Friday, December 25, 2009

Bahai Temple, Wilmette, IL  early Christmas morning 2009

I took this picture early this morning on my dog walk.

Mulan, Michael and I opened presents, had breakfast, and then flew to L.A.  Now I am here, and I realize how much I miss it!  Yippity yah, five days in L.A.

Not much to report, but I wrote this (below) last week and I guess I'll paste it here now...

Amongst the non-believers of this world, there appears to be a split in thinking between:

1.) Those that think religion is good - regardless of truth - for some people.  Religion is useful for those who are trying to get sober, for those who have no where to turn, for those that might not follow society's rules, for those who might not otherwise respect others, for those in complete despair, and for those that need the idea, the concept - as a new drug - to get off another one.

2.) Those who think religion and the idea of God is never good for anyone.

I have always put myself in the #1 category.   It suits me because I don't want to proclaim that seeing stark reality, which is very dark and full of potential catastrophe, is good, or possible for everyone.

But this thinking is very condescending.  It's Plato saying religion is good for the masses.  It's Will Durant saying how religion helps to bind people together, and so for society it's good.  It's AA using the idea of a higher power to get people to let go of another, actual drug.

But #2 is so arrogant too.

I mean this is all just for the rumination - religion and the idea of God is not going away and most likely never will - so this is all just blathering about the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin.

 I have always stayed away from the #2 thinking because it puts me in a position of dismissing so much in others. I am not comfortable with it.  It's very judgey.  Of course, that is no way to decide what you think.  Being judgey is the point of this whole debate!

But in my private thoughts, what do I really think?  It's like a little debate between Plato and Voltaire.  Plato did think religion was good for the masses.  Voltaire believed religion enslaved people.

Truthfully, now I'm beginning to lean towards Voltaire.

I asked my husband yesterday if he thought religion did any person any good at all.   "Think about Anne Lamott, a nice, liberal, happy Christian, " I said,  "Or people who get off drugs and alcohol because they find Jesus.  I mean, aren't we all better off because of that transfer of the more dangerous drug to the more benign one?"

And he said, "Maybe. But now those people are primed to follow.  Jesus might be the idea for now, but it really could be anyone. They have made themselves programmable and basically they are sheep and now anyone could lead them - it could be to the top of a mountain or it could be off a cliff."

Again, I am paraphrasing and adding imagery for emphasis.  And may I remind you that I do not hang on this guy's every word, far from it!

But I thought about that all day.  I mean, I have always thought #1 was the benevolent point of view, the humble point of view, the less-judgemental and superior point of view, but actually that is wrong!!

The #1 thinking is really so cynical and superior and #2 has all this faith  in everyone to use rationality and critical thinking to get through.   #2 is actually the humble - or no, the optimistic point of view!  (Not that being humble or optimistic is some sort of proof for an argument!)  But you know, neither of these words is right, it's more like empowering - it's the empowering point of view.

I have not really come to any conclusions about this.  But I'm just realizing how there is this split in thinking and I'm not sure - I vacillate between those views.


meno said...

But isn't religion itself condescending? To believe that your religion is the only correct way to view the world?

Anyway, i am like Voltaire, but i pretend to be like Plato in order not to seem like such an ass.

But i am.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia,
I believe religion both creates problems and at the same time is a product of human nature. Most people are followers and that creates a need that religion can fill ( Simplistic ). The most intelligent struggle and question, and if they get it rammed down their throat when they are a vurnerable child it causes lots of emotional problems in later life. I was virtually brainwashed by the nuns, or at least they tried. Religion is a crutch and most intelligent people realize this at some point in their life. I now believe that Jesus was a very inspired human who began to spread the seeds of love and compassion. He was badly misunderstood and after his death his followers raised his memory to the level of divinity. Many in power saw the effect this religion had on people and used it for their own selfish goals. It seems that religion can bring out the worst in people and when they do good works it is often for the wrong reasons. Almost like being stuck in the selfish thinking of a 4 yrs old.
It helps me, greatly to try to put all this in perspective.


Ron Strelecki said...

I wrestle with this problem as well. I think a little dissection of the issue helped me. Separating the supernatural claims that religions make from the religion itself is essential. Then look at the two categories independent of religion.

1) There are those that say supernatural claims are good. (AA, respect, rigid rules for sociopaths)

2) There are those that say that supernatural claims are always harmful.

A slight rephrasing of the question can lead to clarity (and less eyebrow furrowing). No matter the supernatural claim, there is always another branch of that religion that either doesn't make that claim, or directly refutes. Until believers can decide what it is that they believe, there is little point wrestling with whether "religion" is beneficial or not. Because religious people can "believe" anything.

By divorcing religion from supernatural claims, I find myself much more comfortable in camp #2. There is nothing that a religion with supernatural claims can give to society that a religion without supernatural claims can not. The supernatural, by definition, can not add anything to anyone's life.

Anonymous said...

"The supernatural, by definition, can not add anything to anyone's life."

There is nothing supernatural about an idea, even if the idea itself is that the supernatural exists. But ideas can add (or subtract) from a person's life. One need only look to fanatics who choose to be suicide bombers based solely on an idea of the supernatural.

As for positions 1 or 2 (religion sometimes good vs always bad), I myself can not decide on which position I prefer. I see merit in both arguments. But I love the debate...

Woozle said...

Minor point: just because something will always be with us -- like poverty, or hunger, or disease -- doesn't mean there's no point in fighting it, because ending up with less of it is still a lot better than ending up with more of it. (I think this is known in cognitive therapy as "all-or-nothing thinking".)

Major point: while I'm inclined toward the "never any good" view overall, I think what we really need is more data: when religion is seen to be a force for good, what aspects of the many-headed beast we call "religion" are actually at work? Is it possible that we might be able to eliminate some of the more destructive aspects of religion, and yet retain the good? (We genetically engineer viruses to do beneficial things; why not viral memes?)

Anonymous said...

