Friday, July 13, 2012


Is it just me or does SE Cupp not come across as a credible atheist?

I don't have regular access to broadcast or cable television, and I rarely watch the talking head shows (the ones without David Byrne at least), so I'm just now becoming educated in who SE Cupp is.   That is the reason for the rhetorical question.  To many folks she is becoming the most visible and well-known atheist in the US.  That is why the rhetorical question is worth thinking about.

Is there such a thing as a non-credible atheist?

Does it make sense to imagine not-doing anything in a credible manor?

Well...sure it does.  There are things that have tests.  Someone who is credibly "not wet" should be demonstrably  "dry" for instance.

Not believing is a trickier issue as the tests for it are subtle to the point of absurdity.  Add to this the reticence of big-tent atheists like myself to "judge" someone's non-belief, and "credible atheism" can enjoy almost the same free-pass that theist belief gets in our culture.

But this free-pass is based on a basic assumption of honesty.  There are folks I know who are atheists yet subscribe to some ill-defined spiritual super-structure of benevolent coincidence.  They readily admit that it does not make sense and that their beliefs are not rational.  Upon discussion the nature of their system dissolves into a deistic cloud, but the motivation to dispel the fog is just not there.  Since they are truly non-theistic I fully accept their self-identification as atheists even if I do not understand the necessity or usefulness of their deistic cloud.  This belief system is psychological rather than theological and may, in practice with limited data, be heuristically credible. 

There may be people who would argue that these deists are not credible atheists, and they might have a point.  I would be open to ideas on the subject, but this credibility issue is different from the SE Cupp credibility issue.

I think she is outright lying about being an atheist.

I wrote a post earlier this year about BA Christians lying about atheists in order to play act stereotype atheist jokes like the old-time black-face minstrel shows allowed whites to caricature African-American stereotypes for fun.  

Cupp has even gone so far as to write a book called Loosing OUR Religion (emphasis in bold caps added by me) bemoaning atheist attacks on Christianity in America. 

Other recent instances of "what is going on here anyway??" are:

She has a personal religious test for fitness to be president.  She would not vote for an atheist because of some very theist reasons:

I like that there is a check, OK? That there‘s a person in the office that doesn’t think he’s bigger than the state… I like religion being a check and knowing that my president goes home every night addressing someone above him and not thinking all the power resides right here… Atheists don’t have that.

She also thinks that militant atheist are:

among the most intolerant people that I’ve ever come across in my religious-sort-of dealings.

Which is a fairly militant attitude, but since it is a militantly attitude associated more often with theists she gets away with saying:

I am not one of these crazy, militant atheists, and I say crazy and mean it.”

But why would she want to be associated with atheists at all? Well…the answer is she does not:

I envy religious people. I envy the faithful. I would like to be a person of faith, but I’m not there yet.

Cupp is a pretty white woman.  I've seen pictures of her from her television appearances wearing very high heals, somewhat short skirts, and  low-cut blouses. She is exactly what fox news would like in an atheist woman; a pretty light-skinned woman who says she is an atheist, but most everything else she says sounds like it is coming from a hard-core fundamentalist Christian.

I've heard that Glen Beck is apparently using her, and she is on some MSNBC show. 

She rails against atheists using the two-dimensional caricatures we have come to know so well.  It is like she is not only not an atheist, but that she openly despises atheists:

"What spiritual quest are they on, except to put an abrupt end to those like my father's? For them, the science is settled, the data are conclusive and the book (no, not the Good Book) has been written. Time for everyone else to pack up and move on to other business, like, presumably, accumulating wealth and fulminating at the sight of the nearest Christmas tree."

Maybe a pretty young fake atheist is a good thing for the greater cause of atheism. It is a weird kind of diversity, but it is diversity nonetheless.  Still…I’m not sure what kind of message it sends to say something like: “even lying born-again Christians can be atheists”!?!?

On the other hand, the reason the networks put up with her even saying that she is an atheist is that atheists have grown in power enough to deserve a seat at the table.   We have grown in influence enough to deserve several seats at many tables, but we don't have them.  We have very few seats at very few tables.

SE Cupp is sitting in one of those seats.


Anthony Larrea said...

Speaking as an atheist, I've unfortunately found lately that the definition of Atheism is a narrow one indeed. Which is to say, it requires only one thing: That you not believe in any gods.

For a long time now (several years; I am Adult Onset like yourself) I've generally associated Atheism with some positive qualities: skeptical, pro-science, searching for answers from qualified sources, valuing reason and facts above faith or rationalism (using pure logic to bring yourself to faulty conclusions).

However, lately I've found this is not necessarily true. I've been made aware that there are a number (not sure how large a number) of atheists who consider themselves Buddhist. They post on Reddit and other atheist forums and talk about their Buddhist tenets. (In this fashion, Reddit has become an anti-Western religion circle jerk, but that is another discussion.)

After a little digging, I have even come across spiritualists who are, strictly speaking, atheist. They might believe in magic or other paranormal nonsense, but they disbelieve in any actual deities, and therefore, fit the definition.

So, this SE Cupp business doesn't exactly surprise me. It actually makes sense that she would envy religious people, even as she disbelieves. If you saturated yourself in conservative Republican culture and everyone you associated with was a Christian but you, you'd probably feel like something was missing from your life too. The only real sign here is when she says "yet". As in, faith is something she strives for. (Or she strives to more closely belong to her group of conservatives; I think religion is mainly a social construct anyway, but that also is another discussion.)

There aren't really any core tenets of atheism. It isn't issued forth by some central organization with rules and lifestyle edicts. It just is; the only requirement is that you not believe in any gods.

adult onset atheist said...

I think the discussions about what an atheist is can be very productive.

