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Author Message

<  PARENTING BEYOND BELIEF - the book  ~  Penn Jilette

Dude
Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2007 12:32 am Reply with quote
Redshirt Joined: 22 Mar 2007 Posts: 1
Dale, this is from Penn and Teller's website... what do you thiink about this?

"That godless parenting book is not really my writing. I wrote
something that had some guts to it, and they were scared of it. I
guess they didn't want to anger xtians by having an Atheist
perspective in their book on atheist parenting. When I write, I
usually have control over the final product and editors are very
respectful. I did this for free because I thought it was a good
cause. They used that against me, and edited it in ways I don't
approve of. It might be a good book, but please don't buy it for my
essay, and I wouldn't be surprised if they edited other stuff badly
as well."
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Dale
Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2007 7:19 pm Reply with quote
Superhumanist Joined: 14 Feb 2007 Posts: 685 Location: Atlanta
Yeah, I figured this was coming at some point, since he was pretty upset at the time. That's really unfortunate -- his piece is brilliant, as you might expect. I really didn't want to air this in public, but I won't be libeled, either. Here's the story:

I sent all contributors one page of editorial guidelines. I then edited essays according to those guidelines and sent the essays back to each for approval.

Penn's essay is 1100 words in length. I edited two of those words.

The first was the word "xtian," which I asked all contributors to spell out as "christian." He agreed. "The xtian change could be made as a style thing for the whole book," he said in an email, "and I'll go with that."

We're now down to a single word.

Penn had included the word "christards" in his essay -- a combination of "christian" and "retards." Here's the original phrase:

Quote:
We donít have any friends who are christards or into any kind of faith-based hooey...

I changed it to

Quote:
We donít have any friends who are into any kind of faith-based hooey...


The book includes very direct and unapologetic critiques of religious belief by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Dan Barker -- hardly wallflowers -- but I considered this to be over the top, an unnecessary slur, which is something I'd asked the writers to avoid.

I went back and forth on the decision, weak-kneed bastard that I am. At one point I apologized to Penn, abjectly and sincerely, and said I'd leave it in. I really thought for half an hour that I'd done the wrong thing. But then I ran it past five other atheists, all of whom felt even more strongly than I did that it was too much and had to go or it would become a distraction, the only thing interviewers and reviewers would talk about. And I re-read the guidelines, and thought about the core audience of parents who aren't as comfortable as others in their disbelieving skins and who need this book. That's not the only audience, of course, but it's the one that can finally demarginalize disbelief by getting more comfortable about identifying with it.

So I told Penn I wanted to remove it after all, not to avoid offending christians, but to avoid turning off that core audience of moderate nonbelievers. I can be plenty boundless and rude myself when the situation calls for it, but I know there are times when it's counterproductive. I decided this was one of those times.

Penn was very angry, but said, "It's your call." If he'd insisted I leave it in, I would have done so, as I did for some other contributors...but (whether he meant it or not) he gave me the choice. If this is "disrespectful" editing, I just don't see it, and I don't see that a piece with two words changed is no longer his.

As for writing it for free: I sent a rather large check with his name on it, and somebody cashed it. He might want to look into that. His account may not have noticed it, but mine sure as hell did.

So what do you all think, honestly? Did I make the right decision? Is the piece no longer his without that word?


Last edited by Dale on Fri Mar 23, 2007 7:06 am; edited 2 times in total

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Dale McGowan
Author/editor, Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers
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sotoman
Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2007 9:08 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 14 Feb 2007 Posts: 30 Location: san antonio, tx
ouch. have you tried to contact penn to come to an agreement?
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Dale
Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2007 9:15 pm Reply with quote
Superhumanist Joined: 14 Feb 2007 Posts: 685 Location: Atlanta
He and I already had this discussion at the time of the edit, and it was clear we weren't going to agree. That in itself is fine -- reasonable people can disagree -- but I really can't take outright misrepresentation, even from someone I admire as much as Penn.

So he's said his bit, I've said mine, on we go like big boys.

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Dale McGowan
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Amanda
Posted: Fri Mar 23, 2007 6:30 am Reply with quote
Virtuoso Joined: 07 Mar 2007 Posts: 122 Location: Virginia
Dale - thank you for explaining that. It's interesting to hear what goes on in the writing of a book. Most interesting the way an author would consider a one word change a complete destruction of his work. I am understanding more about the process.

