Deuteronomy and complacency

by on March 18, 2017 at 12:57 am in Books, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink

A few of you have been asking me about the Straussian readings of The Complacent Class.  One of them refers to Deuteronomy 4:25-26:

“When you have had children and children’s children, and become complacent in the land, if you act corruptly by making an idol in the form of anything, thus doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to occupy; you will not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. “

Here is external commentary on the passage: “It may be surprising that the result of complacency is not atheism but idolatry.”

1 Yancey Ward March 18, 2017 at 1:46 am

I maintain as always- there are no atheists. We all worship something.

2 Thiago Ribeiro March 18, 2017 at 7:47 am

Maybe, but not always a being we usually describe as a god. In the Bible, the only option to Jeovah seems to be

3 Econchic March 18, 2017 at 8:03 am

+1, indeed we all that.
But even then the quote above still holds. As an atheist you have to work a little harder looking for what to worship. That is a non complacent task. Theist have many, already set up, systems of beliefs to pick from. It can be very complacent to pick one and stick to it.

4 prior_test2 March 18, 2017 at 8:05 am

Plenty of agnostics would disagree, but then, maybe they are worshipping doubt.

5 BenK March 18, 2017 at 10:02 am

I would change the phrasing; there are no people without religion, which provides context, narrative, meaning, purpose, etc.

However, there are plenty of people who have no god outside of themselves. These provide the meaning to the word atheist.

6 Yancey Ward March 18, 2017 at 12:00 pm

They may not pick a “god” (but I would debate this, too- think Mother Earth, for example), but they always pick a priesthood that stands in for the “god”. In my opinion, this is a distinction without a difference. In fact, I would go so far as to say the typical theists also worship at the alter of their priesthoods- who, after all, tells you what “god” is?

7 JK Brown March 18, 2017 at 12:56 pm

“What Is Religion?
Author(s): Frank Sargent Hoffman
Source: The North American Review, Vol. 187, No. 627 (Feb., 1908), pp. 231-239 Published by: University of Northern Iowa
Stable URL:

“No new-born babe or full-grown idiot has any religion, but every normally developed human being has. Whenever a man knows enough to distinguish the outside world from himself, and tries to act in accordance with this knowledge, he begins to be religious.

“The first element, therefore, in religion is the recognition of the existence of a power not ourselves pervading the universe. And another is the endeavor to put ourselves in harmonious relation with this power. Of course the feeling or affective element is presupposed as coming in between the other two. For without it the endeavor would lack a motive, and could therefore have no existence whatsoever. Every sane man believes, at least, that he is only a fraction of the sum-total of things. He also feels some dependence upon this sum-total, and he is obliged to put himself in some sort of accord with it. This is what Caird has condensed into the statement, “A man’s religion is the expression of his ultimate attitude to the universe” (“Evolution of Religion,” Vol. I, p.30).”

8 Adrian Ratnapala March 18, 2017 at 9:30 pm

That is a very atheistic point of view. It doesn’t make sense if gods really exist.

9 Fizz Assist March 18, 2017 at 11:17 pm

It’s also a very biblical view (cf Isaiah 44).

10 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 18, 2017 at 3:51 pm

The word “worship” is doing, as they say, a lot of lifting here. If by worship you mean religion, an external framework of morality shared by a community .. sadly no, that is not universal.

11 JK Brown March 18, 2017 at 12:50 pm

There are two kinds of atheists. Those who don’t believe in a god, and those who fear God may believe in them.

12 Mark Brophy March 18, 2017 at 1:31 pm

I worship free minds and free markets. Most atheists and theists worship something else.

13 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 18, 2017 at 3:33 pm
14 Ray Lopez March 18, 2017 at 2:31 am

Time to discover your occult Jewish roots Tyler…I swear you must have them with a last name like that… 🙂

15 I read a bit March 18, 2017 at 3:52 pm

He did post a history of the name some time ago. Cowens were a less-skilled craft that complemented and competed with masons.

16 MikeA. March 18, 2017 at 2:38 am

I’m reminded of “American Gods” and its 20th century deities.

17 uair01 March 18, 2017 at 2:53 am

Coase in action 🙂

An Indian farmer’s battle for proper compensation for land seized to build a railway reached an unexpected conclusion this week when a court awarded him a train.

18 Axa March 18, 2017 at 7:26 am

Yesterday I found a pointer to John F. Kennedy essay “The Soft American” 1970 and Theodore Roosevelt speech”The Strenuous Life” 1899

Kennedy: “For physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual
activity. The relationship between the soundness of the body and the activities of the mind is subtle and complex. Much is not yet understood. But we do know what the Greeks knew: that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong; that hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit sound bodies.”

