Penn Jillette: How to Raise an Atheist Family

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It can be tough, especially with young kids, because people understand atheism so poorly.

Check out the rest of Penn Jillette’s interview at http://bigthink.com/pennjillette.

Question:  As an atheist, how do you raise a family in a
society that seems to condemn atheism? Penn Jillette:
Well with the kids it’s really tough. Just the other day my daughter
just turned five, you know, she was playing with her cousins and one of
the cousins came to my wife and said, “Moxie said God is mean.”
Moxie…. that’s my daughter did not say “God is mean.” She said, “There
is not God.” One of the older children said, “Oh my God.” And she said,
“You shouldn’t say that because there is no God.” She’s cobbled
together “You shouldn’t say that” from school with “There is no God”
from us. And it’s really hard. I think it’s really tough because people
understand atheism so poorly.I mean, the number of people that
say is atheism Satanism still is remarkable. I mean, atheism is as far
from Satanism as you can get. Christianity is close to Satanism. At
least they, some of them think they’re Satan. Atheism couldn’t be
further away.
It’s a little hard and I think that I am very sympathetic to people who
are surrounded by Christian people – religious people, I’m sorry,
surrounded by religious people, theists, and have to be a little more
closeted. You know, I don’t believe in… I mean, I believe the parallel
to gay rights is exactly the same. I don’t want to out anyone, you
know, against their will. I don’t even think it’s immoral to be quiet
about it. It’s just not in my makeup to be quiet about it but my
sympathy.
I just spent—I’m not going to go into it too much because it’s very
personal—but I just spent a wonderful dinner with there men who were
Hasidic Jews, payos, the clothes, English was not their first language,
although they were born in Brooklyn. Never read a book in English until
they were 25 years old. And completely within this religious
community—their wives, their children, the extended families. And they
had become atheists, and were talking to me about how they were losing
their whole community and their whole families. And I think they
expected me to say, I think maybe they even wanted me to say, “Well suck
it up there’s no God, do what’s right.” And that was as far from my
feelings as possible.I said, “Oh man, you love your children.
You love your family, you’ve got to keep loving ’em. And you got to make
a lot of concessions for ’em. And I’m just glad I’m not going through
it.” And I think that’s my answer to someone who says they’re having a
hard time. “I’m glad I’m not going through it.” You know, my mom was an
atheist at the end of her life. My dad died a Christian and I loved him
with every part of my heart and I would never have let religion get in
the way. Fortunately he felt the same way.
Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

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