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Being Careful with Idols

February 22nd, 2009

I have several friends who like some public figures; namely, Ron Paul and Dave Ramsey.  Oftentimes my appreciation of these people seems to fall something short of my friends’ appreciation.

There is value in finding the best example you can and promoting that example.  Exceptional people should be commended and presented publically to combat pessimism and cynicism and to enlighten us as to how we can behave if we hold ourselves to a higher standard.

That opinion notwithstanding, I worry how far down the spectrum some people go towards cults of personality.  Don’t misconstrue my words to say that I think Ron Paul, Dave Ramsey or even, and this is an admission coming from me, President George Bush reached that plateau.  The requirements to cross that line are daunting; on the other hand support and acceptance of a leader fluctuate along a continuum and some followers dance close to the line sometimes.

Leaving out what I consider the easiest of targets in President Bush’s (and increasingly in President Obama’s) administration I’ll focus on Ron Paul as my example.  While evaluating Dr Paul’s comments on the stimulus bill that became the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for a friend’s website, I found that Dr Paul’s statements were insightful and demonstrated what I believe to be accurate depiction of the cause of the current credit crisis in America right now.

My concern about Dr Paul’s comments in this video center around what appears to be a rhetorical question that is prefaced at about 1:54 into the video and is asked at 2:08 into the video.  The preface is to say that House conservatives stood up to Democrats on the stimulus but then asks,

“Where were we in the past eight years when we could have done something?  And it’s the last eight years that has set this situation up.”

Dr Paul uses almost the first 2 minutes of this video to denounce the ARRA as a “spending bill” and “not a stimulus” and he refers to Democrats as “. . . the big spending Democrats . . . .”  Based on that introduction followed by the quote above it was my inference that he was saying that if we had more conservative representation in Congress (both House and Senate) our country would not be in the financial situation where it is now.

Shortly thereafter (at about 3:20), however, Dr Paul correctly places the largest burden of the blame at the feet of the Federal Reserve (although he leaves out the responsibility of the financial sector and borrowers who overextended themselves on exotic mortgages, HELOCs and credit accounts).  He also accurately notes the tunnel vision of our nation’s economic leaders and their dependence on Keynesian principles alone.  If it sounds like I agree with Dr Paul I do . . . in his second assessment; I don’t appreciate his rhetorical comment about fiscal conservatives in Congress and how things could have been different had Congress had more true budgetary conservatives.

The reality is that had the U.S. elected 435 Representatives and 100 Senators all of whom were committed, regardless of party or philosophy, to a balanced budget it would have made no difference.  Unless the Congress of the last eight years had repealed or amended Title 12, Chapter 3 of U.S. Code there is nothing they could have done to change what has led to our current credit crisis.

Perhaps I’m selling Dr Paul short as I understand there is much about the federal government that he would like to see changed and his comments on the Fed lead me to believe he wouldn’t mind seeing Title XII, 3 removed.  Then again it still seems like a non-sequiter to recognize the ultimate reason that led to our condition as being how the Fed exercised its power to affect inflation and interest rates over the last decade or more and yet still imply that it’s either Democrat’s spending or pantywaist Republicans who don’t “stand up” to Democrats.


In another YouTube video (embedded below), at about 1:30 into the video Dr Paul asserts from the floor of Congress that

” . . . if you look at the history you’ll find out that Hamas was really encouraged and started by Israel because they wanted Hamas to counteract Yasir Arafat . . . .”

I think I can infer a political expediency to which Dr Paul may have been referring in that of the two, Israel preferred Hamas as a political option in opposition to Fatah within the PLO.  His statement, however, is that Israel encouraged and started Hamas. 

The problem is that Hamas originated as an outreach from the Muslim Brotherhood to Palestine.  The Muslim Brotherhood is a fundamental Sunni sect believed to be centered in Qatar now and it has no ongoing interest in moderation as anything other than a deceptive ploy.  The fact that it started Hamas and tried to foster Hamas in Palestine as a subversive alternative to Arafat’s PLO only underscores the error of the statement.  Israel neither started nor wants Hamas any more than America does; dealing with Hamas or Fatah is a political necessity and not something that any peace-loving nation would want.
CAVEAT: I realize the majority of people represented by Hamas or Fatah are decent, family-loving people and it is not their fault that the best representation they get is from terrorists and fundamentalists who exploit their faith and values so I mean no disrespect to the people who’s best option is to move their families or accept any of these groups. 


