May 17, 2010

I Am Skeptical of S.E. Cupp

I had never heard of S.E. Cupp until this past Friday, when she appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher. Cupp - who looks like Sophia Bush with an Ivy League education - has written a book entitled Losing Our Religion: How Blah Blah Blah Liberal Media Blah Blah. She is ostensibly a FOX News hack, but here's the thing: She's an avowed atheist.

There's a part of me that wants to cheer. Even though she is a conservative, she has all the characteristics of the kind of conservative I kind of dig. Cupp is smart, witty, and an extremely talented writer. She has a Republican Diablo Cody sort of style, and that is not to demean her. Her prose is entirely readable, especially if you don't pay attention to what she's actually saying.

Something doesn't seem quite right, though. I'm about to criticize her for how she talks about religion, not because I disagree with what she's saying - I certainly do - but because she seems to be disingenuous about her convictions. Let me be clear, however: my position isn't that S.E. Cupp isn't an atheist. I am not doubting her atheism, on the whole. My interests don't lie in defining atheism, since it is a mere rejection of religiosity. There is no dogma surrounding it, and I don't find any sort of real brotherhood (or sisterhood) in those who are like-minded. Cupp is free and welcome to defend religion with every waking breath.

That being said, how she represents herself, and, similarly, how she is perhaps being used by the "FOX Right" is of vital interest to me, because I see something at work here, and I want to point it out as quickly and as succinctly as I can.

While someone like Ann Coulter wields her conservatism right out front (and I am not the first person to compare her to Coulter, and I need not go into her antics), Cupp seems to be a straw man atheist. It's not that she defends the religious. That is admirable, in a way. Not every atheist needs to fit the same mold; that's the role of the religious (hoo-wah!).

No, it's the extent to which she defends the religious that seems to elicit a quizzical brow-raising. The way that she grimaces every time she utters the words "militant atheist" conveys a disgust that is palatable to the larger conservative / Christian worldview (up to and including those who watch FOX News), and I have to say that this is what arouses my skepticism. While Cupp herself may be sincere about her distaste for the way that atheists behave as a whole, what she has created in the realm of FOX News is an archetype that can be used by the right in order to discredit atheism itself.

For example, Cupp's views on the evolution/creationism debate border on being apologist. An article published in The Washington Post takes Cupp to task for blurring the lines in the argument.

S.E. Cupp's handling of science and religion misrepresents the nature of evolution, obscures the science of biology and dismisses the deeply held religious views of most Christians outside of the fundamentalist subculture.

Cupp presents creationism as "a counterargument" to evolution, yet never provides a clear account of what evolution is or what she thinks creationism means.
~Joshua Rosenau, public information project director at the National Center for Science Education

This is a curious position for an atheist to hold, but that is not what is important. What is important is that this position panders to the very people who already think lowly of atheists in general. Many critics have called her the "atheist Alan Colmes," which I personally think is unfair and, more importantly, untrue. She will not be a whipping post for the network. I recently (a few minutes ago) watched an interview she had with Mike Huckabee and some other FOX News contributor, and the three of them agreed on all the same points about what the media is doing to the country by attacking Christianity (which is, of course, the only religion in the U.S.).

And yet, the seed of a great idea lies in all of this. For far too long, people have been ranting about how no one in this country gets along anymore. FOX News, above all, has been guilty of creating a schism between people of the left and right by vilifying them openly on the air, so perhaps we can look at this through rose colored glasses. Maybe we should say that it's not such a bad thing that (a) FOX News has an atheist who is a regular contributor and (b) that an atheist is treated well on FOX. I personally don't buy it, but, then again, Christopher Hitchens has been on Bill O'Reilly's and Sean Hannity's be reviled. We shall see if this experiment works, but I have my doubts that S.E. Cupp is going anywhere in the near future.

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