Why Won’t Penn & Teller Take on Islam and Scientology? June 29, 2010

Why Won’t Penn & Teller Take on Islam and Scientology?

Penn & Teller explain why they will probably never tackle certain topics on their show Bullshit!:

Are there any groups you won’t go after?

We haven’t tackled Scientology because Showtime doesn’t want us to. Maybe they have deals with individual Scientologists — I’m not sure. And we haven’t tacked Islam because we have families.

Meaning, you won’t attack Islam because you’re afraid it’ll attack back…

Right, and I think the worst thing you can say about a group in a free society is that you’re afraid to talk about it — I can’t think of anything more horrific.

Of course, it might please some Islamic fundamentalists to hear you say that you won’t talk about them because you’re afraid…

It might, but you have to say what you believe, even it if pleases somebody you disagree with — that issue comes up all the time in moral discourse.

You do go after Christians, though…

Teller and I have been brutal to Christians, and their response shows that they’re good fucking Americans who believe in freedom of speech. We attack them all the time, and we still get letters that say, “We appreciate your passion. Sincerely yours, in Christ.” Christians come to our show at the Rio and give us Bibles all the time. They’re incredibly kind to us. Sure, there are a couple of them who live in garages, give themselves titles and send out death threats to me and Bill Maher and Trey Parker. But the vast majority are polite, open-minded people, and I respect them for that.

It’s been said before, but if your belief system can’t withstand serious scrutiny, then those beliefs must be pretty weak, right?

(Thanks to Keaton for the link!)

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  • Sally

    Bullsh*t is such a great show, and honestly I understand why they wouldn’t want to “go after” Islam. I might not want to either, since I also have children to think about.

    It’s a sad world where we have to be afraid of what we say, in that respect.

  • I love Penn & Teller, and Bullshit, while it does have its weak points, is generally fantastic. And they have James Randi on a lot, which is always cool. I’m sure it’s been mentioned before, but Penn did a spot for “This I Believe” on NPR about 5 years back about his atheism that was just awesome, and helped me quite a bit in my struggle to lose my religion: There Is No God

  • Alycia

    Have kids, then you’ll understand.

  • Hitch

    I have full sympathy. One of the things that most annoyed me around Draw Muhammad Day is how people attack Molly Norris for wanting to protect herself.

    They are right. The most damning thing one can say about a group is that fear and intimidation is winning. We have to resist it but not in ways that put people unduly in danger.

    As for Scientology, well it’s enough to read the history how they handled critics. Many nasty things they did over the years. E.g. They first bancrupted through frivolous law suits then bought the cult awareness network. How great is that. A parent trying to get help when a kid gets sucked into some cult (like Tom Cruise’s favorite), gets one of those folks on the line!

    That his group has religious tax exemption status is a real outrage. That after the wife of their founder broke into tax offices (and framed Paulette Cooper along the way) and got convicted.

  • Sev

    Wait, these guys are saying that they don’t pull their punches when they go after Christians? Pardon me for making the bad joke, because that’s bullshit.

    The Vatican show they did last season has mysteriously disappeared from the episode list on their site and appears not to have made it onto the DVD collection for that season, either. So much for free speech-loving Christians.

  • It’s disappointing to see persons such as Penn and Teller backing away from tackling Islam out of fear. Not that I don’t understand, after what’s happened to the Danish cartoonist these aren’t just empty threats. I don’t think I’d be brave enough to be any anti-Islam figurehead.

    Which is why we need to tackle this at a grassroots level, without leaders or figureheads. Draw Muhammad Day was an excellent idea in my opinion. It was trolling, pure and simple, and it’s just what radical Islam needs. Troll them hard enough for long enough and I believe their reaction will gradually change from outrage and death threats to eye-rolling and mildly annoyed sighs. That is, the same reaction everyone else has to trolls.

  • Sarah TX

    Soooo… Penn doesn’t think that Muslim Americans are “good Americans”? Am I reading that right?

