Aug 16

God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales

Penn Jillette, along with his partner Teller, are part of a great American tradition of debunking. Not nearly enough people know about this tradition, but that is precisely why it’s needed. The efforts of people like them, along with James Randi and Houdini, have already had a considerable impact on belief in psychics, witchcraft, faith healers, homeopathy, and all manner of nonsense. But one area of magic remains strong and largely unquestioned – religion.

God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette is not your typical atheist tome. You will not find a thorough defense of the Problem of Evil or a dissertation against irreducible complexity. But you will find laughter, interesting stories, and a hell of a lot of {insert atheist equivalent of soul here}.

So, if you are looking to counter the arguments of William Lane Craig or Alvin Plantinga, look elsewhere. If you are looking to view a handful of strange interactions through a distinctly humanist lens, then this is the book for you. Oh, and for those of you who simply cannot live without a defense of evolution, there is one given by a stripper. Now, I’ve never met Richard Dawkins, but I have met strippers. And I know that if strippers had been teaching me evolution, I would have quit being a creationist long before I actually did.

The book is laid out as a Ten Commandments for humanists with personal stories intermingled forming a loose theme. For example, rather than “Thou Shalt not commit adultery,” Penn offers, “Keep your promises.” Rather than “Thou shalt not make for thyself any idol,” we might say, “Do not put things or even ideas above other human beings.” I call this humanist because atheism isn’t really a thing except in a very naive sense. It’s a belief that does not itself prompt any action, just as not believing in unicorns has no significant impact on my day-to-day life. Being a humanist, though, that requires something. It requires you to recognize that you are part of something – that you have obligations.

That is important to note because it is, in my opinion the real undercurrent of this book. Penn is not arguing for the absolute truth of atheism. I think I would sum up his message like this: “Hey, none of us really has any fucking clue (the cursing is necessary, you’ll see). We’re all really doubters. So, let’s just focus on treating each other well. We should at least be able to agree on that.” And along the way, you’ll get to enjoy a cast of characters that includes carnies, ex-Hasidic Jews, professional magicians, porn stars, and more. If that all sounds good to you, then buy this book. Hell, as I’m writing this, it’s only $13.58 on Amazon. I used to work for Borders, so I hold a slight grudge at their fantastic prices, but that is a great deal.


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