced for another abusive attack. Atheists have a long way to go to undo that kind of damage.


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