This I Believe: There is No God

Penn Jillette (the big, loud half of Penn & Teller) did the essay this week on NPR’s revival of “This I Believe.” His essay is “I believe there is no God,” and is well-written and quite provocative.

15 thoughts on “This I Believe: There is No God

  1. Morphea

    Holy cats-on-the-counter-gettem-off, Batman. Aly, you’ve renewed my belief in what-do-you-call-it. Synchronicity. Serendipity. Fate. Astounding coincidence.
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    Let me explain: I’ve been racking my brains, tearing my hair out on MY blog trying to coherently explain what pisses me off so much about The Church (or the FCC as Penn so neatly puts it) and your timely link leads me to a guy who just plops down a pretty little essay [with points to him for including the words Jell-O and Hallmark] that encapsulates Where Morphea Currently Is in her heart and soul. Sweet rest.
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    I’m printin’ down that mofo and keepin’ it.

  2. Morphea

    I’d like to add that both MY struggles at Kicking and Screaming and Penn’s essay are about more than anger at the church (much more, in Penn’s case), but that’s kind of what came out.
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    “Anger the first thing that always comes out of Morphea’s mouth? How unlike you!” the masses cry. Marvel at will. [rolls eyes]

  3. aly hawkins Post author

    I’m glad you find his essay encouraging…but in the interest of transparency, I wasn’t necessarily thinking, “Hey, this is great! No God needed!” when I posted it. I was thinking more along the lines of “Wow, that sounds great! I want to talk this over with my friends because I think it might be possible to believe in God AND have a worldview of love and a posture of learning, but Penn clearly doesn’t think so.”
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    I’m not trying to talk you into belief in God…I just wanted to be clear that Penn’s essay hasn’t convinced me. :)

  4. aly hawkins Post author

    Yes, it IS the right place! I just wanted to be clear that I was not saying “Penn is so right!” Please…affirm God’s nonexistence and know that you are loved.
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    You godless heathen.

  5. michael lee

    I think what Penn is expressing is that there is a sort of clarity that comes from commiting to a perspective, even if that perspective isn’t fully logically derivable. He’s not really arguing in favor of atheism (at least not in any sort of point-counterpoint way), he’s arguing that moving from agnosticism to full-on atheism (what philosophers might call “hard atheism”) allows for a kind of holistic clarity that vacilating between perspectives denies you.

  6. Morphea

    Interesting, Michael. You’re right, I think, and I’m curious now how YOU feel about taking any perspective that isn’t logically…uh…supported. I mean, there must be personalities that adopt that sort of thing more easily than others. Which one are you? I’m pretty sure logic means more to me that I generally think.
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    In the interest of at least trying to seem three-dimensional (as opposed to just angry and mouthy) on this blog, I would like to say that I am no atheist, glamorous as that would be. I’m not even much of an agnostic, since I’m pretty sure god exists. I’m sure Love exists (get it? God is Love?) anyway. It’s [adopting gender-specific language for a moment] his bride I’m having trouble with. Mrs. God got under my skin in a big way. But Penn didn’t convince me, either. However, a lot of things he said resonated with where I’m at to a freaky degree.
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    Which begs the question – why do I persist in haunting a blog that has a bunch of Christians on it? Two things: 1. you guys are the good kind of Christians (A New Kind, if you will…) and (I think) don’t mind if a screwed-up humanist hangs around, and 2. the sangria’s too damned good. Blame the bartender, you cuddly kids.

  7. Larry Edgar

    Mr. Jillette mentions looking for an elephant in the trunk of his car.
    Perhaps he is looking in the wrong spot, perhaps the elephant IS the car.

  8. corey

    Morphea, I definitely understand where you’re coming from. For a few years now, I’ve been struggling with Mrs’ God (as you call her- well done). I wrestle with the notion that I’m a christian in spite of christians, not on behalf of. But you’re also right, these folks round these parts are good people and it breathes a touch of life back into the body of Christ. It’s a Blue Like Jazz kinda rhythm that moves here.
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    I gather that that is exactly why I have this bookmarked at the top of my browser and make sure I check it multiple times daily. When I struggle with the “I Love God But His Peoples Drive Me Nuts”, I’m reminded that the all of humanity is flawed- and *duh* that flaw runs the length of the fold as well. And maybe that’s why I have the day job that I do- so I can contribute to the construction of the Church That Does It Right… it goes without saying that said flaw widens and frays as it passes through me.
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    From one AntiSocioAgnostiZealot to another, thanks for the comments (and Happy Turkey Day).