I was contemplating this lately after watching your DVD again. I think we humans invented religion because our "frailty" is just so frightening. . . and for that matter our "greatness" too! To believe in ourselves as the only orchestrator is almost too much for many.
Also, you commented earlier that many people wanted you to suggest alternatives to religion. Well, I suggest that we all come up with ideas for our own spiritual empowerment. Isn't part of the fascination with religion in the rituals? How about we make up our own chants in our own language that mean something to us. Or come up with things that quiet us and help us become centered and strong. As Jane Fonda used to say in her exercise video religion - "feel the burn!" It's all inside each one of us.

BJSmeal said...


Between you and I and Plato and Voltaire, I personally think god was created by humans who were, as of yet, too ignorant to fully answer their ever-growing number of complex questions. Once we stopped being prey, and could breathe a little easier for a few moments, we began to look around our world and started to ask questions, which often began with, “Why?” People who were just figuring out what we now perceive as rudimentary facts, were unable to explain the so-called mysteries of life and death…especially death. Religion followed god, as it unified and strengthened the declaration of god-the-omnipotent-and-wise-beyond-our-meager-comprehension-being. Throughout human history, there’s always been a need to explain; to understand, really, every aspect of life, and it took a great deal of time for humans to start looking beyond the “heavens” for the answers.

Between the first sludgy beginnings of evolution and the walking, talking, thinking people we are today, religion has also evolved. It adapted to the changes in mankind by telling tales of wondrous miracles and by imposing more and more restrictions on the kind of behavior which would logically, one day, lead to the lack of need for both god and the religion created to protect him. Religion likes to tell humanity that god is always fighting to keep our immortal soul from an eternity of enslavement, when in fact, religion has been fighting to enslave our minds, which has always been the true essence of our humanity.

When I hear people say that believing in a higher power can save them from self-destruction, I wonder if those folks ever stopped to think about what they were saying. Humanity is, in itself, quite remarkable, when and if it so chooses to be. We possess incredible intelligence and undeniable strength. We discover things and develop things. We fix things and adapt to our environment. We change our environment to suit our needs, and yes we even screw up. A lot. But what saves us from our failings is not god, but our own decisions to change our own mind about what we do and/or think. The grace of god does not stop the addict from shooting up; the addict or his circumstances will change. I find it laughable sometimes, when people insist god intervened in the situation, when religion is quick to assure us that people do wrong because of free will. Think about it; If god could or would intervene in the machinations of a person’s twisted life, why wouldn’t he choose to do so prior to the first time that person took his first step down a wrong path? The convenience of blaming free will for all the world’s evils loses its potency once logic enters the discussion. I’m sorry, but for me, it’s simply illogical to believe that god is almighty except when he decides to not be.

I really think the whole argument is lost once you realize that humanity is the direct result of evolution and survival and not from the busy week put in by some magical being with an itch to make something that would obey and adore him. An atom, not an Adam began this long line of succession to the present-day creatures, which are you and I. Science has proven its case, time after time, while religion continues to demand blind obedience to the theory of god. But, we are humans, and as such, we think. Thus we must believe in that which we know, not in that which we might think is prettier or more glorious than reality. Besides, having faith in humanity isn’t as ill-advised as one might first think…After all we’ve managed to do some fairly amazing things since we first slithered out of that first glob of existence.

Sarah said...

I think spirituality and/or the idea of god/goddess/higher power isn't bad. While not a believer, I've met plenty of people who use that idea to better themselves and the world. Religion is an entirely different kettle of fish- the ritualization and rule-making that's supposed to apply to an impossibly broad audience in many societies is incredibly impractical and gives the 'head' of each religion far too much sway.

When people talk about their personal relationships with xdeity, I always point out that if the focus is a PERSONAL relationship with their deity of choice, why in the world should they be worried about the state of anyone ELSE'S personal relationship. THAT is the problem that religion injects into spirituality.

Bud said...

The problem with religion is not so much what religious people believe; the problem is *why they believe it*. If religion enslaves the masses, it does so through the rejection of critical thinking and skeptical inquiry. I have many Christian friends, and they all follow the same pattern: "I'm a Christian, so I should believe X," where "X" is a position (like pro-life or anti-homosexual) that they hold because they are Christians, not because they've actually thought about the issues. This blind acceptance is a problem.

Sure, many people have found strength in a religion and thus have bettered themselves. But the fact that one person found strength through Islam and another person found strength through Christianity (and so on) suggests to me that a person already has such strength, and uses one's religious beliefs as a placebo.

Even if religion has been a source of benefit to certain individuals, such blind acceptance has by far caused more problems in the world than good.

I'm on Voltaire's side of the fence insofar as I think we need to inject more reason into people's lives. Most religious people are, as has been said, "primed to follow." A lack of reason in one area can lead easily to a lack of reason in another area. Blind acceptance of religious dogma can (and has) led to unspeakable atrocities.

I'd rather live in a world where people are concerned about thinking and finding truth more than feeling and finding comfort.

TimmyB (Not the religious Timmy) said...

I saw the new Darwin film "Creation" today. Loved it. Same dilemma in that movie. I recommend people of both persuasions see it.

If my child had been forced by a priest to kneel on rock salt until her knees bled because she believed that dinosaurs actually existed I wouldn't have been so forgiving. Religion blinds people to reality. 'Nuff said.

Petra said...

I have to say, it comforts me to see how thoughtful all these posts are, and how well-written!

Anyway, i am like Voltaire, but i pretend to be like Plato in order not to seem like such an ass.

Meno summed it up for me, I believe. Of course, I don't really have meaningful conversations about religion with anyone other than my hubby!

: ) P

Mel said...

The question is, do people really need to be led? Can anyone but a true idealist lead an ethical life without having an institution to turn to for guidance? Do people need to be controlled? In a globalized community, how is the individual able to have the perspective to build a code of ethics around a personal identity and social behavior, given that there is such vast amounts of conflicting information to be had?

I certainly don't know the answers, and I remain a skeptic.

Thanks for asking the questions.


Hi Julia...
I met you thru TED, then bought your DVD's, and since became a big admirer!!
I'm a film and theater director in the Dominican Republic.
I would love to translate your monologue "Letting go of god" and perform it here (even tho it obvioulsy won't be as powerfull as yours, since you're telling your own story) with some adaptations.
what can we do?
my personal email is

Ernesto Alemany

Lisa Fulmer said...

