Thinking back to my first post on this blog (Coming Out) a little over a month ago, I had mentioned that my tipping point down this path of atheism started with seeing Penn Jillette on a talk show promoting his new book, “God, No!” I started my journey with other books on the subject of atheism rather than this one specifically, but I felt it important to finally read the book on which I had made my wager with ‘God’. I am very glad that I did – it is very entertaining, and he makes many excellent points. I don’t connect with Penn on every level; we are obviously two very different people leading different lifestyles (and that’s OK), but I do agree with him on so many points when it comes to religion.
I was fascinated to read about the “Atheist Baptism” with the ex-Hasidic Jew he dubs Atheist Boy, in which AB approaches him after a show and explains that after hearing Penn on the radio, he had been inspired to come out as an atheist. Penn & Teller took him for his first taste of treif (non-kosher food); he experienced the joys of shrimp, clams, oysters, pork, and – most importantly – a bacon cheeseburger. I connected with this story because it was similar to how mine began: it wasn’t Penn who put the doubt in my mind, but it was Penn who indirectly encouraged me to accept that I was an atheist. In writing this book and appearing on a show that I happened to catch on a small screen in the gym (perfect example of right place/right time), he got me thinking about what I do (or in this case, don’t) believe.
In his book, Penn describes his awakening into atheism as a high school student, when he negotiated a deal with his parents whereby he could skip church and sleep in on Sundays, provided he went to youth group on Sunday evenings. Then he decided to read the Bible. He describes reading the bible as the “fast track to atheism”… not reading a passage here or there, but starting with “In the beginning” and throwing it down in disgust at “the grace of the lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” He shares an amusing anecdote about being excused from the church entirely after getting into debates with the pastor; eventually his pastor informed Penn’s parents that he was not only not getting anything out of youth group, but he was converting the other kids to atheism as well. Huzzah, I say!
I found several fantastic quotes in this book, including one from an anonymous author he found on the web: “Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.” This is undoubtedly where the chapter got its name – Passing Down the Joy of Not Collecting Stamps. A quote in this chapter which really stood out to me was,
Reality exists outside of humans. Religion does not.
This is a simple way of stating what I have felt for a very long time. All living creatures, big or small, experience reality in the world that we all live in. Whether humans believe animals have a ‘soul’ or not doesn’t change the simple fact that we share this planet with them. They have just as much of a right to be here as we do. They eat, sleep and breathe the same as we, and most pass on their genetics in the exact same way. Our paths have only diverged as a matter of evolution. We should treat them, and our planet, with respect. Religion is man-made; reality is not.
This is not the point Penn was going for, but it’s not too far off. He was alluding to basic truths such as evolution which people choose to ignore despite the evidence, because it leaves precious little room for their beliefs. My take is just another branch of the same tree, just as animals are another branch in the tree of life.
“I just want to believe in God”
“I just want to believe I’m Bob Dylan, but it will be healthier for both of us if we just live in the world the way it is.”
So true! Believing in the things we wish were true is a waste of time, and can be detrimental to our health and well-being. We could live together peacefully if we put that same energy into believing in each other. We can work to enrich our lives (and the lives of our children) with science and technology; we can prevent disease, preserve our environment, and find new ways to produce food in an already overpopulated world.
“The enemy is faith. Love and respect all people; destroy all faith.”
I completely agree, as I have said in previous posts. We shouldn’t hate people because of what they believe; we should try to help them come around to a more sensible and rational point of view. If we are going to allow anyone to believe things without evidence, then we must respect everyone’s beliefs, regardless how crazy… no cherry-picking which ones are OK! Penn sums it up best with, “If you believe that your warm, snuggly feeling about the universe means a god… Then Charlie Manson can tell you that those people were killed because the Beatles told Charlie about an impending race war.”
Overall, I am very glad that I finally read this book. I respect Penn as an entertainer; I have always been a fan of Penn & Teller. I respect him for his opinions, even though we lead very different lives. He is much more liberal than I, and has far fewer inhibitions, but I am not going to judge him for his lifestyle; we are each living our lives the way we want, and each have the right to do so. This is different from respecting a religious belief – Penn isn’t infringing on anyone else’s right to live, he isn’t violating any human rights, and he isn’t impeding any scientific research that can be crucial to the survival of our species. I believe he ended this book in the most perfect way imaginable, so I am going to outright steal the last sentence from his book for this post.