June 5 2012 12:00 AM

The irreverent Penn Jillette talks about faith — or lack thereof


Tuesday, June 5 — Ever find yourself unable to sleep at night, your mind whirling with questions of morality and the destiny of humanity? Have you ever wondered if there is a greater power dictating the course of history?

On Wednesday evening, all questions regarding God, religion and the origin of the universe will at last be answered — with a definitive “I don’t know.”

Penn Jillette (best known as half of Penn and Teller, the sleight-of-hand showmen) visits the Hannah Community Center for a book talk and signing of his New York Times bestseller “God, No! Signs You May Already be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales,” hosted by the Michigan Center for Inquiry.

“I think it’s everything, the backbone of liberty and the backbone of science,” Jillette said in a phone interview, describing the willingness to admit ignorance of the omnipotent, a recurring theme throughout his book. “What comes out of saying ‘I don’t know’ is that neither does anyone else, and that’s really important.”

Recently released in paperback, “God, No!” was written in 2011 in response to a challenge by conservative radio host Glenn Beck for Jillette to create an atheist version of the Ten Commandments, a task he tackled with gusto.

In his book, each of the Ten Commandments is transformed into one of the atheist’s “ten suggestions,” beginning by changing “thou shalt have no other gods before me” to “the highest ideals are human intelligence, creativity and love — respect these above all,” and concluding with “don’t waste too much time wishing, hoping and being envious; it’ll make you bugnutty.”

“I tried to put them into terms that are important to me, not as overall rules of morality, but what each of the 10 meant to me as an atheist,” Jillette recalled.

The night will begin with a book discussion, which Jillette anticipates will “center around atheism and fall into funny stories, leaning towards the theological and philosophy.” There will also be a Q&A portion, followed by a signing session.

“I’m going to talk and I’m going to make some jokes and answer some questions, and do whatever you want,” he summarized, with a laugh.

This will be Jillette’s first time visiting Lansing. “He’s one of the superstars of the secular movement, so we’re very pleased to be able to host an event with him,” said Jennifer Beahan, primary organizer for the event and assistant director for the Michigan Center for Inquiry. “For anybody who knows Penn Jillette, this is an awesome opportunity.”

Although there is no age restriction on the event, Beahan urges parents to use discretion, because the content may not be suitable for young children. (Given Jillette’s famous Vegas-style humor, the language is practically guaranteed to scorch some ears.)
Despite its inherent heresy, Jillette says that “God, No!” isn’t meant to alienate religious readers. In fact, one of his goals is quite the opposite.

“Because there’s so much hostility between the two, I’d like (believers) to see there’s a bunch of us atheists who are goofy and playful and pleasant,” he said.

Penn Jillette
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 6
Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Rd, East Lansing