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Commandments of the American Religion

I don’t agree with much of this, but James Altucher’s “Ten Commandments of the American Religion” [1]is thought-provoking. Here’s part of his answer on the Second Commandment: Thou Shalt Go To College:

There are so many exciting alternatives to college. I list some of them here.  [2]I’m excited for my children, because I hope they have experiences that will change their lives forever rather than going into the rat race so they can end up ignorant, in debt, and working at nonsense jobs so they can pay off the gangsters who have guns pointed right at their heads.

One anecdote: the guy who caugh [3]Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit is a sales clerk at Verizon with $150,000 in student loans. Why couldn’t he get a better job with his college degree? Why did he give Jeter the ball back? Jeter is going to make $100 million in the next few years. This guy could’ve paid his loans back and been free. Freedom  [4]is everything. But he wanted to be a “good guy.”

The American Religion needs you to be in debt; needs you to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to read the same Plato you could’ve read in the bathroom at your local library. “You’ll have a better life,” they say. “Your life is secure now.” Right, you are fully secured by the shackles they hand you on graduation day.

Via Joe Carter, [5] who asks his readers to come up with their own list of Unquestionable Edicts of American Life (That Ought to Be Questioned). Do you have any?

One that comes to mind right away is, “Thou Shalt Support the Troops” — this, given that “support the troops” actually means “not question the war.” It is right of people to want to avoid the shameful Vietnam-era experience of despising returning American soldiers. That should never be repeated. But you don’t compensate for that mistake by behaving as if “supporting the troops” requires one to support the war they’re ordered to fight. Though I do not agree with Altucher that no American war was worth fighting, I do believe that often, and perhaps more often than not, opposing wars our government wishes to fight is the best way to support the troops. (Over to you, Col. Andy Bacevich [6].)

Think of some more, y’all.

32 Comments (Open | Close)

32 Comments To "Commandments of the American Religion"

#1 Comment By Connie On September 30, 2011 @ 10:46 pm

Support your local sports team! Go place!

#2 Comment By thomas tucker On September 30, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

The American Dream is owning your own home.

#3 Comment By Steven On October 1, 2011 @ 12:38 am


Greetings from Alaska and welcome back. Just discovered your return to the blogosphere. A little behind the times, sure, but hey, enjoying the summer has meant stepping away from the computer once in a while. Hope you can bring the whole family back up sometime…

#4 Comment By Naturalmom On October 1, 2011 @ 1:17 am

Here’s one that it seems like we hear more and more lately: Thou shalt not express hope that the United States might emulate any other country in any area. (Health care especially.) To do so is tantamount to hating America. Oh, except k-12 education — that’s fair game.

#5 Comment By Allen On October 1, 2011 @ 1:27 am

“Thou shalt hate thine enemies with all thy heart, and if thou shouldst stray to moderation in this, thou shalt become the enemy of all the true righteous folk”

Right, left, or middle, the worst thing you can do in the political sphere in this country is to question whether your opponents are actually monsters.

#6 Comment By Robert On October 1, 2011 @ 2:36 am

Maybe we could also list the commandments of other countries’ religions too.

#7 Comment By SteveM On October 1, 2011 @ 8:25 am

Re: “Thou Shalt Support the Troops”

Rod, that Unquestionable Edict extends beyond supporting America’s current wars to supporting the entire Leviathan National Security apparatus as it is currently constructed, including the domestic DHS Leviathan and the associated para-militarized law enforcement structures.

It’s the whole kibosh. The waste-ridden, hyper-bloated budgets, assaults on civil liberties, hyper-elevation of martial sensibilities above civilian norms, everything.

#8 Comment By Jimmy Huck On October 1, 2011 @ 9:33 am

Though shalt revere the individual above all else and place no false gods of community before him.

#9 Comment By MichaelS On October 1, 2011 @ 9:56 am

Thou shalt think nothing of bulldozing that oak-covered hillside to build McMansions, because that is the American Dream. (This one may be a few years out of date by now; but it was current once, and the damage is done).

