Penn Jillette was not always an atheist. He actually grew up in a religious family and attended church in their small Greenfield, Massachusetts town. He was very close to his parents and still is to this day. But, sometime around his teen years he began to question, not just his own Christian upbringing but religion in general.
Jillette remembers making a deal with his parents that if he attended the youth group on Sunday evenings, he could skip Sunday morning mass. The pastor who taught the class encouraged the children to think about and question different theologies.
Jillette certainly took this as a challenge. With an enthusiasm uncommon for his age group, he explored the different teachings of various religious groups, dissecting the message each group was preaching. Jillette eventually came to the conclusion that any holy book you chose to read, from the Bible to the Koran, could turn you into an atheist.
Jillette’s reasoning was that all theology books are confusing and give contradictory messages. For example, he points out that the Bible preaches love and acceptance. However, in many passages there are tales of rape, slavery and killings. Jillette concluded that this God is only good with you if you are a strict follower of Him.
He continued to read as many theology books as he could. He discussed his thoughts and questions each Sunday night with his pastor and the youth group. For a time, his pastor encouraged Jillette to have these lively discussions. Soon the pastor realized Jillette was moving away from the Word of the Lord and guiding his fellow Christians towards a life of atheism. His parents were called, and Jillette was very politely asked to stop attending youth group.
It was not until Jillette was much older, that he encountered a few famously open atheists. Frank Zappa, Randy Newman and Martin Mull had no problem expressing their views on religion and their lack of belief in a higher being. This made Jillette more confident to express his own opinions.
Each year the atheist population grows as more and more question their religious beliefs. Jillette does not go out of his way to persuade his audience one way or another, but he does eloquently explain how he came to realize his own idea of faith. Whether you are an atheist or not, Jillette brings up valid points and makes a clear argument for why he feels that atheism is his path.