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Cupp Doth Runneth Over

“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’.)

10 comments to Cupp Doth Runneth Over

  • It’s been my experience that the degree to which a person makes generalizations, stereotypes & demonizations of atheists is inversely proportional to how well they actually know atheists and atheism. Some theists spread caricatures & misinformation about atheists out of personal ignorance, but I’m sure there are also those who do it simply to malign atheists & atheism. It is this kind of lack of intellectual integrity which I really abhor as a rationalist & skeptic.

    I don’t know Cupp’s motivations for saying what she did about atheists, since I have never read her before. With such sweeping and disparaging comments though, I probably won’t read her in the future, either.

  • Horse

    Evan, I’m quite shocked you’d give a hack like Cupp a minute of your time, much less be an admirer.

    Her writings are consistently a gold mine for ‘spot that logical fallacy’, especially her latest piece. It’s a straw man of epic proportions.

    Furthermore, how can you give any credence to someone who trots out the ‘militant atheist’ trope? So books, blogs, podcasts, billboards, and generally speaking out makes vocal atheists militant? Whatever moniker shall we slap on the religious that wield their swords with wild abandon across the world?

    Sorry, Cupp is intellectually vacuous, and gunning for a permanent spot on Fox News by the looks of it with her blatant pandering.

  • petrucio

    “she does go on to rail against “militaristic” atheists, something that I can agree with because I shun extremism in any form”

    Martin Luther King was extreme. So was Gandhiji. You are all “extreme” skeptics, as far as the word is used to relate to the “militant” atheists – who by the way, almost without exception, support first and foremost the freedom of expression and individual belief.

    If that extreme caricature has gotten into you, then I imagine that meme has spread deep enough everywhere… A shame…

  • Horse

    Actually I’d love to see Evan define ‘militant atheist’.

  • DiscordianStooge

    As far as I can tell from the few times Cupp has been on Real Time with Bill Mahr, if she really is an atheist, she is what I would call a “self-loathing” atheist. As in, she doesn’t believe in god, but she feels really bad about it and wishes she did. So she bashes atheism in the most fallacious way.

    As for someone who asked what her motivation for saying what she does about atheists is, it’s as Horse said.

  • I would also like to know how one defines the “militant atheist”.

    Is it someone who kills a politician for opposing blasphemy laws? http://bit.ly/i80b6h

    Or is it someone that writes a blog or a book that offends someone that kills a politician for opposing blasphemy laws?

  • Horse

    That story has been rolling around in my head since I read it early this morning.

    Indeed, that’s militant.

    And I guess it matches the behaviors and actions of atheists like…. oh wait it doesn’t.

    But hey, let’s keep using the term ‘militant atheist’ so we can keep on poisoning the well and building straw men.

    After all, what’s a little intellectual dishonesty among skeptics and atheists?

  • klox

    I am also curious about your position on ‘militant atheism’. 99.9% of the time it is mentioned in the public it is used to poison the well (as someone else mentioned). Personally, I don’t think a strong opposition to religion in the pursuit of a more secular society should be considered militant or extremist.

    Also, I don’t think agnosticism is an appropriate response to a question about religious affiliation. I would consider myself a ‘militant atheism’ and an agnostic. I simply don’t believe in any deity (the athiest part), I want a secular society and think religion has too large of a foothold in many areas (usually the militant part), and I am not sure there is a way to ever know about a god (agnosticism).

    The whole atheist/agnostic thing has of course been discussed to no ends, but I would still like to hear your opinion.

  • Hello – sorry for my delay in responding.

    Cupp is an atheist, she has professed it many times in writing and on television. However, its clear that she is not in tune with any skeptical or atheistsic communities, and that is a shame. Her narrow view of atheism is unfortunate, as there are not enough politically conservative atheists (at least those that are willing to acknowledge it publicly.) I give her credit for her honesty and exposing herself as a non-believer in a community of some of the biggest believers in media. For this, I admire her.

    As far as the term “militant” goes, I think groups like ‘Anonymous’ are militant atheists. I have met individuals that are also ‘militant’ in that they have zero (and I mean ZERO) tolerance for an individual’s belief in a god or gods. They are vociferous to the point of being rude and offensive towards the sensitivities of their fellow human beings. It is a very heavy-handed approach that only solidifies opposition towards atheism, and certainly turns away any fence-sitters or reasonable people that could otherwise be persuaded by pragmatic arguments. To me, these are some of the shades of ‘militant atheism’, and I personaly disagree with these tactics when it comes to attacking an individual person’s beliefs (rather than attacking an institution of belief – these are two very different things.)

    I can see the point that some atheists have a problem with the term ‘militant’. Except for communist governments (which is another subject all to itself), I can’t think of any cases where physical violence is being employed by atheists. But I am not sure anyone is using the term militant (even Cupp) to ascribe violence to atheists. It is kind of a sloppy term.

    I will be more careful in the future not to use ‘militant’ – in the meantime, I will search for a more appropriate term for my vocabulary.

  • Horse

    Hurray! Thanks for responding Evan.

    I think one the biggest issue with using the word militant as an adjective is that for the past decade it has been synonymous with violent individuals, especially given the issue in the Middle-east.

    I think you’ve already captured the vocabulary that is more appropriate to make your point: rude, offensive, heavy-handed. They paint a much more realistic picture of what some individuals are capable of.

    Given the rhetoric that gets tossed around in the media, the last thing that should be correlated or related to atheists is militant, until it’s deserved (and I can’t imagine that really ever happening).

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