A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing: The Illogical Atheism of S. E. Cupp

Recently, political commentator S. E. Cupp has been popping up on various media outlets in order to promote her new book, Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media's Attack on Christianity. (She has been discussed here, here, here, and here on T|A. Feel free to add to the comments any discussions which I may have missed.) Her primary thesis is that the mainstream media is engaged in a collusive campaign with the political left to silence, persecute, and eventually eliminate the Christian majority of the United States. (I will fully admit that I have not read this book; my reading list of quality, educational material is currently too long for me to spare time for a questionable piece of opinionated nonfiction.) But a key element in every promotional appearance has been the irony of Cupp, a self-proclaimed atheist, writing a book about this alleged persecution of religion. Her atheism has been a key hook in her book tour and has garnered her much more attention than she would have likely received had she either professed Christianity or simply omitted her religious status altogether.

A description of the book from Simon & Schuster, Cupp's publisher:
From her galvanizing introduction, you know where S. E. Cupp stands: She’s an atheist. A non-believer. Which makes her the perfect impartial reporter from the trenches of a culture war dividing America and eroding the Judeo-Christian values on which this country was founded.
While it does not overtly figure into the book's thesis, Cupp's atheism is clearly central to the overall promotion of her book as she has attempted to imbue her assertions with automatic validity based upon her ideological platform. Of course, this in itself does not contradict her claim of atheism; just because someone is making money off of an ideological platform does not in any way invalidate the platform itself. (Although I suppose that a platform which promotes the benefits of voluntary poverty would be necessarily invalidated if used for profit. But I digress.) However, as I continued to watch various interviews with Cupp, I was repeatedly struck by the profound contradictions of her supposed atheism. It is these contradictions upon which I base my opposition to Cupp's misappropriation of the term "atheist." In the course of this essay, I hope to logically disprove Cupp's claim of atheism and thereby successfully escape the looming pitfalls of a "No True Scotsman" fallacy. S. E. Cupp's claim of atheism is illogical because she refuses to accurately label religious beliefs, presupposes the existence of a God, and exalts the worship of a higher power.

Mislabeling Belief

By refusing to label religious beliefs as delusions, Cupp is thereby insinuating that these beliefs are justified. (See 1:30 in this clip from Real Time with Bill Maher for a direct quote.)

  1. A belief which is not a delusion is a true belief.
  2. Cupp says that religious beliefs are not delusions.
  3. Therefore, Cupp says that religious beliefs are true beliefs.

One can claim any ideological label that they like. However, if their expressed ideology then contradicts the definition of this label, the claim of this label can said to be false. The basic definition of an atheist is one who does not believe in God. Cupp does indeed say that she does not believe in God, and therefore fulfills the basic qualification of atheism. However, one who does not believe in God must necessarily reject this belief as false;
if the belief is not rejected as false, then it is accepted as true and believed. A delusion is, by definition, a false belief. By refusing to label religious beliefs as delusions, Cupp is necessarily insinuating that these beliefs are true. Expressing that a belief in God is true is complete contradictory to the single tenet of atheism.

Presupposing God

Cupp's declaration that she does not believe in God "yet" but is open to conversion presupposes that there actually is a god in which to believe. (See 4:10 and 8:00 in this clip from CSPAN and 1:00 in this clip from The Sean Hannity Show for direct quotes.)

  1. If an eternal entity exists in the future, then this entity exists in the present.
  2. Cupp speaks of a future belief in the existence of God.
  3. Therefore, the subject of Cupp's future belief exists in the present.

By openly "aspiring to be a person of faith," Cupp is inferring that a belief in God is entirely possible but that she simply lacks it at the present moment. However, this is illogical; insinuating that there is an eternal god in which to eventually believe is logically the same as believing that something presently exists. If she sees a belief in a God as an eventual probability--or even just a possibility--then she is thereby necessarily saying that this God currently exists. Is there really a difference between saying "X currently exists" and "I believe in X?" Furthermore, there are additional difficulties presented by Cupp's continually proclaimed desire for beliefs which she herself claims to reject. At the very least, this represents severe cognitive dissonance as she is seemingly expressing a desire to be convinced of false beliefs. At its worse, her supposedly atheistic ardor for religious belief devolves into utter absurdity, as I will attempt to demonstrate in my next point.

