I highly recommend the article—which at over 1575 words is 1575 more words than most of us have ever heard Teller say. Not only does it make you want to read the book—as any favorable review should—it presents an inspiring portrait of a life well lived. Gardner seems like a man filled with both curiosity and joy for life. This article itself makes me more curious and brought a little bit of joy.
What drives me to my keyboard, though, is not to tell you to read it, though you should, but to assess this strange sentence in the second to last paragraph of an otherwise glowing review:
And what, pray tell, could do that? Did Gardner rant about the dangers of vaccines? Did he question global warming because it still snows each winter? Did he call for a permanent Creationism exhibit within the Smithsonian?
Nah, he believes in God.
Teller’s partner, Penn, is a famous proponent for New Atheism—the angry, polemical, and evangelical version of shrugging your shoulders and saying “There’s nothing out there, man.” It’s saying that and adding, “…and you’re a fucking idiot for thinking otherwise.” (Just dip into one of Penn’s anti-religion rants to get a taste.)
Teller’s warning to science buffs (an evidently delicate lot) indicates that he may share his partner’s atheism, if not his vitriol. Or at least, he’s extraordinarily keen to their sensitivities after years of hearing Penn bitch. But why should Gardner’s belief in God unsettle, disturb, disquiet a science lover? And does the Venn Diagram for “science buff” and “believer” overlap so rarely that a warning to the reader is necessary?
Teller calls Gardner “a human Möbius strip” for exhibiting both religiosity and skepticism. A Möbius strip is a logic-defying, geometrical freak that should not exist. And yet it does, man. Likewise, the New Atheists like Penn Jillette, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins assure us that that skepticism and religion cannot share a common surface. Yet this tenet is belied, frequently, by people like Gardner.
If Teller's disclaimer makes religion buffs uneasy, the close shows that Teller is no Penn. First, he quotes Gardner explaining the basis of his belief: “My faith rests entirely on desire. However, the happiness it brings is not like the momentary glow that follows a second martini. It’s a lasting escape from the despair that follows a stabbing realization that you and everyone else are soon to vanish utterly from the universe.” (This angle is similar to Walker Percy, who did not desire a God but demand one. Link here, salient quote below.) Next, Teller puts aside any unease to play a St. Peter, waving Gardner through the Pearly Gates of a temporal afterlife:
His radiant self lives on in his massive and luminous literary output and shines at its sweetest, wittiest and most personal in 'Undiluted Hocus-Pocus.'
Epilogue: here is the Percy quote. From “Questions They Never Asked Me So I Asked Them Myself.” Both the Q and the A are Walker Percy.
Q: Would you exclude, for example, scientific humanism as a rational and honorable alternative [to Christianity]?
A: It’s not good enough.
Q: Why not?
A: This life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer “Scientific humanism.” That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don’t see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and would not let go until God identified himself and blessed him.