In the end, my point is that while I like, respect and appreciate Dr Paul, Dave Ramsey or even President Bush, I think oftentimes we run the risk of cults of personality when any voice of dissent against these fine folks garners a sideways glance and a requirement that one defend one’s statement and even after a decent defense the supporters seem to tsk-tsk away the concept that their chosen leader might, on occasion, make a mistake and that pointing out when they do is “over the line.”  Sure, these folks are taking stands.  Sure, they are saying things that should be said and things I agree with about smaller government and free markets and less federal or state meddling in our lives.  Sure Dave Ramsey is saying get out of debt and don’t get back in; devote yourself to freeing your family from debt and be financially responsible.  My concern isn’t so much with the leaders; quite often its with what seems to pass for appreciation of the leaders.


  1. David
    February 23rd, 2009 at 14:27 | #1

    I think the key is here:

    “…I think oftentimes we run the risk of cults of personality when any voice of dissent against these fine folks garners a sideways glance…

    My concern isn’t so much with the leaders; quite often its with what seems to pass for appreciation of the leaders.”

    I have tremendous respect for Ron Paul, Dave Ramsey, Billy Graham and others. However, I know that these are fallible humans. The key thing I look for in individuals – that key to integrity – is if they practice what they preach. These gentlemen do. I could definitely point out things right now about each that I disagree with and disagree with strongly, much in the same way Obama disagreed with positions held by Rick Warren, but he also saw many positive aspects to his personality that we as a nation could benefit from.

    I think it’s good to glean information from people you respect, mull it over, discuss concepts with friends, etc. and see if it passes muster. I know on occasions I have done with with you (for instance on the gold standard) and have come to a new conclusion.

    There will always be sheep. That doesn’t mean that the person who is leading is at fault or wrong: it means that there will always be a certain percentage of the population that finds it easy for someone else to think for them. In the same way that people need to realize that the people they respect are fallible, we also need to realize that just because people may respect someone, that doesn’t make them sheep.

  2. David
    February 24th, 2009 at 12:27 | #2

    I have to come back to this and add some comments. This post has been stuck in my head since I read it originally and I can’t help but be concerned about the content.

    First of all, I think there is a difference between a cult of personality and idolatry and hero worship and what is cited here for concern. I won’t get into the differences here, but I will say I believe you are stating a concern for what I call dittoheads – people that blindly listen to people they admire without weighing the validity of a position.

    Everyone has people they admire. Typically these people are others they find that side with their beliefs more often then not; that’s why we admire them – They echo what we believe even if we don’t have the words to say it. Wise people are always trying to gain knowledge and insight. To not listen to those that have proven themselves, would be foolhardy. I think here as elsewhere you too easily take a person’s position, try to match it to a position from a public figure and use this to discount the position. I can name a couple times I have experienced this. For instance one time in particular I recall being denounced for being in lockstep with Jon Stewart, unaware of why as I did not bring up Jon Stewart, only to find out later as I watched a Tivo’ed episode of the Daily Show that my position happened to match his. When people resonate with people, that doesn’t invalidate the position of the person simply because it is in agreement. I think to some degree your position seems to present that.

    Ron Paul and Dave Ramsey are easy to define: less government on one side and don’t use debt on the other. In fact, there is little to the Ramsey position except for this. Oddly, at this moment in time, some parts of his platform would be enviable to those who normally would eschew his advice: i.e. paying off a house before investing past 15% of income. There are several who were highly leveraged against their house for the low interest loan so they could put their money into the market only to have the market (temporarily) go sour. Now they are stuck where they live, hopefully with a job in the area, until things pick up. Dave’s lower risk approach may not produce the absolute theoretical maximum that I can achieve, but it will let me weather economic storms while still amply providing for me and my family. This resonates with me not because Dave said it, but because it makes sense to me; I have to say, I’m glad it did or I could be in a much worse state in this economic climate (for the record, not on the investing part, but on an emergency fund and strict adherence to a budget).

