Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!

    Everybody has heard of Penn & Teller.  Maybe you’ve seen them do tricks on The Tonight Show or Saturday Night Live.  Maybe you’re the only person (other than me) who actually paid attention to the credits of the English language version of the French animated movie Lightyears (or whatever it’s called in France).  Maybe you saw their movie…you didn’t, I know.  But you know who they are.  Everyone does.  What you and everyone else might not know is that Penn is a pretty smart guy and a funny one (Teller is smart, too…probably smarter, but he didn’t write this book).  He’s as crass as can be, but still eloquent in his way.  For evidence of this, watch their show, Bullshit, where they call BS on various topics and explain why (their episodes on food production where they rip ‘raw’ chefs a new one while singing the praises of genetically modified crops, and their episode that dismantles the Dali Lama and Mother Teresa are kind of amazing).  But if that isn’t enough, read one of Penn’s books.

“There’s one show business and Bach, Dylan, Ron Jeremy, and the guy at the mall in the Santa suit are all in it.”

    Penn Jellette is an atheist.  That much he makes quite clear.  He doesn’t dance around or make excuses.  He just says it.  Using a list of generally accepted American holidays as an extremely loose frame, Penn tells anecdotes, exposes his pain, and celebrates life and living in various essays.  But he expands on those holidays to show that every day we’re alive should be a great day, a holiday.  From his early street performances to phone conversations with Johnny Carson, from his loving parents to his love for his children, from swearing at Gilbert Gottfried to playing an amazing practical (and not hurtful) joke on scientist Arno Penzias, Penn has a crazy story for any occasion.  On his deathbed, he will not be able to look back on his life and feel he didn’t live it.

“I couldn’t jack off in front of pictures of women I’d made cry and if that makes me less of a man, so be it.”

    The book is funny, sure.  But it’s also thoughtful, sometimes sad, often uncomfortable, and generally life affirming.  Penn’s love of life, not just his own, but that of every human being (except maybe Clay Aiken or Donald Trump), is exactly the kind of humanity we so desperately need in greater quantities.  And while I know many will argue this I think it’s a love only possible when one abandons thoughts of the supernatural, the afterlife and such.  Only when you accept that this life, here and now, is all there is, and only what you do and experience and create means anything, can you truly live and love, and make the world a better place for yourself and those who will come after.  He has my absolute favorite answer to the foolish idea that our morality comes from some divine inspiration.  When asked if there is no god(s), why don’t you rape and kill as much as you want?  His answer, and mine; “I do rape and kill all I want.  The amount I want to rape and kill is zero.”  If they only thing that keeps you from doing evil is the fear of punishment or the hope of reward, then you’re a bad person.  It has nothing to do with the gods and everything to do with you.  He follows that up with another feeling that echoes my own.  “…there’s nothing sexy to me about someone who is not attracted to me.”  Beyond all the societal reasons (emotional and physical damage, breakdown of civility, etc.) that make rape wrong, I am now and always have been only interested in a woman who is actively and openly interested in me.  Rape is abhorrent and anathema to me, and that has nothing to do with mystical forces or invisible thought police.

“I want the impossible.  But I’ll settle for what we have.  Everything in the world has to be enough.  Everything in the world is enough.  I’m rejoicing that what scares me and breaks my heart is the beauty of what I have right now.”

    If you’re in the mood for some rollicking good times, nonsequiturs like you wouldn’t believe, crazy cats both famous and not, and a self-effacing/self-aggrandizing narrator not unlike someone you know, check this book out.  If you’ve never had a friend like Penn, you should seek one out.  I’ve had a couple, and they enrich your life.

Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!
Author: Penn Jillette
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
ISBN: 978-0-399-16156-8


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