The Cult of Coulter
-- Jerome Eric Copulsky
Ann Coulter has been much in the news lately. With her recent best-selling tome, Godless: The Church of Liberalism, it seems that the notorious bomb-throwing cover girl for conservatism has turned Grand Inquisitor. The subject matter of her book -- the idea that liberalism is a religion -- merits a sighting here, and not only because it demonstrates the increasingly "religiosecular" ambivalence of our world that Martin E. Marty wrote of two weeks ago ("Religiosecular Meditations," June 19).
"Liberalism," Coulter informs us, is a "church," complete with its own creation myth (Darwinism), priests (public school teachers), doctrines (infallibility of victims), sacraments (abortion), and so forth. Coulter's liberals subscribe to a pantheistic doctrine, renouncing the biblical distinction between human beings (made in the image of God) and the rest of creation, thus rendering biblical morality impossible -- which, she claims, is the liberals' true goal. Tossing aside any pretense to Christian charity, Coulter darkly warns that liberals (or Democrats, which are, for Coulter, one and the same) are Pagans (of the Druid denomination), science-hating Darwinists, and tree-hugging supporters of PETA, intent on killing their babies and their grandparents. Some of her invective, like proclaiming that Democrats make up "the opposition party to God," might make even a Carl Schmitt blush!
A stalwart defender of what she takes to be the Christian faith, Coulter emphatically denies the possibility of any liberal rapprochement with Christianity. Moreover, liberals are theo-political heretics, enemies of the state, "deny[ing] the biblical idea of dominion and progress, the most ringing affirmation of which is the United States of America." (Such statements, of course, raise serious questions concerning Coulter's understanding of orthodox Christian doctrine.) In Coulter's world, it is really the liberal pagans who cause all the trouble ("somehow it's always the godless doing the genocides"), while devout Christians are peaceful, moral, law-abiding folks. (Coulter conveniently omits the gloomy fact that Christians have managed to slaughter many other Christians and non-Christians well into modern times. Her memory returns, however, to attack "crazy Muslims.")
Coulter's inflammatory rhetoric, proclivity for constructing straw men, and reliance on specious and ad hominem argumentation obscures the fact that her convictions aren't new. In a sense, Coulter is merely reiterating the perennial quarrel between Reason and Revelation, Athens and Jerusalem, Enlightenment and faith -- but here in the age of mass media, and for big bucks. Given that the argument of the book is so derivative and so littered with malicious half-truths and insipid humor, the book's popularity might seem perplexing.
But then I considered the book's cover. The dust jacket of Godless features Coulter in a black dress with a plummeting neckline, sporting an apparently diamond-encrusted cross that dangles above the shadowy suggestion of cleavage. (One wonders whether the diamonds represent the indestructibility or the riches of her Church.) Her arm presses upon the final letters of the book's title, "less," as through she might crush them, a one-woman suppressor of the atheistic horde. She gazes at the viewer, wearing a sly half-smile reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa -- an impression further enhanced by the resemblance in pose and garb.
Ah-ha! I thought. This is no mere accident. Perhaps her book conceals a secret teaching, one more shocking than those encountered in a Dan Brown novel, and so inimical to the faithful that it could only be conveyed in winks and nods. Given the American obsession with codes and hidden meanings, I speculated that when Coulter writes of what "all liberals secretly believe," she just may well be hinting to the discerning reader that there is more to her text than what's on the surface.
As one who has studied with people who studied under Leo Strauss, and attuned to the art of esoteric writing, I searched. And I searched. And then I noticed, buried in a footnote, a "clue" to the entire work: "Christians," Coulter writes, "include everyone who subscribes to the Bible of the God of Abraham, including Jews and others." How very gracious of her! But there is a catch: These "Christians" may not include members of the Episcopalian Church -- which, she writes a few pages later, "is barely even a church." HmmŠ
Why does she go after the Episcopalian Church (aside, perhaps, from the fact that arch-liberal Howard Dean used to be a member)? Here's one conjecture arising from my esoteric reading. The Episcopalian Church developed from the Church of England -- an established Church, a state religion. Is Coulter, then, launching a cryptic attack on the unity of church and state? Given this, as well as her dismissal of the substance of theological differences (effacing, for instance, distinctions between Christians and Jews), and her claim that true Christians are peaceful and patriotic, one might think she is implicitly invoking the ideas propounded by the theological-political treatises of the seventeenth century, ideas like toleration and separation of religious and political authority -- you know, Liberal ideas.
This esoteric reading of Godless is, of course, preposterous, but no more so, in my opinion, than the book's actual argumentation -- and that's the point. I'm afraid that the big secret revealed in Godless is that when it comes to the depths and complexities of actual religion, Ann Coulter doesn't know what she's talking about.
Jerome Eric Copulsky is Assistant Professor and Director of Judaic Studies at Virginia Tech.