    Now, because this concept resonates with me and makes sense to me, does that make me a dittohead or follower or sheep? From your position here and in person, I believe to some degree it does. I also think that position sometimes comes from a somewhat uninformed position about the person – such as that Dave highly touts real estate, a position I have heard you state before and one which he does rarely at best. In fact at times it seems you are ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater and look to see what these more public figures have wrong than what they might bring to the table.

    The fact is, when someone presents an idea from someone with whom they resonate, it’s going to be a positive concept. The person hearing this idea from that person relaying this is only going to get what information about which the person agrees. Most likely, many will have several disagreements with these people also. I know a few people that highly respect Ron Paul. I am one of them. I believe he practices what he preaches and those with whom I talk about him concur. Yet I also know they disagree with him. In fact, he wants to dismantle most of the government. How in the world would we do that? He wants a gold standard? I see the reasoning, but it isn’t feasible; why can’t we come up with a different concept to stave off inflation without attaching ourselves to a limited resource?

    In short, I think every position should get weighed on it’s merits, not on whom it’s attached. I really don’t hear the crazy stuff coming from any of these people being touted much: most of it is the common sense.

    On a lighter note, I have to say the post seems somewhat ironic. It almost seems as though you put people who respect the opinion of certain people in the sheep bucket, although you feel you don’t, and yet at the same time blog about it, expecting others to weigh your opinions to see if your thoughts resonate with theirs. I would expect you would also hope those same people would find reason to return to your blog for further insight and possible discourse from a similar position. At this point should we expect a post cautioning people not to make you an idol? 😉

  3. Kevin
    February 26th, 2009 at 00:20 | #3

    I’ve spent more time on this reply than I spent on the original post so I’m going to give it a shot regardless of my misgivings about how complete I feel this may or may not be.

    I disagree with your assertion that typical reason we admire others is because we hold beliefs in common.
    “Typically these people are others they find that side with their beliefs more often then not; that’s why we admire them – They echo what we believe even if we don’t have the words to say it.”

    That statement doesn’t ring true to my experience. In an effort for brevity (I promise this response is severaly truncated from my first four attempts), I submit that Supreme Court Associate Justices Stephen Breyer and Antonin Scalia have a mutual respect and admiration for one another and those are two people whom I would be amazed if they could find the common side of a mobius strip. Admiration, appreciation or respect, however you designate it, can validly flow from an evaluation of how one handles oneself far beyond the conclusion at which one arrives. There are people with whom I disagree on any number of issues but I can have healthy and valuable dialogue with them because we respect one another’s commitment, diligence, seasoned and sincere approach to the topics at hand. Conversely there are people with whom I agree on the most fundamental issues of my belief system but for whom I have little respect because they’ve never delved into the basis of the why and how of their beliefs.

    Given this explanation I expect it seems prejudicial; a common friend heard me espouse my value system along these lines earlier today and surmised that I must not value his opinion on much since he never dug into the merits underlying his views on much of anything (according to him). My response to that is a resounding NO. I extend my appreciation for friends who wish to explain how they feel about issues regardless of how deeply they dig into an issue. The fulcrum of my valuation is easy to miss. A friend who has no desire to dive deep into a subject such that he/she can explain the whys of their position doesn’t bother me. The tipping point is when someone wants to stand upon his or her position as authoritative or prescriptive AND THEN THAT PERSON DOESN’T DIG DEEPER.

    To put a finer point on it, I don’t care if people want to share their feelings on their faith, the government, economics, politics, business or any other topic. As long as a person chooses to express himself or herself on the basis of personal feelings then we can agree that I have no position from which to disagree with them; who am I to evaluate the validity of their feelings or personal experience? It’s when a person holds forth from a position that either they present as authoritative or where others place a mantle of authority upon them AND THEN that person doesn’t perform his or her due diligence to engage the fundamental content of that topic when I begin to push back against that person.

