Think what you want about Penn Jillette, he does have a way with words; so it pains me to have to heavily edit his colorful remarks in an interview with Salon. But it's awfully hard to type certain words when Mother Angelica's face keeps swimming before my eyes. ("Simmmcha! Stop ruuuuining EWTNnnnnnn!")
As someone who entertains audiences and seeks fans, isn’t your vocal atheism working at cross purposes with your best interests?
and he responds,
People say, I want to give you credit for how brave you are for speaking out even though it could hurt you — I always say, “Well, yeah, except the more I talk about this, the more money I make.” I’m doing fine. People have dealt with huge adversity from their atheism. I’m not one of them. I’m not Salman Rushdie. Maybe because I picked a different religion to not believe in.
Yup. As much fun as it is to whine and moan about the Christian Taliban in the U.S., criticizing Christianity, insulting Christ and Mary, and even physically attacking Christians is a pretty safe game to play.
We did these mean-spirited shows on Christianity, creationism. And we steeled ourselves for a barrage of hate. And yes, there are mentally ill people who do death threats: We don’t count them. Commenters on the Internet, we don’t count them either. Mentally ill people come from all belief systems.
But the letters we got from sincere believers, really religious people, all the letters said, I disagree with you completely about your view of God but I love the show, I love the passion, I love how funny it is, and I love that you’re speaking honestly. We’d see these and cry our f****** eyes out. If you sit next to me at the end of our show at the Rio, many times a night, someone will say to me, I’m a Christian, a very strong Christian, I disagree with a lot of what you say, but I love hearing you say it and I want you to know a lot of Christians love you.
Have you, as a Christian, ever done something like this? Have you gone out of your way to make real, human contact with an atheist or with some enemy of Christianity?
I will admit that I hardly ever do. It's so much easier to say, "Hey, they don't want anything to do with me and my deal? Their loss. I have enough on my hands trying to follow the ten commandments -- I don't think I can manage teaching anyone else!" Sometimes we even use false humility as an excuse: "It would actually hurt the Faith if I tried to put myself forward as an example of what a Christian looks like. I better keep my mouth shut and let the experts handle evangelization."
Well, it would be fantastic to get really educated about our own faith and then to deliberately go out and share it. As Frank Sheed says in Theology for Beginners,
If spiritual starvation is to be relieved, it must be largely the work of the laity, who are in daily contact with starvation's victims. We must come to an understanding of the great dogmas, so that we know them in themselves and in their power to nourish; we must bend every effort to mastering their utterance. Only then can we relieve the starvation that now lies all about us.
But at very least, we can do what Penn Jillette's Christian fans did: we can make contact. We can be civil. We can appreciate what is good in people, even when we disagree about fundamentals. We can refuse to be what Mark Shea calls reactionaries who "hate the whole idea of bringing new people into the Church at all ... and seem to be bent on making sure as few are allowed in and as many are driven away as possible."
Don't be that way. If a civil, friendly response from Christians can impress a guy like Penn Jillette, you never know who else is watching, listening, taking note of how you comport yourself as a Christian.
All the screaming, the threatening, the throwing of rocks and the scramble to be offensive and aggressive? That's not our gig. A very few people are called to be fiery prophets. If you relish being that way, it's probably a sign that you're doing more harm than good. For most of us, a real test of our faith would look like doing what Jillette's fans did: saying, "God bless you. We think you're wrong, but God bless you."