    Look, Penn, Teller, and their families will not be murdered if they make an episode of Bullshit about Islam. Salman Rushdie is still alive, despite the fatwas. Does Penn think he can do any worse than Satanic Diaries?

  • ThilinaB

    This is the reason that extremism will not ever go away and will in all likely-hood catch on to other religions as well in the future.

    To say that we will only go after the religions that are going to be a good sport about it seems wrong to me.
    At least Trey Parker and Matt Stone have the right idea.

  • Dan W

    I can understand their reasons for not calling bullshit on Scientology and Islam. Scientologists will sue people simply for criticizing their beliefs, and do a whole lot of other ridiculous and often illegal activities against their critics. Meanwhile way too many Muslims will threaten you and people close to you with death if you criticize Islam, or if you don’t follow their ridiculous religious rules, or if you convert away from Islam (like that brave guy in Maldives). It’s unfortunate that they feel they can’t criticize those religions, but I can see why they don’t.

    I’ve seen bits and pieces of episodes of Bullshit, and I generally liked what I saw. I may have to get some full episodes of that show someday.

  • Angie

    “Salman Rushdie is still alive, despite the fatwas. Does Penn think he can do any worse than Satanic Diaries?”

    Rushdie lived through that nightmare because of constant police protection! Some of the publishers and translators of THE SATANIC VERSES were not as lucky.


    Penn and Teller want to keep themselves and their families safe. Can you blame them?

  • Dave

    Sev: “The Vatican show they did last season has mysteriously disappeared from the episode list on their site and appears not to have made it onto the DVD collection for that season, either.”

    I agree with what was said on this, I’m not sure why the episode was not included in the dvd collection, and whether it was Showtime or P&T that made the spineless decision towards the church. The fact that they didn’t even mention it when religion was brought up says a lot though. I still love the show, but I won’t be considering that dvd set.

  • VXbinaca

    “Penn doesn’t think that Muslim Americans are “good Americans”? Am I reading that right?”

    I don’t think anyone who uses preemptive violence or threats of it, or litigation to suppress others free speech are ‘good Americans’ if you want to call it that.

    I just don’t care if people threaten me. I’ve had threats on the internet, they make me LOL. I’ve got 30 friends waiting for some fundamentalist to attack, and they can all run faster than he can.

  • geekgazette

    I own the season with the Vatican episode and noticed the episode was missing from my set. I looked into it, thinking maybe it would be on the next season and found and interview where Penn was asked about it. He said that he and Teller did not know the show was not included until the DVD set was released and that they have never been given a reason why.
    To me he seemed to be ok with the episode not being included because he again seemed to think the episode didn’t turn out as good as he would have liked. I think I remember him saying the episode almost came off as apologetic to Vatican. I watched it online and have to say it was a pretty weak episode.
    I’ll try to find that interview again and post a link.

  • Great post and love this site!!

    Regarding Penn and Teller, unfortunately, they are pussies for not putting Islam in its place. They are afraid? What the f*ck? And yes, I have young kids and I don’t want them living under Sharia law!!

  • cranium

    I think ThilinaB summed it up perfectly.

    I have been trying to make the same point elsewhere but in a much less concise manner.

    If we back off from cartoons under threat of death, how long before we need to pray under threat of death?

    Which is why I like nichevo’s idea.

  • Hitch

    I’m all for Draw Muhammad Day. No question I’ll be drawing again next year. Or earlier if need/opportunity arises.

    It’s a different strategy. We make “offense” normal again, but don’t provide easy targets.

    Totalitarian governments can try to censor the interwebs, but it is just unlikely to works.

    We don’t need sacrificial lambs or people scared for their lives. We need a change in culture and there are good methods that we can do without the first.

  • Claudia

    I call Bullshit on calling Penn & Teller cowards for refusing to go after Islam. The physical threat to public figures who take such a stand is very real. Ask Theo van Gogh’s family, ask Ayaan Hirsi Alí. Ask cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, or better yet ask his five year old granddaughter, who narrowly escaped being hacked to death by a zealot because she was in granddads house when the fundamentalist attacked.