Hi Julia - my mom and I watched "letting go of god" on xmas eve - it was wonderful! I echo your sentiments to a tee...thanks for being such a great voice. (btw - I'm a good friend of your BIL Joel, I miss him lots!)

Claudette said...

Hi Julia,
What an excellent and thought provoking post. I truly enjoyed reading it and it's giving me food for thought.
Happy Holidays!

Froggymama said...

It's interesting because my family would be option #1 and my husband's family views are option #2. Both are judgey wudgy when it comes to religion. My parents believe you're lost without God and his family believes you're an idiot to believe in one. I'm somewhere in between and more wudgey, than judgey. What's option #3? I tend to keep my mouth shut and wonder how everyone can be so sure.

I remember the first time I read about Existentialism and thought with irony, "thank god" it just doesn't matter...and yet it finally does. There was something refreshing about finding meaning in nothingness, rather than extracting meaning from everything. I don't know, it's all so exhausting.

My husband and I speak to all first year medical students at UCLA. We're like the "posterchild parents of a kid with a chronic illness," and hopefully help these future doctors see the human side of healing. And every session we are asked what our religious views are or how we cope spiritually. I never know what to say and I see the disappointment on everyone's faces like I haven't fulfilled the stereotype of "the parent who has figured it all out when the proverbial sh*t hit the fan.' It's like that expression "there are no atheists in a foxhole." We're in a foxhole and still completely clueless.

I suppose we're in the category of 'those in complete despair, or because we need the idea of it.' But we haven't committed. Because everytime I feel I'm ready to become that parent, I hear Pat Robertson preach hate, or read about some organization that can 'heal' those pesky gays through the love of Jesus. And just when I think, "ugh, I can't be part of any religion," we hear bad news from the doctor, or learn about a new treatment in the pipeline and I pray, I fall on my knees and pray. Is religion good as a whole? When it inspires and justifies killing in the name of god, when it inspires people to picket Matthew Shepard's funeral, when parents teach their children evolution is a hoax? It's a question I ask myself daily. Can you be an intelligent, thinking person and believe in God? And if I embrace God, but ignore the religion, am I just a flake, making up a convenient god (who just happens to be a liberal who embraces homosexuality and other religions)just so I can sleep at night? I don't know. But I'm only 32. I have plenty of time to become even more confused.

Cliff said...

Hey Julia,

To me, the biggest problem with #2 is that it almost demands that you take some kind of action, doesn't it?

Think about how much better off the world would be if so many people didn't think about it as a temporary thing rather than the only thing that will stay constant.

How much more important life is and how when we ask "how will we leave the planet for future generations?" we don't just mean as some religious obstacle course made to measure just how holy they can be in the face of adversity.

Instead of looking at the bad things in life as things that need to be fixed people look at them as "tests". If something is bad that must be the way god intended it to be ... so no use complaining about it.

Is religion really a product of human nature? If people hadn't been taught religion their whole lives, especially given what science has uncovered in the last 100 years, do you still think people would gravitate towards the super natural?

What if you were given a copy of "The Origin of the Species" at the same age you were given your first copy of a bible? Come to think of it ... as someone who was 'educated' in one of the most prosperous countries in the world ... why weren't you?

That brings us to the next and possibly most scary part of subscribing to thought process number two ... in a country where religion and patriotism seem to go hand in hand and where being religious is almost a prerequisite to holding any high offices you have to ask yourself if the government is using religion to manipulate it's citizens.

The the implications of that are dire.

Just having that thought makes me feel like I'm some kind of wack job conspiracy theorist ... but to me, that's another one of those hard questions you have to be honest with yourself about.

It's like when you describe in your film you feel as though you had cheated on god ... I know exactly what you're talking about. Both of my grandfathers and several of my uncles were Pentecostal ministers. So coming to grips with what I view as reality was pretty hard for me.

I find these days when I think about our government I have that same kind of feeling.

If you run with idea #2 ... as someone who believes this world is all you have ... don't you have an obligation of sorts to try your best to change things? If not for yourself than for your family?

Maybe that's why so many people end up settling on religion being a good thing. If it's not ... how does one do anything about it anyway?

Anonymous said...

What if the thing people are really looking for is community? I think those are the happiest in their church - they have a community they belong to and it gives them friends, activities, support, etc...all good things and things we all need.

Trick is to pick a Church with the good stuff...and not end up with a "church" like the Westboro Baptist and people like Fred Phelps...

Its all kind of the same in a way - whether you join a church or a bowling league or a political party or a gang - people are looking for community. And to keep their members and grow their numbers, many of them (well, hopefully not the bowling leagues) will use fear.

That seems to be when they turn bad...the ones that use fear to bind their community together.


Unknown said...

caught your 'letting go of god', love your blog.... I have only one friend, besides my husband and daughter who shares my views... I consider everyone else brain washed however I love them all just the same. I do not judge anyone who believes in god, so long as they don't judge me. My grandfather was an atheist and my grandmother Christian. My parents were christian, but big followers, I followed after my grandfathers footsteps. Too logical and practical to believe there is a god. My daughter is just as practical and logical as I, but I have given her the freedom to choose on her own, again her logical way of thinking prevents her from believing in anything other than evolution. I guess I am somewhere between plato and voltaire.

Bubba77 said...

What a pleasant suprise to discover such a thoughtful and interesting person there is behind the one that played Pat on SNL. I think both of your televised specials are groundbreaking and should be required viewing in high schools. Silas Marner, HA!

I prefer the label "agnostic" because it doesn't say either side is right or wrong, only that there is no absolute proof for either. No one can prove or disprove the existence of God beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The various religions were created by people, usually the ones that want to be in charge. It is just Santa Clause for adults, but you have to die to open your presents on Christmas.

My wife and I live far from the madding crowd and prefer to spend our child-like wonder on the daily progress of science and technology.

elephantsout said...

Oh yeesh. Sorry, but you've lost me here. Both are very condescending, because both are saying that non-religious people or atheists are the ones with the "answer" and the "truth." Both sat that if you don't believe in this truth, you are ignorant or weak, or a raging alcoholic. Isn't this pompous attitude about being the group with the only "truth" and "way" the very thing that you dislike about religious people?
I myself, do believe that there is likely a God or Creator of some sort. Perhaps He is the Christian God I have known all my life, perhaps not. I realize that the Council of Nicaea probably hacked away a lot of vaulable information. And yes, perhaps God does not exist at all. I accept that as a possibility. I don't need to believe in God because I am weak, or because I wouldn't otherwise be able to conform to society or because without Him I'd turn into Tyrone Biggums. I believe because it makes sense to me and because I am skeptical and intelligent enough to realize that nobody has all the answers or all the truth. I'm also smart and un-sheep-like enough to be able to say that I don't know what else is out there in the universe. But I'm willing to keep an open mind and not fixate on one "truth" that makes me feel superior to another group people.

Anonymous said...

Grrrrr...sometimes I really dislike religious people, too. I was just reading about this poor young woman online. She posted her story, which was essentially that she thought Lucifer was following her everywhere. She said she'd sold her soul to the devil on several occasions, but couldn't remember doing it. And that she'd been severely depressed since she was a young teenager. Instantly I thought "Okay, this poor girl is probably schizophrenic (or something like it)". But nooooooo, all the woo-woo Christians got on there (by the dozens) and told her she was possessed by a demon or the devil himself. One told her to get to an LDS church (talk about possession, yeah, send the girl to a cult, that'll help- NOT!) I was so angry. Who are these people, who think they can counsel this needy, ill person, someone who acknowledged she's attempted suicide numerous times. For whatever it's worth, I chided the Religoulous nuts for their nonsense, and advised the girl to seek a psychiatrist's help ASAP. This world is full of insane Christians! Sorry, guys, I just had to vent...

Anonymous said...

I have to say I fall in to category #1. I can see where some may view this category as condescending but I do not think of myself as being condescending.

I don't feel superior over those needing religion any more than I feel superior over those not being able to comprehend advanced mathematics. I don't go around thinking someone is lower in the pecking order because of what they think or what they can't do.


Justin said...

Howdy! Love "God Said, 'Ha!'" and am on the twelfth or so listen to my audiobook of "Letting Go." You're an inspiration. (I, too, have a show.)

The religious tension you brought up in your post here is very real here in Tulsa. Nearly all of my loved ones and peers are in some way religious. This alternates between annoying, endearing and frightening.

I'm increasingly of this perspective: Dogma is not spirituality. Religion is not spirituality. Spirituality is an exploration of the part of life which is uniquely human. Defining that. Pondering it.

Dogma and religion are tools we use to perform spirituality. Like any tool, they can be misused or abused. Those who wish to control or to give up control are the misusers and abusers.

Or something. I'm still thinking it through myself.

Happy New Year, Julia and family!

Owl said...

Great post, Julia.

For me, religion is beside the point (or often missing the point entirely). Even for many believers, their religion can be a nuisance. Voltaire and Plato may really agree with each other.

Religion is a vehicle of faith and produces both good and evil - as well as enslavement - for those who fall into it.

Jesus seems to exist outside of religion. Odd that his followers would wind up creating such a confusing religion. But isn't the core of religion really about worship? We all worship stuff. Maybe we're all religious - even gallant Voltaire. My attitude is that all religion is very temporal (even Catholicism and Islam). Religion is a mode, or human construction, meant to aid people in approaching what the Greeks called "the unknown God."

As we move toward "post-modernism," we realize that our realities are very subjective. This doesn't bode well for fundamentalism that takes sustenance from absolutes. We don't have objective "truth," exactly. We think we do. Therefore we are.

Yet, Jesus says, "I am the truth." Then what the flock is he talking about? It isn't exactly the truth that both believer and non-believer seek (and often insist they possess). He does go on to say, "Seek and you will find." But where? In the Bible -- apparently riddled with error? In the church canons (and sometimes cannons)?

Jesus is indeed an enigma. But whatever we get from the NT that is accurate, he at the very least seems to transcend what we know of as "religion." He is outside of it - much as the atheist or agnostic. In many ways the religion that supposedly represents him is flawed and lame. As are we all.

But it is in a slow flux. Nasty stuff, religion, yea. But I'm not going to pin its weaknesses on its Christ. The church may have made one very grave error in its thinking about him. They thought he was out to rescue only them. So they stuck him in a box. It's that box that many people have come to despise. Too bad. We may be throwing out the baby with the religious bathwater.

Stephanie said...

Dear Julia-
While Voltaire is probably closest to the truth, Plato is easier to digest when you come from the stance of a "once believer", who now is maneuvering within a family that I created imposing MY imposed beliefs and so on...I have shared bits and pieces of your DVD with my children (all in late teens) to try to explain how I was brought up and how I, too, struggled with my "faith". They look at me and say, "Now your an atheist?" It seems so harsh, so I say, "No, I'm a Naturalist" quote you!! SO.....ANYWAY.....I think, depending on where you are on the spectrum of your personal journey defines how far one is willing to go and proclaim that #2, religion is never good seems harsh and very "judgey". AHHH!! I sometimes wish I could put the genie back in the bottle and go on in my ignorant bliss! Thank you for sharing....

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia, I'm a big fan.

I'm a Deist. I believe there's probably some "thing" out there. But it never really factors into my life. I don't worship. But I don't doubt. If there's a God? He seems to mind his own business, and I mind mine.

I think life is short. So very, unfairly short. So, we should get started doing the things that make us happy as soon as possible. As long as someone's belief aren't hurting anyone, and they're not imposing on you? Then they can believe anything they want. When someone else starts pushing their life on someone else? That's wrong.

I think there's nothing wrong with believing in a higher power, but I believe that organized religion has been so vile about it. At it's best? It gives people inspiration. At it's worst? It drives their lives to the point where they can't even make personal decisions.

Well, if there is a God, he better have a sense of humor, or we're all doomed.

Scott Smith said...

I wish I had the time to sit down with you and walk you through your DVD step-by-step, error-by-error, especially as regards Scriptural exegesis and natural law. However, I've learned that clear-cut, elegant arguments alone don't have the power of conversion, because the appearance of the Truth is indistinguishable from lies, as Christ before common men, as the Eucharist before common bread.

Not being able to convert somebody by argument is really frustrating, but nonetheless I pray that you will know the Truth. Through humility, you will find your way to full communion with the Church.

