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Penn Jillette is so outspoken about his atheism that he once wrote 10 commandments for non-believers. So it may come as a shock to learn that on his list of literary must-reads, along with Shakespeare and Moby Dick, is the Bible.
“I start at the beginning then I go all the way through. Then I start again at the top. I don’t read much, just a couple of pages a day to mull it over,” says Jillete. “It’s part of our culture.”
It’s also the book he most often recommends to aspiring non-believers.
“When somebody comes to me and says, I’m starting to question my religion, what book do you recommend by Hitchens or Dawkins? I say, don’t get those yet. Take the Bible, start with Genesis, ‘in the beginning,’ read through the crazy revelations, read through the whole thing without a study guide, without a spin master,” he says.
Christmas carols also ring bells with him, and not the merry jingling kind.
“Listening carefully to Christmas carols is the quickest way to realize - the ‘Joy to the World’ they’re talking about is a joy to the world in the future,” says Jillette. “What scares me most is not that I won’t be alive in 100 years. What scares me most is that I’m not alive enough now.”
Listen to the rest of our hour-long interview with Penn Jillette in which he offers a linguistic take-down of the theme from Shaft, thoughts on why Harry Houdini is more culturally significant than Elvis, and ideas about how politicians should talk to atheists.