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The loneliness of the Republican atheist

Being an atheist in America is, at least for now, to be a member of an unpopular minority. While atheism and conservatism are perfectly compatible philosophies, the combination can be poison for those who seek to be in good standing with the Republican party which currently is under the tight control of religious fanatics. An atheist Republican is an even greater endangered species than a gay Republican or Muslim Republican.

Take the case of S. E. Cupp, a Republican conservative who was recently given a talk show on MSNBC, because what the nation needs are more talk shows run by political talking heads. In a recent episode she had on the author of a book on religious tolerance.

She started by pointing out to the author that religions, by the very fact that they each claim to posses the unique truth about god, are at least implicitly saying that other religions are wrong and are thus intrinsically intolerant of each other. This is an uncomfortable truth that those who push for ecumenical harmony tend to gloss over and she was right to point it out.

But things started to go rapidly downhill for her when, during the ensuing discussion, one of her fellow hosts asked Cupp how she arrived at her own atheism given that most Americans found it hard to shake their belief in a higher power.

As Stephen “DarkSyde” Andrew at Zingularity colorfully describes it, it seemed to dawn on Cupp that her Republican credentials, not to mention her newly acquired TV gig, might be in jeopardy by her being an atheist and she proceeded to try and make amends with an almost stream-of-consciousness babble about how she desperately wants to be able to believe in a god but just cannot bring herself to cross that line, how she envies religious people for their faith, hates ‘militant atheists’ with a passion, and would never vote for an atheist for president because she wanted the occupant of the Oval Office to be constrained by a belief in a higher power and not think that he or she was the ultimate authority. (Tbogg has more.)

It was an extraordinary performance. The only things she could have done more as atonement for being a nonbeliever was rend her garments, put on sackcloth and ashes, drive nails into her body, and beat herself on the head with a plank. Watching her talk about being in the clutches of atheist beliefs she deplored reminded me of those people in films who wail desperately about how they are in the grip of some addiction like drugs or alcohol or sex that they desperately want to quit but cannot. It even led to her fellow panelist Steve Kornacki calling her a ‘self-loathing atheist’.

Her words could have been spoken by any religious nutcase and she was so self-absorbed that her guest, who seemed like a reasonable person and may have had some interesting things to say but had been shut out by this monologue, had to interject to remind her that he was still there.

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As an aside, I hate talk show hosts of any stripe who talk more than their guests, and it seems that most of them nowadays do. In the above segment, instead of beginning by asking the author what his book’s thesis is, Cupp starts with a long, rambling description of what she thinks it is.

In my experience, the best interviewer was Bob Edwards, the former host of NPR’s Morning Edition who currently has a satellite radio show, who would ask a pointed question of just a few words, actually listen to the response, and then ask another brief pointed question that followed up or clarified the issue before moving on to another topic. Bill Moyers is pretty good too. You could tell that both of them had studied the issues under discussion but did not feel the need to show off their own knowledge by talking at length.

While talk show hosts should strive to be balanced, highly opinionated ones need not hide their own views but should get them across in more subtle ways without dominating the conversation. If the author is saying something they are sympathetic with, they could ask questions that would enable the guest to make the case better. If it is something they disagree with, they could ask questions that point out contradictions or introduce information and data that challenges it. The point is to let the guest succeed or fail to make their case largely on their own and not harangue them. With Edwards and Moyers it is not hard to figure out what they think about any topic even though they let their guests speak.

But it seems we have mostly hosts who think that the audience wants to listen to them even though they are so predictable that they could be replaced by those dolls that can be programmed to speak a set of recorded clips.

Comments

  1. jamessweet says

    But it seems we have mostly hosts who think that the audience wants to listen to them even though they are so predictable that they could be replaced by those dolls that can be programmed to speak a set of recorded clips.

    Well, you said it right there. And probably they are right.

    I think almost all of us want some amount of predictability, at least some of the time, in our entertainment consumption. I don’t necessarily always read PZ because I want to be enlightened or learn something different and new, sometimes I just want to see the “PZ character” (if you will) kick some ass in his usual way.

    It’s just the amount of predictability that some people want… I guess I could draw an analogy to flavorful foods. Nobody (or at least very few people) wants to eat nothing but spices. Some people prefer their food quite bland, and I feel really sorry for them because I think they are missing out on a lot. I actually like my food quite spicy (though again, I don’t want it to be ONLY spice). And then there are many people who fall in the middle. I happen to think the most interesting people like their foods to be more flavorful :)

    Modern talk show hosts are MacDonald’s french fries. They are loaded with fat and salt, and you can admire it on some level for how slickly they have produced that product…. but their flavor is ultimately pretty boring. BUT, if you started adding some spices, some interesting sauces, or whatnot, I might like them a lot better, but the sorts of people who eat MacDonald’s every day wouldn’t be able to stand it. So it is with talking heads… let the guest talk to much, and that might just be a little too spicy for the viewers’ sensitive pallettes!

  2. Irreverend Bastard says

    I’d bet my minty fresh fart that she’ll “see the light” and become a devout Christian within a year or two. Which will give her talk show some really impressive ratings.

  3. hexidecima says

    I doubt that Cupp is an atheist, though there might be another answer. As an atheist, from my perspective it seems that any atheist would either not care about an atheist in the presidency, or would argue that one does not need the belief in a higher power to be decent and humane. There would be no reason to claim that one needs to be religious to be president. The only reasons I can think of for saying such a thing is: you aren’t an atheist *or* you are such a sociopath that you have no regard for humanity and do think that everyone but you needs this carrot/stick to restrain their actions.

    She seems a simple opportunist, getting attention for being the “good atheist” so she can get lauds from powerful people. It is indeed an exploitable niche.

