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Lesson learned: It is not all gold that shines, even if the media keeps telling you
t_atzmueller4 May 2015
The Penn & Teller show may not be to everybody's taste. Not because one disagrees with the points that are being made, but because of the style of presentation. Yes, I do admit: I find dear Penn often rather annoying, too loud and often reminding of a drunk redneck waving a flag in some backwater bar. But when it comes to the content, there is not much in his trains of thoughts that the rational mind could dispute. "Holier than thou" is among the more interesting episodes of the BS-show. True, like many other episodes it preaches to the quire and offers little insight, that most people wouldn't consider common-knowledge or even common-sense. Then-again, thinking about my own school-time, where historic figures were often painted with a broad brush, generally in black & white (Mother Theresa = good; Hitler = bad, etc), one would wish that they would present shows like that in public-schools.

In this episode, Penn & Teller take on three of the more iconic contemporary religious figures, who some would consider - thanks to carefully marketed reputation - Pop-icons. Namely Mohandas Gandhi (whom his followers have bestowed the title "Mahatma" or "Great Soul"), the Bulgarian nun Anjezë Gonxhe Bojax (who went under her nome de guerre Mother Teresa) and the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Of course, mentioning those names will make most people automatically associate them as "the good guys", and true enough, all three have had their share of accomplishments, be it in liberating a nation or charitable ventures. But Penn & Teller remind the viewer, that there are always two sides to a coin, that these were and are only people who, like any other person, also had / have their dark sides. Like Gandhi, who was an unapologetic racist, who harbored nothing but disdain for black people and had a rather questionable fascination with underage girls (and their bowel movements). Indeed, had Ghandi lived longer and implemented his "spinning-wheel-program", he might have turned India into a backward nation. No doubt that Mother Teresa has built up numerous hospices where India's poor could go to die. But at the same time this nun spent most of her time traveling the world, being somewhat of a fashion-accessory for the rich, the powerful, and cared little about taking money from dictators like the Duvaliers of Haiti, who had stolen their wealth from the poor in the first place. We also learn that little of this often ill-begotten money went to the poor, but rather at establishing nunneries, which more often than not produce religious zealots. Or the Dalai Lama, whom we all know for his perpetual grin, well-meaning platitudes and shaking the hands of many-a Hollywood-celebrity (even bestowing sainthood on them at a whim). Here many people tend to forget, that the peasants of Tibet had lived for centuries under a regime of Lamas, that considered themselves gods and would hand out the most draconian punishments (eye- and tongue-gorging are just two that are mentioned in the show) with the same easy whim with which Tenzin nowadays bestows his blessings. Whether one agrees with communism or not (I for one don't, but that's a personal issue), one cannot deny that the Chinese have freed the Tibetans from this scourge, and replaced it with something new: education, electricity, health-care and many other things that Tibetans under the Lama-rule weren't acquainted with.

In short, once again Penn & Teller remind us that all that shines isn't necessarily gold. Indeed, we'd be hard pressed to not find a supposed evil person that has not done some good deed in his or her lifetime. People might tell you that Germanys unemployment-rate in the Third Reich was virtually non-existent and that the Führer was kind to children and pets, which no doubt is true. That doesn't make Hitler a philanthropist and is no excuse for nothing.

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