Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Godless on 6-6-06

Godless, the new Ann Coulter book, came out today, the day of the Beast.

And she was not even raptured away for her efforts. That’s a relief, of course, because it means that the rest of us godless liberals have not been left behind.

But it’s a little sad too because it means we can look forward to even more opportunistic invective and attack spewing from her in the future.

In Godless, Coulter asserts that liberals like to claim that they are not religious. But they practice a godless religion called liberalism. This is not a particularly original charge. Indeed, it harks back to the Cold War when opponents of communism claimed that that was a godless religion too. In fact, she’s hoping her audience will make the connection between godless communism and godless liberalism. But it’s a false connection where modern liberalism is concerned. And yes it's slander - something she knows a lot about since she also once wrote a book by that title.

First of all, communists really were atheists. But not all liberals claim to be non-religious or even godless. The bookshelves that Coulter shares, in most bookstores, are filled with tomes by the likes of Rabbi Michael Lerner, Reverend Jim Wallis, Reverend Tony Campolo, Reverend Brian McLaren and author Philip Yancey. All these authors are either self-described liberals or left of center moderates. And all of them, except for Rabbi Lerner, are respected Evangelicals who are published by Christian publishing houses such as Zondervan, Nelson, and InterVarsity. Ann Coulter may not like their religion, but they are hardly godless.

But another reason that hers is an utterly specious argument is that only eight percent of the population calls themselves atheists. But if you use even the most conservative estimate, about a quarter of the population considers themselves liberals. Democrats, of whatever stripe, are about half the country. So how do you expand 8 percent to 25 percent to 50 percent? And, of course there's not even proof that all atheists consider themselves liberals. Some may even be Republicans. So the numbers just aren't there

Ann Coulter can only make the claims that she does because she is about as astute at mathematics as she is at science and logic.

The problem with Coulter’s work is that she doesn’t actually make logical arguments at all. Instead, she attacks, inflames, and seduces her audience. Her metaphors, similes, ad hominen attacks, red herrings, straw men arguments, and just plain irrelevant juxtapositions carom wildly around, crashing, colliding, and banging into each other like the bumper cars we played with as children.

While it’s wildly entertaining to read her verbal pyrotechnics, believing her arguments could actually be dangerous to your health.

For example, she claims that scientists have lied to us about AIDS. She even attacks C. Everett Coop, Ronald Reagan’s Surgeon General and an Evangelical himself, who decided it was more important to be a doctor than an ideologue and urged people involved with multiple sex partners to use condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS.

According to Coulter, though, scientists lied to us. AIDS is not a heterosexual disease caused by the exchange of bodily fluids. Instead, it is caused by certain homosexual acts that she finds aesthetically displeasing, notably anal sex. In the book, Coulter keeps asking – actually hectoring – “where is the heterosexual AIDS epidemic that was predicted?” She quotes everybody from reputable CDC doctors to Oprah, who all warned people to alter their behavior and to practice safe sex because otherwise we would be inundated by a pandemic of HIV/AIDS.

And in the industrialized first world that epidemic hasn’t materialized, just as Coulter points out. But that’s not because AIDS is a gay disease, caused by anal intercourse, which makes it nearly impossible for straights to get. Instead the predicted epidemic failed to materialize precisely because of all the warnings that were made in the eighties and early nineties. Because of a massive and appropriate public education campaign, people changed their behavior.

More people, gay and straight, do use condoms and observe safe sex practices. People do get tested. And people have cut down on sexual activity since the 70s and 80s, which was the heyday of the sexual revolution. Sociological studies regularly report a decline in sexual activity among high school and college students. And many people with HIV/AIDS, both gay and straight, are able to live fairly normal lives with the disease because of pharmaceutical advances.
However, if you want to find the AIDS epidemic that jumped to the heterosexual population, look no further than Africa. Despite Coulter’s worthless claims, that continent continues to be devastated by AIDS, and it affects women as well as men and in equal numbers. And it affects children because infected mothers really do pass it on to their babies. So much for the gay disease!

On a personal note, I had a relative who was heterosexual and who contracted AIDS and passed it on to his wife. Both died. So if you’re young, conservative and enjoy reading Ann Coulter, please don’t let her seduce you into a false sense of security. Unless you really are going to be celibate or monogamous, please, please practice safe sex. AIDS – regardless of how you view gay people – is not just a gay disease. That’s not godless liberal religion, it’s medical fact.

Coulter, of course, also takes on the Religious Right’s favorite topic, evolution. Here too, she bends the science, misrepresents what evolutionists say, sets up straw dog arguments and then shoots them down.

The thing is Coulter is actually a very bright woman, who not only is capable of making a logical argument, she probably knows the art of rhetoric and all the logical fallacies to avoid far better than I do. She’s an accomplished lawyer who has written legal briefs and argued before the courts.

However, she’s not interested in logic. Primarily, she’s here to inflame passions and to entertain her audience of adoring young, rightwing men and women smitten with her glamour and her audacious style.

In the book, Comedy Writing Step By Step, author Gene Perret defines comedy as the ability to make startling and unusual connections, also known as a sense of irony. He also says that a comedic writer needs to have a facility for language and a sense of imagery and visualization to make that language concrete to the audience.

At that, Ann Coulter has no peer. She can make connections between seemingly polar opposites. She has a well-honed sense of irony and a great facility for words. She certainly is expert in her use of visualization and imagery and can paint her metaphors and similes like an artist on a canvas to make it all a concrete word picture for her readers.

However, in the end, she is not serious. This is simply clowning, not a logical argument for conservatism. But oh my how it sells. Especially when it’s Godless on 6-6-06.


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10th District Conservative said...

Take it from this pretty informed evangelical that at least Campolo and McClaren aren't exactly respected evangelicals. Campolo was -- once upon a time, but not anymore. Yancy is pretty mainstream evangelical, but I wouldn't call him a liberal, not any more so than Billy Graham. Those two just aren't political agenda people.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

I don't know 10th District. I believe Yancy did sign the original Call to Renewal proclamation that Rev. Jim Wallis issued. Also, I think of Yancy as moderate more than liberal. He has expressed concerns for the environment, poverty issues (his wife was a social worker in Chicago's inner city for years) and he has written movingly about the racism in his Southern church when he was growing up.

Likewise, over the years, Billy Graham has taken princpled positions against nuclear proliferation and other issues usually associated with moderates and progressives. Not out and out liberals, but not stereotypical conservative stands either. Let's say independent thinkers

As for Campolo and McClaren, I would guess they are not so much not respected as they are controversial. They have stood up and opposed the more conservative wing of the Evangelical community. Both sides of that community have loyal followings.

Also, it's dangerous to label somebody liberal or conservative based on just one or two wedge issues. I have a very dear friend who is a Catholic priest. He heads his local chapter of Democrats for Life. He's as anti-abortion as it gets, but I'd never call him a conservative.

He's against the death penalty, is pro-union, works hard for social justice issues and is anti-war. Except for abortion and gay marriage, he is a classic liberal. But he's also a traditional, orthodox Catholic.

I'm not sure people are as easily labeled as we'd like to think. And that was my point about Ann Coulter's book. Not all liberals are godless. And some conservative Republicans are atheists. But not a whole lot of people on either side are atheists because they are only 8 percent of the population.