Penn Jillette on Catholics, Muhammad, and Glenn Beck June 18, 2010

Penn Jillette on Catholics, Muhammad, and Glenn Beck

Penn Jillette has a number of choice quotes in an interview with Eric Spitznagel of Vanity Fair:

… there was that ad in Variety from the Catholic League accusing you of “hate speech.”

Well remember, the Catholic League is just one divorced guy in his garage. Or as Teller and I like to say, the Catholic League and his wife. I love that it’s called hate speech when you have the audacity to suggest that pederasty and child rape might not be a good idea. (Laughs.) That’s a pretty odd definition of hate speech, if you ask me.

Like when South Park did an episode portraying Muhammad in a bear costume and Comedy Central said “Whoa, Nellie?”

I think that said more about the Islamic group that made death threats against Trey and Matt than it does about Comedy Central. I believe very much that the most damning thing you can say about Muslims is that you’re afraid to say anything because they’ll hurt you.

I do believe that a belief in god is crazy, but that doesn’t mean that the people who believe in it are crazy. Those are two different things. Ideas can be stupid and crazy and the people who hold those ideas are not necessarily stupid and crazy.

Penn is now making guest appearances on Glenn Beck‘s show, too. How does he defend that?

I go on Glenn Beck as an atheist and talk about atheism. And I have people come up to me and say, “You know, until I saw you on Glenn Beck, speaking so passionately about atheism, I’d never considered that as a moral decision.” That’s incredibly powerful. These are people watching a hardcore Christian show and being exposed to an atheist point of view.

I may be the only person who goes on Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck and says the exact same shit.

There was this bit, too… nothing to do with atheism. Just entertaining.

The only way Obama can make it up to the gay people of this country is if he sucks off a guy on YouTube.

You can find the context for that for yourself.

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  • That interview was awesome! And Penn’s so right, on almost everything; but especially about the hypocrisy with Obama. He’s been such a disappointment.

  • @JohnFrost
    OK, Brit here, and not one who pays that much attention to current affairs, but Obama doesn’t appear to be too bad. Maybe not as good as us atheists hoped, but he sure beats the alternative into a cocked hat!

  • littlejohn

    When watching Bullshit! or otherwise listening to Penn, it is useful to remember he is not just an atheist and a gifted magician.
    He is also a hard-right libertarian and a member of the batshit Cato Institute.
    Remember the Bullshit! episodes denouncing recycling, organic foods, and other liberal causes? He isn’t exactly objective about those things.
    I enjoy their show, but I always keep that fact in the back of my mind.

  • muggle

    Go Penn! Beautiful quotes.

    (Although I’m not quite getting that last and am too lazy to look it up.) Also thinking while he’s nothing to rave about, Obama is better than bad and better than we’ve had in a long time.

  • Organic food a liberal cause? … Really? Maybe the people who want to buy it, but most of the producers, I doubt it…

  • Rubbs


    While I agree with you in that comment almost completely, I’d have to agree with P&T on organic food. Organic food has not been shown to be better for the environment or your health. Local food is good. Buy local. Organic… not so much.

    That said, you are correct. They do have an agenda and they do use their show to evangelize, but over all their track record seems good to me. Plus the show is damn entertaining.

  • Justin

    I’m not sure what you think the value of reminding everyone that someone who shares our non-belief might disagree with us politically is. I certainly don’t see the point.

  • Siamang

    I think it’s fine that people don’t have to be lockstep in political beliefs within the rationalist community.

    I do think that Penn holds some views for political reasons that I don’t think hold up to rational scrutiny, for example, what’s his opinion on anthropogenic global warming? If he’s a libertarian chances are he thinks it’s a big conspiracy.

    I know Michael Shermer (another LIB) famously changed his mind on AGW after a lot of his scientist friends cornered him on it and told him that he really really needs to look at the science. I suspect that there are a lot of rationalist libertarians who are unconvinced of AGW out of political reasons.

    Now back to Penn. While I think he sometimes comes at stuff politically first, and therefore I don’t think he’s coming at stuff using science or rationality first… that doesn’t mean we need to shun the guy for not being sufficiently liberal.

    But if you’re going to put yourself out there as a rationalist, he should be open to jabs about him being insufficiently rational.

    Anyway, great entertainer and though-provoking gadfly. A treasure for that alone.

    As a magician, however, he and Teller are gods in a godless world.

  • ckitching

    I can even defend him about the recycling thing. It is way too easy to assume that recycling is always good. It is worthwhile to ask questions about how recycling a given item relates to simply landfilling it. If it takes the equivalent of 5L of petroleum (in terms of energy, equivalent emissions, etc) to recycle a piece of plastic that took 4L of petroleum to make, it’s probably a bad idea to recycle it. And what about reducing or reusing our use of these items that are being recycled? Is an overemphasis on recycling stopping people from considering reusing these discardable items?

    I will however admit that he does overly discounts any ecological benefits and overemphasizes the economic costs.

