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Penn Jillette

Penn Jillette is a cultural phenomenon as a solo personality and as half of the world-famous Emmy Award-winning magic duo Penn & Teller. In the mid-'80s, Penn & Teller went[…]

It can be tough, especially with young kids, because people understand atheism so poorly.

Question:  As an atheist, how do you raise a family in a rnsociety that seems to condemn atheism?

Penn Jillette:rn Well with the kids it's really tough. Just the other day my daughter rnjust turned five, you know, she was playing with her cousins and one of rnthe cousins came to my wife and said, "Moxie said God is mean." rnMoxie.... that's my daughter did not say "God is mean." She said, "Therern is not God." One of the older children said, "Oh my God." And she said,rn "You shouldn't say that because there is no God." She's cobbled rntogether "You shouldn't say that" from school with "There is no God" rnfrom us. And it's really hard. I think it's really tough because people rnunderstand atheism so poorly.

I mean, the number of people that rnsay is atheism Satanism still is remarkable. I mean, atheism is as far rnfrom Satanism as you can get. Christianity is close to Satanism. At rnleast they, some of them think they're Satan. Atheism couldn't be rnfurther away.
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rnIt's a little hard and I think that I am very sympathetic to people who rnare surrounded by Christian people - religious people, I'm sorry, rnsurrounded by religious people, theists, and have to be a little more rncloseted. You know, I don't believe in... I mean, I believe the parallelrn to gay rights is exactly the same. I don't want to out anyone, you rnknow, against their will. I don't even think it's immoral to be quiet rnabout it. It's just not in my makeup to be quiet about it but my rnsympathy.
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rnI just spent—I'm not going to go into it too much because it's very rnpersonal—but I just spent a wonderful dinner with there men who were rnHasidic Jews, payos, the clothes, English was not their first language, rnalthough they were born in Brooklyn. Never read a book in English until rnthey were 25 years old. And completely within this religious rncommunity—their wives, their children, the extended families. And they rnhad become atheists, and were talking to me about how they were losing rntheir whole community and their whole families. And I think they rnexpected me to say, I think maybe they even wanted me to say, "Well suckrn it up there's no God, do what's right." And that was as far from my rnfeelings as possible.

I said, "Oh man, you love your children. rnYou love your family, you've got to keep loving 'em. And you got to makern a lot of concessions for 'em. And I'm just glad I'm not going through rnit." And I think that's my answer to someone who says they're having a rnhard time. "I'm glad I'm not going through it." You know, my mom was an rnatheist at the end of her life. My dad died a Christian and I loved him rnwith every part of my heart and I would never have let religion get in rnthe way. Fortunately he felt the same way.
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rnRecorded on June 8, 2010
rnInterviewed by Paul Hoffman