I would love to see this DVD as the first volume of a series that eventually chronicles your way back to the Church. Your testimony of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of atheism could be especially effective since you were once so taken with it. This is the outcome that I pray for.

Merry Christmas!

Scott Smith

soulful-writer said...

Hi Julia,
I just finished watching "Letting Go of God". I was astounded at how similar our spiritual journey has been. I have thought of the same conclusions, including that we invented God rather than the other way around. But, why? Well, like Mulan expressed it after your father and cat died, we need to believe that our loved ones are not just gone for ever. But most importantly, we need to hope! Hope is mostly what keeps us going at many levels. If we lose hope, we lose the will to live. The idea of God gives us hope. Hope that there is someone or something greater than we are that not only created this amazing planet and universe but also cares. Hope that we are part of something greater than just the electric impulses of our brain.

I, too came to the conclusion that because of the way our brain determines our personality and who we are essentially, then when it ceases to function, we totally die. If all we are is biology and electricity . . . Then, hope pretty much goes out the window! What is there to prevent us from killing ourselves during our darkest moments? If there is no hope . . .no "punishment" afterlife to fear?

Thus, God serves a sustaining purpose in our society and world. The idea of God brings us hope and the opportunity to deal with our feelings of powerlessness, to transfer responsibility outside of ourselves for actions, events, or whatever we feel we cannot control. God was invented to give hope to the hopeless, comfort to the bereaved, power to the powerless, and meaning to that which we cannot easily or scientifically explain.

I understand and share your journey. However, I am not ready to let go of God. I love science but just like religion, it does not have all the answers. I am not a religious person, I've never been (although raised Catholic like you). I think religious institutions are a power trip and self-serving. Nevertheless, the institution is one thing, God idea is another for me.

Thank you for sharing your journey.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia,

I love Love LOVED Letting GO of God! You said what I could not.

My older brother is beyond genius IQ and a completely anti social recluse. His religious beliefs are Unitarian Universalist and I don’t really even know what he believes, but he would be better off without religion at all. Everything he says about religion is just plain weird.

My younger brother is more of an average IQ and he is totally mainstream in his beliefs. He gets great comfort and guidance in his life from his imaginary friend. He constantly tries to “win me over” and make me start going to church and praying.

I don’t want to burst his bubble, because I’m so afraid it would destroy him to find out he gives $600 a month and spends hours a day talking to someone that isn’t there. He thinks he can walk a tightrope because of God and if I convince him there is no God he may fall. So I purposely lose the argument to him and make sure he doesn’t know too much.

I’m a type 1 as well. But I do see exceptions.

Owl said...

Let me see if I can help some of the angst and fear people feel regarding these journies of faith. I've been an atheist - and it ain't this horrific wasteland that many religionists hope it is.

Regarding Christianity, it isn't the lamed church that is the issue. All you have to do is go try another church for maybe a better fit. Good luck.

The issue is Christ, whose story comes to us even through a flawed Bible that Julia confronted and was repulsed by the attitude - a kind of judgmentalism that is encountered in many churches. Jesus seems like a blue meanie. Bart Ehrman, who wrote "Misquoting Jesus," became an agnostic, not because he confronted errors in the biblical text, but because he couldn't identify with a mean, nasty God who allows such incredible evil.

Jesus asked Peter, "Who do you think I am?" Peter answered, "The Messiah." Jesus then said, "The Father, not flesh and blood, showed you that." That is, the 2 billion "Christians" in the world (1 out of 3 people)would know he was the savior because it was revealed to them, not learned. Or something like that.

I've studied the Bible like a frothing mad man (maybe I am), and come up with two major features about the Christian God as portrayed in the Bible: justice and mercy.

Segue to Hitler and you have a killer whose short life never really brought any kind of justice. If this life is all there is, there is no justice. "God is just," says the Bible. That's very comforting. That's hope.

Yes, we have a few instances where Jesus talked pretty tough - or seemed to. But the basic picture of the NT (God is love)is consistent.

What I draw from this is that Jesus came to save the WORLD: which includes atheists and anybody else you might demonize. Faith is confidence in what he has already done (whether people believe it or not). Hope is the confidence in that great future, and love is how we conduct our lives in light of that.

As for Hitler, he will face God's justice. Otherwise, neither he nor an atheist like Stalin will have mowed down human beings with no consequence. That seems very unreasonable to me (irrational, too).

And evolution also makes perfect sense and doesn't contradict the Christian faith in any way. It isn't the sole property of the smarter, wiser atheists. And Darwin is not an enemy of the church. God appears to be very progressive in every way.

I think of Jesus as the quantum leap into the fixed world. If that isn't hope, I don't know what is.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia,

I forgot to say how much I appreciate the humor you used in your presentation " Letting go of God " Even though I no longer believe in God, I still feel some vague discomfort about the whole thing. I guess my old feelings of fear are still there. Thanks to you they are small. Your humor really puts it where it belongs


Anonymous said...

As a former atheist myself, I think you should ask yourself why evolution has led to such a predominance of religion.

Even if you believe it to be a lie, in all likelihood it has evolutionary advantage or it would have died centuries ago.

In the end, aren't we all trying to protect and defend our species? I think atheists should embrace #1 because the practical experience of non-theist societies like the Soviets is not good and myth (as you would call it) appears to bind humans together around a common purpose.

That being said, if atheists are able to create their own binding credo which survive evolutionary challenge, then they will have a philosophy which actually has some power.

The practical experience of non-theist societies like the Soviet Union is not particularly good. And the Chinese are finding that more people than ever want to become Christian despite years of atheist rule.

But good luck to you. At this point, you seem to be like fish swimming against the current.

It seems to me you must blend your version of truth with some kind of philosophy which binds all humans behind a common purpose otherwise you continue to be less than 10% of the population.


Laura said...

Re: Anonymous

I hesitate to jump to the conclusion that religion itself has an evolutionary advantage. Rather, it may be that religion is a byproduct of other human traits that provide evolutionary advantages.

Being able to form causal beliefs provides a survival advantage: it allows us to make tools as well as predictions about our environment.

