Beliefs Chris Stedman: Faitheist Culture NBP Opinion

S.E. Cupp isn’t a ‘joiner’ — is that true for other atheists?

S.E. Cupp
S.E. Cupp. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve got a new piece up at CNN, responding to a recent video from CNN “Crossfire” host S.E. Cupp:

Conservative atheist and television pundit S.E. Cupp has come out swinging against progressive atheists.

In a clip for CNN’s “Crossfire,” she argues that conservative atheists are “better” than liberal nonbelievers. What’s more, Cupp says, those on the right respect and tolerate atheists more than liberals do.

She’s wrong, and here are three reasons why. (Click here to keep reading.)

But there’s something else Cupp said that I didn’t address in that piece.

S.E. Cupp

S.E. Cupp. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

“I became an atheist because I’m not a joiner,” Cupp says early in the clip. “I didn’t want to be part of a club or group.”

This seems like an odd way to frame her atheism; surely Cupp became an atheist because she found theism unconvincing, not simply because she’s “not a joiner.”

Regardless, “atheists aren’t joiners” is a common stereotype. And though it may be true for some, that doesn’t mean we can’t be “joiners”—or that there aren’t potential benefits.

I became an evangelical Christian as an adolescent; later, I reevaluated my beliefs and came to realize that I had converted because I wanted to belong to a community of people committed to supporting one another, reflecting on important existential questions, and working to build a more just world.

For most of the other people in my church, God was central to those things. To me, community, solidarity, and justice were central. I realized I wasn’t a theist, but I didn’t really see a nonreligious alternative.

Religious communities can sometimes offer a lot to believers—and nonreligious nontheists who don’t want to join a church don’t have many comparable options. But that doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from being “joiners” if we find an alternative consistent with our own beliefs.

How can joining a community help? For starters, sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell have found that religious Americans are more civically engaged than the nonreligious. But they also found that nonbelieving spouses of religious people are just as civically engaged if they’re active in their partner’s religious community—leading Putnam and Campbell to speculate that civic engagement is connected not to belief, but to belonging.

Whether or not a person believes, participating in a community can help cultivate and communicate the values that move people to act for justice. For atheists, Humanist communities can function in this way.

And religious participation isn’t just associated with civic engagement in the U.S.—it’s also associated with overall wellbeing. As David Yaden, a researcher at The University of Pennsylvania, said when I interviewed him for a previous Faitheist column:

When it comes to facilitating mental health, empirical data demonstrates that religious people have more positive emotion, more meaning in life, more life satisfaction, cope better with trauma, are more physically healthy, are more altruistic and socially connected, and are not diagnosed with mental illness more than other people.

Again, it seems likely that belonging to a supportive community is more important to wellbeing than whether or not a person believes in God. And in that sense, why wouldn’t nontheists want some of the good things that religious communities can provide?

You don’t have to think that religious beliefs are true to see that many religious people get something positive out of participating in their religious communities. Similarly, you don’t have to believe in God to see the value in belonging to a community of like-minded others who support you in celebrating life’s joys, tackling its challenges, and acting on your values in order to improve the conditions of life for others and advance justice.

At the Yale Humanist Community, we’re currently working on setting up our first year of community programs—including Sunday gatherings for nonreligious people who still want a community.

Though we certainly have our differences, Cupp is welcome to visit any time.


Click here to post a comment

  • SE Cupp has always been full of crap.

    She is like the token liberal on a Fox News current events show. Someone who gives the appearance of a contrary opinion and whose job it is to set up strawmen for opponents to knock down.

    She is a faux atheist whose views always happen to coincide with the religious right. Her views of atheism are the type that make virtually every atheist scratch their head. I would say she is probably just saying it for effect in order to pretend her views are different from fundies.

  • Chris
    My grandson belongs to a university Secular Humanist organization. He helps at a community market which is made up of support of many churches, a medical center, super markets and other organizations. Actually in this town before the market the churches had their own individual food closets and realized it was inefficient.

    Chris, if you read all the comments made after your articles you can’t miss the hateful derogatory remarks made by many in regard to Christianity. Some write that religion will disappear. With your training and experience I encourage you to consider writing about how atheist can work within helping communities including religious communities for the common good. You don’t really need to start your own if there are others you can become a part of and support.

  • Chaplain Martin, have you ever taken notice of the hateful, derogatory and frankly untrue remarks people make in regards to atheists?

    The threats made by those calling themselves Christians against atheists? The passive-aggressive insults? The libelous statements made about atheists being immoral people or deserving of torture and torment? How about the common lie that equates atheists with Stalinists, ever hear that one?

    As I see it, cooperation is a two way street. If Christians are not willing to curb the excesses of their own, there is no reason Chris should feel the need to do so with his own group.

  • I like the part about how us Christians are better than athiests. It is true that we are happier, smarter, healther, more mentally sane, ect. That is why I like to read Chris Stedman’s column, because he admits that Christians are the superior race over athiests, who are kind of sub human. He is my favorite athiest.

  • Larry,
    “Chaplain Martin, have you ever taken notice of the hateful, derogatory and frankly untrue remarks people make in regards to atheists?”

