About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Letting Go of God
Julia tried everything: she studied the Old Testament cover to cover and found out that – far from being “the good book” -- it is ripe with horrible stories of mayhem and betrayal, where god doesn't always play the part of the good guy, au contraire. She then turned her hopes to the New Testament, but pretty soon Jesus came across as angry and temperamental, nasty to his mother, and most decidedly against “family values” (you know, that business of having to hate your family in order to join him, etc.).
Other religions didn't fare much better. Julia recounted her interest in Buddhism, which was much tempered once she realized that children are indoctrinated as monks without really having a chance to experience the world and make up their minds (gee, can you believe it? A religion based on brainwashing at any early age!). She discovered science and flirted with pantheism, the idea that god is nature. But then she went on a wonderful trip to the Galapagos where she witnessed birds picking the brains of their siblings in order to survive, and figured that nature is just nature, no godly love or personal interest added to the wonderful but bloody mix.
Finally, Sweeney “let go of god,” she allowed herself the full realization that religions are just human inventions to make sense of an impersonal universe, to feel better about our own mortality and, of course, to better control other human beings. As it is for many atheists, that felt like an incredible liberation. She was at first a bit surprised that after letting go of god she still wasn't going around killing or robbing people; but then she realized that morality is a natural outcome of living in social groups, where without (socially taught and enforced) ethical principles we simply wouldn't survive.
The play gets the science right, and it's insightful in its analysis of religion. But more importantly it is a stunning example of how a human being can begin to question received “wisdom” and engage in a life-long quest for better understanding. My friends and I had a chance to talk to Julia after the show. She is as warm and funny in person as she is on stage. Her play wasn't a matter of acting: she simply told us her story, and it was a wonderful story.