20 November 2011

Book 32 of 2011

32) God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Athiest and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette
One half of the magical duo Penn & Teller, Penn Jillette is a noted blowhard, but an entertaining one. He's cultivated this personality since his act with his partner has seen him become the talkative one of the two and they're pretty successful. The book makes the case for a secular collection of commandments to replace the Biblical version while liberally sprinkling in stories from his own experiences inside and outside of his life as an entertainer. Jillette is firm in his own beliefs and has no qualms discussing them here, as both a libertarian and an atheist.

His points on atheism are interesting, and the argument that agnosticism has nothing to do with atheism is one that not too many people make. And though he rails on faith and everything that entails, he does have faith in the fact that "the vast majority of human beings are basically good." The Atheist Suggestions also argue that position, and I enjoyed those enough to write them down:

  1. The highest ideals are human intelligence, creativity and love. Respect those above all.
  2. Do not put things or even ideas above other human beings. 
  3. Say what you mean, even when talking to yourself. 
  4. Put aside time to rest and think.
  5. Be there for your family. Love your parents, your partner, and your children. 
  6. Respect and protect all human life. 
  7. Keep your promises. 
  8. Don't steal. 
  9. Don't lie.
  10. Don't waste too much time wishing, hoping and being envious; it'll make you bugnutty.

Regardless of anyone's beliefs, religious or otherwise, these aren't half-bad rules to live by.

The content outside of the philosophical, metaphysical and/or theological is very hit and miss. There are plenty of humorous stories and occasions that were funny, but they definitely weren't as funny as he clearly thought they were. Similarly, I found passages about his personal life and upbringing to be fascinating, as he is the definition of an "oops baby," born 23 years after their first child when his parents were 45. However, the connection he makes to his own children, both born after he turned 50, is fleeting, and it would have been interesting reading for him to explore that topic further.

Finally, for a long time, I've been of the belief that all words are just that: words. There are no bad words, nor are there good words; it's the intent behind words that matters most. There are places and times where certain words are more appropriate than others. That being said, this is a book that deals in the words that most folks find inappropriate or even vulgar. This is not something that bugs me, just as discussion about religion or the lack thereof doesn't bother me, but I'm aware that it might put others off. So beware of that before reading this book and learning about Penn Jillette's exploits and experiences throughout his eventful life. Seriously, he goes into some pretty explicit detail about a host of different topics, and I'll never look at a blow dryer quite the same way again.


  1. God No is a hodgepodge of stories that center more upon Penn Jillette's life, his family, his political views and a few comments about religion thrown in. If Jillette adequately described what a Libertarian is, then I'm glad to know that I am not one. I found most of the stories uninteresting and came away liking Jillette less than I did before I read it.

    1. That's an interesting point, and I agree that I probably did like him less as a person but also recognize and can relate to how he came to get to where he is as a person after reading the book, if that makes sense. Jillette is prone to hyperbole, but that's to be expected given his profession. I still think the "commandments" are pretty strong and the best parts of the book.

  2. I imagine someone will post a "review" of this book without reading it, complaining that the book is anti-Christian. It isn't. It could be viewed as anti-religion (Penn skewers a variety of religious beliefs) but his larger point -- that religion isn't a necessary component of an ethical life -- is not a concept that depends upon hostility to religion. The book doesn't have a mean-spirited feel (although religious people might be offended by some of the things he says). One of Penn's precepts is that most people are fundamentally good, whether or not they belong to a religion. Penn is actually meaner to self-described agnostics (who, in his view, "are really cowardly and manipulative atheists") than he is in his discussions of sincerely held religious beliefs.