Roosevelt: “I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph..”

Kennedy: “But no matter how vigorous the leadership of government, we can fully restore the physical soundness of our nation only if every American is willing to assume responsibility for his own fitness and the fitness of his children. We do not live in a regimented society where men are forced to live their lives in the interest of the state. We are, all of us, as free to direct the activities of our bodies as we are to pursue the objects of our thought. But if we are to retain this freedom, for ourselves and for generations yet to come, then we must also be willing to work for the physical toughness on which the courage and intelligence and skill of man so largely depend.”

Roosevelt: “We cannot sit huddled within our own borders and avow ourselves merely an assemblage of well-to-do hucksters who care nothing for what happens beyond. Such a policy would defeat even its own end; for as the nations grow to have ever wider and wider interests, and are brought into closer and closer contact, if we are to hold our own in the struggle for naval and commercial supremacy, we must build up our power without our own borders.”

It seems worrying about complacency is an old tradition. I wonder what Kennedy or Teddy say about American football, when the most popular sportsmen are below the Army/Navy physical standards.

19 chuck martel March 18, 2017 at 9:33 am

In American society the most important daily goal for virtually everyone is to park their car as near the door as possible to the door of the building that they intend to enter. The employee of the month isn’t given a free copy of “Pilgrim’s Progress” but instead the right to park next to the boss near the front door. People with health problems, for instance stroke victims, after they’ve completed physical therapy, are given special handicapped parking privileges so they needn’t experience the exercise of schlepping in and out of the supermarket. If there is an American deity, it’s the automobile, a device worshiped on a collective and individual basis. Morning mass has been replaced by radio traffic reports. Distances are measured by the time required for the trip in a car. The price of gasoline is posted in giant letters everywhere and the head of the US Federal Reserve Bank worries most about the price of that fuel and how it affects the economy.

Obviously, physical activity, except in the context of organized commercial fitness operations, is not regarded in a positive light. The goal isn’t to be a railroad maintenance gandy dancer or construction hod carrier, it’s to be an educated someone who can wear fashionable clothing to work in a controlled environment with regulated temperature, humidity, odor and sound and not be the victim of fatigue. In fact, the outcome of physical effort, fatigue, is regarded almost as an affliction.

20 Anonymous March 18, 2017 at 9:38 am

Electric door openers for cars take this to the Nth.

21 Thiago Ribeiro March 18, 2017 at 12:01 pm

American only worship Mammon nowadays. Make no mistake, when greed is good, corruption is everywhere. Governmemt has become corrupt, corporations have become corrupt, churches have become corrupt, unions have become corrupt. Universities have become corrupt.

22 Thiago Ribeiro March 18, 2017 at 12:52 pm

When the American public rises up against their masters, the American regime will fall like an overripe jackfruit.

23 Thiago Ribeiro March 18, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Stop impersonating me or I will smash you like a flie.

24 Thiago Ribeiro March 18, 2017 at 3:10 pm

I’m not sure how I will do this on an anonymous chatboard but I will surely crush you like the sxum you are!

25 It's adorable... March 18, 2017 at 3:59 pm

…when you get so excited that your spelling goes all “Brazilian.”

sxum indeed

26 Thiago Ribeiro March 18, 2017 at 6:01 pm

It’s this damn tiny phone, made for traitorous Japanese fingers!

27 Thiago Ribeiro March 18, 2017 at 6:55 pm

Stop impersonating me or I will destroy you!

28 Thiago Ribeiro March 18, 2017 at 10:07 pm

I’m still figuring out how I’m goinh to destroy you, since I don’t know who you are. But by God I will destroy you as we destroyed the cowardly Paraguayan invader!

29 BenK March 18, 2017 at 10:09 am

Living under Army physical standards, which are different than Navy and Air Force and Marines, and even are somewhat diverse among the occupational specialties, and are certainly treated differently across branches – I’m sure that those physical standards are not worthy of being enshrined everywhere. Today, I will run a few miles, to practice running a few miles. I meet height/weight, but American football players often do not because they are excessively muscular. This does not make them unfit. What makes them unfit are the concussions and the bad knees. These are shared with many military, who are often retired medically. Despite recent efforts to moderate the damage, the combination of periodic physical testing, cosmetic body composition standards, and desk jobs doesn’t make people healthy, it gets people injured.