I appreciate your agony over the decision and am most pleased with your reasoning. Your decision wasn't based on keeping him from offending Christians, but from making the offense the part of the book that is most focused on. You had the responsibility of keeping one piece from ruining the message of others.

Finally, based on your version of the story, it doesn't seem that he accurately identified the issue in his statement on his website.

Editing is tough work huh?

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MrsJ
Posted: Fri Mar 23, 2007 8:56 am Reply with quote
Philosopher Joined: 26 Feb 2007 Posts: 30 Location: Maryland
As I was rocking my sick 9 month old to sleep at 2 this morning this thread kept coming through my mind. So I am going to post on it...

I grew up in a family with an older brother who is deaf. Sometimes it was not the most easiest growing up in our family as he got frustrated easy, still does. What I do remember though is the comments to my siblings and I from kids in the neighborhood and school. Ones like "oh you are the one with the brother who is a retard." or "your brother is a retard so you must be too."

Oh how I hated that word! He was and is not retarded. And I really disliked those kids for using it in such a way. But as I got older and think back on those times I realize they were just ignorant children, but mostly that they probably were not taught at home by their parents that everyone is different. And that it is not nice to call someone names. So coming to the conclusion that it was the parents who were ignorant in their rearing of their children.

Now coming to your question. Yes I feel you had every justification to remove that word. Why someone as intellegent as Mr. Jilette would fight to keep a "elementary school made up word" like that in his writing is beyond me. Being a family who wants to teach their children tolerance and respect for everyone I find that word as offensive as teaching them to use the "n" word and the "c" word (in refrence to women) in expressing their opinion.

Bravo to you Dale for doing what you felt was right. It is hard enough for Atheist/Agnostic families to get respect in this country.
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FatherThyme
Posted: Sun Mar 25, 2007 5:14 pm Reply with quote
Sidekick Joined: 15 Feb 2007 Posts: 15 Location: Portland ME
Wow, I step out of town for two weeks and controversy rears its head!

Another hero bites the dust. I'm guessing Penn is surrounded by yes men. I can't think of anything else to explain that crybaby reaction to a simple (and well-justified) edit. If the removal of one playground-level taunt is enough to gut his essay, there can't have been much there in the first place.
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AtheistCanuck
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2007 10:38 am Reply with quote
Redshirt Joined: 26 Mar 2007 Posts: 2 Location: Canada!
You were right to remove the word, you were right that it would be the only thing reviewers would pay attention to. It would have caused way to much negative publicity. As well as being childish in the first place. That kind of thing belongs in third grade, not in a published book.
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Dale
Posted: Wed Apr 29, 2009 7:45 am Reply with quote
Superhumanist Joined: 14 Feb 2007 Posts: 685 Location: Atlanta
Wow -- Even two years later, Penn continues to misrepresent this thing. Now he's doing it on YouTube.

To repeat, our dispute was over a single word: "christards."

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Dale McGowan
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KathyDU
Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 11:47 am Reply with quote
Acolyte Joined: 09 Feb 2009 Posts: 6 Location: Australia
Oh dear, Dale, how could you hack his work about like that!? Shocked

As an Aussie reading "Christards", I think my first thought would have been that it was a cross between Christian and another word starting with "bas" which is in common usage here varying from a swearword to a term of endearment. So I probably just wouldn't have got it at all Confused Definitely best left out.

My feeling is that there's some other aspect of his essay he feels ashamed about. I'll have to go and read it again now.
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Dale
Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 11:57 am Reply with quote
Superhumanist Joined: 14 Feb 2007 Posts: 685 Location: Atlanta
That's funny -- that's what I thought at first too. But it's a portmanteau for "Christian retard." Nice for a parenting book, huh?

If he had read the (one page) editorial guidelines, he might have figured out what kind of project we were after. But I suppose I shouldn't have expected Penn to read instructions, or to follow them if he did. The bull-in-a-china-shop is his whole shtick. I was naive to expect he could come off that, even for a moment.

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Dale McGowan
Author/editor, Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers
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nonplus
Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 11:44 pm Reply with quote
Philosopher Joined: 04 Dec 2008 Posts: 36 Location: Austin, TX
It's kind of ironic for him to be bringing it up now. Maybe the recently publicized R-word campaign reminded him of it?

BTW, whenever I recommend PBB to someone and mention that I love most of the essays, though do not agree with all of them, it's Pen's piece that I'm thinking of. So I guess it does serve a good purpose for me. Smile
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