Long-time readers know that, last April and May, I invested a decent amount of time in tearing apart a book by conservative punditress S. E. Cupp. Cupp, a self-proclaimed atheist, had written a book defending the religious right, and she titled it Losing Our Religion: The Media’s Attack on Christianity.
Why, you may be asking, would an avowed atheist describe fundamentalism as “our religion”? I don’t know. But she does, consistently adopting the fringiest, least atheist-friendly forms of Christianity as if they were the only form Christianity could take. Thus, she mocked Chris Matthews’s Catholicism because he’s pro-evolution, even though the Pope is pro-evolution. At the time, she was wrapping up a masters in religious studies from NYU. The mind truly boggles at how little someone can learn if she tries hard enough not to.
All of which I could put behind me except she’s still playing the same games. To wit, talking with MSNBC’s Martin Bashir about Michele Bachmann’s support for creationism and Bachmann’s and her husband’s use of religious practices to attempt to “cure” homosexuality, and her attempt to legally protect such “therapy”. Every relevant scientific and medical authority has denounced this practice as rooted in a faulty premise about the nature of sexuality, demonstrably ineffective, and demonstrably harmful to the patient.
Cupp, like any right-thinking person, says that this is junk science, but she doesn’t want anyone to criticize the Bachmanns for employing it:
BASHIR: You said this is junk science.
CUPP: I think it’s a valid argument to say that praying away the gay is junk science.
BASHIR: It’s not just you saying that, it’s the Association of American Psychologists who are saying this.
CUPP: I think it’s a valid argument, that it’s junk science. But I don’t think you can implicate 80 percent of the population which is Christian, who believe that homosexuality is a sin as crazy and kooky and extreme.
BASHIR: I’m not going there. I’m not suggesting that at all. What I’m asking you is, does Michele Bachmann therefore embrace junk science.
CUPP: I can’t tell you what motivates Michele Bachmann’s belief that homosexuality is a sin. I have a feeling it’s the Bible.
BASHIR: Is a potential Republican candidate for the presidency embracing junk science?
CUPP: If you don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin, if you don’t believe that you can pray away the gay, if you don’t [sic] believe that gays should be married then you would disagree with Michele Bachmann and you would say that she is embracing junk science.
If you are a Christian who believes like she does, that homosexuality is a sin, creationism is the story of how we all got here, then I don’t think you would call it junk science, I think you would call that, you know, Scripture, Christianity.
There are any number of problems here. First, that ex-gay therapy is junk science is not “a valid argument,” it’s true. There’s no evidence that it works, or is safe, or is medically justified. It simply is junk science, and Cupp offers no counter-argument to that point.
But she does come up with a surprising bit of relativistic nonsense, and argue that whether it is or isn’t junk science depends whether you’re Christian. And then she claims that dismissing such harmful and ineffective therapies would label as “crazy and kooky and extreme” the “80 percent of the population which is Christian, who believe that homosexuality is a sin.”
No. Literally everything here is wrong. First, 80% of the US does not think homosexuality is a sin. In 2003, Pew asked 1,515 Americans whether they think homosexuality is a sin, and 55% said it was. Which is high – troublingly high, indeed insultingly high to anyone who thinks America should be a land of the free – but it is not 80%. Even among the Americans who attend church the most, only 76% thought homosexuality was a sin. The American public has far less negative views of homosexuality today than it did 8 years ago, so I’d guess that less than half of Americans today regard homosexuality is a sin.
In 2008, Pew asked a slightly different question, and found that 50% of the public says “Homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society,” rejecting the argument that it should be “discouraged by society” (which only 40% backed). Mainline Protestants favor acceptance 56:38, while Catholics favor acceptance over discouragement by a ratio of nearly 2:1 (58:30). The only subgroup approaching Cupp’s fantastical 80% are Jehovah’s witnesses, in which 76% would rather discourage the homosexual lifestyle.
This was borne out again by a 2010 CNN poll, which asked “Do you personally think that homosexual relationships between consenting adults is morally wrong, or not a moral issue?” 48% said “morally wrong,” 50% said it was “not a moral issue.” That’s an odd way to dichotomize the matter (what about “morally right”?), but even with that biased language, less than half of Americans condemn the morality of same sex relationships.
What Cupp is doing is assuming that every Christian regards homosexuality as a sin, so if 80% of Americans are Christian, then 80% of Americans must find same sex orientations sinful. You’d think a master of religious studies would know better, but no. This is her standard schtick, and she’s not going to let an education or facts get in the way of her conservative talking points.
Plus, even if 80% of Christians did find homosexuality sinful, that wouldn’t change the empirically documented fact that the sorts of pseudo-therapy employed by the Bachmanns doesn’t work and does harm to patients. Whether something is junk science is simply not a matter of opinion, it’s an empirical matter.
That goes for attempts to “cure” same sex attraction, and it goes for creationism. Is a Republican candidate embracing “junk science”? Yes! Is she also embracing what she regards as “Scripture, Christianity”? Yes. Are there other Christians who reject Bachmann’s form of Christianity and her reading of Scripture, who regard it as un-Christian and counter-scriptural to condemn their brothers and sisters because of their sexual orientation? Yes! But you’ll never hear that from Cupp. She may be an atheist, but heart is with fundamentalist Christianity.