S.E. Cupp overfloweth

In an interview with Mediaite, the muchdiscussed S.E. Cupp dribbles:

Chris Matthews purports to be a Catholic.

What the fuck does that mean? She had some similarly dismissive line about Matthews’ religion in chapter 4 of her book, which was too small an issue to bother with at the time, but this pattern is odd.

Chris Matthews was raised Catholic, attended a Catholic high school and Catholic college. He continues to profess a belief in Roman Catholic Christianity. He is Catholic, for all meaningful purposes.

But because Matthews disagrees with what Cupp, an avowed atheist, thinks Catholics should think, she wants to read him out of the Church. This, after having told her interviewer: “I want them [the media], when they do talk about God, to be a little more respectful of the fact that 90% of this country believes in God and 80% is Christian.”

Matthews’ pro-evolution views are entirely within established Catholic doctrine. Cupp never mentions that the Pope has endorsed evolution as good science, that Church leaders have rejected creationism, nor indeed that most Catholics are pro-evolution, as are a slight majority of mainline Protestants. More generally, American Catholics tend to be more liberal than non-Catholics. A majority of Catholics voted for President Obama in 2008. In other words, Cupp’s media attacks on Matthews’s faith are ? by the asinine standards she set for herself ? disrespectful of Catholics. She’s not only apparently unaware of Catholic doctrine, she’s prepared to read any Catholic out of the Church simply for disagreeing with what she happens to think Catholics ought to believe.

Cupp says that she’s “getting my masters in religious studies,” so I hope some of her professors set her straight. Perhaps they’ll also have her read some of the New Testament, so she’ll know what Christianity is based on. Doing so would stop her saying stupid things like this:

Mediaite: Do you think Obama meeting with Billy Graham done anything to quell concerns that Christian Americans have?

Cupp: No. He?s met with rabbis, he apparently gets private sermons up at Camp David. All of that is fine. Much is private and not for public consumption which is odd in and of itself. The fact of the matter is the president is continually elevating atheism to the status of other faiths when they have nothing to do with one another. He?s constantly trying to preach superiority of science over faith.

In reverse order:

  1. Sometimes science is superior to faith. I know which one I want the President to apply in trying to block epidemic flu, for instance. But I can’t think of a time when the President has set science above faith; it’s more like he puts them on different shelves.
  2. Atheism does not “have nothing to do” with religion. By some standards, it is a religion. But as a friend likes to say, calling atheism a religion is like calling baldness a hair color. To say that atheism has nothing to do with religion is like saying baldness has nothing to do with scalps.
  3. Finally, it is not “odd” for the President to be religious in a way that is private and “not for public consumption.” It’s how things ought to be.

I mean, was it “a slap in the face” when some guy 2,000 years ago said:

Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.


when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

What about when that same dude was all:

Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor?s, and to God the things that are God?s.

As Cupp may learn some day, Jesus was pretty averse to the idea of his followers praying in public and making a big deal out of what should be private devotions. Cupp, who is (again) not Christian, presumes to say what “religious Americans” think (as if there were some uniform set of views on President Obama among all religious Americans), and to decree that private devotion ? devotion of exactly the sort Jesus demanded of his followers ? is “odd in and of itself.”

All that’s odd is her acceptance of politically conservative talking points as accurate statements of Christian doctrine. They aren’t. Hopefully NYU’s religious studies program will set her straight about America’s religious diversity.


  1. #1 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 3, 2010

    According to the poll you linked to, it is only fifty-eight percent of Catholics who accept evolution. Pretty generous definition of “most.”

  2. #2 Brian Westley
    May 3, 2010

    only fifty-eight percent of Catholics who accept evolution. Pretty generous definition of “most.”

    Whaaa? Most: greatest in number

    Clearly most accept evolution.

  3. #3 Lazlo's Other
    May 4, 2010

    While the 58% is “most”, Jason has a point. At this time acceptance of evolutionary theory should be at or near 100%. Having said that, Josh wrote yet another good post. If all Jason can snipe about is what exactly “most” means, he probably should have let it slide.

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 4, 2010

    I have no desire to snipe at Josh. I liked this post quite a bit. But the fact remains that 58% is not “most” in any normal usage of that term. It’s especially odd since 51% got described merely as a slight majority elsewhere in the post. The word “most” nearly always implies some sort of supermajority. It annoys me when people try to downplay the extent of religious opposition to evolution.

  5. #5 Anton Mates
    May 4, 2010

    But the fact remains that 58% is not “most” in any normal usage of that term.

    Actually, it is. Google something like “Most [insert group of people here]” plus “[survey/poll]” and you’ll see quite a few usages of “most” for percentages between 55% and 65%. The Pew Forum itself calls the 58% of pro-evolution Catholics a “large majority.” (35% are anti, the rest don’t know or didn’t answer.)

    Put another way, would you be comfortable saying that “most” American Catholics believe in a personal God? Because the same survey found that only 60% percent do; 30% do not (and the rest fall into “other/both/don’t know/didn’t answer.”)

