God, No! Penn, Yes!
God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales is a great demonstration in misrepresentation from an expert in the art, Penn Jillette. For those who haven’t heard the name (highly unlikely after his success on the long running T.V. series Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, Celebrity Apprentice, and The Penn & Teller show at the Rio in Las Vegas, among many other accolades), Penn is the more outspoken half of the magical dual Penn & Teller. Penn is a juggler and although through listening to him I gather would be too humble to admit to himself, a master of the sleight of hand. I draw attention this character trait as being relevant because despite what the title would have you believe, the only connection this book shares with atheism is that the author himself is in fact an outspoken atheist. Besides what felt like a few brief pages at the start, middle, and end, Penn uses misdirection in the book’s title to divert the audience from what the book actually is – A stage for one atheist to massage his own ego while sharing some smart, goofy, and more often than not somewhat disturbing stories with the world. I loved said stories.
Although Penn Jillette may self admittedly come off as an obnoxious asshole (I’m paraphrasing), especially to those who only ever manage to catch glimpses of him speaking on Glenn Beck before turning off the T.V. Set, I believe him to be one of the most open, honest, and loving human beings on the face of the planet. The stories in God, No! range everywhere from Penn dropping his dick in a blow dryer while his stripper ex-girlfriend was asleep in the other room, to his heterosexual experiences at a gay bath house. Throughout the book, Penn is quick to spout stories from his past that most people would have locked away deep in their psyche, but through it all his message of love shines through. Penn Jillette demonstrates great unwavering love for his family, fans, and humanity as a whole, which through his story telling is received loud and clear. This is a book that celebrates life. This is a book that accepts all people regardless of age, colour, sexual orientation, or religion.
What little message there is about religion in this book is simple. Faith is dangerous. Faith causes some nutty people to do some nutty shit. It is not a battle against any particular religion that Penn takes on, it is a battle against faith. In his mind, which is the one point I didn’t find myself agreeing with, if you condone people’s right to believe in anything, you have to condone people’s rights to believe in everything, “I deny terrorists the moral right to have faith in a god that will reward them for killing people with airplanes. That means I have to deny Christians the moral right to a faith that Jesus Christ died for their sins”. Penn is strongly against faith in anything, but if you are a believer in something, you will still be able to enjoy this book and chances are that he won’t convince you to become an atheist.
Perhaps one of the reasons that Penn shies away from preaching atheism in what some people have called an atheist manifesto, is that logically he’s too hard pressed to give anyone credit for really being religious. In the book Penn’s quoted as saying “I don’t even believe that other people believe in god”. His theory is that if anyone truly believes in God, and therefore believes that people who don’t are doomed to an eternity in hell, they would feel morally obligated to fight tooth and nail, even if it means their own death, to try and convert the non-believers. Nobody should have an “I respect people’s right to believe what they choose” attitude, which many religious types whom I know have, knowing that according to their own gospel, those people who’s rights they are respecting are damned.
In my mind you would have to be the most right wing Christian, devout Muslim, or extremist Jew for this book to have any sort of effect on your philosophical views. Perhaps this is because I share some of the same feelings towards religion as the author, in that it’s hard for me to fathom anyone actually being religious. To quote Penn, “The Bible is the fast track to atheism”. That being said, people tend to pick and choose which parts of the holy scriptures to follow, which is fine, believe what you wish – We’re all going to the same place when we die anyways.
Photo credit: ©Michael Cogliantry