Having symbolic language is a survival advantage, it allows us to preserve and transmit large amounts of information and makes knowledge cummulative.

Having a sense of social norms provides a survival advantage, it allows us to work in cooperative groups. All these traits combined lend themselves to religious beliefs.

Pareidolia (the tendency to perceive significance or agency in otherwise vague or random stimuli) is a survival advantage. It's better to flee from a predator that isn't really there than to not sense a threat until it's too late.

Believing in god may be a (at times harmful) side-effect created by the confluence of the traits that make us a successful species.

The Soviet Union suffered from the same problem as religion: it relied on blind obedience to an ultimate authority. This is not an atheistic trait. Most atheists tend reject ultimate authority just as much as they reject god.

Anonymous said...

I Am Me...

I will question. I will judge. I will be skeptical of everyone. I will verify and educate myself. I will give the benefit of the doubt if my experiance and knowledge is lacking, but will only give that benefit conditionally. I will use my intellect, my intuition, and my wisdom to acertain truth from deception, and to those who employ deception, I will give my scorn and contempt. I will not bow down to fear. I will do all I can to help my neighbor's and hope they do the same. I will not submit to holy scripture. I will not direct my actions according to a four thousand year old obsolete manual written for the sole purpose of control, repression and fear. I will not worship anyone or anything but life itself.

I Am Me...[Blind Rooster]

Anonymous said...

"CAUTION: Using your brain is NOT endorsed by governments, religious, educational institutions and corporations involved with serious power and financial profit obtained from a brainwashed and enslaved population. Discomfort may occur as confusing independent thought challenges your current view of the world. Use your brain, think for yourself and question authority. Reality is an opinion, you determine the reality in which you inhabit."...[Blind Rooster]

Anonymous said...

"Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day. Give him a religion, and he'll starve to death while praying for a fish."...[Blind Rooster]

Anonymous said...

"Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich"...[Napoleon Bonaparte]

"Faith means not wanting to know what is true."...[Nietzsche]

"The most simplest of truth's are more beautifull than the greatest of lies."...[Blind Rooster]

"You cannot know anything, until you question everything"...[Blind Rooster]

"Their is no power greater than the power of the mind...None."...[Blind Rooster]

"The only way 2 learn anything is 2 question everything."...[Blind Rooster]

"There is no society in recorded history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable."...[Sam Harris]

"When we have reasons or "Truths" for what we believe, we have no need of "faith"; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty and being. One's convictions should be proportional to one's evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isnít...infact, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. Their is no sense of Elitism. In fact everyone is allowed 2 join...It's free...All u have 2 do is open ur mind and seek the truth. Their r no rules, no guilt, no oppresion, no anger or end of the world prophesies 2 keep u terrified, their is no need for fear. Only the beauty u will see when u let it all go and realise that their is so much more out there, so much beauty, so many answers based only of facts and truths. Because no one person...{Preacher, Pope, King, President,} or no one " Religion "...or " Organization " has all the answers...The answers can only be found by seeking the truth. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies and refused to make them his own."...[Blind Rooster]

Tamar said...

One thing morphs into another. When a behavior is stopped it is replaced by another. Maybe it is just the way our brains are wired and religion fills a void.

vaporcloud said...

such a conundrum! I think it best to give Religion as little thought as possible.....Thinking about it is just a snake with it's tail in it's mouth......Just Live Life!

Tatarize said...

1 and 2 do not constitute a tautology. You can very well think that when taken on balance religion is still a force for bad in the world, without thinking that it can never do anything good.

Religion should end up lucking into doing good things every now and then, but most of that will be people who were trying to do good and still managed to achieve goodness despite religion.

When people try to do good without religion, they could well end up saving a billion lives like Norman Borlaug did during the green revolution. When they try to do good within a religious context, they may well end up help fight for the poor or argue that the poor should never use condoms. It's pretty scattershot.

Certainly religion could do good things, but it's not like irreligion doesn't also do good things. And when you take everything into account, it may well be the case that we'd be better off without it.

Capt. Fogg said...

It's encouraging to hear that the number of Americans who think religion in general is out of date and often counter-productive is increasing -- and it's discouraging that countries like Ireland can pass a law making blasphemy illegal.

Trying to move mankind forward is like pushing a heap of water.

KAROLUS said...

Religion in all its forms serves two purposes: 1) it provides an umbrella of security for the majority of people on Earth who do not have the internal strength to face the harshness of nature and the cruelties of man unaided; 2) it enables those in power to control and direct the masses by claiming to get their orders from on high. Humans will need to evolve their thinking and moderate their emotional behavior before religion can be done away with altogether, but this will take some time. For a more ample discussion of man and the universe, see:

fondfire said...

This is something that gets to me, too. Formulating my thoughts on the purpose or usefulness of faith is very difficult. I've always leaned towards number 2, as the harm religion can do has been so obvious to me living down here. When this subject comes up (though I'm pretty good at avoiding it), folks down here really seek some sort of genuflection to the value of their viewpoint. I guess I've often reacted to that by trying to withhold it . . . Perhaps a cynical and pessimistic reaction rather than a reasonable one, but you can get evangelized a lot down here.

Fact is, though, a supernaturalist view of the world is a pretty sticky thing. and some forms of religion pretty obviously do more harm than other forms. (It's funny you have a Baha'i temple on this post. Were I to wake up tomorrow with the sudden Paul-to-Damascus idée fixe that God is really there, I think I'd probably go to their camp first, flawed as it is.) Also, lots of benign religionists don't scoff at the idea of working with friendly faithless people on good works. So, practically speaking, why try to shut a door that provides good for everyone?

I struggle to keep a nuanced view of faith in mind. Try to be open to those with views I appreciate and perhaps partially share, while maintaining the ideal that those who can go it without faith are being most honest about the world and how its made, given what we know.

Practically speaking, the only thing that makes me value faith is the fact that it can so clearly motivate people to long-term selfless devotion to caring for others in a way that nothing else seems to be able to do (though I'm sure some of your readers will deny that). All the non-religious kibbutzim become dysfunctional over time, but the religious ones are very often still functioning very effectively. Similar to your own experience, I have an aunt who is a School Sister of Notre Dame. She's spent her life devoted to educating children, often children with profound mental disabilities or kids in very underserved areas, for no salary and with little outward compensation. I don't do things like that. And I don't think those sorts of things, personally, and it doesn't seem that those without some binding, formulated belief system ever do, really. So, unlike a lot of atheists, I guess I find myself consenting to the fact that the certain forms of religious devotion are both useful to the greater community and simply not found outside religion.