    Of course I have Larry. Mostly the media hungry pseudo-Christians. I’m talking about where I live, where I go to church. I’m talking about medical missions, street missions, I’m talking about churches I have attended and preached. These Christians are too busy in their work to attack atheist.

    Sure as a person of faith in Christ in whom I believe in personally, I would like my grandson to be open to me and listen to my words before becoming hardened in his non-believe. My son an agnostic, his father, asked me to consider non-belief and recommend that I read a book by Dawkins. I read much of it, didn’t find it impressive. I have had hard knocks and examined my faith a number of times, that’s when it served me well.

    I’m not going to excuse those pseudo-Christians who mostly base their claims on the old testament without regard to the new testament.
    Why not do something constructive is my challenge to the atheist. Instead of attacking why not go about doing good. Railing against Christian belief does nothing positive.

    To the Christian and the Atheist I offer this, give up your anger and replace it with positive action for good. Learn to live along side each other neither one is going away.

  • If it makes you feel any better many atheists here consider Chris a pseudo-atheist. Poe Troll Ronald even joked about it just now.

    See how that works. Now neither of us have owned up to the ridiculous actions done by people professing to have the same beliefs as us.

    People legitimately concerned with charity will put such differences aside. The problem is many people are not so legitimately concerned. Many want to use charity as a forum for proselytizing, as a way to brag to the public or simply as a matter of being the “master of the sandbox”.

    You may not excuse those pseudo-Christians who mostly base their claims on the old testament without regard to the new testament. But you are not going to address them either. Railing against atheism does nothing positive either, yet it is done as a matter of course by all manner of people calling themselves Christian. Even ordained clergy.

    Lets also be brutally honest, both sides here are not equally at fault or doing equal actions. Christian attacks on atheists are much more damaging and malicious in nature. They seek to deny atheists public participation in civil society, libellously impugn their character, attack their civil liberties, and in some cases threaten their lives. You are simply not seeing that being returned in kind. Its not so much anger as it is defending one’s self from unreasonable attack.

  • I know atheists who are members of my synagogue. They are certainly joiners. A synagogue or a church offers comraderie and fellowship that atheists sometimes lack.

  • Chaplin Martin,
    Naturally you are free to think as you like, but sometimes I do marvel at your logic. Most Christians maintain that belief, not behavior, is the essential criterion for being a member (being acceptable to God). They further maintain that those who are not acceptable, will be punished in Hell, for the “sin” of non-belief (atheism).
    These Christian teachings are the problem, not atheism. How can you not see why many wish for it to disappear?

  • Among my dearest friends was a man once an aide to Vito Marcantonio. He’d been raised in a secular household (Roumanian Jewish) and had no religious interests. S.E. Cupp is a woman with no religious affiliation, though she’s more voluble on the subject. Megan McArdle is another publicist with no religious interests.

    It’s in contemplating such people in contrast to the world’s vociferous atheists that there are people who adhere to a certain viewpoint for all the funny reasons people do, and there are people who have a conduit for free-floating aggression.

  • Chris Stedman is Executive Director of the Yale Humanist Community, author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, and a former Harvard University chaplain

    It’s a living.

  • Samuel Johnson,
    “Most Christians maintain that belief, not behavior, is the essential criterion for being a member (being acceptable to God).” I sort of go with a quote from the letter of James (2:17) on this one: “For just as the body without breath is dead, so faith without works is dead.” By the way “being acceptable to God,” there is no way I can personally be acceptable to God, if that’s what it takes. It’s my choice to either accept what God freely offers or non-belief. Belief is choosing to believe in God, and to me this leads to a salvation experience which includes making a clear confession of wrongs I know I’ve committed and am sick of keep doing them. Sort of like the alcoholic who is sick and tired of being sick and tired (and takes the first step of AA).

    “These Christian teachings are the problem, not atheism. How can you not see why many wish for it to disappear?” So If Christians stopped teaching about hell for those who don’t believe, things would get better?? In my opinion, if a person decides to believe in God to escape hell, his/her salvation would be little better than the driver who doesn’t run a red light because a patrol car is nearby. I don’t have to look for hell after death; I saw it every day as prison chaplain and especially as psycho-therapist in a behavioral medicine unit.

  • “I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text (of the Bible) seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.
    And this is a damnable doctrine.” (Page 87,The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, ed. Nora Barlow 1958 Harcourt Brace)

    “So If Christians stopped teaching about hell for those who don’t believe, things would get better??”
    YES! LOTS! You, me, and my late father (a Methodist minister) may hold the threat of Hell in contempt, but for most Alabamians being “saved” means exactly escaping Hell. The gift of spirituality etc. are mere aspirational extras.

  • Samuel,
    Thank you for your kind, thoughtful, reply. Your Methodist minister father and I both have a son who don’t believe.