    The word “most” nearly always implies some sort of supermajority.

    It appears to me that supermajorities themselves are defined rather liberally in the context of opinion polls, probably because unanimity on a question is so rare.

  6. #6 Inquiring Lynn-Carneades
    May 4, 2010

    Just another silly, beautiful Reblicannot!
    She’s the I ‘m atheist but type to whom my friend Dawkins and I object.
    The presumption of naturalism keel hauls God as oxygen keel hauls phlogiston, again ‘proving’ a negative.
    Santayana would probably have objected to her statement, yet he like the Catholic rituals,eh?

  7. #7 Inquiring Lynn
    May 4, 2010

    yet he liked
    Sorry for the typos!

  8. #8 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 4, 2010

    Personally I wouldn’t use the word “most” until you were over seventy percent, and I think that is consistent with the way most people use the term. Below that I would use phrases like “a majority,” or “a large majority.” The results of your Google search are interesting, but there is a difference between common usage and what you can find written at a website. In normal usage “most” is effectively equivalent to “almost all.” That has been my experience anyway, but perhaps you talk to different sorts of people than me.

  9. #9 Inqiring Lynn-Skeptic Griggsy
    May 4, 2010

    No, I stand corrected: Santayana, atheist, would have endorsed her view as I just found out from my ‘ Encyclopedia of Philosophy,” alas!

  10. #10 Rob Monkey
    May 4, 2010

    Gods she sounds like an idiot! I’m an atheist but raised Christian (not Catholic) and IMHO, just about anyone who pays any attention to religion in public life knows more about Catholicism than her. On a comparative note, however, this absolutely pales in comparison to Glenn Beck claiming that churches shouldn’t have anything to do about social justice. For him it’s all about the magic underpants I guess.

  11. #11 Anton Mates
    May 4, 2010

    In normal usage “most” is effectively equivalent to “almost all.” That has been my experience anyway, but perhaps you talk to different sorts of people than me.

    I think it’s affected by the topic as well as the person.

    Anecdotal data aside, Mira Ariel, a linguist at Tel Aviv University, has done a few studies on usage of “most,” and summarizes her work and the work of others here. Basically, she finds that most people–er, that is, 70% of her study group, plus virtually all the linguists who’ve ventured an opinion–accept anything above 51% as meriting “most.”

    However, she also finds that “most” carries a connotation of noteworthiness, so it’s not quite the same as just saying “more than half.” And that, I think, is why “most” shows up more when discussing opinion polls; we tend to have a lower threshold for considering a large majority “interesting” in that context than in others.

    Her conclusion is that “most” basically means “less than 100%, but ‘significantly’ more than 50%, however significance is judged in this context.”

  12. #12 Lazlo's Other
    May 4, 2010


    Perhaps listing the % would have been better, your point is well taken.

    I wonder how much of the rejection of the TOE is religious in nature. While IDationists frame the argument as religious, it seems that both religion and science in these arguments are distorted (Behe stating that a loving God created malaria purposely, for example). Many of the objections are formed by people who have retreated into religion to avoid the complexities of life. Black and white are so much easier than gray. Is religion an excuse or the cause? In the case of Catholics I would assume an excuse, as church doctrine accepts the TOE (with the caveat that a soul was installed at some point in time).

    Objections to the TOE will incorporate religion because it is the only game in town, there are no other explanations. While it is annoying, I don’t see it as any more annoying than the anti AGW crowd, the moon landing hoax crowd, those who deny relativity, anti-vaxers, Homeopaths, one world government loons, and the list goes on. As Bill Maher so eloquently demonstrates, the non-religious can also be susceptible to irrational faith based thinking. This is a cultural problem that runs far beyond religion. It won’t be fixed by attacking religion. People who’ve circled the wagons are notoriously difficult to reason with.

    In short, Ken Ham isn’t an idiot because he is religious. He is an idiot who promotes perverse science and theology because Ken Ham needs the simple black and white that his selected doctrine provides. At the same time, rejection of religious dogma hasn’t made Bill Maher rational, he is still a woo-meister embracing the anti-vax drivel.

    The key is developing the ability to think critically, and the ability to confront uncomfortable ideas in our youth. We are a country that fully embraces the myth of an everyman who can outsmart the experts using good old fashioned common sense and his gut. Intellectuals are to be distrusted. Kill that type of wisdom, and the rest will follow.

  13. #13 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 4, 2010

    Just out of curiosity, over the last few hours I did an informal survey of people unlucky enough to come near my office while I happened to be thinking about this. I asked the question, “If I said that “most people believe X,” what percentage of the people would you think believed X?” My sample consists of six undergraduate students and three math professors. Eight of the nine said that “most’ would connote something over seventy percent. Four of them gave answers over eighty percent. The ninth said fifty-one percent, but he was a student and I was quickly able to bully him into giving a more appropriate answer :)

    Ha! Take that!

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