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Friday, October 12, 2007

Should I Be Offended by Ann Coulter?

Another typical Ann Coulter controversy has broken out.  This time the question is whether Coulter spoke offensively or even, as the interviewer seemed to suggest, anti-Semitically when she made the following comments in a recent interview, after being asked, in effect, what her perfect world would look like:

COULTER: Well, OK, take the Republican National Convention. People were happy. They're Christian. They're tolerant. They defend America, they —

DEUTSCH: Christian — so we should be Christian? It would be better if we were all Christian?

COULTER: Yes.

DEUTSCH: We should all be Christian?

COULTER: Yes. Would you like to come to church with me, Donny? * * * *

DEUTSCH: ...[Y]ou said I should not — we should just throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians, then, or —

COULTER: Yeah.

Assuming Coulter was speaking in good faith, were her comments offensive or anti-Semitic?  I think not.  I take it that Coulter's understanding of her faith is that the New Testament represents religious truth, that those who hold contrary religious views are thus wrong, and that, as she says elsewhere in the interview, Judaism is a complentary faith to Christianity but remains "unperfected" by its denial of the divinity of Christ.  I may or not share Coulter's views; I may or may not think that she is herself mistaken in her beliefs.  But that is not in itself a basis for being offended.

Of course, Coulter is not immune from criticism.  From a non-faith perspective, one might question Coulter's own religious premises.  From an intra-faith perspective, one might question whether Coulter was speaking out of a genuine Christian spirit of faith and humility, or whether she was trivializing her own faith by using it as a talking point or, worse, as a vehicle in the age-old game of "epater le bourgeois."  And from either perspective, one could certainly challenge Coulter's blanket description of Republican conventioneers as uniformly Christian; indeed, it is probably that statement that is the most offensive in the interview.  But simply to bear witness on a fundamental disagreement about matters of faith is not, I think, offensive in and of itself.

Note that Coulter is not saying that non-Christans are wicked; only that they are wrong on a fundamental question.  We often disagree with others on fundamental questions, and yet we are able to co-exist with and even admire them.  I assume this is true of Coulter, too, at least as to some religious matters.  People who hold strong convictions on fundamental questions may well think others who don't share those convictions are wrong, and ought, all things considered, to change their convictions; this is true not only for religious individuals but for atheists, and not only for religious questions but also for other fundamental issues.  (Some might argue that this latter category is different because those disagreements at least can be conducted through publicly accessible reasons; we've been over this ground here before, and I'll just repeat that I find this distinction neither as true nor, in any event, as significant as others may.)  Not all of these disagreements are occasions for offense, of course.  One might question whether Coulter was genuinely trying to air a fundamental difference with others on matters of faith, or whether she was merely engaging in what David Bernstein calls "chauvinism."  And one might simply find Coulter's statement to be just another example of her tedious showmanship; I fall into this category.  But in general, I am not inclined to take offense over such statements.  Not every public acknowledgement that people actually hold firm and even exclusive convictions on ultimate questions should be treated as offensive, divisive, or a "gaffe."          

Posted by Paul Horwitz on October 12, 2007 at 03:12 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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Comments

Note that Coulter is not saying that non-Christans are wicked; only that they are wrong on a fundamental question.

I think she's saying something quite different: the world would be a better place if everyone were Christian. She prefers a normative vision in the world that maximizes the number of Christians in society. ("It would be better if we were all Christian?" "Yes.") This isn't just a theological point of difference but a belief about the way people should worship that likely translates into preferences for policies that favor Christians or Christianity over other faiths.

Whether this is reason to be offended strikes me as a bit moot because being offended is a visceral, emotional reaction that doesn't relate to rationality. I often wonder why people care about these kinds of remarks in the abstract, though. Coulter can say what she wants short of threats thanks to the American tradition of free expression (as well as our positive law) and that seems fine to me. But even if Coulter were to say something that was designed to maximize personal offense ("Dave, I think your family should all be tortured and decapitated"), I can't imagine that I'd care unless there was some actual chance that her observation could effect that change.

If anything, it seems to me that the pervasive concern about 'offense' in our culture wrongly elevates the social importance of inane talking heads like Anne Coulter (and her counterparts all along the political spectrum) who gain fame not because they have interesting ideas but merely because they're willing to say outrageous things that garner publicity.

Hence my reaction to Coulter and her ilk isn't offense, but a big fat yawn. And even that may be more than she merits.

Posted by: Dave | Oct 12, 2007 4:54:15 PM

Dave, I'm fairly sympathetic to the second half of your comment, and appreciate your comments as always. On the first half, I'm less certain, for two reasons. First, we could read Coulter's statement in two ways: Coulter may believe that the world would be a better place if we were all Christian, or -- a slightly different emphasis -- she may believe that *we* would each be better off if we were Christian. I think there's evidence in the interview to support the first reading; but I think other, perhaps more thoughtful people might agree with the second reading without making any strong normative statements about whether society itself would be better off. More importantly, perhaps, it's not necessarily the case that such a view will translate into "preferences for policies that favor Christians or Christianity over other faiths," for reasons offered by among others, John Garvey, What Are Freedoms For?, at 53-54.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Oct 12, 2007 5:07:47 PM

*Everyone* should be offended by Ann Coulter. Liberals, Conservatives, Christians, Jews, Men, Women... everyone should be offended by her, simply because I don't think she believes half of what she says. She clearly knows how to play the media and get a rise out of people to get a rise out of her paycheck. She should be ignored, because it's the only way she will ever go away.

Posted by: Dave! | Oct 12, 2007 5:28:32 PM

It does seem right that if one thought that belief in the tenets of Christianity was necessary to one's spiritual well-being, that would imply that we'd be individually better off as Christians. And this is perfectly compatible with a non-chauvinist view of the pluses of Christian identity that society wouldn't necessarily be better off (by whatever standard) if it were more Christian.

Whether Anne Coulter's observation is entitled to this charitable reading, I can't really say. I read the link and had more the impression that she thinks Christians tend to be happy, wholesome, well-adjusted folks (e.g., her describing the NYC GOP convention as her ideal of what a society should look like). On the other hand, Dave! (not me, btw) may have it right that we're assuming that Coulter's interview possesses far more intellectual heft than it really does. Her remarks are, as Paul suggests, more in the spirit of epater la bourgeoisie than a serious or coherent philosophy (hence I cringe whenever she, or John Stossel, or Lou Dobbs, are given the title of "public intellectual").

Posted by: Dave | Oct 12, 2007 7:12:02 PM

mullah cimoc say ann coulter dress slut and have big adam's apple but him dony deutsch the worse.

so obvious this the hit for rahm emmanuel and demo party against repub operative coulter.

him to pimping him religion. this the disgrace for book people.
donny him eager to please him masters and get the acclaim. him whole life purpose to get the acclaim for the mental problem. so often when the man act this way him the traitor and having the sex organ so small the woman to complainingand never the peace. for this needing the acclaim. easy target for intel professional predator.

or maybe him just israeli agent? please for this information to prove

Posted by: mullah cimoc | Oct 12, 2007 7:44:19 PM

I did watch the clips and she said that she wishes all Jews were perfected. Not the term I would have used, but most evangelical Christians would see Jews who have received Jesus as the fulfillment of Messianic Prophesy as “completed” or “fulfilled” Jews. This is not a deragatory term. Examples would be Jews For Jesus, an group of Jews who do believe Christ was the fulfillment of Messianic Prophesy.


I didn’t think she did a good job of explaining what she meant by the term “perfected”

Posted by: RPKINMD | Oct 15, 2007 9:52:36 AM

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