An Evening with S.E. Cupp
March 31, 2010
Left to right: Scott Blakeman, S.E Cupp, Michael De Dora.
No, not a date. This past Sunday evening, I had the opportunity to represent the secular liberal worldview in a discussion with conservative pundit and author S.E. Cupp . The conversation was moderated -- quite well I might add -- by political comedian Scott Blakeman , who was host of the weekly show, dubbed "The End of the Week as We Know It."
If you don't watch FOX News, you might not know Cupp. She is a relative newcomer to the field of conservative commentary (her background certainly doesn't give many hints: Cupp studied art history at Cornell University, is a classically trained ballerina, and since 2002 she's worked at the New York Times in the Index Department). Yet in a short amount of time, she's become a regular on Sean Hannity's show, garnered a columnist gig at the Daily News Online, and written two books: " Why You're Wrong About the Right: Behind the Myths: The Surprising Truth About Conservatives ," co-authored with Brett Joshpe, came out in 2008; and her new book, " Losing our Religion: The Liberal Media's Attack on Christianity ," is set for bookstores this April.
Now, the interesting thing about Cupp is that she's an atheist. She otherwise seemed to be a very nice conservative who I would have a couple disagreements with, perhaps a few points of agreement, and maybe even a drink and a laugh. But as soon as she started talking about religion, I was mostly baffled. Cupp said she desires to be faithful and that she has great respect for religion (she's written before that she tries to adhere to Christian morality , which keeps her moral, and that Christianity is a "great religion" ). I have great respect for the power of religion, but for the beliefs? No. Why would I try to adhere to morality I believe is false? Further, she believes presidents and others in power perform better -- to be exact, more honestly -- when they think they have a (Christian) God looking over their shoulders. So, for instance, she doesn't have a problem with former President George Bush's reliance on the voice in his head (which he claimed was God) telling him to go to war in the Mideast. I wondered, does her statement mean that she, as an atheist, is dishonest? Or that the stronger one's belief in God, the more honest they are? I couldn't help but ponder if she had managed to warp her views on religion to sell herself better to a conservative demographic (you can get a fuller grip on her views on religion by watching this C-SPAN interview ).
But no matter. Blakeman interviewed her about her new book for a half hour, mostly covering the "liberal media" bit, and then brought me up for the next half hour of discussion. I'll summarize four areas of our dialogue as best I can. Note that after my points, the conversation moved on, meaning either I scored good points, or I was talking gibberish. But hey, I report, you decide.
1. On Atheism
This was the first topic we discussed. Cupp said that she didn't care for President Barack Obama's inaugural speech inclusion of "non-believers," stating that it makes atheism seem like another religion. Atheism, she said, is not about having different religious beliefs, it is lacking religious beliefs, and so "atheists" should not be lumped in with "Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus" and every other religious label.
Here, Cupp and I partially agreed. Atheism, in my view, is a lack of belief, not another belief.
But, I responded: "isn't it important that Obama reached out to those who are of no faith, letting everyone -- including the faithful -- know that he considers us Americans, part of the democratic process? This wouldn't be equating atheists with theists based on their religious or nonreligious beliefs, but equating atheists and theists as citizens, as it should be."
2. The Media and Religion
In her new book, Cupp charges that the liberal media establishment is making a concerted effort to destroy Christianity. Among the evidence is the media's past apparent obsession with a video of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in church , which cropped up during the 2008 presidential election campaign. Of course, it was mentioned that the controversy over President Barack Obama's minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright was covered much more extensively in the media, but she denied that. I didn't want to engage in partisan bickering, so I made the following point.
"Here's the thing. I think we all agree that religious belief can be enormously influential in determining how a person looks at the world, more specifically in this case, how a person votes and legislates. Given this, I want to know about Sarah Palin's religious beliefs, and so should the public. However you look at the media, it is their job, their responsibility to inform us of such things."
3. Glenn Beck
At one point, Blakeman asked Cupp whether or not she agreed with Glenn Beck's recent statements about "social justice" ( he charged the term is code for communism and Nazism ). Cupp declined comment, saying that she doesn't watch Beck's show. Blakeman pushed on, however, asking what she thought of the statement regardless of whether she tunes in.
Cupp answered that Beck was wrong. Good, I thought. But, she continued: "I don't watch his show, I don't enjoy it. But my parents do, though, they watch him all the time."
Now, Cupp did come down on Beck by saying he was wrong (I think she even lamented that the guy breaks down and cries on camera). But she seemed to be leaving some room on the matter, so I jumped in:
"This is one problem that is particularly acute in the conservative movement right now. If you are a sane conservative who wants your side of the political aisle to be based in reality (hinting at her), you cannot say Glenn Beck is a preference. Conservatives who are really interested in having an honest discussion about future of this country need to condemn Beck and others like him for their rhetoric and actions, not crack him up to mere preference."
4. On a Religious President
Near the end of our conversation, we got back into religion and the presidential office. Cupp said she would want a religious believer in the presidential office not just because of her afformentioned reason that God will keep him or her honest, but also because it reflects the will of the nation, which is about 75 percent Christian and only (she said) 2 percent atheist.
I deferred many objections here, and went right at the polling data.
"First, the problem with heaping that 75 percent together is that Christianity has many different sects that disagree on major tenets, even so much that I could argue certain of those sects have more in common with secularists than with their fellow religionists. Moreover, recent polling data shows that roughly 15 percent of Americans are now not affiliated with any religion. While this is no guarantee that atheism or secularism are marching forward, it does suggest a secular tendency is growing in America. Now, when you think about religion not in general, but in terms of sects, the 15 percent number makes for the third-largest grouping of people based on religious beliefs, behind Catholics and Baptists. And that number is expected to grow. So it's not as easy as saying ‘Christianity is the majority.'"
