Penn Jillette just uttered the words: “I opened my heart to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit filled me.” What does it mean? Will the magician, champion of atheists, and passionate Libertarian really live the rest of his life as a Christian in service to the Lord, and abracadabra open the gates of heaven when they rightly hesitate to let him in?
He won’t have to, because he’s pulling our leg. Atheist prankster, why you little... But there is something born again about Jillette these days – he’s updated his atheism after an encounter with a young man at a conference Jillette was speaking at. The young man is of Pakistani heritage, from a devout Muslim community. His parents are devout, but he is an atheist, something that if he were to declare he would be disowned by his parents, be labeled an apostate, and likely harmed or killed by someone in his community.
This young man is living in America, wading in Islamophobia, hearing presidential candidate Donald Trump blanket vilify all Muslims in the media. The public will judge him on his skin and hair, without even considering that he may be an atheist. This man’s sense of belonging is corrupted both in his adopted home and back in his community.
Jillette adds to this that the state of Nevada, where Jillette lives, took in just nine refugees from Syria – not nine families, no. Nine singular people. Furthermore, people are confusing disdain of Islam with disdain of Muslims – you can openly hate or disagree with an ideology, but it is very different to hate a person, says Jillette.
And so, in his renewed atheist awakening, Jillette has realized, “We have to do God’s work – because God’s not going to.” The point of atheism shouldn’t be to be right at the loudest volume that your voice can reach, but to keep your hubris down so you can hear the cries of the religious or non-religious people who need help. “We’ve got to stop acting like in every single cupboard is a Muslim terrorist,” he says. “Yes, terrorism is a problem. Yes, we have to protect our families. Yes, the nightmare of these deaths is unforgiveable and unthinkable. But we have to remember that people are good. If you look at the seven billion people on this planet just about seven billion of them are really good.”
Yep; one of the poster boys of atheism just asked you to unleash your inner Good Samaritan.
Penn Jillette's most recent book is Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales.