Rants, rambles, news and notes from another geek

Penn Jillette - "This I Believe"

Disclaimer: This post is about religion, philosophy, atheism and the like. Stop reading if you are sensitive to these subjects.

I don’t know about you, but I love listening to NPR on my drive into work in the morning. It is about the only way I get my traditional news anymore and I find that it sets me up for a good day at work.

On Monday mornings, NPR does a weekly thing called This I Believe where people spend a minute or two reading a 500 word essay they’ve written that describes their personal beliefs. I have found that most of them are good, even if you don’t agree with the author. But every now and then one will come on that perfectly jives with your personal beliefs (or lack thereof).

This morning, was one of those times. Penn Jillette, author, lecturer and the bigger half of magical team Penn and Teller came out firing with both barrells this morning in his essay titled There is No God.

I believe that there is no God. I’m beyond Atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy – you can’t prove a negative, so there’s no work to do.

Wow. As he said those words, they rang true for me. I apologize if this offends you, but it shouldn’t. I do not prosceletize my beliefs and this blog post is not about trying to convince or convert you. Just something I felt like I had to say about myself.

So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power.

Again, Penn is right on the money here. You see, I’m a deep believer in the scientific method. I use it at work to debug code. I use it in my life when I can’t figure something out. All Penn is saying here is that people should use it to help them make a decision about faith.

Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I’m not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it’s everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I’m raising now is enough that I don’t need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.

When I have had discussions with religious people about this topic, it is interesting to me how often they feel that religion provides some sort of moral compass that helps people be “good people”. I, like Penn, believe that you can be a good person without a religious order to do so. In fact, not having a forgiving god to fall back on should give you more reason to be good:

Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.

Penn’s final point is, I think, one of his strongest. How many times are you watching something on television and you see the all-star athelete thank god for his successes. Or the family crying “praise the lord” when some brave person rescues their child from a flood. God gets all the props when people do well. But no one ever seems to give him/her any credit for the bad things.

Believing there is no God means the suffering I’ve seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn’t caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn’t bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.

That is perhaps the best argument there is. Less suffering for more people.

Yes please. I’d like two of those and a side of fries.

(For the full transcript of Penn’s essay, visit NPR at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5015557.)