There Is No God As half of the magic act Penn and Teller, Penn Jillette enjoys challenging his audiences with the unconventional. In stating his personal credo, Jillette finds liberation in believing there is no God.

There Is No God

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Unidentified Man #1: I believe in honor, faith and service.

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe that a little outrage...

Unidentified Man #2: I believe in freedom of speech...

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe in empathy.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in truth.

Unidentified Woman #3: I believe in the ingredients of love.

Unidentified Man #4: This I believe.


On Mondays, we bring you our revival of the 1950s series, "This I Believe." This morning, we hear from Penn Jillette, half of the magic and comedy team Penn & Teller. He's most readily identified as the bigger one who talks. He is also executive producer of the movie "The Aristocrats" and is the H.L. Mencken research fellow at the Cato Institute. Here is our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

When working with our essayists, we quote the guidelines of the original "This I Believe" theme: Refrain from saying what you do not believe. They were, as we are, interested in affirmative statements. Penn Jillette took us at our word, and being clever with his words, found a way to express the absence of belief as a personal credo. Here is Penn Jillette with his essay for This I Believe.


I believe there is no God. I'm beyond atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy. You can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do. You can't prove there isn't an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again.

Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word `elephant' includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire? So anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power. All the people I write e-mails to often are still stuck at this searching stage. The atheism part is easy. But this, This I Believe thing, seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life's big picture, some rules to live by. So I'm saying this I believe: I believe there is no God.

Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I'm not greedy. 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. If seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I give joy every day.

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. Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people, from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality and I can keep learning where I'm wrong. We can all keep adjusting so we can really communicate.

I don't travel in circles where people say, `I have faith, I believe this in my heart, and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith.' That's just a long-winded religious way to say `Shut up' or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than `How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you could 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.

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 any 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. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future. Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O, and all the other things I can prove that makes this life the best life I will ever have.

ALLISON: Penn Jillette with his essay for This I Believe. As always, we hope our series inspires you to think about what you believe and to write down your thoughts in 500 words. For information about submitting your writing and to find all the essays we've aired so far, please visit our Web site at You can also call (202) 408-0300. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

MONTAGNE: Next week, a This I Believe essay from Illinois professor and journalist John Fountain, who found a belief in God.

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