Penn Jillette pens an atheist bestseller
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 (4:46 p.m.)
Photo: Matt Sayles/AP
In 2006 Richard Dawkins wrote about atheism from the scientific perspective. In 2007 Christopher Hitchens wrote about atheism from the sociological perspective. And for the next three years, the skeptics community wondered who would step in to write about atheism from the 6-foot-7 juggler’s perspective. Penn, it turns out. Who’d’ve thunk it?
Like the Dawkins book (The God Delusion) and the Hitchens book (God Is Not Great), Jillette’s God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales hit the New York Times bestseller list right after publication. Penn thinks he knows why: “Some polls show the number of nonbelievers has climbed to nearly 20 percent. Even the Pew numbers are at 8. That might not seem like a lot, but a decade ago, around 9/11, the number was at 2 percent. That’s a four-fold increase. The only group that’s seen a rise in numbers like that is Lady Gaga’s fan base.”
- God, No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales
- By Penn Jillette
Various polling organizations can debate the exact percent of nonbelievers, but most agree on one thing: the number is going up. Accordingly, Penn foresees more atheist bestsellers around the corner: “I think we’re going to get something out of Ricky Gervais. But what I really want to see is an atheist book by a regular guy, or maybe something by a philanthropist, like Bill Gates, who’s always been nonreligious. That way believers couldn’t claim to have a monopoly on philanthropy.”
While you’re waiting for those books to come out, you might as well check out Penn’s. It’s a 230-page collection of essays. Most deal with atheism, but some don’t. Like the one about being ignored at a gay spa, or the one about how much Kreskin sucks, or the one about how Penn burned his penis on a hairdryer grate. (Dawkins and Hitchens overlooked these topics.)
“I wanted the book to be tangential,” Penn says. “I wanted readers to feel like they’re sitting at a table, talking to me. The starting topic is atheism, but we go from there. The stories that bookend God, No! get to what this book is really about. They’re about Siegfried & Roy and about Marty Allen & Steve Rossi. Those guys are all so different from me, and yet I can love them and get along with them.”
Is Penn softening up in this book? Or is he just misunderstood as brash?
“I’m not misunderstood. I am brash. I make my living being brash. Our show is called Bullshit. It’s brash. But there’s an underlying humanism to everything I do.”
You can take Penn’s word for it, but if you want to be all skeptical about it, read God, No! and see for yourself.