Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 23, No. 44, Ed. 1 Friday, March 16, 2007 Page: 30 of 60
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I ife+stylespi ritual ity
as an atheist
Comedian-actress Julia Sweeney read the Bible from cover to cover.
And the more the devout Irish-Catholic studied the Old and New
Testaments, she came to believe that God is about as real as Santa Claus
By Daniel A, Kusner Life+Style Editor
She's one of the sweetest performers to
ever join the ranks of "Saturday Night
Live." And when I tell Julia Sweeney
that I really enjoy some parts of the
1994 box-office and critical bomb, "It's Pat," she
says, "Bless your heart."
A former accountant who became a profes-
sional comedian, Sweeney created the androgy-
nous character Pat Riely when she was a member
of the Groundling Theater. In 1998, she followed
"It's Pat" with "God Said Ha!" a one-woman
show that found laughter in the face of cancer.
Now she's unearthed the funny side of examin-
ing the nonexistence of God.
But first — back to "God Said Ha!"
Shortly after Julia moved into her two-bed-
room bungalow in Hollywood, her younger
brother Mike was diagnosed with lymphoma.
First Mike moved in, and then the Sweeney par-
ents moved in. And amid the dysfunctional-fam-
ily chaos, Julia was diagnosed with ovarian can-
Quentin Tarantino made the stage version of
"God Said Ha" into an exquisitely entertaining
film. As much as the story is about Julia, it's also
about Mike, who ultimately lost his battle. And
while Julia was the eldest of the five Sweeney
kids, the way she described Mike, it was unclear
if he was gay or not.
Was he gay?
"Yes, he was," Sweeney says from her home
in Los Angeles.
She encouraged Mike to come out to the
Sweeney parents, but while creating "God Said
Ha!" the big sister protected Mike's privacy.
"The family didn't really know it. And it
doesn't really matter anymore. I only kept that
secret... Well, I didn't keep it secret. I just did-
n't put it in the show, because Mike wasn't open
about it. And out of respect for him ...
"We used to argue about it all the time. All
the Sweeney kids knew," she continues. "But
he said ... Oh, this is going to make me cry.
Mike said, 'When I'm in a long-term rela-
tionship with someone I love, then I will tell
Mom and Dad.""
Mike wasn't your typical Cher-loving
gay dude. He liked the Crash Test
Dummies, and during chemo treatments,
he usually wore his "Reservoir Dogs" T-
"And then he died. So he never got that per-
son," Julia says.
Now she's learning about the coming out
process from a different closet. Because Julia
Sweeney is an atheist.
Earlier this year, her new one-woman show,
"Letting Go of God" was independently released
on CD ($19.95, JuliaSweeney.com). And coinci-
dentally, on May 5 the show will be taped for a
film version during its run at the Renberg Theater
at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Los Angeles.
In her signature wholesomeness, Sweeney
chronicles her journey to the land of the non-
believers. As devout Catholic, she idolized nuns
who taught at her all-girl high school in Spokane,
Wash. She loved "The Flying Nun," "The
Singing Nun" and Audrey Hepburn in "A Nun's
IT'S TIME FOR ANDROGYNY, IT'S JUST PAT: During her "Saturday Night Live"
Sweeney introduced America to the mysterious gender-bent Pat Riley.
Like most Catholics, Sweeney was inculcated
with Vatican-administered rituals. And like most
Catholics, she grew up not as a literalist but as an
interpreter of the Bible.
"And I was never a fan of the pope," she
But one afternoon, some young Mormon mis-
sionaries rang her doorbell and asked if she
"believed" in God's love. That question became
the pea under her spiritual mattress. The Mormon
boys' dedication to God inspired Sweeney to
rededicate her faith, so she joined a Bible Study
Sweeney began with the Old Testament and
made her way through the sequel. And through
the fresh eyes of an adult, she found the whole
idea of a supernatural being rather unbelievable.
WHO NEEDS AN ANTI-GAY GOD ANYWAY?
WHO WASN1 THERE
ArfFIlM BEYOND BELIEF
Julia Sweeney made an
excellent recommendation for
gays and lesbians who feel
rejected by Christianity: "The
God Who Wasn't There"
Written and directed by Brian
Flemming, the sharply edited,
informative and often funny
the literal history of Jesus and
chronology of early Christianity.
There's plenty of evidence of
gay-hating Christians who wor-
ship violence. And using unau-
thorized clips from Mel Gibson's
The Passion of Christ,"
Flemming examines the connec-
tion between blood sacrifice and
While illustrating the way
things are told so often they
become fact, Flemming coinci-
dentally happens to be the guy
who's responsible for the term
"spam" when referring to e-mail
spam — weird!
Great music by David Byrne
and queer band LeTigre compli-
ment the nifty soundtrack.
"The God Who Wasn't There"
is so hilariously blasphemous, it
just might scare the bejesus out
— Daniel A. Kusner
"If there was a God, why he would send his
son to be a savior to us by telling us incredibly
convoluted and vague stories. Also, Jesus was
really pissed off most of the time," she says. "If
there was a God and God wanted us to behave a
certain way, why wouldn't he just say, 'Look
here I am in the sky. Here's what you got to do.
And this is how you have to do it.""
Through her studies, Sweeney also couldn't
get past the Bible's many breadcrumbs of
"The Bible says if someone has an adulterous
affair — if you're a woman, you should be
stoned to death. The Bible promotes slavery. And
that men should have more than one wife," she
says. "The Bible isn't a good place to look for
morality. It's just an archaic document."
Not that the New Testament doesn't contain
some gorgeous prose.
"The Sermon on the Mount is fantastic. And
there's lots of good advice for living, but that
doesn't mean that it's sacred," she says.
I mention that in the Rev. Mel White's recent
book, "Religion Gone Bad," that Dallas' First
Baptist Church is said to be the historical birth-
place of anti-gay evangelicalism. And that many
gays and lesbians have been kicked out of
churches because they're gay.
"Good! They should feel lucky. They should-
n't be at church in the first place," Sweeney says.
Sweeney says she has gay friends who strug-
gle with anti-gay Christianity. "And I keep say-
See ATHEIST on Page 36
30 I dallasvoice.com I 03.16.07
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Nash, Tammye. Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 23, No. 44, Ed. 1 Friday, March 16, 2007, newspaper, March 16, 2007; Dallas, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth238952/m1/30/?q=julia%20sweeney: accessed May 9, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.