An interesting dialogue between Penn & Glenn

Glenn Beck has got to the the obvious choice at CNN when they play the Sesame Street game “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things is just not the same.” However, I’ve become a fan of Glenn Beck’s CNN show lately for one reason: he’s interviewing some very interesting people in a way that is more like two guys at a coffee shop. Of those he’s done lately, I found the one last night very interesting. He interviewed Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) and they talked about several subjects on America’s current radar screen. Glenn Beck is a Mormon, Penn Jillette an atheist (and yes, that’s relevant or I wouldn’t bring in up). They were first talking about global warming (I’ll include that part of the dialogue) and Jillette was obviously very optimistic, and a genuinely likable guy (much more humble than his stage persona might suggest). Beck asked him about his optimism, and he touched on a point about religion and atheism in the American society that I thought I’d share here.

BECK: So then tell me — let`s go into this. Then tell me about how it`s not a giant, global conspiracy on global warming. This thing is the biggest bunch of bull crap I`ve ever heard, and yet it`s everywhere.

JILLETTE: Being a skeptic, as I have been, there`s one basic rule you have to follow, which is never, never attribute to conspiracy what can be attributed to ignorance, you know?

BECK: Yes, but you can`t — wait a minute.

JILLETTE: People will never get together — how are you defining conspiracy?

BECK: You can`t tell me — you can`t tell me that this is ignorance. Look, I`ll buy into the globe is warming. I mean, it`s a cycle.

JILLETTE: There`s five parts of what we call global warming. There`s, “The world is getting warmer.” There`s, “We caused it.” There`s, “We can do something about it.” And there`s, “This is what we should do about it.” There`s, “Don`t number them in advance because you may not have as many as you started with.”

BECK: That`s the last one?


JILLETTE: That`s the basic one. It`s always in everything. But probably…

BECK: I`ll give you the first one.

JILLETTE: Probably.

BECK: Yes, but the rest of them I don`t. And you can`t attribute that, this massive global push for those three, to ignorance. These are supposedly the smartest people on the planet.

JILLETTE: You can certainly put it to the fact that human beings — two things have always been true about human beings. One, the world is always getting better. Two, the people living at that time think it`s getting worse.

It`s because you get older, your responsibilities are different. Now I`m taking care of children instead of being a child. It makes the world look scarier. That happens to everyone.

And on top of that, we have this horrible — you can call it Judeo- Christian, I think it`s even deeper than that, deeper than the Abrahamic religions — of this horrible guilt that things go well. I mean, my kids won`t have polio, you know? And I`m old enough that my parents were still reminding themselves they didn`t have to worry about it. You know, I wasn`t going to get polio. I had the vaccine. They still worried about it.

And I think that there`s this huge amount of guilt for how good things are, and there`s this puritanical strain that liberals don`t know how to deal with because, you know, they don`t have the religion that started that. They just have this, you know, what I call it is we hate ourselves. It`s this, “Things are too good. It must be our fault. We can`t be doing this.”

And whether you`re recycling or whether you`re doing penance or whether you`re hitting yourself with a whip, it`s all the same thing of just not being willing to say, “Wow, we`ve got it really good, but let`s help a few other people.”

BECK: So George Carlin was on the show a couple of days ago.


BECK: Great guy, and shocked because I thought for sure he was going to hate me. And he came on, and we had a really good conversation.

JILLETTE: He`s a wonderful man.

BECK: Yes, really nice guy and great conversation. In the conversation, he said, “America`s over. It`s over. Our freedom is gone. It just hasn`t caught up to us yet.” You sound like an optimist, everything is getting better. Debunk that.

JILLETTE: I have been a huge fan of George Carlin`s since I was a kid. I`ve known him and he`s been very important in my life for a long time. He`s a hero of mine, but we could not disagree more. It`s amazing how, right after 9/11, he wrote in his notebook, and I typed in my journal, because he`s a little bit of a Luddite, “There go our civil liberties.” Within an hour of the towers going down, that`s what both of us were thinking.

And yet I see it as constant vigilance, and we have to fight for our civil liberties, and things will still go because people are really good, and he sees it as Doomsday. And it`s really funny how many things George and I can agree on, and yet I`m this ridiculous Pollyanna where I think everything`s going to get better.