#10 Comment By John Mark Ockerbloom On October 1, 2011 @ 10:26 am

If thou wishest to be a statesman, thou shalt countenance any action, however oppressive or expensive, where opposition could label you as “soft”– on drugs, on crime, on terrorism, or on “our children’s safety”.

If thou wishest to be a political sage, thou shalt call thy counsels “common sense”, “middle American”, or “centrist”, for it is unquestionable that the median opinion of thine audience is unbiased and objective.

#11 Comment By Frank in Spokane On October 1, 2011 @ 10:50 am

Thou shalt not take the name of Abraham Lincoln in vain.

#12 Comment By John E On October 1, 2011 @ 11:10 am

To further expand on SteveM’s comments – Support the Troops is what is protecting ‘Defense Spending’ from serious discussion about cutting that part of the budget.

#13 Comment By thomas tucker On October 1, 2011 @ 11:31 am

Thou shalt believe and confess that America is the greatest country ever.

#14 Comment By Mr. Pickwick On October 1, 2011 @ 11:32 am

“Thou shalt move from place to place, never setting down roots, and forever be a stranger in a strange land.”

(BTW, just saw an ad for a new book entitled Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today. Maybe a good Christmas gift for Rod?)

“Thou shalt despise the Europeans as a godless people, and exalt Americans as godly.”

“Thou shalt drive thy auto everywhere, and heap opprobrium on them that walketh.”

“Thou shalt shun the train and embraceth the aeroplane.”

“Thou shalt drinketh and eateth to excess, and swelleth thy buttocks to Brobingagian proportions.”

“Thou shalt love the Market with all thy heart, with all thy mind and with all thy soul.”

(So glad you’re back in the blogosphere, Rod. Those of us who don’t really fit into conventional categories of Right and Left value your independent thinking. Thanks to AmCon for hosting you).

#15 Comment By Morris Howard On October 1, 2011 @ 11:52 am

“Noting with regret that “the armed forces are no longer representative of the people they serve,” retired admiral Stanley Arthur has expressed concern that “more and more, enlisted as well as officers are beginning to feel that they are special, better than the society they serve.” Such tendencies, concluded Arthur, are “not healthy in an armed force serving a democracy.” ”

The above is from the Bacevich article Rod linked to. This is too close for comfort. I think of our “dirty wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq, and compare them to France’s “dirty war” in Algeria. This led to the OAS (Secret Army Organization) that nearly led France to a military dictatorship.

#16 Comment By Naturalmom On October 1, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

Frank in Spokane — LOL! Although I think that one is an oft-violated commandment! Same for Thomas Jefferson, though Lincoln’s popularity is clearly on the ascendency at the moment.

#17 Comment By Roberto On October 1, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

You shall not question American Exceptionalism. You shall not say, write or even think anything that might suggest that the United States is a nation-state like every other nation-state with virtues and vices that differ only in degree, not kind, from those of other nation-states. You shall not say, write or even think anything that calls into question the United State’s special relationship with God.

#18 Comment By Guy On October 1, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

Thou shalt accept any inconvenience, indignity, or erosion of our constitutional rights if the claimed purpose is to “make us safer”.

#19 Comment By James Wilson On October 1, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

“Thou shalt respect the Office of the President.”


#20 Comment By RedRabbit On October 1, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

Small business is the key to the entire economy and the solution to every economic problem is more small businesses.

Here’s the flip-side to the College sentiment Altucher himself expresses. Every single person can, and should, start their own businesses, and no one shall ever question the idea that this is the sure-fire path to success.

#21 Comment By RedRabbit On October 1, 2011 @ 1:15 pm


#6 in Altuchers list is completely insane, and it is a perfect illustration of why I cannot take Libertarians on his variety seriously.

#22 Comment By Scott Lahti On October 1, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

[RD: please replace 4:37 version with tag-cleaned version below]

Thou shalt live so as to maximize one’s given creative talents in the direction not of their direct inner enjoyment for their own sake, but so as to maximize one’s immersion of them and of one’s self into the market, and unto any and every chance for fame and social connection they might afford.

