ATHEISM: Penn Jillette urges evangelism

LAS VEGAS (BP)--Penn Jillette, the verbal half of the magician duo Penn and Teller, and an outspoken atheist, has posted a YouTube video exhorting Christians to share their faith.

Penn and Teller are headliners in Las Vegas, and their shows generally are marked by foul language and shock appeal. Penn Jillette, though, used no coarse language in telling about an audience member who gave him a New Testament.

Jillette was signing autographs after a show last fall when he noticed the man standing over to the side of the crowd.

"And he had been the guy who picks the joke during our psychic comedian section of the show. He had the props from that in his hand because we give those away. He had the joke book and the envelope and paper and stuff," Jillette said in the Dec. 8 YouTube video.

The man walked over to Jillette, complimented him on the show and handed him a Gideons New Testament.

"And he said, 'I wrote in the front of it, and I wanted you to have this. I'm kind of proselytizing,'" Jillette said. "And then he said, 'I'm a businessman. I'm sane. I'm not crazy.' And he looked me right in the eyes.

"It was really wonderful. I believe he knew that I was an atheist. But he was not defensive, and he looked me right in the eyes," Jillette said. "And he was truly complimentary. It didn't seem like empty flattery. He was really kind and nice and sane and looked me in the eyes and talked to me and then gave me this Bible."

Jillette then stated he doesn't respect people who don't proselytize.

"I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward, and atheists who think that people shouldn't proselytize -- 'Just leave me alone, keep your religion to yourself.'

"How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?" Jillette asked. "How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn't believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there's a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that."

Jillette reiterated his impression of the man's demeanor.

"This guy was a really good guy. He was polite and honest and sane, and he cared enough about me to proselytize and give me a Bible, which had written in it a little note to me -- not very personal, but just 'Liked your show,' and then listed five phone numbers for him and an e-mail address if I wanted to get in touch," Jillette said.

"Now I know there's no God, and one polite person living his life right doesn't change that. But I'll tell you, he was a very, very, very good man, and that's really important. And with that kind of goodness, it's OK to have that deep of a disagreement. I still think that religion does a lot of bad stuff, but that was a good man who gave me that book. That's all I wanted to say," Jillette said at the end of the short video.

John Mark Simmons, pastor of the Las Vegas-area Highland Hills Baptist Church in Henderson and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, told Baptist Press that Jillette's video should inspire believers to share their faith even when they think people won't be responsive.

"That episode is a wonderful encouragement for all of us to be salt and light," Simmons said. "If you know anything at all about Penn or his shows, you know he pretty much represents the decayed and dark world we live in, yet someone's obedience got his attention."


Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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