I'd like to believe we could create a world where we do fairly compensate those pursuing the things nuns and others with a deep religious devotion to others do (and allow them to have families and normal lives, if they desire it) in a secular way, and like a good liberal, I suppose I've always considered good government the best possible organizer and executor of those things. But history doesn't entirely back-up my position, to say the least, and I really hesitate to become the kind of atheist that simply chalks up all the losers of the world (who I don't feel all that separated from) as simply having some sort of unavoidable fate that shouldn't perturb me overmuch. Or even worse, as being the recipients of the wages of some inalienable defect that natural law does not (and cannot and maybe should not) reward, which is something we all must simply accept. I think this is why most of the naturalists become liberals, as being a conservative naturalist seems to lead to a kind of machiavellian libertarianism that most folks find morally repugnant.

I'm going to stop now because this comment is out of control, but the dilemma you present here plagues most in this movement, even if the official spokespeople of it often paper over the problem. The last thing I was willing to give up about the religious perspective was cosmic justice (in my case, in the form of karma). That died hard. Once it's gone, you're left with nothing that will enforce universal justice.

tim B said...

Julia's in a poll for most influential female atheist of 2009. Neck and neck with Eugenie Scott.

Unknown said...

Wasn't there an old Cheech and Chong skit where the druggie says, "I used to be high on drugs, but now I'm high on Jesus,"?

Is there really much difference?

Aaron Wolf said...

I'm not sure the use of adding a comment to this long list, but I think I have the most objective answer:

The entire dualistic problem exists because the words are being used too simplistically. If you want to discuss "unquestioning faith in the supernatural" then we can get somewhere. If you want to discuss "adherence to a defined set of social rules" that would be something else. You simply can't discuss "religion" in such simple terms because it is a more complex subject.

If someone gets off alcohol by faith in Jesus, but THAT person thinks of Jesus as purely metaphorical, or doesn't consider the question at all but is practically having feelings about it that are essentially metaphorical, then that is different than someone literally believing that some specific entity is willfully guiding them in a concrete sense.

Look, just find the most specific element of religion that you can, and then you can judge that element. ANY JUDGMENT OF THE WHOLE PACKAGE AS SIMPLY "SOMETIMES GOOD" or "ALWAYS BAD" IS GOING TO BE A LOUSY JUDGMENT.

Natasha Sanchez said...

Hi Julia,
In addition to Plato and Voltaire, I find Emily Dickinson's take on religion most beneficial. Though I was raised catholic,
my 'religion' was determined for me, by me, when I read her poem "Some Keep the Sabbath in Surplice".

I was a junior in high school when i first read that poem, more than 20 years ago. That poem, along with the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, formed my spiritual outlook that I still maintain.
Just thought I'd share.

Anonymous said...

I am a former Catholic. I now consider myself to be a non-denominational Christian. As a Catholic I was never taught that I could have a relationship with God without the clergy as a conduit. I would define myself as a very bad Catholic until I was 35. At this very difficult time in my life, I asked God to reveal Himself to me and He did. This experience was not ambiguous in any way. It was extreme and real. Therefore, I can not deny His existence. The experience was far beyond anything I could have imagined, consequently it was an experience I could not have conjured up as a result of an emotional need or hysteria. What am I to do with this experience when people say to me, "there is no God"? Even at times when I feel like God is distant from me, I can not deny my experience. Why would God reveal Himself to me, you may ask. Maybe because I asked Him to??? I said to God, "I will wait for you no matter how long it takes. I will sit here and wait for you. I waited a long time. It was not easy to sit and wait for someone who may not exist but I waited for a lengthy period of time. He did reveal himself to me. Not in a vision where my mind could have been involved or a dream. It was in a physical way that was undeniable. I would say that maybe the key to this experience was my honest desire to know Him and the truth. My faith has nothing to do with religion. Religion is dangerous because it is a product of mankind. Religion is "belief" not faith or truth. It is ritualistic and cultural yet very powerful. The human being and the human spirit are polar opposites. The earthly body, the flesh and human nature is like an anvil holding down our spirit. It is our spirit that communes with God, not our flesh. Worshiping God is stepping aside and allowing our spirit to commune with Him. Religion is not the way to find God. This is why so many people struggle with God. One on one with God is the way to know Him. This is not a common message from churches because where would that leave the clergy. The church is their identity, their career and most often their livelihood. Most churches are businesses. As a matter of fact some ministers go to training courses with titles such as "How to grow your church" These seminars usually include techniques on how to raise money. If one is called by God into a ministry, God will take care of the details. My husband is a former minister. He attended meetings where they would ponder collectively, how to get a certain member to give more money. At one of these meetings I was labeled a "free spirit". Meaning I was not "teachable" (accepting their religious concepts without question) They did not want to waste time on me because it was unlikely that I would comply with their standards for membership. My relationship was with God. I was not rebellious as they saw it. I was pure of heart. I had no idea that I was there for any other reason other than to be in a community of people who loved God. I don't like ministers who fly in private jets and wear Armani suits is not my place to call them out. I leave them to heaven. There will always be as many different religions as there are people who can imagine God and decide that they know the truth. Anything that has a human involved is going to be flawed. Hence, the confusion, the conflicting concepts and religious wars. The truth of God is flawless, without contradiction. Jesus was not religious. He just put it out there, it is up to us what we do with it. Love one another was the commandment of Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace. Think about that. It really isn't that complicated, is it? If we could love one another and be peaceful it would be like heaven on earth.

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Anonymous said...

Lets call religion as it is. A busness that is much better run than the USA inc. It's very much a legal pyramid scheme to attain the promise of life ever after. It annoys me very much when people tell me god told them what to do and that they have conversations with god frequenly. I just never undertood why god tells me something different about the same thing. Again, the mind is the center of the universe because it perceives everything that we feel,think,taste,touch,see and desire. We all want some part of ourselves to continue to exist forever however small even if its only a thought. Blue skies and green lights, Breeze

Sam said...

