Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | March 28, 2006

Loss of faith story buoys spirits

This weekend, diverse events buoyed my spirits because they gave me hope that perhaps political apathy in our culture is waning.

As my husband and I drove into downtown Los Angeles late Saturday afternoon, we saw the last dozens of an estimated half-million protesters leaving a rally opposing H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. It has passed the House of Representatives and the Senate begins debate on its version of this bill this week. Many churches and charities are concerned because one provision of this bill would “criminalize aid programs for poor immigrants,” according to the Associated Press.

The day before I was cheered by news coverage of Los Angeles high school students defying the apathy that grips so many of their peers by walking out of school to protest this bill. Whether you agree with their opposition to H.R. 4437 or not, the fact that these young people were moved to action by a political debate is encouraging.

I haven’t studied immigration reform enough yet to determine where I stand on all of its facets, but I am thrilled that the topic concerns so many people enough that they are joining marches and contacting legislators. I hope that their newfound interest in politics continues to issues outside of immigration reform.

But we weren’t in Los Angeles to see protesters, we were there to meet a friend for dinner and watch a Sunday matinee performance of Julia Sweeney’s one-woman show, “Letting Go of God.” A couple of months ago, I heard an excerpt of the show on “This American Life” on National Public Radio while driving. It so moved me that I stopped in a nearby shopping center, parked and listened to Sweeney’s story. When I learned the show was still playing in Los Angeles, I knew what I wanted for an anniversary gift.

On Saturday night, our friend took us to a Lebanese restaurant and told of us his adventures volunteering to teach English in Palestinian refugee camps a couple of years ago and of his plans to go again later this year. As he drove us back to our hotel in his hybrid vehicle, I was cheered by his willingness to take real action in his own life – from the car he drives to where he spends his vacation – motivated by his principles.

On Sunday, we listened for more than two hours as Julia Sweeney, comedian, actress, writer and Saturday Night Live alum, told the story of how she lost her faith. Raised in a devout Catholic family, she attended Catholic schools through 12th grade. Replace “Catholic” with “fundamentalist Christian” in the previous sentence and you’ve got a line from my bio.

Sweeney told her courageous story of examining her growing doubt about her faith – a process that began, ironically, after the devotion of two Mormon missionaries motivated her to read and study the Bible – with spot-on anecdotes, gentle humor and honest questions about what her faith required her to believe.

For those of you who think that nonbelievers and people who dare to examine religious assertions are arrogant – and because you’ve written to me and about me with basically that assertion, I know you’re out there – Sweeney’s story should disabuse you of that misguided notion.

Sweeney started her journey to what she calls “philosophical naturalism” but most people call atheism by trying to strengthen her faith. When she gave up on the Catholic Church, she tried various other faiths and philosophies to find the right path to God for her. Eventually, she gave up on the notion of God.

Like anyone I know who has lost the faith in which they were raised, Sweeney’s questions didn’t arise from a whim or out of a desire to escape irritating rules and rituals. Rather, seeking answers to difficult and sincere questions led her through a gut-wrenching process and to a conclusion that she tried mightily to avoid.

For those of you with your own loss of faith stories – whether you’ve replaced the religion in which you were raised with a different faith or with no faith at all – much of Sweeney’s story will resonate.

I admire Sweeney’s bravery in publicly telling her story in a culture so predominately religious that she risks ridicule and marginalization for doing so. I applaud her emphasis on the importance of critical thinking skills. I appreciate the honesty, humor and eloquence she employs so skillfully in telling her story.

And I thank her, and the H.R. 4437 protesters, and our friend’s hybrid car and volunteer work for showing me that apathy hasn’t infected everyone.



  1. […] with a loss-of-faith experience, no matter the religion, will appreciate Auslander’s […]

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