Penn Jillette on Compassion

Anyone know where I can find a credible source for this quote? Is it really a Penn Jillette quote? Somehow, I don’t find Facebook a reputable source. However, since Jillette is known to be an atheist and libertarian, I find this in keeping with his philosophy. (Though most atheists I know personally are liberal socially and economically.)

5 comments on “Penn Jillette on Compassion

  1. Check out the transcript here… the quote in the picture is not a DIRECT quote, but it’s the same general thing.


    Here’s another blog with another video by Penn.


    Now, for the DIRECT quote… it’s from a CNN Opinion piece… Here it is.


  2. I found the quote in a CNN Opinion article from August 16th:


    I don’t however, find his opinion particularly enlightened or well-informed. Part of being Libertarian seems to require a pervasive distrust of any/all motives and actions undertaken by agencies and institutions. Sometimes people do band together in groups, even in the gubmint, and try to solve and alleviate problems. Their motive is service!

    • Idealistically, yes, government provides a service. But what libertarians view states is that there are certain things that a government should do and should not do and that, especially where things get in the way of personal liberties, government should stay out. Take this view on compassion. It’s more than just not trusting the government to do it right, it’s a matter of compassionate acts have the most meaning when they are done personally and that we should have a choice as to WHO we should be compassionate to. Should I give money to my neighbor for groceries when I know they are going to spend it on junk food? Or should I, instead, buy the groceries FOR them? Or, even better, go to their house and cook some food for them and actually enter into a relationship with them so I can be aware of any other needs they have? All in all, it’s more important to have the choice than to be forced into situations in which I may disagree. Should we give money to the government of Libya to help them rebuild? Some say “Yes”… me, I think this is something that we can give guidance to but, ultimately, they have the right to choose their own destiny… after all, didn’t they just get finished fighting a rebellion specifically FOR that right?

      This is the root of libertarianism… not a distrust of government, but a trust in people’s ability to make their own choices. Now, a CHRISTIAN libertarian, which I am rapidly approaching, wants everyone to have the ability to make their own choices… but I want them to have the informed choices that come from a transformed life that comes from the Spirit of God. Transform the life through Christ and the Spirit and then, as the Apostle Paul writes, then they will “be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” Libertarians want people to be able to exercise their own will… and Christians want that will to be in line with God.

      • Thanks for the info, Robert. I expect you are correct about the theoretical basis for Libertarianism. Many kinds of politics have decent theoretical bases. Unfortunately, based on my own experience (and I assert no unusual expertise), I don’t think people behave based on moral constructs, let alone political ones. I think people act almost entirely in line with their own vested interests and genetic programming. I do have some respect for the gradual civilizing influence of faith practice, though I see no historical advantage to Christianity over Buddhism (for example). But people who say they are Christians still wage wars and commit murders and spend the majority of their life energy trying to acquire material wealth, all of which are directly against the teachings of Jesus. I do completely agree with his view of compassion, however, which is to perform the act yourself. If you meet someone hungry, YOU feed therm, and if they need clothing, give them YOURS.

      • Unfortunately, you are correct, Christians still wage wars and spend the majority of their life energy trying to acquire material wealth. This is my deep grief (read some of my thoughts on it at http://ballymennoniteblogger.blogspot.com/2011/10/consider-cost.html).

        I wish that Christianity was characterized by instantaneous change from a screw-up to a saint. And for some, that’s the way it is. However, one of the griefs of this world is how much NOISE there is out there that muddles the truth of things. We try so hard to listen to that “still small voice” that is God leading and guiding us and, unfortunately, it gets drown out by the rest of the world. Because we are still humans on a journey, unfortunately, we’ll make some serious mistakes (consider this: there were MANY Christians in 1930’s Germany who thought what they were doing was right).

        As for what dictates people’s behaviors, again, I think you’re correct that moral constructs, rules and laws if you will, don’t dictate people’s behaviors. For how many centuries have there been laws saying “murder is wrong” and yet people still do it? What dictate’s people’s behaviors is a fundamental thing called the “spirit” or the “will” or whatever. It is the thing that is a central part of a person that forms and drives and dictates and influences the choices that person makes. For some people, this thing is seriously sick and needs some major surgery. For others, not so much, but they still aren’t perfect. For both, there is a healing process, as mentioned earlier, that transforms that spirit into something that is better informed, more able to make “right” decisions, that does not rely on a rigid set of rules and laws but instead is informed by The One who knows so that any decision made is first checked against The One who truly has the big picture.

        For Christians, we look at this guy named Jesus as the example of what a person looks like who has that perfect connection between the human being and The One who knows. Notice that Jesus, in the historical narratives we have, did not approach every sinner exactly the same, every situation exactly the same. Instead, he had this UNCANNY ability to say exactly the right thing in the right way to the right people to bring about the absolute best in every situation. This wasn’t because that Jesus, as a man, somehow was super-intelligent… it was because he was living in this intense deep connection with The One who knows.

        So, this is where my Christian Libertarianism comes into play. I believe that everyone should have the freedom to make their own choices. But, as a Christian, I believe that those choices, to truly be the BEST choices, must rely totally, completely, and entirely upon the supreme wisdom of The One. This is the message of the book of Job, the book of Ecclesiastes, the book of Romans, the central theme to Deuteronomy 6, the guiding principle of Jesus life, and what the end will really look like according to the book of Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and many others. And, along with this, comes a supreme measure of grace, of understanding that no one has gotten to the end of that journey. When we see other Christians making those mistakes, instead of rejecting them, we reach out in grace, mercy and understanding saying, “I know…I’ve made mistakes, too. Let me help you back to your feet and we can walk together.” And when we look at non-believers, we take on the attitude of Paul as he showed to the Athenians, of seeing that, they’re SOOO close to the truth, let’s encourage them in what they have right and try and help them see that next step. But, ultimately, it is their choice. Even choosing God is their choice. I cannot force it on anyone. We ask people to “love God”. How can they love if they don’t choose to do so?

        Sorry so long winded, but this is something near and dear to me, to see people choose God, freely. To see people choose his way, freely. And to see Christians who have already made that choice truly and freely act as they should in that choice. I’m not perfect in it myself, but this is my passion.

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