  4. slc1 says

    Actually, if one is a billionaire, it’s easy to be a conservative atheist. Case in point, the Koch brothers, both non-believers, who have no compunction about using their wealth to fool useful idiots into supporting former’s favorite causes against the latter’s own best interests.

  5. dcortesi says

    As an aside, I hate talk show hosts of any stripe who talk more than their guests…

    Yeah. Like Jon Stewart of The Daily Show. Luv the show but how often have I yelled at the screen, “Jon, shut up and let the dude answer!”

  6. Mano Singham says

    Colbert has the same problem. I hear that guests are told that they should not try to be funny but to play it straight and allow the two hosts to interject with their witticisms. It often works but when they have really interesting guests, I agree with you that it is annoying.

  7. Paul Jarc says

    BUT, if you started adding some spices, some interesting sauces, or whatnot, I might like them a lot better, but the sorts of people who eat MacDonald’s every day wouldn’t be able to stand it.

    Actually, there’s some fairly persuasive research indicating that fries only become enjoyable because they are generally eaten together with more flavorful foods.

  8. Henry Gale says

    I’m not sure about that – but I don’t trust her.

    I predict a ‘I came to Jesus’ moment within a year.

  9. Mano Singham says

    It is true that money trumps everything. No Republican is going to harangue the Kochs for being atheists (which I had not known, actually).

  10. baal says

    Cupp allows for the god-shaped hole? She might less off-balance if she were more familiar with the ‘there is not god’ arguments the militants are so familiar with.

    Kornacki was working hard to get back on track.

  11. slc1 says

    It is my information that they are non-believers. I’m not sure that a non-believer is necessarily an atheist.

  12. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    She’s not interesting, intelligent or talenter either. She’s a useless dipshit and I can’t believe she’s on the same channel as Maddow. i’m really glad I no longer have cable.

    I saw her once on Maddow’s show and she acted like a stereotypical “bimbo” throughout the entire piece. It was embarrassing.

  13. barbrykost says

    Do you know what’s harder than being an atheist Republican?
    A Jehovah’s Witness vampire.
    Sorry, that popped into my head when I read the title of the blog and it had to come out.

  14. Freodin says

    So she would want a president who is constrained by the belief in a highter power that SHE BELIEVES DOES NOT EXIST?

    How much more stupid can you get?

  15. mnb0 says

    “they each claim to posses the unique truth about god”
    First of all: I agree that this is important to point this out. Especially the self-declared intellectuals should address it – they hardly ever do.
    But there is more to it. The vast majority of believers don’t care, which means they are impressionable. That can work two ways. We all know about Crusades and the likes; so I want to present a positive case.
    Having lived in a country were about all world religions are represented for more than 15 years I know the correct religious answer: “the only unique truth about god is that there is one”. In a way this is even more frightening as it excludes non-believers. Unsurprisingly there isn’t an atheist movement in Suriname. Fortunately the Surinamese people are so used to religious (and other) differences that they don’t make a fuzz about atheism either. I have never encountered concrete problems.
    This year though my class (13, 14 years old kids) loves me so much they want to save me and keep on assuring me that there is a god. It’s interesting to see how they identify Allah and the Hindu gods with their christian god and not with Satan. My “revenge” is to refer to Matth 22:21 if they are lazy and/or disobedient.

    “we have mostly hosts who think ….”
    Not only you Americans. Dutch hosts aren’t any better. And they used to be, say 25 years ago.

  16. Leo says

    One thing that I did not say at Zingularity that I feel I should add here (even if I’m two days late) is that S. E. Cupp has said these things about wishing she were religious and how she wouldn’t trust an atheist president before. I’ve seen the clips. But I think those were all from FOX News shows, where she fits in with her conservative views and no one questions why she holds those views. I think she may not be realizing that people on MSNBC are not going to be quite that soft on her.

    Otherwise, in regards to the remarks about not letting the guest speak, I felt this was unusually dismissive of a guest…much more than the normal dismissiveness.

  17. Leo says

    One additional irony I saw in this is that this clip was from July 5th, just one day after Independence Day. You know, that day of celebration where we remember the time the founders of this nation declared independence from a king that believed in a god and probably even believed his right to rule came from that god.

  18. tgmartin says

    Coming from the UK, it amazes me that elected officials are required to have a religion and wear it on their sleeves at all times in America. Even in the Conservative Party here, it is not the case and hasn’t been for a long time. Churchill never fully declared himself an atheist but was by no means a religious man. He was known to be quite dismissive of religion in general, something that still appears to be unthinkable in the Republican Party today. Norman Tebbit (one of Thatcher’s closest allies) was as right-wing as anyone and being an atheist didn’t have any impact on his electoral record or his career in Thatcher’s cabinet whatsoever. I doubt he was the only atheist in her cabinet either but the point is that the Conservative Party (as well as Labour and Lib Dem) is made up atheists and believers alike. Not only that but they are more free to support issues such as gay rights without being vilified in a way rational Republicans could only dream of. Earlier in her career, Thatcher voted in support of legalising homosexuality. Even the Homosexual Law Reform Bill was co-sponsered by Enoch Powell, a prominent (albeit controversial) MP in the Conservatives who was equally as right-wing as Thatcher.

    Has it always been this way in the Republican Party?

  19. evesparkles says

    S.E Cupp is very pretty. She has great skin and alluring symmetry. Otherwise, anyone with a little money can sit in classes and write papers. She’s not too bright and though a healthy self esteem is a good thing, (enter Crystall Bal), but S.E. Cupp is SO incredibly full of herself and seems to want to have a fight about every discussion presented in front of her. She’s annoying and her comments are hers, but, she seems to purposely create conflict and opposition to make herself look smarter so she can state her case and get the most floor time.

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