Brain Pickings

Penn Jillette on Why Every Day is a Holiday

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“For atheists, everything in the world is enough and every day is holy.”

Penn Jillette’s brand of smug and often vulgar humor isn’t ordinarily my cup of tea, but the title essay in his recently released Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!: More Magical Tales from the Author of God, No! (UK; public library) offers a rather poignant meditation on atheism as a secular philosophy of celebrating life:

In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll invents the idea of the un-birthday. If we celebrated those we’d have 364 more (in a leap year) un-birthdays than birthdays. Atheists have always had the corner on un-holidays. Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, the day Tom Cruise had sex with a woman are all holidays in some religion but they’re never a celebration of life. The joy is the exception that proves the rules. It’s the celebration of a joy that we don’t have.

The word ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ and holy means ‘exalted and worthy of complete devotion.’ By that definition, all days are holy. Life is holy. Atheists have joy every day of the year, every holy day. We have the wonder and glory of life. We have joy in the world before the lord is come. We’re not going for the promise of life after death; we’re celebrating life before death. The smiles of children. The screaming, the bitching, the horrific whining of one’s own children. … Sunsets, rock and roll, bebop, Jell-O, stinky cheese, and offensive jokes.

For atheists, everything in the world is enough and every day is holy. Every day is an atheist holiday. It’s a day that we’re alive.

But, of course, as Dostoyevsky keenly noted in The Brothers Karamazov, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

Every Day is an Atheist Holiday! is the sequel to Jillette’s God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales.

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