Penn Jilette Why Tolerance is Condescending

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Religion can cause "good people to do bad things," but Penn Jillette gets along better with fundamentalists than with liberal Christians who preach easy tolerance.

Question: Is religion responsible for a lot of the world's

Penn Jillette: What you've said, "a lot," sure. If you want to go to
"most" or "all," then no but there is certainly people... there's a
great quote by the physicist... What's his name? Weinberg. Steve
Weinberg. The quote of with or without religion good people do good
things and bad people do bad things but for good people to do bad things
that takes religion. I'm not sure that's word-for-word, almost certain
it isn't, but it's important. I think it's not religion. It's much
deeper than that. My beef is not with religion per se; my difference of
opinion is with objective and subjective reality.Einstein said
the big question is when you turn away is the tree still there? And I
talk to Richard Feynman about this and Murray Goodman, there's a feeling
that in particle physics the "experimenter effect," a lot of that stuff
is distorted. I believe very strongly that there is a physical reality
that my perception does not change. Now you can make the argument that
we're all just brains in jars, the Matrix, and all of this is an
illusion and that is an airtight argument. You can't refute it but let's
just say it's not that. I think there's a real reality out there and
the people who say "I believe in God because I feel that there's some
higher power in the universe"—the problem I have with that is that once
you've said you believe something that you can't prove to someone else
you have completely walled yourself off from the world.And
you've essentially said no one can talk to you and you can talk to no
one. You've also given license to everybody else who feels that. If you
say to me "I can't prove it Penn, but I have a feeling in my heart that
there is a power over everything that connects us," why can't Charlie
Manson say "I can't prove it but I can have a feeling that the Beatles
are telling us to kill Sharon Tate and that the race riots are coming?"
Why can't Al Qaeda say "I have a feeling in my heart that we need to
kill these particular infidels?" Why can't the men who tortured and
disfigured Ayaan Hirsi Ali—why isn't what they feel in their heart
valid?The problem is if you have a sense of fairness simply by
saying you believe in a higher power because you believe in it, you've
automatically given license to anyone else that wants to say that. So I
would rather be busted on everything I say and I am, you know, when
you've put yourself out on television and on radio as someone who really
does believe in objective truth there is not a sentence that I will say
in this interview that won't get three or four tweets of somebody with
information busting me on it. And they're right, you know, very rarely
am I busted on something where I'm right. If someone is taking the
trouble to let me know I've said something wrong, chances are I'm wrong.But
that's the world I live in. I want to live in a world of a marketplace
of ideas where everybody is busted on their bullshit all the time
because I think that's the way we get to truth. That is also what
respect is. What we call tolerance nowadays, maybe always—I'm always
skeptical about the "nowadays" thing. I don't think things get that much
different. What we call "tolerance" is often just condescending. It's
often just saying, "Okay, you believe what you want to believe that's
fine with me." I think true respect... it's one of the reasons I get
along so much better with fundamentalist Christians than I do with
liberal Christians because fundamentalist Christians I can look them in
the eye and say, "You are wrong." They also know that I will always
fight for their right to say that.And I will celebrate their
right to say that but I will look them in the eye and say, "You're
wrong." And fundamentalists will look me in the eye and say, "You're
wrong." And that to me is respect. The more liberal religious people who
go "There are many paths to truth you just go on and maybe you'll find
your way"... is the way you talk to a child. And I bristle at that, so I
do very well with proselytizing hardcore fundamentalists and in a very
deep level I respect them and at a very deep level i think I share a big
part of their heart. I think in a certain sense I'm a preacher. My
heart is there.

Recorded on June 8, 2010

Interviewed by Paul Hoffman