    I’ve not said I agree or disagree with either Dave Ramsey or Ron Paul. It seems enough for almost 100% of people that when you probe them or test them for substantive knowledge of the content they assume you disagree. It’s six-to-five and pick ’em whether I agree or disagree with the person or position I push against. You noted that often it seems that I push hardest against those who give the most and I think that’s accurate. I don’t have to attack certain radio personalities who self-aggrandize by mocking valid political and social points-of-view. I wouldn’t waste any more of my time probing the why’s of their position than I would seek to dig into why the grand dragon expresses his positions with vitriol (or whatever designation the KKK confers on someone at their “top”). I needn’t vet the idiots who overstay their time on the center stage with the microphone when they are the best advertisement for why to NOT agree with them. It’s the subtle groupie mentality that’s one “shushed” question away from making a Ron Paul into a George Bush. Just because Dr Paul’s ideas on the Fed and the potential for Treasury Bonds as the next economic bubble we should watch are pretty close to my own does NOT allow me to stop poking his stand. Someone needs to point to his desire to remove significant portions of the federal government or to move us onto a gold standard. Similarly, while I agree with about 95% of Dave Ramsey’s content the fact that I push against comments he’s made in books or his training material doesn’t mean I’m misinformed or that I want to throw out the good with the bad. I think we should respectfully examine the merits just as you said. My issue is that in some circles, particularly Christian circles, few enough sources that are mutually acceptable public figures. Ramsey crosses denominations but ask a Christian who’s trying to be responsible for his or her financial situation who John Bogle is and more often than not I have heard comments like you made about how you doubted you’d ever exhaust the financial principles Ramsey’s material presented. I think if we weren’t talking about either of these two particular figures and I gave you a hypothetical in which I suggested that a man based his understanding of his financial options on a single source while disregarding other equally respected (or perhaps even more respected sources) you might also point out the inherent risks of accepting a single source of authority. If that source gave information that, regardless of the sincerity and desire to help, was off in its assumptions about the financial environment wouldn’t the recipient of that advice be disadvantaged by the fact that he only depended on that single source?

    I realize that there is no useful response to someone expressing how they feel; thus, if someone says something to the effect of “I was at a bad place financially when I found the principles as Ramsey espoused them and I’ll forever be predisposed to like what he says” then someone in my position should accept this as a personal statement not intended to be prescriptive for others. However, when I perceive so many people to remark on the usefulness of Ramsey’s principles which aren’t his alone but are held by others and even expanded on by other financial authorities and yet those same “lay” people discount other authoritative sources because they’re not Dave Ramsey then I think it’s a valid point to say that it’s a weak position at best to not at least look at other sources and evaluate the principles they espouse in light of Dave’s teachings and vice-versa.

    This has already run longer than I cared to but there is another issue with which I fundamentally disagree. Your assertion
    ” . . . when someone presents an idea from someone with whom they resonate, it’s going to be a positive concept. The person hearing this idea from that person relaying this is only going to get what information about which the person agrees.”

    This is a logic issue. I don’t disagree that the majority of people tend to run to this side of the continuum. I disagree that we should accept it or be satisfied with it. Considering anytime you’ve presented an concept from a public figure to someone (a parent, spouse or friend), do you think you do justice to the concept you present or to the person who hears your recounting if you put forth only the likeable qualities of the idea? I get that people are excited and happy and I’m not intending to bleed that joy or a joyous presentation out of relationships but surely not everytime you’ve presented a concept from some public figure have you been overcome with joy. Surely there exists a continuum upon which our exuberence moves when we think of concepts that we’ve first encountered (or re-encountered) and my belief is that sometimes we should be able to present concepts to our friends and loved ones with a more balanced view of the concept. Surely we can acknowledge the burdens inherent in following some of the harder teachings and instructions of our paragons of wisdom. I question strongly what I take to be your position that we candy-coat or even forget 100% of the time the less likeable portions of someone else’s ideas when we recount those ideas. I’ll stipulate that sometimes we are so excited that we forget the harder portions of a concept when we share it with friends. Similarly I can see times when we have encountered a new concept or learned to think of something in a new way and we may wish to lay aside the harder portions for a period of time but I don’t think all situations wherein we share an idea that resonates with us allows for us to only share it positively. Surely you’ve found yourself in a financial situation that was onerous and had occasion to find a way out of the circumstances but it would require something of you. When you shared the option with your spouse did you only discuss the positives or did you also admit to the negative portions of the solution as well?

    I’ve run long and I’m positive I’ve not been as incisive as I intended but I hope the areas in which we disagree and my motivation in poking people who have good ideas is understandable. I’m sure I’ve never said people shouldn’t follow Ramsey or Ron Paul; I’ve only intended to push for a higher standard. Why would I hold a Ron Paul to the same standard as Rush when he so obviously is a much more serious political person. He’s “in the game” instead of being a joker on the sideline. Please don’t ask me to lower my expectations of him. He deserves my stongest effort to vet what he says BECAUSE he’s actually trying. It’s the reason I never used to print transcripts of President Bush’s speeches but I print President Obama’s. If these folks want to be taken seriously and they want to be accepted as the sources they seem to want to be then they should stand up to the best scrutiny I can aim at them.

