I’ve known for a while that conservative commentator S.E. Cupp is an atheist. While S.E. is not shy about admitting she does not believe in God, she’s not exactly advertising it either. It is more or less just another fact about her. And, to a large extent, I think that attitude is very good; being an atheist should be no more remarkable than any other personal belief. We all need to strive for a society in which people are judged by character and actions, not supernatural beliefs or lack thereof.
But then I came across this article on The Blaze a couple weeks ago, and it got me thinking about S.E. as she relates to the secular community at large. Atheists and agnostics are always looking for notable examples of respected folks who do not believe in a deity. Not because we need to prove to ourselves that we are good people (we, for the most part, are). But for every famous person who comes out as a non-believer, it becomes more and more “normal” and unremarkable. Just think of how coming out as gay has become less of a scandal each time. The first ones were immensely brave; now the reaction generally goes from “meh” to “he’s just seeking attention.”
So how does S.E. play into all of this, when she plainly admits that she would not support an atheist President? Well, one line in particular bothered me greatly:
“The other part of it — 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,” she continued. “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.”
This to me shows a deep, tragic misunderstanding of what it means to be an atheist. It plays into a common misconception that atheists believe in nothing besides themselves. It is this false belief that leads many believers to treat atheists like immoral, hedonistic animals with no moral compass. It’s perhaps the most damaging stereotype out there, and it irks me immensely that S.E. seems to be endorsing it.
The large majority of atheists believe in being decent, moral, ethical people. Why? Not because some book or spirit tells us to, but because we choose to. We realize that this life is all we have and that the golden rule is a pretty darn good idea to live by. Are there atheists who are awful people? Of course. But – and this cannot be hammered enough – there is NO reason to believe that believing in a supernatural deity of some kind makes you a better person. Inasmuch as it does, it is based on a risk-reward system that says good folks go to heaven and bad folks burn in Hell.
And while I’m not one to question one’s personal beliefs, I’ll admit that the last part of it makes me wonder if S.E. is really comfortable in her own skin. She does not believe in God, yet believes that a President somehow gains wisdom from a being that does not exist. She believes that as an atheist she lacks this and that that makes her and fellow non-believers unfit for office. I can’t pass judgment on whether her atheism is genuine, but she seems to have not arrived at a point yet where she is totally comfortable. Though, in her defense, this is hard when she operates in a political world where religiosity is assumed.
Furthermore, S.E. also drops this line which is almost as bothersome:
“Because I do not think that someone who represents 5 to 10 percent of the population should be representing and thinking that everyone else in the world is crazy, but me.”
That’s just malarkey, S.E. Sorry, it just is. It is nonsense to say that an atheist cannot represent the rest of America. Again, are there atheists who think all religious folks are crazy? Sure. But as myself and S.E. both demonstrate ably, there are plenty who, while not believing in God or an afterlife, still respect religious folks. In fact, I’ll bet there are atheist/agnostic leaders right now that you don’t even know about, because they are able to judge and rule fairly. It certainly seems to me that religious folks have done far more damage to individual liberty that atheists could ever hope to, so I’m not sure where the idea comes from that they are better moral actors.
I believe in a strictly secular government that allows for free expression of religion. Since I do not subscribe to any sect, nor to a consider myself part of “organized irreligion,” I believe I may in fact be MORE able to make policy decisions that are pluralistic and tolerant. An atheist who understands the worth of religion and who believes in personal liberty is uniquely situated to make unbiased judgments. And this is why it scares some people who want to move closer to theocracy. Now, I’m not suited for office for other reasons, but I firmly believe that there are many atheists who have the temperament to do so. Regardless, the underlying point is this – it is wrong for anyone, religious or not, to say they will not vote for someone based on personal faith or lack thereof.
I respect S.E. and believe she can do immense good for increasing tolerance and acceptance of atheism. But she does us no favors whatsoever by endorsing false stereotypes. We have every right, and in fact DUTY, to express our beliefs as plainly and openly as religious folks do. So here is what I’d say if I could address S.E. – be yourself, don’t be ashamed of your beliefs, and don’t accept false ideas just to get along. There are people who will hate you for your non-faith. Don’t give them quarter – they are wrong, and we can prove it to them. Above all, stay strong, my fellow non-believer, and keep fighting.