    It is interesting to me how I read the Bible and see the love of God (word love mentioned over 200 times in scripture) and others see only the vengeful god sending people to hell. scaring the hell out of a person to get them to believe is ppp (p..s poor preaching). I’m not saying that hell doesn’t exist, the word translated “hell’ in scripture is from the word; “Gehenna, in Jesus’s day, was the city dump.” It’s from a book by Rob Bell. “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (p.68). Bell writes about protesters outside a place where he was speaking, one of the protesters had a shirt with the words: “Turn or Burn”.

    You mentioned Alabama. If you live near Auburn, I would welcome you to attend Sunday School Class I go to. A banner on the wall has the sentence: “We Reserve the Right to Accept Everyone”. (Its on the corner of Glen and Gay Street).

  • FWIW:
    In the Hebrew Bible, the site was initially where apostate Israelites and followers of various Ba’als and Caananite gods, including Moloch, sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6). Thereafter it was deemed to be cursed (Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6).[1] Wikipedia
    Abraham was ready to do the same. The Roman nobility did the same when Hannibal was at the gates. The history of human sacrifice is as enlightening as it is depressing. Religion is ALWAYS the cause.

  • Samuel,
    I was hoping you would actually reply to my comments as I addressed them. I was a history major in college and in graduate school studied religious history. So what you wrote did not shock me.
    God bless you and have a good night.

  • Chaplain Martin
    Re: “I was hoping you would actually reply to my comments as I addressed them…..By the way “being acceptable to God,” there is no way I can personally be acceptable to God,”
    O.K. But you may not like my response. FWIW, shock was hardly my point- hypocrisy was. Now, I will try logic again.
    1. If God created us, and we are not acceptable to him, then he is at fault, not us.
    (Free will, choice, et al, were are all in his control at creation, so it is he who is responsible.)
    2. Your invitation to attend your church was not meant by you as a hostile response, but if I were to invite you to join the “Brights”, you might not consider that friendly. In short, I do not think you are accustomed to dispassionate analysis or working with people with whom you fundamentally disagree.
    3. I will be happy to compare credentials (re: I was a history major in college) but the real problem for me is finding your level in a discussion. Gautama Buddha, also known as Siddhārtha responded to the question “What makes you different?” with “I am awake”. I like to think that sometimes that I am awake too.
    HIs advice that “You must be your on Buddha” is also central to my thinking.
    Now, I would like an exchange of ideas, as I am sure would your son, and grandson, but you seem to “know” so there is no room for any other view.

  • Samuel,
    FWIW, shock was hardly my point- hypocrisy was. Now, I will try logic again. Frankly I don’t know what FWIW stands for and I really don’t care. So hypocrisy is your point. I spent a long time considering what I would write your base on your prior response.
    1. I don’t think it is within my power to do great works so I could be acceptable to God.
    Instead I accepted the the free grace of God extended to me. That is free will. I have to admit I don’t understand your logic either.

  • Samuel,
    Mistakenly hit send.
    2. I didn’t invite you to my church, but merely to a Sunday School class which has a great teacher and a lot of people who think for themselves. The teacher is a retired history professor with several books to his credit.
    I’m not used of working with people with whom I disagree? If you only knew.
    Just keep jumping to conclusions, it works best for you
    3. I have three degrees which includes a doctorate.

  • Chaplin Martin,
    ” I accepted the the free grace of God extended to me. That is free will.l”. No, no, no. that is not free will in any “normal” sense of the words. It is the “newspeak” that Christian doctrine offers and the Church tries to sell this snake oil to the unthinking multitude. It is like the choice that a train on its tracks has to go either forward or backwards. Free means untethered, unfettered, self directed. It means having worthwhile choices. The Church only offers slavery or hell. (O.K. I read a bit of Milton). The price of Pascal’s wager is opportunity cost. You only have one life.
    Here is what I say to your God: “If you made me a sinful, crippled being, then it is for me to complain – not you.” So, it is better not “believe” in your God because he is unjust and unworthy. You seem to me to be spending your life constructively, but on a leash. That is not a free will worth having.( D. Dennett)

  • Find out about St. Maxims and why he said that “none are saved until all are saved.” St Mechtilda of Magdebourg, a visionary bride of Christ, would pressm Jeuss to tell her how many people are in hell. His final answer was along the lines of, “I can’t tell you because then people would feel free to sin as they please.” I was taught about these two in my Catholic grade school to illustrate that Catholics do not have to believe in a permanent hell, no matter what popes, bishops and priests said. This was sin the 1950’s.

  • And this is relevant to the article because….?

    You do nothing but make base ad hominem attacks. Everything comes down to making scurrilous remarks about the lives of others and character assasination.

    Art Deco, when have you stopped being a scumbucket?

  • CHRIS STEADMAN. .. I love you. As a full-fledged Christian I agree with you almost a hundred of the time. You are one of the most fair minded and charitable writers I have ever read. I can count on one hand the people that I know are like that. Thank you very much.

  • Given that Cupp spends so much of her time trashing atheists and atheism, and professing admiration for believers and religious belief, it’s quite simply inconceivable she could genuinely be an atheist. No, her act is that of a poseur. Thus, taking anything she says as a reflection of atheism is something only an idiot should do. You gave her far too much credibility by responding to her as you did.

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