    I’m sorry for the fact that I have on a few occasions equated my friends’ positions with more public figures who espouse those ideas. Realistically I should have confined my challenges to the public figures and I should have listen more deeply to my friends to find out how they felt about the concept. I should have reserved being an ass for those who don’t mind that their comments are taken prescriptively.

    To your last point, I do work with some diligence to vet what I say against publically available content and I try to be consistent to provide readers with links to that material. I do want a readership who not only feels like my views resonate with them but, more importantly, I would like to build a group of people who, whether they agree with my conclusions, value the application of thought and logic and the manner in which I explain my view. I welcome a literate group of blog readers who disagree with me and who challenge me. As with our difference I think there are fundamental differences in our viewpoints that render neither inherently less valuable but we must be able to acknowledge those differences so we can understand why we differ.

    I want to reiterate that I value your view and your willingness to engage this. I don’t believe my post will be dispositive for this thread. I’m sure you may have other valid points to further clarify your or my positions and I look forward to that. We needn’t agree in our conclusions nor value things in the same manner. I totally understand that my approach is not everyone’s and I seek only to express my process; not argue that you or anyone else need adopt my values. I do not value my friends because they agree with me or acquiesce to the volume of commentary I bring. I wish we had more discourse but not everyone wants to dig in like this so I’m appreciative when someone does.

  4. David
    February 26th, 2009 at 15:49 | #4


    For the sake of not making those following this not want to gouge their eyes out as we both seem to be in a “who can make the longest post” fight, I will make this short and sweet.

    At first you denounce my position that people tend to admire those who have beliefs in common then you go on to say “There are people with whom I disagree on any number of issues but I can have healthy and valuable dialogue with them because we respect one another’s commitment, diligence, seasoned and sincere approach to the topics at hand.” Perhaps I did not state my position clearly or you took a more narrow approach to my words, but aren’t being committed, diligent, and well-read in this instance common beliefs? For instance, I believe both Newt Gingrich and I share common beliefs of fairness, accurately weighing a position despite party affiliation, and more, yet as far as political beliefs ofttimes (but not always) we are opposed, and still I listen to and respect his opinion.

    As to only presenting positive comments from those we admire, I think again, either I was not clear or you misunderstood, or perhaps I am wrong altogether, but let me give an example: if we are talking about finances and how to fix inflation, I am not going to say “You know what we shouldn’t do – a gold standard. That’s what Ron Paul believes.” Typically I am going to espouse ideas that I have gleaned that I agree with, so when you hear me (or others) espouse an opinion, it will be one of agreement with the people they admire if it is in fact presented as a concept from someone else.

    On most everything else we agree or almost agree, and on the rest we can agree to disagree. 🙂

  5. Kevin
    February 27th, 2009 at 12:12 | #5

    I think you miss the first point but make the other although I don’t see the useful application herein.