  • beckster

    The one that pushes me the hardest to switch to organics is my right-wing, evangelical, Palin-lovin’, tea-partying sister. She means wells 🙂 I consider myself liberal on most issues and would have to agree that the recycling and organics issue are not clear cut. The best way to solve the issue of waste in America is not recycling more, but buying less plastic crap to begin with! And I don’t trust that anything labeled organic is actually organic. The only way to know for sure is to grow it yourself.

  • Maybe not as good as us atheists hoped, but he sure beats the alternative into a cocked hat!

    Yeah, with Palin as president (odds are McCain wouldn’t have lasted 4 years as president) it would have been a news story if she gave a speech without invoking prayer or divine guidance.

  • Not saying the alternatives are better! Obama’s certainly the lesser of two evils… but he hasn’t ended the wars, he still has secret oversea prisons, and his arm has to be twisted on the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. While he’s not making things worse like a Palin or McCain (post-maverick) would, I’m not sure he’s really making things better, either.

    Oh, and as far as Penn & Teller go–yeah, they’re not perfect. But I would say they’re ~mostly~ perfect… 😉

  • littlejohn

    Since several people have addressed my earlier comment, here’s my response:
    You’re right, organic food is not a liberal issue. Organic foods are made by the same huge corporations that give us Twinkies and so forth. But there is a perception that organic equals liberal, since before they sold out, organic farmers were generally hippies (I mean that in a good way – I’m an aging ex-hippie).
    You’re also right that atheists are not required to adhere to particular political view. But as a practical matter the overwhelming majority of atheists are liberals or centrists. After all, in modern America, conservatism is very nearly synonymous with Christian. But of course there are exceptions. Ayn Rand was an atheist.
    I wasn’t criticizing Penn’s religious views however, so the point is a non sequitur. I was criticizing his politics, which most of his fans are unaware of.
    I’m only here to help. Want to know how he catches the bullet in his teeth? I know, but I won’t tell you. Those of us who dabble in magic agree to keep that sort of thing secret.

  • plutosdad

    My former boss got to go on stage during the bullet catching trick. It was pretty awesome, since he signed both the bullet and jacket, and said he could see the striations and it was hot from being fired. Of course I thought about it and have an idea based on how the bullet trick is done but they really do a good job by inviting people who know guns up to testify to what they see.

    (I don’t see how any of his fans can be unaware of his politics, since he never shuts up about them! 🙂 )

  • SickoftheUS

    I watched Bullshit! a couple times but couldn’t stomach the host nor the not-too-subtle political ideology infusing the show – sort of like John Stossel disguised as a bellowing PT Barnum disguised as a rebellious teenager who likes to say “shit” a lot.

    Political ideology definitely can matter to skepticism because it affects overall world coloring and choice of subjects to focus on and “be skeptical about”. Combine that with a $$$-making persona as a pugnacious showman challenging accepted truths, and there are objectivity problems.

    And in the Vanity Fair quotes above, he managed to paint Muslims with a broad brush, the typical stereotype of dangerous fundamentalists.

  • littlejohn

    Wow. I didn’t mean to make you guys hate Penn & Teller.
    Hint: There’s always a camera recording what’s being written on the bullet. There are people in the back monitoring the cameras. They have bullets.
    The bullets always travel through sheets of glass. What kind of bullet might not make it through a sheet of glass intact? Wax, maybe?
    They use lasers to “aim” their shots. Is it possible to misalign a laser?
    Oops. I said I wasn’t going to give it away. My bad.
    I hate libertarians. Sorry Penn, but I had to do it.

  • Revyloution

    Penn is an interesting guy. I really respect his views on many issues, but I think he holds onto the idea of free will and independence too tightly. I know how seductive that thinking is, I held onto it tightly myself for many years.

    I think the real fault in the logic comes when large groups of people (corporations, unions, etc) are given the same respect as individuals. Groups of people are easily duped (Penn should know this, he does it for a living). So we need a framework that gives protection from those who might try to manipulate the system.

  • Dan W

    I’ve always liked the way Penn Jillette is open about his atheism. As for his political views, he’s a libertarian, and I disagree with them on some issues. Of course, just because we are both atheists doesn’t mean we must have the same political views.

  • Aj

    Organic food is bullshit, even the name pisses me off, it’s like saying “frozen ice” or “hot steam”. It’s just the naturalistic fallacy, it’s not even disguised. Damn hippies. Recycling is a mixed bag. Recycling is expensive, and sometimes not beneficial, such as paper recycling. Recycling aluminium, lead, and gold on the other hand is a no brainer. These issues tend to get mixed up with others, as a package deal logical fallacy, and there’s usually a false dilemma logical fallacy somewhere too.

    I don’t tend to agree with libertarians or liberals on anything but social issues. Libertarians seem to think markets are going to lead to good outcomes for people. It’s a bit like mistaking evolution through natural selection for progress, they’re not the same thing, natural selection just selects the fittest for its ability to reproduce its genes. This insanity leads them to believe that free market capitalism can build infrastructure and break monopolies. They also believe in this magic in regards to social mobility and distribution of wealth.

  • Love Penn and pretty much everything he’s done over the course in his career. Can’t wait to read the whole Vanity Fair interview when my issue arrives in the mail.

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