A middle-aged man of my since-birth acquaintance, having in high school, already, made the warming acquaintance of the most distinguished of c. 1979 libertarian elders, and having thence in (two) college(s) thereafter studied under the country’s leading Austro-libertarian economists, chanced his arm upon graduation toward becoming a man of libertarian letters and broke into the back of the book of a curious bi-weekly with blue borders whose jet-setting editor presided over
editorial meetings to which he, as a new contributor an hour from Manhattan had gained proferred admission.

Such entree into the precincts of the good and the great, suitably leveraged upon entry by his “infectious” personality – i.e., a swollen self-regard that caught fire in new acquaintances until the inevitable, eminently justified, and universal 1929-style crashes – might well, had he but “applied” himself per the national libido before the bitch-goddess of Success, have opened unto him realms of gold that, yea, might have found the ghost of Keats concluding with a grumble that maybe Chapman’s Homer wasn’t so dreamy after all. Think of the poolside honeys at the Paleoboy Mansion, to be bedded and then wedded, seriatim, ninja-style, with Chairman Bill doing the reading(s) at your wedding(s), clipboard in hand and tilted NW-SE to the Gladwellian “tipping point” smack off his Firing Line chair and into the welcoming back, Kotter, of the Joh(an)n Sebastian Bach-man turning, [7]ing orchestra pit! Think of the late-night skinny dips – and the laddish merriment over the resulting “shrinkage” – with Bill and Rick and David and Ross and later, as the curious bi-weekly in question went from strength to strength, Jonah and Jay and K-Lo! Think of the transition to a sweet-ass op-ed gig at the NYT and to hard/switch-hitting color Commentary attended five nights weekly by Viewers Like You and, thanks to the subventions of, e.g., Seven Whole Grains on a Mission, Listeners Thus as well! Would anyone in his Right ‘merkun mind toss aside such unbidden bids to take his rightful succession in the hallowed halls of National Greatness Conservatism?

Instead, my friend took my, er, his counsel from the late and sainted Cajun chef Justin “How you all are?” Wilson, who, about to tuck into his latest gumbo, and tuck in his bib, at his show’s :27 mark, was known to cry in sampling, pre-prandial ecstasy, “Lock the doors – we not lettin’ the neighbors have any of this!”, and devoted himself thus to private arcadias of sorts better imagined than described, after the Ancient from Shaw’s Back to Methuselah: “Infant, one moment of the ecstasy of life as we live it would strike you dead.”

#23 Comment By Scott Lahti On October 1, 2011 @ 7:37 pm

“Thou shalt drinketh and eateth to excess, and swelleth thy buttocks to Brobingagian proportions.”

Though upon reflection in my bathroom mirror as of noon today that would seem to be the sole national commandment toward which my fidelity this last American half-century has been unstinting, I cannot but admire Mr. Pickwick above for the good kick – as Swift as the Dickens – of its charming formulation, and would be pleased to read more of his such Papers any time.

On the matter of the one-note writings of James Altucher, though, whose satiric commandments are our springboard here, I can say only that I lasted around five minutes, much after the late comic Mitch Hedberg’s notion of “pancaking”, by which, as with one’s initial burst of flapjackrabbit excitement before a stack thus at breakfast giving way like clockwork to one’s becoming after as many minutes bloody sick of them, already, in all their cloying, carbo-loaded disproportion. The over-egging of the pudding (more food metaphors to sustain Mr. Pickwick’s ridicule, already in progress) of Altucher’s autopilot iconoclasm simply replaces one set of stock forms of conformity with their opposite color-by-numbers, as many of his commenters noted. Harry Browne, to take just one pop example, did the think-and-live-freely-for-yourself bit to much more humble, better-modulated, open-ended and better-written effect almost forty years ago, in How I found Freedom in an Unfree World.

#24 Comment By Kirt Higdon On October 1, 2011 @ 9:14 pm

Thou shalt not speak ill of democracy or Abraham Lincoln.

#25 Comment By Stef On October 2, 2011 @ 9:19 am

Re: “Thou shalt go to college.” Like most commandments or edicts, there’s some practical truth behind it.