There is the propensity of some biologists (I sometimes call them macrobiologists) to categorize types of atheists. This is probably due to a inherent prejudice caused by believing in both the universality of Darwinian evolution , and having a species concept that can be somewhat defined. As an environmental microbiologist my concept of evolution and species are blurred by horizontal gene transfer and fluid bioenergetic synergies (which can blur even the concept of what an organism is). I can comfortably picture many types of inter-related atheism that together contributes to a greater whole.

And, yes, I am an aging hippy.

The important unifying principal I cling to is a lack of belief in something that is “personally active in the governance and organization of the world and the universe.”. With some set of definitions and core concepts this can be mapped to the statement “not believing in gods”. However, it is more difficult to reconcile the longer statement with the Buddhist belief in reincarnation. It also provides a convenient stepping off point for may more new age spiritual theologies.

I have come to the conclusion that none of this productive conversation is of importance when talking about SE Cupp. I think that she is lying about being an atheist for calculated political reasons. Because she is a public figure who represents atheism to the general public, and not just someone who has not thought about it much, she attracts scrutiny.

I think there is a vast majority of people who just don’t think about it much. They deserve respect, and I am reticent to investigate their claims of what they may-or-may-not believe. If it is not important to them, and it is their life, then it is not important to me.

SE Cupp brings up her atheism often. She is actively promulgating a lie, and not lazily formulating a belief from a fog of ideas and morals.

I think it is important to separate the discussion of SE Cupp from the discussion of honestly contemplative quasi-atheists.

Buffy said...

She's as credible as the Republican Gays who insist LGBT people don't need or deserve equal rights because perpetuating heterosexual privilege is the only way to avoid the complete destruction of society.

adult onset atheist said...

It is interesting that you link these issues. Someone sent me a URL linking to this blog where a fellow does a coming out post, but he is only publicly announcing that he is gay. He has a wife and three kids, and what he describes as a robust and healthy heterosexual sex life. He has apparently always known he was gay, and his wife knew he was gay when they got married. Because of his Mormon faith he has never had any kind of sexual or romantic encounter with another male. From researching this I found out that is part of a support group for people who know they are gay, but don’t want to live that way. I can’t help but picture it as some flavor of a “pray the gay away group”. Here is a link to his blog post:

I don’t have any right to, but I want to say he is not credibly gay. There is so much wrong with the picture of some guy coming out and a middle-aged white heterosexual guy like me saying: “No...I don’t think you are credibly gay”. I want to say he is something like : “I’m glad you are happy and feel healthy in your relationships, but your assertions confuse me”. I am genuinely confused.

Anthony Larrea said...

You make several good points, and I do agree: the parameters of atheism is somewhat beside the thesis of your original post.

And I, too, have always found SE Cupp rather suspect. I first heard of her back in 2009, because my parents were pretty enthusiastic about watching Fox news. I thought she was hot, discovered she said she was an atheist, and started following her various feeds. But she took some... uh... unusual positions. And then she comes out with a book defending Christianity. Strange, strange choice for someone who claims to be an unbeliever!

I heard someone refer to her as a "faitheist", and I think that is the must suitable label I've heard so far. So do I agree with your blog post's ultimate thesis? Yes.

I geuss I'm just a bit sensitive to the judgment of someone's internal beliefs. When I was a Christian believer, I had people accuse me of being an unbeliever or not having "true" faith (possibly because even then, I was something of a skeptic).

And then more recently, I've even had my atheism questioned. When I didn't agree with one guy's vitriolic hate speech over-generalizing "all white males", he called me a "Jesus-spewing fundie". I tried reasoning with him, and showing that I've read Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Rand (an outspoken atheist, few seem to remember). He threw that back in my face as "not atheist enough." Because hardcore atheists "go back to the source, and read Darwin." He insisted that I was a "fundie in disguise".

Looking back, this was obviously a guy with some serious problems. Thankfully I haven't had to speak to him again.
But I've got to wonder, just what are the parameters for calling someone out? You point out that SE Cupp actively talks about her supposed atheism, and that it is likely a political tactic. This is probably true.

But you do it once, and then where does the discussion go? Are all republicans/economic conservatives going to be considered hypocrites if they say they are atheists? Granted this is not an easy position to take, but I don't think that saying you are an atheist means you're necessarily going to vote for Obama.

Paul Sunstone said...

Great post!

I can't tell whether S.E. Cupp is an atheist, but I'm pretty sure she's not loaded for bear when it comes to brains. No wonder Fox loves her!

Joshua M. Kreeck said...

I first became aware of Ms. Cupp from book T.V. in something like 2005. She had co-written a book with another young conservative and I feel I pretty much pegged her right from that panel.

I became politically aware only a few years after I became an atheist and in that time I've seen many common themes that run through young people who are desperately searching for validation through mainstream politics. One of which is a willingness to bend to political stereotypes in order to more closely align with the "movement".

In my case I watched friends or acquaintances become progressively more liberal on issues like animal rights and the environment while adopting a false religiosity and militarism in order to block the charges of being a "typical librul atheist". It started happening sometime shortly after Kerry took the nomination (for my crop, I'm sure it predates that as well).

My initial impression of Cupp was that she fancied herself the next Anne Coulter. The comparisons undoubtedly came up during her political involvement and as a New York Republican I figure she built her Atheist stance (that is what it is, a policy stance, should my suspicions be true) as a way to draw attention to herself while courting all the right people. It's awfully convenient if you want a book deal to seem unique compared to the rest of the morning on Fox crowd. It's also very useful. It creates the perfect foil to the "irreligious left". "see we got S.E. Cupp she's a rational atheist and she doesn't think we are nuts".

adult onset atheist said...

This is some of the best feedback I’ve gotten ever. Thank you all!