This I Believe

Penn Jillette
Penn Jillette

This I Believe” is a National Public Radio feature patterned after Edward R. Murrow’s radio programme of the same name; various people, famous and not, state their essential, most significant beliefs in a couple of minutes.

I just read Penn Jillette’s “This I Believe” statement, which is essentially, “I believe there is no God,” and I find that though I feel there is God, I can agree with the truth of almost all that he sees as flowing from his belief that there is no God.


“I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it’s everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more.”

Except for the appreciation of Hallmark cards, I agree that the world offers everything I could possibly want. I don’t wish for more, nor do I think there is more than this (of course, I don’t know). I think eternal life happens now, in this life, when I am in love with the moment, when there is grace and joy and appreciation of beauty and connection — such as I hear in what Jillette says. (I wonder, if I lived in a war-torn, rape-ridden, filthy, sewage-filled place, if I would feel that the world — specifically, nature and relationships, as Gillette details — offers all I want.)

“Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.”

I differ here, in theory but not necessarily in practice. Believing in God’s gratuitous and irrational forgiveness evokes in me a strong desire to be in right relationship with other people, with nature, with all creatures. I want to “treat people right” and more, I want to be congruent and aligned with the flow of this gratuitous, grace-filled spirit in all my actions, towards people, animals, plants, the landscape, nature. I want to be congruent with what I would call reality — the way it really is. Because I have a sense that there is an utterly forgiving being in existence, who actually does utterly forgive and embrace, I know it’s possible to have this spirit, to know reality in this way, and I long to do so. (I tend to think that faulty memories might be a part of this grace.)

“[A]ll obscenity is less insulting than, ‘How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do.’ So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that’s always fun. It means I’m learning something.”

Feeling that there is God, for me, necessarily implies that there is lots I don’t know and don’t see. There is mystery, there is an unknown. My sense is that I and most humans are in the process of discovering or uncovering a way of being, a reality or a possibility, that we glimpse from time to time. For me, following the way of Jesus — or, to say it another way, wanting to live in congruency with the flow of gratuitous love — is all about learning … just like the title of James Alison’s book, “The Joy of Being Wrong.” My experience is of going from revelation to revelation, or apocalypse to apocalypse (apocalypse means “to uncover”), which is exciting.

“Believing there is no God means the suffering I’ve seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn’t caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn’t bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future.”

Feeling there is God, I don’t think that God causes suffering or tests us with it. I don’t believe God is an interventionist generally (again, I don’t really know). I think humans create suffering because we tend to live in a way that seeks justice and peace through violence, quid pro quo, the expulsion of scapegoats. I think that humans copy each other, and each others’ desires, and in so doing we create rivalries among ourselves, and seeking to resolve rivalrous conflicts we mistakenly, blindly, use violence, over and over again, in small ways (angry words, passive aggressive acts, making decisions about who ‘belongs’) and large ways (war, murder, rape). For me, the experience of gratuitous love (acts that don’t follow the mimetic pattern of tallying who owes what to whom) is the best way I know of right now to “help others … in the future” to break the cycle of violence and suffering.


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