    Its one thing to rightfully attack a large corporation for holding double standards for different religions but its quite another to demand that individuals put their lives at risk. You can praise them when they do it, but I don’t think that you can really call them cowards when they don’t. As long as they don’t make the stupid and transparent lie that they’re refraining out of “respect” and acknowledge, as Penn and Teller have, that its done out of a quite normal fear, then the most you can do is hope others will have the courage to raise their voice.

  • VXbinaca


    I’m going to call them a coward this time around though, along with Trey/Matt.

    They live in the US, they can do what I did and get one of these:


    I’m sure you all know of Thunderf00t and his recent series of videos on Islam. Thunderf00t is English and if he does live in the US, he’s not able to buy a firearm. He’s also one guy on the internet who just makes videos, and has made VERY inflammatory statements about Islam and Mohammed. He has his audience, but no mainstream media coverage (yet 🙂 ). Outside of the internet, no one knows who he is.

    I’ll say what I damn well please and don’t answer to anyone, especially insane people just above cavemen status in far off lands, or their whacked out relatives in the US.

    P&T can afford security if they don’t feel like buying a firearm. Thunderf00t cannot. Thunderf00t AFAIK is totally vulnerable and does the things he does.

    Grow some balls Viacom, P&T, Matt/Trey et al…. You let us down and let those assholes win when you bow to them.

  • @Hitch,
    Many people were indeed unnecessarily (and cruelly)critical of Ms. Molly Norris. I defended her against such critics after she initially decided to bow out of the whole EDM Day. Her reason (fear of Muslim retaliatory violence) was legitimate.
    However, she couldn’t leave well enough alone and decided to try her hand at a little Orwellian recasting of herself and of the events leading up to EDM Day and I took her to task for that.

  • @VXbinaca,
    I see where you are coming from and if they had no families, I would agree with you 100%. I do believe them when they state that their rationale for not attacking Islam is fear for their families’ safety.
    I do not know your background in weapons and/or combat, but I can assure you that the reality of close quarters combat is a bit much for most people to be effective without extensive training and/or experience.
    Also, why 10mm as opposed to say, .45 caliber?

  • Sarah TX

    I don’t think anyone who uses preemptive violence or threats of it, or litigation to suppress others free speech are ‘good Americans’ if you want to call it that.

    Does this even happen in America? Every example given in this thread was from Europe. Blaming American Muslims for the actions of radical trolls in a completely different country is… well I don’t know what it is but I don’t like it.

    And I’m not even touching the fact that Muslims are a minority group that’s already despised in this country – almost as much as atheists. And yet we pretend that they are the dominant cultural majority here, because they are the dominant religion elsewhere. Bad logic!

    It’s like we’ve completely forgotten that crazy people can be any race, any religion. Nope, all Muslims.

  • VXbinaca

    @Sarah TX

    Oh I totally agree, we’re on the same page there with their treatment here. And to an extent you are right about elephants being afraid of mice.

    To play Devil’s Advocate (no pun intended):


  • muggle

    Please, you really can’t blame them. Besides, they’re right. They said more by saying that than they could have with an episode on them.

  • Claudia

    @VXbinaca, tell me, what is Thunderf00t’s real name and where does he live? The most that is known about him is what city he lives in, and that only if you watch very closely. Judging by his summer activities, he does not have children of his own. Even with all that, I think it is brave of him to take on Islam, but I wouldn’t think him a coward if he didn’t.

    Compare that to two men who are nationally famous, who’s names and whereabouts are perfectly well known, who do stage performances in known venues at known times and who have spouses and children. The world is not black and white and people are not divided into the brave and the cowardly, most people are somewhere in the middle. Penn and Teller would be very brave indeed if they took on Islam, but that does not make them cowards for refusing to put their families at risk.

  • Andrew Morgan

    claudia said:

    Compare that to two men who are nationally famous, who’s names and whereabouts are perfectly well known, who do stage performances in known venues at known times and who have spouses and children.


  • muggle

    Frankly, there’s brave and then there’s foolhardy, tempting fate, etc.

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