Exalting Worship

Cupp extols the virtues of deriving guidance from a higher power which infers that either the concept of a higher power is true or that false beliefs are beneficial. (See 5:18 and 8:10 in this clip from CSPAN for direct quotes.)

  1. A beneficial belief is a true belief.
  2. Cupp says that the belief in a higher power is beneficial.
  3. Therefore, Cupp says that the concept of a higher power is true belief.

Even if she stills claims that she does not believe in the concept of a higher power, she is then saying that false beliefs are a beneficial. At this point, her entire platform devolves into absurdity. If false beliefs are just as beneficial as negative beliefs, then what is the point of truth? Cupp's entire thesis to her book is that the "liberal media" uses the distortion of truth to persecute religion. However, if she is genuinely supporting the possession of false beliefs, then how can she simultaneously bemoan a distortion of truth? If false beliefs are positive attributes, then truth is irrelevant and her entire platform is nonsensical.


I do not know whether Cupp's illogical atheism is the result of deliberate deceit, inadequate examination, or simple ignorance. Regardless, she wields the controversial banner atheism purely for the accompanying stigma. In reality, Cupp is abusing the perception of atheists as wolves while proclaiming a sheepish message that is palatable to her religious audience. Because of what I perceive to be clear financial motives in Cupp's book promotion media blitz, I am led to suspect that her claim of atheism is nothing more than a hook to sell a literary product. As I have said once before, I see Cupp's entire story as an utterly predictable prologue to her inevitably forthcoming "How I found Jesus" book and fundamentally antithetical to the entire position of atheism.

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Comment by Doug Reardon on June 9, 2010 at 10:36pm
Cupp is a fraud, only an idiot could possibly believe this woman is an atheist!
Comment by Kris Potter on June 9, 2010 at 11:19pm
I was first introduced to her from real time with bill maher and I felt the same way he did when she explained herself, and came to much the same conclusions as you. She's clearly using atheism as a soundbite to create a ruckus, that ruckus is then transformed through her myriad of media appearances into publicity, and that publicity is then reaped in the form of book sales. Another person defending religion or crying it's yet again a victim doesn't get a blip in the radar, an "Athiest" defending religion is a pro religions argument savants ace in the hole. Who engaging in the great religion debate could ignore reading a book from the other side seemingly converting to their cause.

I am with doug here, she is a blatant fraud feeding off the media frenzy and catapulting herself into wealth and fame. S.E.Cupp .... Seducing Evangelical Christians in my humble opinion
Comment by Apple on June 10, 2010 at 1:02am
She is definitely a fraud, but I must say that a beneficial belief is not always a true belief. Be careful with that one.
Comment by Shine on June 10, 2010 at 7:47am
Apple, can you elaborate on how beneficial beliefs are not always true? I think that I understand what you mean, in that false beliefs can have a placebo effect and such. I'm seeing now that I did not qualify my use of the term "beneficial" very well; I was going for the idea that true beliefs are good and false beliefs are bad in regards to understanding reality. Of course, I guess that puts understanding reality as the necessary goal which I am sure some people (I'm not saying you) might dispute. I think I should go back and reword that section to clear up some confusion.

I appreciate the feedback!
Comment by Galen on June 27, 2010 at 7:12am
I'm on the fence concerning Cupp. She could be an atheist or a fraud. If she's a fraud,t hen she's an obvious one. If she really is an atheist, then she's a STUPID one.

Supposing that she is an atheist, then it would stand to reason that she is a very CONFUSED and IGNORANT atheist and, despite lacking a belief in god(s), still persists in the "magical thinking" of a Christian upbringing. This could be the result of not having an atheist support network, such as this one, to help weed out those very powerful remnants of religious thinking.

I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt regarding her claim to atheism because I have know atheists like her. They don't believe in God, but they WISH they did, and so they never completely abandon their view of religion as something sacred. Despite not believing in a god, she still thinks the IDEA of god is a good one and is worth defending.

