I can’t help but make some observations about the curious phenomenon of S.E. Cupp:
For one thing, if she’s an atheist, she’s a very odd one.
I don’t want to be too contrarian or cynical with that “if” there. She claims to be an atheist, and at times she’s been pretty clear and succinct on why she describes herself as such. “I don’t believe in God”. Questioning whether she’s “really” an atheist is likely to end up being no more constructive than asking whether atheism is “really” a religion.
But even though she describes it as one of the most important questions a person can ask themselves, and even though it’s a big part of her media identity – whenever she’s appearing on Fox News or any other talk show promoting a book or some such, she’s billed as that rare thing, a “conservative atheist” – she doesn’t seem to have much interest in the things other atheists are interested in.
For one thing, that book of hers is called Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack On Christianity, and it’s about what a hard time the Christians who make up 80% of her country are having, thanks to the anti-Christian bias of the left-wing media and the Obama administration.
Now, while it’s not justified to entirely sweep aside and ignore someone’s claims of unfair treatment simply because they’re part of the demographic majority, I think most atheists would be less concerned about Christianity’s prominence being slightly diminished than by the persistent and real prejudice against non-believers. As one of many collections of examples, Greta Christina has listed the 10 scariest states to be an atheist. Here’s a story from Pennsylvania:
In small town America, veterans – veterans, on Memorial Day, marching in a Memorial Day parade – were jeered, booed, insulted, cursed at, yelled at to leave, and told they were going to burn in hell.
Because they were atheists.
Americans love their troops. It takes a lot of hatred to make a crowd hurl that kind of abuse at soldiers who’ve been defending their freedoms from foreign devils.
And that’s from a state which barely made it into the top ten.
The extract from her book on its Amazon page also makes it clear how far out of step she is with the general tide of atheist thought. Here’s a quote that shows what I mean:
Obama delivered another slight to religious America when he became the first president in the history of the United States to mention atheists, calling America a nation of, among other things, nonbelievers. He would, over the course of his first year, go on to regularly put nonbelievers on the same plane as the religious faithful. This isn’t just an insult to believers. It should also be an insult to nonbelievers, who so militantly insist they are separate from those kooky God lovers, and intellectually superior to them.
The “slight” she’s referring to is when Obama said, in his inaugural address: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers.” Now, a sane person might think that ending that sentence without those two final words would be a rather typical slight to the non-believers who never seem to get a look-in, by implying that a nation of various religious believers is all we are. Acknowledging the existence of several million atheists is, one might think, the least they’re entitled to.
For S.E. Cupp, though, putting atheists on the “same plane” as religious believers is an outrage – and it’s the religious on whose behalf she takes primary offense.
But this leads me to observation the next: while S.E. Cupp uses the term “atheist” to describe herself, it’s clear she also thinks of “atheists” as other people. Not part of her in-group at all.
Look at the way non-believers are characterised and disparaged in the above quote. They all like to “militantly” insist upon their intellectual superiority, and think religious folk are “kooky”. Not like S.E. Cupp. She’s not like those angry atheists, not at all. I mean, they’re crazy. Not like her.
And of course, she’d never vote for an atheist. It’s only religious people that can be trusted not to get drunk on power, thanks to their belief in something bigger than themselves. Atheists don’t have that; they think 98% of the world is crazy. Oh, but she’s an atheist and she doesn’t think that religious people are crazy. She’s very clear on that. Yep.
See, she’s been described as a “self-hating atheist”, but I’m not so sure self-hatred is really the issue with her.
Right here, she says that she “really aspires to be a person of faith some day”. In the Friendly Atheist article above, she’s quoted as saying: “I would like to be a person of faith, but I’m not there yet”.
This is not how intellectually honest and coherent atheists think.
Faith is an irrational and unreliable foundation for knowledge, and God does not exist. Why the hell would I want to be a “person of faith”?
But for S.E. Cupp, the phrase “aspiring religious believer” seems to much better articulate her stance on belief and non-belief than the term “atheist”.
In this clip, Penn Jillette is as decisive and unambiguous as ever about his beliefs. There is no God. He argues the case for why the existence of God is not only baseless, but also abhorrent. This is something I’ve never seen S.E. Cupp do (though, to be fair, I’ve spent a lot less time experiencing her creative output than that of Penn Jillette). She barely has a word to say to defend her atheism, and when someone brings up stories about atheists “seeing the light” and becoming religious believers, she says: “I love those stories, those are great stories”.
This is where I get a bit speculative about what’s going on inside another person’s head, and take things beyond what I can be certain about:
Maybe S.E. Cupp thinks those stories are great stories because she wants to live one herself someday – and maybe she already suspects that she will.
Again, I don’t mean that altogether cynically. In the above clip, Penn brought up the suggestion that she’s “faking” being an atheist, in order to cash in on a major book deal and speaking tour once she “converts” to Christianity some time down the line. She obviously denies this, and I strongly doubt she’s being actively duplicitous like that.
But the way she talks about religion is enough to make it clear that she’s not an atheist in the same way I am. In a lot of ways, she seems like a religious believer who just hasn’t found a religion she can really believe in yet.
Perhaps she’s not a Christian, and with her MA in Religious Studies she’s probably read a lot more than I have about a bunch of other gods she doesn’t believe in… but she still “aspires” to believe in something. She’s awaiting some divine inspiration, a revelation as to the true path, some magical intervention which will grant her the faith she’s searching for. She might not believe in any god she’s met so far, but she believes in belief.
The fact that some atheists are actually happy that way, and aren’t still desperately searching for some kind of spiritual fulfilment the way she is, is what seems to most upset her.
Which, come to think of it, makes me think that maybe self-hatred really is at the root of all this, after all.