  9. michael lee

    Morph, I’m going to split hairs on this one, but only because it’s important to how I came to faith. There’s a significant difference between “logically derivable” and “logically supported”. The first requires that something be rationally provable from starting principles with high certainty. That my wife is alive is logically derivable, from the starting principle that non-alive people don’t cut grapes in the kitchen, and she is in the kitchen cutting grapes right now. When we talk about “proving” something logically, we’re talking about logically derivable inferences.
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    “Logically supported” only requires that an idea be the more rational interpretation of a given set of evidences, even if it isn’t “provable” in a certainty sense. That my wife likes the taste of grapes is logically supported, since she often buys them, and seems to smile when she eats them. There are other possibilities (maybe they taste awful to her, but they bring back a good memory from her childhood, like the time she was crowned ‘grape queen’ of all of Oakland), but my conclusion that she likes grapes is probably the most rationally supported interpretation of the evidences.
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    I don’t think Theism and Atheism are the sorts of things that qualify for “logically derivable” sorts of proof. I think the best we can hope for, either way, is that one perspective becomes the substantially more rational conclusion from given evidences; that it becomes logically supported. The commitment to the perspective (in Penn’s case, to atheism, in my case, to theism) comes when we find that conclusion so substantially convincing that we choose to live as if it were true.
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    That kind of commitment leads to the sort of clarity that Penn sees in the world around him. For me, that kind of commitment leads to a way of navigating the world that sees things in terms of kingdom and redemption.
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    I think, later, I’ll elaborate on the sort of evidence that brought me to my conclusion, but for now, I think I’ll leave it here.

  10. aly hawkins Post author

    Mike & Morphea: I think it’s Penn’s enthusiasm for clarity that I find most striking about his essay. I, too, have times when I wish for a worldview that could explain the Way to be a human being with crystal clarity in every situation…but my experience so far along the journey is that clarity tends to be a by-product of living according to what I know (so far) of the Way, not something that can be attained – or even sought – on its own. Clarity (which also travels under the name “certainty”) is something that comes to us only in flashes, not something we can hope to achieve with anything approaching finality – unless we are willing to bring closure to some questions which ought to stay open-ended.
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    I think Penn is a case in point: in order to allow himself and others to be wrong sometimes and hopefully to remain teachable, he’s had to settle once and for all the question of God’s existence…which obviously undercuts his whole desire to be teachable. It seems better to me to decide to remain teachable and hope that one gets a few transcendant glimpses of clarity along the way.
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    This is kinda rambly, but am I making sense?

  11. aly hawkins Post author

    Oh, yeah…the other thing is this: Life so far has been chock-full of tension, complexity and paradox, and I don’t think it’s because I believe in God and other people don’t. Humanity is just messy, and I don’t think (as Penn seems to suggest) that removing belief in God would clean up our acts. I could offer several examples here (see Stalin or Pol Pot), but I don’t want Theism to “win” just because godless (literally) people have perpetrated atrocities in the past, and, well golly…seems like believing in God is the lesser of two evils. No. I just don’t think Penn’s romanticized vision of killing the Deity good and dead is quite the fairy tale he imagines. (Nor is the romanticized vision of proving finally that God is. What does seem fairly provable is that humans are not at their best when they are absolutely certain about anything.)

  12. Morphea

    No, you are making sense, and you cement my joy in agnosticism, which is, by definition, a lifestyle admission of NOT KNOWING. [correct me if I've gotten that wrong] I completely agree with your value in getting clarity in flashes and being grateful for them, but not seeking it as a matter of course. And it makes me feel better – less miserable – about the times in my life when my brain, my moods/feelings/preferences/fears are all so, SO muddled it feels like I can’t have ONE thought for days at a time.
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    I opine that Penn will perforce change his stance on this more than once in the course of the rest of his life…unless he sticks to it arbitrarily. In which case I pity him.
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    Michael, you WILL teach me more about logic, philosophy and theology whether I like it or not. Don’t get me wrong, I like it. You’re one of those people that make me smarter just ’cause I decide to hang around with you for the ride, man (Aly’s one too). Thank you so much for putting so much effort into sharing what you know and believe and love.
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    And thank you as well (I’m talking to all four authors at this point) for being so bloody funny while you’re at it.

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