Sunday, December 21, 2008

Penn's Progress


This monologue by Penn Jillette has gotten a lot of comment on Hot Air (though Kathy Shaidle had it up before them on her site). I've met Penn a number of times, and I have to say, he's one of those guys who is so verbal and open, he makes you think that he's easy to read and understand. But there have been so many times when I thought I knew what he would say or do in a particular situation, and he almost always ends up surprising me. And usually surprising me in a good way - showing far more depth and intricate thought than I'd given him credit for. He's a very original mind, and defies attempts at pigeonholing.

If I were REALLY cynical, I'd say that he cultivates the rough bluff yeoman persona just to more effectively fool people in his professional life, but I don't think that's all there is to it. I'll just say that he gives the impression of broad strokes and primary colours, but if you think that's all there is to him, you're fooling yourself.

Now, this little monologue is unusual, and once again, it's surprising to me - I've never heard him speak this generously about any religious person. Someone on Hot Air marvelled that he talks as if he's never met a good, decent, sane person who was also a sincere Christian before. I don't know if this is really the first time that has happened - I know he's had BAD experiences with proselytizers, and most atheists will tell you that they have. They talk about people coming up to them completely out of the blue, and trying to talk about Jesus, or annoying them at home with door-to-door evangelism, and there are always stories about rude encounters in a parking lot over a displayed Darwin Fish. I never know what to say in these cases. I've never been approached by strangers in that way and expected to talk about religion (well, except for Jehovah's Witnesses coming to the door, but even that doesn't happen very often, and they're never rude), so either they've had very bad luck and been the target of a LOT of attention, or else they're reacting strongly to some incident that I regard as so minor I don't even remember it - a mentally ill person muttering about religion, perhaps. I've seen THAT, but it's so obviously abnormal and impersonal, it barely registers on my mind.

Anyway, I've always thought that deciding what Christians are based on the unpleasant people who might accost you after a Las Vegas show was a narrow view of things. It's not his fault that bad experiences came to him, and I've no doubt they did. But that's not the way a rationalist would reach a verdict on what Christians are like, any more than I could get a really accurate idea of what Cairo was like by standing at the mouth of the Nile and watching the debris that came floating down the river. If you want to know what a thing is, the best way is to go and find the best, most complete example of it and study it, not depend on random currents to waft the evidence your way.

I'm impressed that Penn went public with this little musing on how a long-standing opinion - that Christians are dumb or deranged or at the very least unpleasant - was disturbed and rethought when contradictory evidence came his way. Maybe the experience of marriage and 2 little kids has expanded his sense of the complexities of the world - I certainly became a different person once I had children. It felt like I was in a bigger world, somehow, that I hadn't expected or really been prepared for.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But that's not the way a rationalist would reach a verdict on what Christians are like, any more than I could get a really accurate idea of what Cairo was like by standing at the mouth of the Nile and watching the debris that came floating down the river. If you want to know what a thing is, the best way is to go and find the best, most complete example of it and study it, not depend on random currents to waft the evidence your way."

Great video of Penn! I think it's a revelation on many levels. As intelligent as you seem to be, I hope you continue to apply your words above to those you consider 'liberal.' Insert 'liberal' in place of 'christian,' and re-read your own words.

I'm sure you have appreciated your own irony, right?

Merry Christmas!

10:14 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon... (not that I speak for the good Doctor nor all conservatives) why bother? The best liberals have to offer seems to be bare rhetoric bereft of arguments. They seem to think they can do stuff like, oh I dunno, substituting words into a reasoned conclusion in order to invert its meaning, without providing any arguments of their own, as if that by itself is sufficient.

For instance, what do you consider the best and most complete example of liberalism? Spong? Thomas B Woodward? VGR? They are certainly more representative of it than a JWs are representative of conservative Christianity.

6:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Anon!

Let's see, I consider myself a liberal on social issues, but more fiscally conservative. I believe in Jesus Christ,I not only attend church each Sunday, but I work for my church and soon will be the Evangelism Chair for 2009.

As far as your questions, conclusions go: It seems that you might be 'mirroring' when you talk about all liberals being bereft of arguments, and that they can substitute words into a reasoned conclusion in order to invert its meaning...etc. I think both sides do a fine job of that.

My choice for the best representative of what I consider to be 'liberal' as it relates to this conversation and its core will be a name that might surprise you. Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

As well, had I been of voting age at the time, I might have been a 'Goldwater Girl.' This was a time before the Evangelicals hijacked the GOP. Conservatism looked mighty different before Jerry Falwell and Ronald Reagan.

Imagine that?

Happy New Year!

12:36 am  

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