From time to time, I’ll be highlighting a new book about issues that concern me as a Bright and as a rational woman. I don’t claim to be a book critic, rather simply a blogger who knows what she likes and wants to share it with the like-minded.
A book that’s timely now (and anytime) is Penn Jillette’s Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!: More Magical Tales (Blue Rider Press/Penguin).
Penn is the talkative half of the magic act Penn & Teller and co-host of the television program Penn & Teller—Bullshit!
Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday! is conversational, bawdy, in-your-face, amusing, and hard-core atheistic. It puts me in mind of a stand-up shtick rather than a book of essays, but I so appreciate that, in part of the world at least, it’s possible to express oneself in print in such an impolite way.
And Jillette is very very impolite, asking us to feel his crotch and using examples that contain language I’d prefer not to use here. So if you believe that only atheists who are nice and who are patient with traditional beliefs should be writing books or discussing their views publicly, avoid Jillette’s work. If any part of you has ever longed to thumb your nose openly at, well, at whatever you consider unworthy of politeness, then he’s your man.
The first chapter is ostensibly about the Christmas carol “Joy to the World,” which Jillette finds lacking utterly in joy. He first expounds on the “Theme song from Shaft” at some length. Then he segues into why the phrase “The exception proves the rule” drives him buggy, before returning to the deeper implications of “Joy to the World.”
“Religious holidays are about how bad life was,” he writes, “or how good the way distant future or even the afterlife is going to be. . . . In the New Testament . . . there’s lots of ‘forsake your family and come with me.'”
In another chapter, Jillette explores the complications of using offensive language, either as a joke or as an ironic post-modern statement. He doesn’t believe in tribalism and wishes all the stereotypes would go away, and he hates that it’s so easy to be misunderstood and have people think you believe differently than you do. He’s unusually aware of the power of language to stir emotions, as well as to hurt.
Jillette likes to tell stories from his own history. Some relate to show biz. They’re all rather quirky. It’s hard for me not to like this forthright man.
For me, this is the core of his message:
The awful truth of how sweet life can be is enough to crack me every second. That black-and-white picture of my mom, alive, and bursting with her future in her little wool hat and matching mittens—that . . . is what scares the shit out of me, and . . . religion can’t protect any of us from that. I’m not afraid of a hot lead enema followed by some serious ass-to-mouth with Satan—give it your worst. I’m afraid of a life that is so full of joy and love that every second just bursts by and is gone. It’s a gorgeous, detailed, 3-D, surround sound, no-flutter-in-the-bass mural done by 10 billion artists, and it’s whipping by the car window at the speed of sound, and I’ll never come back to it. I can take pictures of it, but in the time I hold those pictures up, I’ll have missed another billion images and experiences.
Can you be any more life-affirming than that?
- Read an excerpt here.
- Read about a previous book of Jillette’s: God, No!
Copyright (2012) by Susan K. Perry