June 19, 2006

Liberalism as religion

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty

Godless is like Slander and Treason before it, a best-selling extended indictment of liberals. In fact, I got the eerie feeling as I was reading that I had heard some of these self-incriminating New York Times quotes before. I probably did. In Godless Ann Coulter posits that liberalism is a kind of religion. It has its sacrament: abortion; its priesthood: teachers; its creation myth: evolution. Whereas statements about the “Willie Horton ad” made by the Times or various liberals were evidence of liberal media bias in Slander, in Godless Willie Horton is liberalism’s martyr. It is not a bad formula for success. Make the broad charge, do some research on Lexis or Google and the book begins to write itself. It’s not hard to imagine Ann continuing the series with titles like Crybabies: Liberals Whine When they Lose or Perverts: Liberals Rape Your Child and Abort Your Grandchild, or maybe even Fat and Ugly: You Know I’m Talkin’ Bout Liberals.

Liberalism as religion or substitute for religion is a metaphor that goes back to the French Revolution–where quite literally the revolutionaries who stormed the Cathedral of Notre Dame attempted to convert it to a Tower of Reason. Coulter’s application of this metaphor to modern liberalism is clever. Coulter included a built in proof to her metaphor with the fifth chapter “Liberals’ Doctrine of Infallibility: Sobbing Hysterical Women.” Matt Lauer made Coulter’s point for her by unctuously confronting Coulter about her disparaging remarks on “the Jersey Girls”, four 9/11 widows who promoted the 9/11 Commission, and later the Kerry candidacy. The New York tabloids threw a fit about “cruel Coulter.” It was a slow news week, I guess. However I couldn’t help but think that Coulter almost gets away with the outrageous things she says because she is a woman.

The most fascinating thing about the book is the concluding four-chapter assault on evolution and the “Darwiniacs” who promote it. Coulter is perhaps the largest figure in our popular culture to come out full bore for Intelligent Design and against evolution. My acceptance of evolutionary theory has been based less on a knowledge of biology or the geologic record than on the weight of popular opinion. You don’t meet a lot of credentialed Intelligent Design advocates. But Coulter is plainly right to inform her readers that “Survival of the Fittest” is an absurd tautology. Coulter is most convincing when recounting the anti-religious bias, the promotion of fraudulent evidence and bully tactics marshaled to defend the theory of evolution.

I’ve always thought Coulter was at her worst when she seeks the most extreme proponent of an idea and then generalizes about liberals based on that eccentric. Pete Singer, the bioethics professor infamous for saying that killing a newborn child with Down’s syndrome or hemophilia “is not morally equivalent to killing a person” is used as a stand-in for liberals. That can’t be fair, can it? But then, Coulter quotes the New Yorker hailing him as “the most influential living philosopher,” and The New York Times breathlessly reporting his wide influence.

Coulter’s prose style is reminiscent of exiled National Review editor Joe Sobran who is quoted in the book and thanked in the acknowledgements. Like Sobran, Coulter’s gift as a polemicist is the counterpunch. Responding to Howard Dean’s statement, “I don’t have any objection to someone who is pro-life, if they are really dedicated to the welfare of children,” Coulter responds, “Conversely, I suppose, if you are pro-abortion and you hate kids, Dr. Dean would be cool with that, too.”

It seems that it no longer matters what the intellectual Right thinks of Ann Coulter. She is now so firmly fixed in the cultural firmament that she has transcended the conservative media apparatus that created her. CPAC attendees will continue to treat her like a rock star and liberals will continue to sputter and gasp at the mention of her name. With that kind of cultural capital you think she might turn some of her rhetorical guns on the big spending summer soldiers in the culture war: the Republicans. Not yet, at least.

Michael Brendan Dougherty is Books Editor for the New Pantagrual and blogs at Surfeited with Dainties.

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