I give her the benefit of the doubt, but really, I think this makes my opinion of her LOWER than if I thought she was merely a fraud. I'd honestly rather her be a fraud than an atheist still stuck in that miracle mindset.
Comment by Johnny on June 27, 2010 at 8:37am
Comment by The Godless Monster on June 27, 2010 at 9:10am
I'm with Galen on this one as far as overall assessment, but if I had to make a choice, I'd say she is a clever fraud.
Like Apple, I've got some difficulty accepting, "A belief which is not a delusion is a true belief."
Also, you take issue with, "Cupp's declaration that she does not believe in God "yet" but is open to conversion presupposes that there actually is a god in which to believe."
To many atheists, there simply is not any evidence in existence (or available) to convince us to believe in a deity or deities. It does not somehow logically follow that there never could be evidence to convince me, for example that a god or god exists. Once you have begun to reject evidence based on ideological grounds, you cease to be objective and rational. Critical thought has been replaced by dogmatism.
If someone were to ask you what would convince you to believe in a god, would you not have an answer for them? Cupp merely makes it clear that she is open to the possibility of believing in a god if the evidence should present itself. I don't have a problem with that statement and as a fellow atheist, neither should you.
Comment by Shine on June 27, 2010 at 11:03am
Johnny, thanks for the feature! :)

Galen, I agree that there is a strong possibility that she is just ignorant and has failed to thoroughly examine her platform. What irritates me so much is that she is actively promoting herself as an atheist while simultaneously misrepresenting and denigrating atheism itself. I find her comments that she is not "militant atheist" and does not "hate God" to be deliberately antagonistic towards those of us who are atheists yet do not agree with her conclusion that Christianity is such a fantastic institution. I wanted to refute her atheism not because I disagree with her politics, but because I am deeply perturbed by her misrepresentation of anti-religionists as militants or "God-haters."

Godless Monster, I wholeheartedly agree that intellectual honesty requires that we allow for the possibility of new evidence. However, when Cupp speaks of a future belief in God she is citing faith as her motivation rather than evidence. Cupp aspires to be a "person of faith" someday, not someone who comes to a rational understanding of God based upon new and unforeseen evidence. I think that there is a vast difference between being open to a possibility based upon sufficient evidence--which is the stance that most of us would agree with--and longing to surrender one's intellectual comprehension to the abyss of faith. Cupp speaks of her lack of belief as a temporary situation until she finds sufficient faith; I find this to be illogical and ultimately presupposing that there is something in which to believe if one simply musters up the faith. Does that make any sense? I could be jumping to conclusions there. ;)

Also, I agree that the "a beneficial belief is a true belief" is not a very complete thought. When I wrote this, I failed to qualify my use of "beneficial;" as is, the statement simply begs the question as to what the true belief will benefit. I have tried to rework the idea to read that "a true belief is beneficial in understanding and operating within reality." However, this still sounds dodgy and I'm not really satisfied with it.

Thanks again for the feedback. :D
Comment by The Godless Monster on June 27, 2010 at 11:23am
Then it appears I am in error. Not having read her material (I never will), I was relying on your portrayal of her case and apparently misunderstood what you were trying to get across.
If what you state is indeed the case, then she cannot be taken seriously by anyone from either side of the debate and I fail to see how she could have found a published willing to put out such idiocy.
As far as incomplete thoughts, my writing is occasionally rife with them :-)
Thanks for your response. Good post.
Comment by Ronald Pyatt on June 27, 2010 at 11:32am
If she's not claiming atheism for publicity...

I get the impression that Cupp does not understand what an atheist is, or what she is. She may claim to be an atheist in the sense that she has not found the most persuasive religion, yet, and defines herself as such for the purposes of promoting herself, loudly and proudly. Her claim to atheism is a claim to her lack of any religious doctrine.

From where I stand she's not an atheist, she's a spiritualist on her way to cashing in on her search for religious meaning. She might eventually discover what being an atheist is and embrace it, reject it, or even attack it. Whichever way she turns, she has the potential for many book deals.


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