Letting Go of God by Julia Sweeney. Indefatigable, Inc., 2008 ($20)
Scheduled to air on Showtime in early 2009
“So I'm in the bookstore, and I see this book by Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works,” says comic and former Saturday Night Live star Julia Sweeney, “And I think, 'How does the mind work?'” So launches a memorable journey, both in Sweeney's life and in the new film of her one-woman stage show, Letting Go of God, an extraordinarily engaging account of her walk across the religion-science divide. Sweeney found that the mechanistic answers that Pinker offered about the mind—the brain-based mechanisms of thought and consciousness being discovered by modern neuroscience—inspired her to replace her Catholic faith with science's empirical skepticism, which she finds, after many hilarious detours, “a much more powerful and reliable tool for understanding the world.”
Sweeney's I'm-not-too-bright comic persona (clearly a ruse, given her marvelous grasp of science's deeper principles) is the perfect foil for this conversion story. Her argument for atheistic empiricism is devoid of the highbrow snobbery—call it “intelligentsiasis”—that infects some attacks on religious faith. The sorrow with which she surrenders religion's comforts only strengthens her case. I have never heard anyone describe so sympathetically the attractions of both religion and science—or describe so humbly and humorously a choice between the two.