This is not the life Teddy would have recommended…

30 polyglot March 18, 2017 at 7:47 am

‘As applied by rabbinic jurists, the rule against acting like a Sodomite gives rise to three possible limitations on copyright, even assuming that copyright is property. First, if an author has created and disseminated his work with no intention of profiting from it, he suffers no economic loss even if another benefits from his work without paying for it, and thus such an author might be acting like a Sodomite were he to insist upon payment after the fact.[11] Second, the rule against Sodomite behavior supports the view of some rabbinic jurists that private copying is permitted so long as the copier would not have otherwise purchased the copy and thus causes the author no loss.[11] Third, the rule might be the basis for limiting copyright’s duration for published works. In his seminal ruling rejecting a perpetual, proprietary copyright while conceding that authors have an exclusive right to print their unpublished manuscripts, [Rabbi] Yitzhak Schmelkes [1828-1905] reasoned that copying causes the author no damage (as distinct from foregone profit) once the first edition has been sold, and thus that the rule against Sodomite behavior negates any continuing claim the author might have to enforce an exclusive right to print following the first edition.[12]’

‘The men of Sodom waxed haughty only on account of the good which the Holy One, blessed be He, had lavished upon them…They said: Since there cometh forth bread out of (our) earth, and it hath the dust of gold, why should we suffer wayfarers, who come to us only to deplete our wealth. Come, let us abolish the practice of travelling in our land…

There were four judges in Sodom named Shakrai (Liar), Shakurai (Awful Liar), Zayyafi (Forger), and Mazle Dina (Perverter of Justice). Now if a man assaulted his neighbour’s wife and bruised her, they would say to the husband, Give her to him, that she may become pregnant for thee. If one cut off the ear of his neighbour’s ass, they would order, Give it to him until it grows again…
A certain maiden gave some bread to a poor man, hiding it in a pitcher. On the matter becoming known, they daubed her with honey and placed her on the parapet of the wall, and the bees came and consumed her. Thus it is written, And the Lord said, The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah, because it is great (rabbah): whereupon Rab Judah commented in Rab’s name: on account of the maiden (ribah). ‘

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 109a

‘Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. ‘

Ezekiel 16:46-50

31 Patrick Fitzgerald March 18, 2017 at 9:38 am

Houllebecq got it, though.

32 rayward March 18, 2017 at 10:01 am

Everyone may be complacent about something (Cowen’s theme), but not all complacencies are created equal. Complacency about the poor is one thing, complacency about nuclear weapons quite another. Which raises the question: what is the purpose of this life? If it’s to worship God, that isn’t very satisfying, since worshiping God doesn’t immunize one from suffering. Promise of the afterlife has promise, but not for this life if faith alone rather than good works qualifies one for it. I mean, moral hazard has to be considered: if all I need is faith to be rewarded the afterlife, what’s the motivation to do anything good in this life. St. Paul may have been well-trained in matters of faith, but not in economics. Complacency about the afterlife is right up there with complacency about nuclear weapons: God knows economics (He knows everything) and understands moral hazard. Clever readers will see the fallacy of my reasoning: good works creates moral hazard, the recipients of it discouraged from doing good works (or any work!) themselves. My answer: good works begets good works. Now how does one define “good works”? St. Paul would say faith. I give up.

33 Anonymous March 18, 2017 at 10:48 am

The epistle of James 2:14-26 is very clear about faith and works.

34 rayward March 18, 2017 at 11:33 am

Of course, James is striking not only about the need for combining good works with faith but also the vilification of wealth. I don’t believe the opening prayer at CPAC will be a reading from the Epistle of James. Having said that, an explanation of James is that it is a very Jewish document, the good works being a reference to the Jewish Law and the vilification of wealth directed at Jews who had become too comfortable with Rome and their Roman occupiers in Israel.

35 Fizz Assist March 18, 2017 at 11:25 pm

Rayward, I would suggest that’s a diminished view of what it means to worship. Worshiping, just as with idolatry, means centering your life and value around something. If that involves a god who suffers, it could be sufficient even in the face of suffering.

36 Marcus March 18, 2017 at 11:17 am

Straussianism: universal deniability while always able say “I told you so”.

Also the completely odious behavior of attributing to a 20th century academic something that has been pointed out for thousands of years. *sigh*

37 louis March 20, 2017 at 7:56 am

A more apt quote from Deuteronomy for the theme of complacency – chap 32 15-18. “Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked–thou didst wax fat, thou didst grow thick, thou didst become gross–and he forsook God who made him, and contemned the Rock of his salvation.”

38 Jackson Layers March 21, 2017 at 1:54 pm

Honestly speaking, I don’t really want to get into religious things, as everyone needs to think about their own. I only focus on my career and as a trader, I am able to do fairly decent job, it’s especially thanks to OctaFX broker which is forever available for support. With been licensed by FCA, they are also a true ECN broker, so trading under them is very cool. I am able to enjoy my life and also feel absolutely relaxed with things.

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