Why Tolerance Is Condescending

Question: Is religion responsible for a lot of the world’s \r\nproblems?
\r\n

\r\nPenn Jillette:
What you've said, "a lot," sure. If you want to go to\r\n "most" or "all," then no but there is certainly people...  there's a \r\ngreat quote by the physicist... What's his name? Weinberg. Steve \r\nWeinberg. The quote of with or without religion good people do good \r\nthings and bad people do bad things but for good people to do bad things\r\n that takes religion. I'm not sure that's word-for-word, almost certain \r\nit isn't, but it's important. I think it's not religion. It's much \r\ndeeper than that. My beef is not with religion per se; my difference of \r\nopinion is with objective and subjective reality.

Einstein said \r\nthe big question is when you turn away is the tree still there? And I \r\ntalk to Richard Feynman about this and Murray Goodman, there's a feeling\r\n that in particle physics the "experimenter effect," a lot of that stuff\r\n is distorted. I believe very strongly that there is a physical reality \r\nthat my perception does not change. Now you can make the argument that \r\nwe're all just brains in jars, the Matrix, and all of this is an \r\nillusion and that is an airtight argument. You can't refute it but let's\r\n just say it's not that. I think there's a real reality out there and \r\nthe people who say "I believe in God because I feel that there's some \r\nhigher power in the universe"—the problem I have with that is that once \r\nyou've said you believe something that you can't prove to someone else \r\nyou have completely walled yourself off from the world.

And \r\nyou've essentially said no one can talk to you and you can talk to no \r\none. You've also given license to everybody else who feels that. If you \r\nsay to me "I can't prove it Penn, but I have a feeling in my heart that \r\nthere is a power over everything that connects us," why can't Charlie \r\nManson say "I can't prove it but I can have a feeling that the Beatles \r\nare telling us to kill Sharon Tate and that the race riots are coming?" \r\nWhy can't Al Qaeda say "I have a feeling in my heart that we need to \r\nkill these particular infidels?" Why can't the men who tortured and \r\ndisfigured Ayaan Hirsi Ali—why isn't what they feel in their heart \r\nvalid?

The problem is if you have a sense of fairness simply by \r\nsaying you believe in a higher power because you believe in it, you've \r\nautomatically given license to anyone else that wants to say that. So I \r\nwould rather be busted on everything I say and I am, you know, when \r\nyou've put yourself out on television and on radio as someone who really\r\n does believe in objective truth there is not a sentence that I will say\r\n in this interview that won't get three or four tweets of somebody with \r\ninformation busting me on it. And they're right, you know, very rarely \r\nam I busted on something where I'm right. If someone is taking the \r\ntrouble to let me know I've said something wrong, chances are I'm wrong.

But\r\n that's the world I live in. I want to live in a world of a marketplace \r\nof ideas where everybody is busted on their bullshit all the time \r\nbecause I think that's the way we get to truth. That is also what \r\nrespect is. What we call tolerance nowadays, maybe always—I'm always \r\nskeptical about the "nowadays" thing. I don't think things get that much\r\n different. What we call "tolerance" is often just condescending. It's \r\noften just saying, "Okay, you believe what you want to believe that's \r\nfine with me." I think true respect... it's one of the reasons I get \r\nalong so much better with fundamentalist Christians than I do with \r\nliberal Christians because fundamentalist Christians I can look them in \r\nthe eye and say, "You are wrong." They also know that I will always \r\nfight for their right to say that.

And I will celebrate their \r\nright to say that but I will look them in the eye and say, "You're \r\nwrong." And fundamentalists will look me in the eye and say, "You're \r\nwrong." And that to me is respect. The more liberal religious people who\r\n go "There are many paths to truth you just go on and maybe you'll find \r\nyour way"... is the way you talk to a child. And I bristle at that, so I\r\n do very well with proselytizing hardcore fundamentalists and in a very \r\ndeep level I respect them and at a very deep level i think I share a big\r\n part of their heart. I think in a certain sense I'm a preacher. My \r\nheart is there.

Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

Religion can cause "good people to do bad things," but Penn Jillette gets along better with fundamentalists than with liberal Christians who preach easy tolerance.

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