In 1971, the US Supreme Court ruled in the Griggs v. Duke Power Company case that companies could not use IQ tests, or pretty much any other psychometric tests, if it would result in a “disparate impact” on different racial groups.

At the same time, high schools became gutted of vocational training programs (because it’s so much cheaper to build another classroom for AP classes for the college-bound, rather than a welding shop.) Also, high school grading became easier, as all kinds of programs were developed to “keep students from dropping out.” Thus, the mere possession of a high school diploma did not guarantee a skill set.

So at this point, it’s cheap and easy for companies to require a college degree, even though it might not strictly be necessary for the work itself.

And then there’s the American middle-class delusion that if kids just go to college, they’ll earn $60K/year at the onset.

Couple that with educational debt, and the common human psychological tendency to throw good money after bad, and you have a perfect self-fulfilling prophecy of fail.

#26 Comment By CDV On October 2, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

Thou Shalt Understand Foreign Policy With The Mind Of A Belligerent Seventh Grade Boy. (Russians, Arabs, and Chinese are evil and we should hit ’em. Indians and Mexicans are takin’ our stuff and we should hit ’em. Israel is badass and cool cause it blows shit up. Europe’s gay.)

Thou Shalt Praise “Small Businesses” Without Ceasing. (Thou need not, however, do anything to support said businesses, in the political arena or in thy own life.)

Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods But The Founding Fathers. (They were the smartest smartest smartest bunch of people ever. They got everything right. Nothing they wrote–nothing whatsoever–was in any way defective. They were probably divinely inspired.)

Thou Shalt Shrilly Condemn Even The Faintest Hint Of Anti-Black Racism, But Tolerate Blatant Bigotry Against Other Groups. (If a man makes a veiled reference to “welfare queens” being “lazy”, that’s a monstrous use of racist dog whistles. If the same man openly attacks gays and Muslims and Mexicans by name, who cares? Go ahead and laugh along!)

Thou Shalt Refuse To Understand That Public Policy Has No Perfect Solutions. (Thou shalt insist, like a twit, on a welfare system that gives generous aid to ALL deserving poor and undeserved aid to NO ONE at all, and be outraged by any failures in either sphere.)

Thou Shalt Base Public Policy On Anecdotal Evidence Only. (Because laws should be based upon unsubstantiated rumors forwarded to you by your elderly aunt.)

Thou Shalt Believe With Stunning Literalness In “The Magic Of The Marketplace.” (Remember, a “market failure” is a contradiction in terms.)

Thou Shalt Not Read Books. But If Thou Must, Let Them Be Inspirational Stories About Tough-But-Fair CEOS.

#27 Comment By RedRabbit On October 2, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

“”””At the same time, high schools became gutted of vocational training programs (because it’s so much cheaper to build another classroom for AP classes for the college-bound, rather than a welding shop.) Also, high school grading became easier, as all kinds of programs were developed to “keep students from dropping out.” Thus, the mere possession of a high school diploma did not guarantee a skill set.

Well, the vocational training was indeed cut. But by the time we reached the 1980’s this probably had for more to do with automation, and later, outsourcing, than prioritizing any other programs at the expense of vocational training. More than likely, they just began to see the writing on the wall and saw no reason to train people in blue collar skills that would probably go overseas anyway.

#28 Comment By Peter H On October 2, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

Thou shalt go to Disneyworld.

#29 Comment By Rod Dreher On October 2, 2011 @ 8:44 pm

Lord have mercy, Peter H., you’re right. I am never, ever taking my children to that Inferno. Heretic that I am.

#30 Comment By Al-Dhariyat On October 3, 2011 @ 10:36 am

Thou shalt vote Republican or Democrat or else your vote is useless.

Republicans, thou shalt not speak of Reagan except in glowing, reverential, God-like ways.

#31 Comment By Peter H On October 4, 2011 @ 1:25 am

I explained to my children that it’s one of my life goals to stay out of Disneyworld.

#32 Comment By Peter H On October 9, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

Thou shalt spend a fortune on thy wedding.