    On the first point where we disagree you ask “… aren’t being committed, diligent, and well-read in this instance common beliefs?” The answer is that it doesn’t matter if we agree on those common beliefs, it matters that we, or you and Newt or Scalia and Breyer disagree on the issue at hand. If the topic is abortion do you think the Justices Scalia and Breyer agree on the fundamental nature of that topic? If the topic is you and me do you think we agree on the death penalty (as an example)? The point of my saying that you can disagree is that you can disagree with someone in a major area such as Ron Paul’s desire to remove a lot of legislation or his belief that we need a gold standard and yet still respect him and agree with him on other points. Similarly, I think it’s logically and morally acceptable for a society to kill people outside of times of warfare by imposing a death penalty. I don’t think you agree but we can choose to have civil and valuable discourse whereby both our opinions are heard and both of us come away with a theory that has undergone scrutiny and been tested by someone who sincerely believes differently. No one needs agree with someone else in their beliefs to appreciate the other person. My assertion has been that I shouldn’t have to preface my disagreement with someone like Dave Ramsey or Ron Paul with the magical sentence (or any equivilent) such as “I agree with 95% of what Dave Ramsey says but ….” It should be enough that our opinions coincide and that things he’s affirmed in his book, I and others have also stated. I don’t understand why people who tend to like public figures like Ramsey or Dr Paul seem to think that any negative response to a position of these types of folks is pretty close to an attack against the person or their overall body of work. I’ve said I like both these figures and their stances but that my problem is that it seems unallowable for me to even state in a blog or in a group or sometimes in one-on-one conversation that truth and knowledge in their respective fields begins and ends with neither of them. When I post about this it invites comments because they are public figures. I’ve already allocuted as to how I have in the past shortchanged some of my friends but I don’t think that has been very often and I think you know that if I’m going to hold forth on an opinion it will only be after I’ve gotten material about that. Before I made comments about Ramsey I went and purchased his book and we read it in our home. I print authoritative material from government sites, I purchase books and I try to give these figures an opportunity. When I commented on Ron Paul on your blog it was only after listening to not only the video about which you blogged but after looking up several other blogs and articles wherein he was quoted. I’m surprised that you seem to think that because I may at some point have done something I must now be at the worst point in listening to comments or checking facts. My assertion is that I can like people but disagree with someone based on the merits of their arguments and, conversely, I believe I can disagree with the merits or the implications of someone’s position but still respect or appreciate them.

    Your second point rings true to me and I see value in it. I agree that no one starts from the position of mentioning what they don’t like about someone with whom they hold an opinion. I don’t think that applies here because we didn’t start at the point of the first time you or others brought up Dave Ramsey or Ron Paul. By the time I posted about idolizing some public figures I believe we as well as myself and others have had numerous points at which we discussed merits of both economic, political and personal financial principles that either of my examples put forth. As I mentioned before, it’s not like someone mentioned either of these figures and without doing any background work I lambasted them. I commented on how some public figures are held up with no regard for the times they get a little flaky or the way in which they can be surrounded by people who almost seek to protect them as though the leaders’ ideas can’t be tested without labeling these who question them negative naysayers or people looking for bad things. An extension of my position is that it seems like with certain (especially conservative) figures like Dave Ramsey and Ron Paul, names to which I apparently need to add the honorific “May No One Ever Question Them”), the people who follow them seem insular and xenophobic and if you question the teachings of these figures it’s like you become labeled an “outside” and not a “true believer” or something. You have a point that people don’t start with “here’s what’s wrong with this person” but are you so intractable that you don’t believe that once you and I or any other people have established that we see the value in the first 95% of what someone says we can’t start a conversation with “Dave’s concept that all credit is fundamentally bad doesn’t seem well-rounded or in the best interests of everyone because that seems prejudicial against those who come to the point of wanting to be financially responsible late in life and who have obligations like parental health care or children going to college wherein credit may be theirs or family members’ only viable option for a period of time.” If we are to critique or comment on Ron Paul’s vision for the removal of the majority of the federal government and reliance on a commodity standard like gold, must we begin the session by reciting all the ways in which we agree and appreciate Dr Paul’s positions? If so, when is it enough? If I get on a roll and say more negative things about his ideas can I amend my initial statements in which I vow undying appreciation for the fact that he’s in better contact with non-governmental conservatives’ views of government and taxation?

    Your first point seems completely invalid to me regardless of the medium in which it’s employed. Your second point, while valid, seems poorly applied to someone critiquing people who are holding themselves forth as public figures. It seems like Dr Paul ran for Congress and Dave Ramsey had to work hard to become syndicated. In both instances I expect they understood that they would be under a good deal of valid scrutiny of their viewpoints and their assertions as well as much that is politically or socially motivated. I don’t dislike either person but I have what I think are valid critiques about positions that they both present. If you don’t like they way in which I have pointed out that people who tend to support them also tend to react when someone critiques them how would you suggest I frame my comments about the portions of either’s platform so as to not be inflammatory? That’s not intended as a rhetorical question. I haven’t yet even taken a stance against a position of either of these men and yet we’ve had more dialogue than most blog posts. Given that my original post was about how their supports come close to idolizing them I am interested to hear if there is a format in which I can respectfully provide commentary about them that isn’t blind praise and isn’t politically motivated attack. If I have a merit-based critique is there any valid way in which to deliver that opinion without stirring up a supporter of either?


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