Being "judgy" is part of what it means to be human. Then again, my dog makes judgments every day, too. I watch her do it constantly, based on her past experiences. And she can anticipate as well.

I don't believe religion is either an opiate OR a cage. Being religious is being human. Moderns worship at the alter of secularism, and are as pious as any monk or nun. As Bob Dylan wrote -- "You gotta serve somebody"...the implication being -- even if only yourself. I think it is always good to ask why.

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Unknown said...


This reminds me of something Homer (Simpson) once said, making the obvious substitution..."Alcohol; the cause of and solution to all of life's problems".

Paradoxical? Excluded Middle? False Diacotomy? "sometimes good OR always bad SOUNDS so much like a FD, but I cannot think of a third option I could accept except that it is "always good...if you are the religion's leader".

I think the reason this question is so perplexing is because when you are dealing with the subject religion, you are starting with an unsound foundation and are doomed to logical implosion.

BTW - loved your audiobook.

Joey said...

Julia, your slacking on your promise for the "picture a day" thing lol

Vera Charles said...

I can't imagine you will read this or even see it but I feel compelled to tell you how much I appreciate you and your profound talent and how much your shows (both God Said Ha and Letting Go Of God) have touched my heart and mind. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful being with us.

With great affection,

Anonymous said...

Lately I have been considering the idea that for those who believe there is a God, he/she exists. Just because I might not believe doesn't mean that it's any less real for them. It's less black and white (God/No God)and more about social construction of reality. In the end, the only difference between real and unreal is what you believe, and I really couldn't say I'm in any position to determine what any other individual's reality is.

Unknown said...

Anonymous: "the only difference between real and unreal is what you believe" is not a very sound concept. A person walking in the dark may believe that he knows the room layout, but still bangs his knee because his wife moved the table. There are, of course, far more extreme exmples.

Miki said...

Julie, today I saw your very polished, humorous routine and I loved it! I came out (to myself and others) as a non-believer last year and have been working through the issues on my own. Thank you for sharing your journey. I'll be reading your blog archives with great interest.

Colleen Murphy said...

my sister, my dad, and I used to walk to this temple every night after dinner. it was the half way point in our loop around the neighborhood. in the winter we would duck into the visitor center to warm up, they would play a propaganda film explaining the beliefs of the ba'hai...I thought this was a really pretty temple (compared to the others around the world shown in the film)... do they still show the film?

I am in agreement with you about not wanting to be "judgey" in that most people don't like to be judged (even though we spend an enormous amount of mental energy judging others)
is it wrong to allow people to keep their delusions so they feel accepted and not judged?

so I too am like Voltaire, but pretend to be like Plato in order to keep the peace (thanks Meno)
I don't wanna fight about it

Stephen said...

Number #1 is an effacive politically correct stance trying to be tolerant while promoting ignorance. Number #2 warns of the dangers of "faith" unexamined. Loved "Letting Go of God".

James Robert Smith said...

Religion sucks.

Anonymous said...


My immediate reaction is that you don't have to choose 1 or 2. Why label religion as somewhat good or totally bad ? It's tempting to conclude that because "sacred texts" are in large part a bunch of crazy stories that make no sense, that any organization that holds these tales in high regard and preaches them as truth is bad.
Dogma probably is, for the most part, bad. But I don't think all religions, east and west, are entirely based on dogma. Just because critical thinking tells me there probably is no God, my critical thinking also tells me it is probably best to treat others as I wish to be treated. I see things as grey, I don't think I need to label every concept, myth, fact, data or information as either good or bad. I just need to recognize what it is. That's not to say some things are bad, they obviously are, I just don't need to put religion in that category. Now if my child joined a cult led by a charismatic shyster I would change my position and immediately label all religion as bad.


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herk said...

Stick with Voltaire, Julia.

Positing that a Christian did good things neglects the reality that they may have done good things without the religion. Perhaps the would have done even better things; it's impossible to know. But atheists are good people, generally, and any chance of a sensible society isn't going to come from theocracy.

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Anonymous said...

All I can say is she had better "grab back on" to God before it's too late!

Anonymous said...

I am not posting anonymously, I just can't remember my Goole ID. Jason Hall here.

@Anon: "BETter" is an interetsing term in this context, because you suggest a gabmle. Your statement is like saying, "she'd better buy a bunch of lottery tickets if she's ever going to be able to afford to pay her mortgage".

For many people, the extremely small chance that there is a God, let alone that he administers any sort of reward/punishment system after death (two conjectures for which there is 0 evidence), does not warrant ANY "Pascal's Wager" type worship, which is often insincere anyway.

Spending (wasting?) any significant part of one's life on God worship when there are other more productive things to do (charity work? personal fitness? reading science?) or more relevant...WORRYING about whether or not God favours you is more than likely "emotional money" wasted on a scam.

Besides, if God is so omnipotent, we will not be so shallow as to punish someone for not believing in him when he offers nothing in which to believe, just as he would not be so egocentric as to reward someone for catering to him when he offers no evidence of any reason to. If anything, I expect a truly wize God to favour the non-believers and have no use of the gullible.

If my dad ever expected me to believe something proposterous he said without him supporting his claim, he would expect ne to kick his ass.


Unknown said...

FYI - Figured it (Google ID) out. The post above is mine. - jh

Anonymous said...

Dicklomat: Good point, and I will go one further...even if there is an omnipotent being that passes judgement on us, who is to say that it isn't the God of the bible, but rather Thor or Mahavishnu or Zeus or something else that is angered by our having worshiped the wrong diety? PAscal's Wager truly falls apart here in that is seems to be just as much of a gamble that you are worshiping the WRONG God as it would be to not worship one at all. Considering the evidence (or lack thereof), my money is on making the best of a secular life and ignoring the whole God thing completely, like I do with Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, Leprechauns, Thor and Zeus.

Unknown said...

I read your description of the split between non-believers and felt like you could be describing me and my partner. I usually describe myself as an atheist - but not orthodox. Rod, on the other hand is someone I describe as an evangelical atheist.

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