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Austin Cline

"Godless Liberals" as an Ad Hominem Attack

By June 27, 2006

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Speaking as an actual godless liberal — which is to say, I really am godless, unlike most liberals — I find it curious that conservatives want to portray all liberals as godless. You can find it all over the place, and you could even before Ann Coulter made "godless" the title of her latest fact-free diatribe about all things she knows nothing about. Why are some conservatives obsessed with this?

A few days ago, Not Very Bright pointed out:

It hit me that this bumper sticker is the product of same mindset, one that elevates supposedly clever snarkiness over any attempt at a persuasive logical argument. And I got to wondering, what is it about right-wingers that leads to this phenomenon, this leaving behind coherence and logic for something more akin to playground insults? [...]

People go off on tangents, or they respond like the bumper sticker that took Dick Cheney as the issue and then switched to the decades-old and unrelated story of Chappaquiddick as a nice “gotcha.” And if you try to point out the fact that none of this is substantive, you can rest assured that somebody’s going to call you elitist or godless or some other name

Here’s one of many examples cited:

A guy named Roy tried to weigh in on Ann Coulter, but offered nothing of substance, just more attacks on “godless liberals,” whom he calls anti-Christian.

But everyone does it,right?

I’m convinced that while there are examples on both sides of the political spectrum of childish attempts at political discourse, they are more prevalent on the right. That’s not a biased reading on my part. Read the SC blogs that seem to espouse views left of center, and compare them to blogs espousing views right of center. Compare the name-calling. Compare the number of attempts at actual logical argument. It’s clear. And I’m scratching my head as to why.

A major source of the examples cited, Crunchy Republican, responded with a “Holier Than Thou” Award. This sarcastic “response” was somehow supposed to rebut NVB’s question about why so many right-blogs engage in bumper-sticker ad hominems rather than substantive discussion:

On my point that conservatives do not want true debate, only shallow affirmation, Sunny responds: “We will never, ever agree. Life is too short for me to spend time and energy arguing with you since I know that my beliefs are firm as are yours. What real good does this conversation do?”

What a way to prove someone else’s point — you’d almost think that Crunchy Republican were really an anti-GOP satire site, with a response like that. I’m not so interested in how Crunchy basically made NVB’s argument as I am in the associated issue of acting like “godless” or “godless liberal” is an insult. According to one of Crunchy’s commenters:

And her commenter says: “While Sunny may not use them, I think godless, communist, elitist, and cowardly are terms which accurately apply to most liberals.”

Now, why is it that some conservatives want to use “godless” as an ad hominem insult? It’s not quite an ad hominem argument, because the people using it are almost never really offering any arguments, either in general or based upon the label. Sometimes they may be implying that because someone is godless then their ideas and positions can’t be treated seriously, and in such cases they are employing an ad hominem fallacy.

I doubt, though, that a desire to paint liberals as having positions not worthy of consideration is the only or primary issue here. A hint of what else might be going on may be offered by the above commenter: notice that a number of other labels are also included, most prominently “communist.” That used to be conservatives’ favorite attack-label, back when communism was still a serious issue. It hasn’t been a serious issue for several years now, but many can’t avoid using it — like it’s a habit they can’t kick.

So are conservatives who use “godless” as an insult merely trying to reach beyond “communist” because it’s starting to dawn on them that that insult doesn’t work very well anymore? Perhaps — but perhaps there is more still. What other labels has the far-right used in the past? Well, we don’t have to go back very far to find conservatives using “Jew” and “integrationist” as insults. There’s no direct connection between using “Jew” and using “godless” as an insult to apply to liberals, but could there be an indirect one?

In the past, it was socially acceptable to be bigoted against Jews, blacks, and other minorities. Public, official discrimination and prejudice were widely sanctioned. A push for greater social, political equality was met with a strong push back in defense of traditional white, Christian privilege — and part of this was to treat all liberals (who were doing the most pushing in favor of equality) as if they were members of the traditionally disparaged group. Liberals defended Jews, and Jews were inferior, so liberals generally were smeared as “Jews” (though quite often in the form of “New York Jews”).

Isn’t that a little like what’s happening now? Liberal political policies work against traditional privileging of Christians and in favor of a secular state where members of all religions — and even irreligious atheists — are treated equally. Some conservatives push back in defense of traditional Christian privileges by trying to smear all liberals as being “godless,” merely because liberals aren’t willing to treat us godless as social, moral, or political inferiors.

Unfortunately, the use of “godless” as an epithet is having some effect now that some liberals and progressives try to distance themselves from atheists, even calling upon atheists to keep quiet about politics or science. Outspoken atheists who are unapologetic in their demands for social and political equality are considered too strident — not too unlikely out outspoken blacks were also once considered a liability by some progressives who gave lip service to civil rights. The result of this is simply a degeneration of political debate.

Of course, this leaves NVB’s original question unanswered: if it’s true that there are more bumper-sticker ad hominem attacks in place of substantive discussion on right-wing sites than on left-wing sites, why is that? I don’t have an answer, but if there is one it might lie in what the insults are directed against: traditionally despised minorities who are achieving more and more equality — not to mention publicity. If it’s not possible to substantively argue against greater equality, then smearing both the minorities and those who defend them may be all that’s left.

 

Godlessness:

 

Christian Privilege & Christian Nationalism:

Comments

This entry was made over 4 years ago, and no comments? Well, good job on that one. Personally, I think in the past 4 years, it has become more obvious – the ad hominem, bumper sticker political agenda of the New Right has reached a fevered pitch.

September 14, 2010 at 5:40 pm
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