An Open Letter to Penn Jillette From an Appreciative Young Catholic
Dear Mr. Jillette,
Before ever reading The Royal Road to Card Magic or learning how to do a pass, I was introduced to magic by yourself and Mr. Teller on THIS television special. Not only was I hooked on magic from then on, I also remember being impressed by your duo’s willingness to “reveal” one way in which an illusion might be done. There was an honesty in the unveiling that actually made me appreciate the piece more.
The next time I remember taking note of you was in 2003, when Showtime began airing your series, “Penn and Teller: Bullshit”. Beneath the bravado and aggressive language, I could plainly see an admirable pursuit of truth vs. the modern, selfish, emotion-based acceptance of “truthiness“.
You popped up on my radar a third time by a post on “Penn Says” about a man who gave you a Bible after a show. Though I was refreshed at your open willingness to speak of the man–whom you intrinsically disagreed with–as “kind, and nice, and sane,” I was most impacted by the following statement:
“I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize…If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life…and you think that …it’s not really worth telling…because it would make it socially awkward…how much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
In a few, short, hastily-recorded words, you had put the impetus behind Matthew 28′s “Great Commission” into layman’s terms, all without actually believing any of it, and, yet again, I was impressed. Regardless of how vocal and sarcastic you could appear to be at times, you also seemed to possess a relatively rare docility to honesty and truth, even if it was found in a standpoint you found laughable.
Then, on March 7, you appeared in an and, among other things, relayed such a succinct, yet adequate, exposition of the Catholic Church’s belief in the Papacy that I had to write this letter.
Thank you, Mr. Jillette. Thank you for being the unusual type of person who realizes that you can’t truly disagree with someone until you understand their position. More specifically, thank you for being a man of such backbone and character that you will defend a tenet of the Catholic Church from misrepresentation and error, even though you disagree with said tenet.
Furthermore, thank you for seeing through the flimsy, theologically absurd belief that Christianity should bend to the whims of culture, which change by the minute and are generally dictated by the selfish desire for immediate gratification of any and all wants. If real, eternal, objective truth can be found in the Catholic Church and her members, then, as you so beautifully put it, “why would society move them?” Instead of bowing to a given population’s estimated value of the dollar, Christians are supposed to “impregnate culture and human works with a moral value” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 909). You said it best, yet again, ”There’s not supposed to be modernizing, it’s supposed to be the Word of God.”
I joined the Catholic Church in 2008 after growing up in an Evangelical denomination, attending Bible College, becoming atheist, and spending a few years floundering in the choppy sea of personal opinion applied to Scripture. I found myself unable to swallow the inherent chaos which very clearly resulted from the belief that “your interpretation is as good as mine” and “if it works for you, then great!”
I came to agree that, as you put it, “if you have someone who is a conduit to God…even if you can’t understand exactly what God’s plan is…that still doesn’t mean you get to vote on what God actually believes.” It didn’t seem to me that truth, religious or otherwise, should–or could–be relegated to the anarchic realm of personal opinion. It seemed more logical and right to embrace Aquinas’ statement that “if there is anything true, there must be truth,” and then approach that truth with the beautiful philosophy of Mr. Penn Jillette and say, “You either agree or you don’t.”
There is a desperate, pressing need for more people like you to hold the line against the subversive gibberish and rhetoric of a culture which says you don’t have mean what you say or be what you are. The Church is rife with thousands who loudly profess to be Catholic and, in the same breath, unequivocally deny teachings which are intrinsic to Catholicism. Thank you for being one person who won’t stand for the paradox and contradiction.
I hope, and my heart prays, that you soon leave the ranks of those who believe “in the pope’s position more than most Catholics”, and join the merry band of actual Catholics who truly believe what the Church teaches. I desire this, not so that we have one more notch on our theological belt, but that your restless heart, starving for and relentlessly pursuing truth, may rest in the Truth that is Christ and His Church.
Thank you, again, Mr. Jillette.