The Softening of a Cynic
Penn Jillette, the large, ponytailed half of the comedy/illusionist team, Penn & Teller, is another staunch cynic and an avowed atheist. The vanity plates on his car read ATHEIST. He frequently lambasts the Scriptures and those who believe in God on the television show he hosts for Showtime and in his video blog, Penn Says.”
In a 2004 episode, he characterizes the Bible as “more fiction than fact” and says, “It sure isn’t great literature. . . . There’s no plot, no structure, there’s a tremendous amount of filler, and the characters are painfully one-dimensional. Whatever you do, don’t read the Bible for a moral code. It advocates prejudice, cruelty, superstition and murder.”1
But five years later, there is some evident mellowing on Penn’s part, at least toward one person who approached him after watching his live show in Las Vegas. The man told him how much he enjoyed Penn’s show and his honesty. He then handed Penn a Bible and told him that he hoped he would believe the Scriptures and have the assurance that he would go to heaven. Penn is visibly moved as he describes the moment:
It was really wonderful. I believe he knew that I was an atheist. But he was not defensive, and he looked me right in the eyes. . . . And I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. . . . How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible, and not tell them that? I mean if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.2
Penn says he is still convinced there is no God. But this encounter clearly made an impression on him. You can watch Penn tell the full story in his five-minute video blog at http://crackle.com/c/ Penn_Says/A_Gift_of_a_Bible/2415037.
- Penn & Teller, “Bible: Fact or Fiction,” May 6, 2004, http://vodpod.com/watch/413765-the-bible-fact-or-fiction
- Penn Jillette, “A Gift of a Bible,” December 8, 2008, http://crackle.com/c/Penn_Says/A_Gift_of_a_Bible/2415037