“I once heard him (Rush Limbaugh) say: I don’t know how any thinking person can believe in evolution.” –Perry DeAngelis
Last night, after reading a recent article in The New York Daily News by opinion columnist S.E. Cupp titled ‘The arrogance of the atheist: They batter believers in religion with smug certainty’, I could not help but be reminded of the time that Perry said those words.
While I can’t confirm Perry’s anecdote as an actual quote attributable to Limbaugh, it is certainly consistent with Limbaugh’s philosophy. Perry, a political conservative on many (but not all) issues, was an irregular listener of The Rush Limbaugh Show. What he most enjoyed about TRLS was that it would make him laugh out loud. Limbaugh would strike chords of humor at the expense of extreme liberalism that Perry found hilariously unequalled in the radio business. What Perry hated most about TRLS was statements like the quote above. As a “thinking person” and a Limbaugh listener, Perry took Limbaugh’s words rather personally, correctly so.
You should have seen Perry’s body language as he was saying the words: elbows tucked in front of his rotundity, arms and palms turned upwards, head tilted up, eyes to the ceiling, his mouth hanging open by the force of his disengaged jaw muscles. Perry went on to express how Limbaugh was so lost and disconnected from this particular aspect of reality, that the frustration generated by comments like these was not worth all the enjoyable aspects of Limbaugh’s radio show.
Back to S.E. Cupp. I am an admirer of Cupp’s work, as I am other conservative pundits who are also practicing skeptics/atheists, such as Charles Krauthammer. There are many ideas and notions about conservatism that I greatly admire, and some that I absolutely dread. So it is rather disappointing when someone you admire launches unfair generalisms (in this case against atheists) using such a provocative headline.
Not all atheists are arrogant. Or smug. Or certain. It’s a disconnection from the truth that is disturbing because Cupp should know better. In the body of the article, she does go on to rail against “militaristic” atheists, something that I can agree with because I shun extremism in any form, including atheism. But as a professional columnist, especially as a conservative columnist, Cupp must realize that the majority of people she reaches make no distinction between different flavors of atheism. Cupp needed to do a better job of properly painiting the spectrum of atheism for the sake of perspective. She failed to do so.
Are some atheists arrogant, smug, and/or certain? Of course. But to bring up Christopher Hitchens as one of the points of focus for her attack on atheism makes me think that Cupp does not understand some of Hitch’s larger points and positions. From what I have read of Hitchens over the years, he is very much in favor of the natural rights of the individual person, including the rights and freedom of an individual’s beliefs. Hitchens does not insult the individual believer (such as Cupp’s father.) Hitchens disdains the dogma of the greater institutions, the bureaucracies, and the entrenched, entitled systems that are inherent in organized religion. What I find in Hitchen’s point of view, I see as rather in-sync within a general platform of political conservatism. But to mistake this as some sort of attack on individual believers is the equivalent of accusing skeptics as attacking the victims of charlatans, scam-artists, or snake-oil salesmen. Just one of many poignant quotes from Hitchens:
“We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.”
What S.E. and James Woods (referenced in the article) are trying to portray as a “new atheism” (to borrow Woods’ term) is akin to tossing meat to a hungry, right-of-center audience of consumers who, for the most part, have no idea how to discern a “militant” atheist form a non-militant one. As my flavor of atheism is about as non-militant as you can get (that is to say, I am an agnostic), I can see how almost anyone on the range of atheism would find themselves uneasy with Cupp’s rather narrow take.
Just as, way back when, I could see how Perry was very uneasy with Limbaugh’s blanket statements. This is not enough for me to turn away from reading Cupp, as Perry had turned away from listening to Limbaugh, but she needs to be more careful about marginalizing the positive aspects of conservatism by wielding sloppy generalizations and broad brushstrokes.
PS – (I was going to title this blog entry ‘Broad Brushstrokes’ in honor of Perry who used the word ‘Broad’ as often as the word ‘The’.)