So, that was my evening with S.E. Cupp. She was charming, friendly, and clearly has a sharp brain -- yet there were so many contradictory or bogus statements in both her past and her conversation, I could have stayed up there all night trying to wade through them all. I actually would have liked that, considering how valuable I think public dialogue is. But, maybe another time -- though after this post, she might not want to talk with me again, let alone go on a date! (hey, I'm taken, anyway).
#1 Tim (Guest) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 at 3:42pm
Good article, except for the Beck part. I think that falls into this category:
#2 Michael De Dora on Wednesday March 31, 2010 at 4:04pm
Tim, I think you forgot something ...
#3 Tim (Guest) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 at 4:14pm
Ah, it didn’t post it. I had a link and then another compliment after that link. Nuts. Well, if you go to youtube and type in “Klavan Shut Up” then it will probably be the first video and will be 4:44 long.
#4 SimonSays on Wednesday March 31, 2010 at 4:14pm
The “liberal media establishment” is nothing but conservative propaganda. There is not a shred of competent research that the corporate media in the US has a liberal bias.
Just because conservatives have been talking about it for decades does not mean it exists.
#5 Tim (Guest) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 at 4:28pm
ummm, I’m going to go ahead and disagree with you on that one Simon. The leftist bias is pretty clear and the recent emergence of Fox and new media which have drained the leftist media of pretty much all their ratings has made that fact even more clear. I would include links but I just attempted that and found that links don’t get posted. The wikipedia page on media bias in the United States is a good place to start if you are looking for references.
Anyways, I also meant to say it is nice to see more atheists from the right being included, because in Michigan CFI is pretty much a solid leftist organization.
#6 SimonSays on Wednesday March 31, 2010 at 4:41pm
Tim, I stand by my initial statement. There is no “liberal bias” in today’s mainstream media. Frankly, “leftist media” sounds even more outlandish.
How do the high cable ratings of Fox News demonstrate a “liberal bias” among other outlets?
Also, I don’t need a “place to start”. I’ve read books on the subject and can judge for myself. The wikipedia page is here and I’ve seen it before: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_bias_in_the_United_States
Since you are making the assertion that there is a “liberal bias”, kindly demonstrate how this is so.
#7 Tim (Guest) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 at 5:16pm
It’s a red herring Simon, it has nothing to do with the original post. The bias is thoroughly documented from made up stories about Bush’s military service to Anderson Cooper coining the term “tea bagger.” Fox and the new media would not have been able to drain the leftist media (which is remarkably illiberal) of their ratings if they were fair and balanced institutions. Bret Bair delivers the news better and Fox has better commentators from Glenn Beck to Geraldo Rivera to John Stossel. One need not watch more than a few minutes of MSNBC broadcasting what they call the news (in contrast with commentary) to see the bias. For specific examples feel free to visit “mrc dot org” (I’m not sure how you got a link posted, but it deleted half my post when I tried).
The point of my post was to compliment CFI on including more atheists on the right because CFI in my State just isn’t interested in anyone not from the left, at least not in having them as membership (my brother and I attended an event with Michael Shermer and another with Ibn Warriq that were hosted by CFI and the crowd was filled with leftists). So what I was getting at was that it is nice to see the organization becoming more non-partisan.
#8 SimonSays on Wednesday March 31, 2010 at 5:39pm
The media in the US tends to air pro-government and pro-corporate stories and generally cater to middle and upper middle class viewers between 25-45 which are the most desirable to large advertisers. There are exceptions, but by and large this is what is aired on the mainstream media.
If you’d like to talk specifics, at least Dan Rather lost his job for the Bush story you site. On the flip side, what reporter of Rather’s stature lost their job about similarly not well researched stories in the lead up to the Iraq war?
As far as CFI being a “leftist organization”, I haven’t visited the Michigan branch, but Shermer is a known right-wing libertarian and Warraq cites almost exclusively right-wing commentators in his CFI blog posts at least (I haven’t read his books so am unable to “classify” him better though). So at in terms of speakers - something CFI branch manager has an active say in, it would appear that they are not partisan.
#9 Tim (Guest) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 at 6:07pm
Yes, I included Shermer and Warriq to be fair to CFI. The membership is overwhelming liberal over here.
Dan Rather didn’t lose his job for making things up. That’s factually incorrect.
Now the original point. I was complimenting this guy for including more atheists from the right. Now I disagree with many of the things she had to say, including that Christianity is something good to be admired. I also took exception about the comment about Beck. Here the author wasn’t saying Beck was wrong about anything, but he is just trying to turn his name into a symbol for intolerance so he’ll shut up. Nobody should be ostracized in a debate, we should always encourage inquiry.
#10 Reba Boyd Wooden on Thursday April 01, 2010 at 6:24am
Tim: I think in order to be able to post links you have to register instead of posting as a guest.
#11 Brian L on Friday April 09, 2010 at 7:46am
It seems that one of Cupp’s favorite points is that the atheists want to silence Christian America. On the Simon and Schuster web site this is termed as “She likens the calculated attacks of the liberal media to a class war, a revolution with a singular purpose: to overthrow God and silence Christian America for good.”
If she really is an atheist, why does she think there is a god out there to be overthrown?
Atheists generally want to keep our government actions and pronouncements secular. For instance, when local city councils and even the national legislature begin their sessions with a prayer, atheists don’t like that. It tends to put us into an outsider status and place a government imprimatur on religious belief. Ditto with putting “under God” in the pledge of allegiance. When I see someone conflating this desire to keep the public square secular with an effort to “silence Christian America for good” and that same person professes to be an atheist, I think someone is not being honest. Perhaps Ms. Cupp wishes to add credence to this kind of talking point among the religious audience by misrepresenting her true beliefs.