I feel very certain that my children will live in a world that`s freer, safer, cleaner, and more beautiful than the one that I lived in, which was much better than my parents`, which was much better than their parents`, and all the way back.

BECK: You know what`s funny? Because you are so — I used to be there. I used to be. I did.

JILLETTE: “I used to be like you, kid.”

BECK: You know what? I don`t like the fact that I see so many things and I think, “Good God in Heaven, unless people wake up, there go our civil liberties.”

JILLETTE: There are such amazing counterexamples, you know? And I think this is important to bring up. We`re both part of nut minorities, right? You`re Church of the Latter-Day Saints, and I`m an atheist. There`s a few more atheists than there are you guys, but not many. We`re minorities. We`re not running the country.

BECK: Oh, yet.

JILLETTE: You`ve got the Boy Scouts.

BECK: We have the Boy Scouts.

JILLETTE: You`ve got the Boy Scouts, right, and we get the scientists. But it`s incredible to me that, in these two groups that are not in the most positive groups in our country, we are treated very well and people like us are treated very well. And we have many fans of our show who are aware that we`re atheists and are they themselves Christians and really understand the marketplace of ideas, and that seems to be expanding rather than narrowing, you know?

We have a country, and this is — I want to stick up for these people because nobody does, and I`m the last person who should be. But you have a huge number of people in this country who believe abortion is murder, OK? They don`t think it might be or it might be a little wrong; they believe absolutely it`s murder. And they have been dedicating their lives and now getting into another generation of dedicating their lives to fighting this that they believe is murder, and they are doing it overwhelmingly nonviolently. That has never been done in the history of the world.

Now, I disagree with them, and that`s not important. What`s important is they`re standing outside abortion clinics, they`re holding their signs, they`re screaming, they`re yelling, they`re writing their Web pages, they are using the marketplace of ideas, absolutely, but, by and large — there are some horrible examples, but it`s single-digit, single-digit examples of atrocities they`ve done — and yet they have that strong feeling.

And that gives me hope. And it gives me hope that I can talk to them, and I`m an atheist and say, “I disagree with you, but, man, I love the way you`re fighting, because you`re fighting the way the founding fathers wanted.”

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2 Responses to An interesting dialogue between Penn & Glenn

  1. Michael says:

    I saw this also and really enjoyed the dialog. I’m Catholic and am often confused as to why so many of my fellow Catholics see the world as “going straight to hell”. It’s kinda like the environmentalists. I’ve worked in the environmental industry (sewage treatment plants and environmental impact analysis) and I know for a fact that things are cleaner today than they were 30 years ago – all with an increase in the population. Several say it is getting worse, but I managed data that scientifically proved the opposite.

    Penn is right if you look at history. My great grandparents came over from Ireland and things weren’t all that great here and when things went down hill they probably thought “how will my kids ever have a good life”? Well … they did and it continues to improve even though all we here about in the media is that it is getting worse. I may not know what kind of world my kids will have in the future, but I do know they will adapt to what comes their way. I suppose I am a bit of Pollyanna also.

    What I liked most is that those two men were able to have a discussion without getting so emotional and talking over each other that it was not worth watching. The way they communicated made it educational and kept my interrest. If you want the other method where people talk over each other, are disrespectful, and you can only get about 20% of what they say then you should watch the other news talk shows.

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. James says:


    Thanks for taking the time to post. My father-in-law is a university professor in agricultural and environmental sciences. He works quite a bit with people in your field as well and what he’s shared with me certainly jives with your experience and observations, too. I live on the Hudson River. It’s still not a river I’d eat a fish from, but because of more responsible actions the last couple decades, it’s vastly improved rather than worse. Up in the Adirondack Mountains a lake that was supposedly completely dead now has life…fish and all (acid rain was the culprit, and is not as bad as it once was). So there does seem to be reason for optimism, it seems to me, despite what so many of the dooms-dayers are promoting.

    I sure agree with you, too, that it was good to see two people whose core personal beliefs are at polar opposites have a conversation that was respectful and friendly. I don’t know if you got to see the video or not, it may be up on their site by now.

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