The Gospel According To Penn Gillette

Penn Jillette is an atheist. He’s not just any atheist, he is completely against any sort of belief in a thing he can not prove for himself type of atheist. He has very strong opinions on religion believing that it really just needs to go away. He also is completely convinced that you are welcome to disagree with him and go on with your life. He is also brash and pretty blunt about everything. Despite his lack of faith, he has done a great deal to teach me about mine. Here are some of the ways.

The video is about 5 minutes long, but it is worth watching and I encourage you to do so. There are a couple of noticeable things in it worth mentioning though. First, the gentleman giving the Bible to Penn was polite, he was waiting patiently and quietly until Penn had a moment, he was respectful and complimentary, and he did not make a show of it. He was one human being speaking to another about something that was important to him. Second, it was personal. The gentleman provided contact information if it was wanted to speak about things. I often wonder how often it is that we “plant the seed” as an excuse to walk away without watering it. The last thing though is what Penn says:

If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell—or not getting eternal life or whatever—and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. . . . How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

Read that again. One more time.

Here is another one that hurts. Frankly it hurts a lot and we Christians should learn something from it.

“The word ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ and holy means ‘exalted and worthy of complete devotion.’ By that definition, all days are holy. Life is holy. Atheists have joy every day of the year, every holy day. We have the wonder and glory of life. We have joy in the world before the lord is come. We’re not going for the promise of life after death; we’re celebrating life before death…For atheists, everything in the world is enough and every day is holy. Every day is an atheist holiday. It’s a day that we’re alive.”

The popular Hymn lyric adapted from Psalm 118 instructs us that “this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”. Odd how a dedicated atheist understands that concept so much better than most Christians do isn’t it? How often do we just go about lamenting the state of the world, railing against whatever ill is popular in that moment? How often do we simply rejoice in the day the Lord has made? I bet most of us do the first a lot more than the second. We should learn something from the atheist because everyday is indeed a holiday to rejoice because it is a day that the Lord has made and we are alive in it.

Here is one for all of you well meaning and well intentioned worship planners.

“The medium is not the message – the message is the message.”

This is not a condemnation of a good production whether is be a video, a service, an advertisement, or anything else, but it is a reminder that if the production becomes the message then the message is lost. It’s a difficult line to be sure, but an important one to remember.

“If you are doing something for reward or punishment, you do not have morality.”

There are an awful lot of Christians who are trying to do the right thing so that they will get into Heaven. There are a lot of Christians that are doing the right thing so that they can avoid Hell. So basically there are a lot of Christians who are doing it wrong. We do the right thing simply because it is the right thing and a loving God who understands a fulfilled life much better than we ever will has provided us a guide to having that life. This is one of the reasons that a proper Wesleyan understanding of the faith is so vitally important to me. By understanding that we can have the assurance of salvation, we are freed from the fear of Hell, and secure in the promise of Heaven so that we can pursue the life that God has called us into, hopefully resulting in the entire sanctification of us here on the Earth.

The church is, and must always be, political. The church should not be (but often is) partisan. Since the social gospel became all the rage, the church has taken the strange position that somehow it is supposed to change the world instead of God, but I digress. Here’s a good one to speak to that.

“It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people yourself is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral, self-righteous, bullying laziness.”

“People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we’re compassionate we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.”

Now I want to be clear here. If you believe that it is a proper role of government to provide such things, then we can agree to disagree and move on. If however you believe that by voting in this way you have somehow fed the poor and clothed the naked, you are mistaken. Jesus did not command Caesar to do these things, He commanded His followers to do these things.  When the government cares for people, the glory is Caesar’s, when a Christian does so, the glory is God’s.


“Religion is often just tribalism: pride in a group one was born into, a group that is often believed to have ‘God’ on its side.”

If our last presidential election taught us anything, it is that this is all to true. National civic religion was on full display as two populist candidates paired off against each other. It’s embarrassing really.


The last thing he has taught me about my faith is in the quote that I began, and will end this with. Words that we all desperately need to listen to and follow in this day and age.


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One Reply to “The Gospel According To Penn Gillette”

  1. I can’t agree with you more on this. It’s one reason I admire Gillette. That and he is a fantastic illusionist. I want to go see Teller and him someday soon. Before it’s too late.

    But you know people gonna disagree about the government thing! Haha!

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