The Devil is in the Details

The idiom “the devil is in the details” derives from the earlier phrase, “God is in the details,” expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly; i.e. details are important. This original idiom has been attributed to a number of different individuals, most notably to German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Roche (1886–1969) by The New York Times in Mies’ 1969 obituary.  However, it is generally accepted to not have originated with him. The expression also appears to have been a favorite of German art historian Aby Warburg (1866–1929), though Warburg’s biographer, E.M. Gombrich, is likewise uncertain if it originated with Warburg. An earlier form “Le bon Dieu est dans le détail” (the good God is in the details) is generally attributed to Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880).  Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations lists the saying’s author as anonymous.  Google’s n-gram function reveals that the phrase “the devil is in the details” does not appear in print before ca. 1975.

It’s very interesting that the corruption of the now-common saying should have appeared in the late Sixties (at the very earliest).  Rumors of the birth of the Anti-Christ had been rumbling since before 1962.  Old, bearded men walked around with sandwich board signs that said, “Repent!” and “The End is near!”  1962 was the year the Supreme Court outlawed prayers in school (it took a while for the states to challenge the ruling – and fail in their quest to keep God from being expelled.

In 1961, Christian theologian Gabriel Vahanian wrote a book, “The Death of God.”  In 1966, Time Magazine’s cover asked, “Is God Dead?”  The idea was first proposed by German philosopher Friedrich Nitzsche in 1882 in the magazine, The Gay Science.  Notably, Nitzsche was addicted to opium and suffered a mental breakdown.  His statement was not a rant against religion and God, however, but against materialism and Man’s self-centered quest for power.

“God is dead,” Nitzsche wrote.  “God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?  What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent?  Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us?  Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

The anti-materialism screed backfired with the turn of the 20th Century.  Beginning with The Friendship Society, which transmogrified into The Fabian Society, Man decided that he was materialistic but that there was still no God.  Since there was no God to feed the masses and house the homeless, Man would have to, collectively, become God, become his “brother’s keeper.”  Some people were naturally better than others, physically, intellectually, morally, and they would rule.  They would help the unfortunate and scourge the independent.  They would become the guardians of this Earth upon which they’d been placed and repair the damage done by industrialization and “greed.”

This plan failed.  The myopic Fabians could not see that they were not better than the next man and that they were flawed.  The freedom they rejected had been crafted out of a sense that Man, given the chance, would always turn tyrant to his brother, and become not his brother’s keeper but his brother’s master.

The older generation of the 1960s and the parental generation watched in horror as their children, particularly their older children, were lured by New Age religion, environmentalism, and drugs.  They watched as Progressives incrementally changed the textbooks.  The Catholic Church stripped saints, including Saint Nicholas, of their sainthoods in the Vatican II.  The Supreme Court decision against prayer in schools was the nadir event.  It was with these things in mind that popular radio broadcaster Paul Harvey broadcast, on April 3, 1965, his famous “If I Were the Devil” homily.


April 3, 1965

“If I were the devil … If I were the Prince of Darkness, I’d want to engulf the whole world in darkness. And I’d have a third of its real estate, and four-fifths of its population, but I wouldn’t be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — Thee.  So I’d set about however necessary to take over the United States. I’d subvert the churches first — I’d begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve:  ‘Do as you please.’

“To the young, I would whisper that ‘The Bible is a myth.’ I would convince them that Man created God instead of the other way around.  I would confide that what’s bad is good, and what’s good is ‘square.’ And the old, I would teach to pray, after me, ‘Our Father, which art in Washington…’

“And then I’d get organized.  I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting, so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting.  I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies and vice versa. I’d pedal narcotics to whom I could.  I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.

“If I were the devil, I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves, and nations at war with themselves; until each in its turn was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames. If I were the devil I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions — just let those run wild, until before you knew it, you’d have to have drug sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.

“Within a decade, I’d have prisons overflowing, I’d have judges promoting pornography — soon I could evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, and then from the houses of Congress. And in His own churches I would substitute psychology for religion, and deify science. I would lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls, and church money. If I were the devil I’d make the symbols of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle.

“If I were the Devil I’d take from those who have, and give to those wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. And what do you bet? I could get whole states to promote gambling as thee way to get rich? I would caution against extremes and hard work, in Patriotism, in moral conduct.  I would convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun, that what you see on the TV is the way to be.  And thus I could undress you in public, and I could lure you into bed with diseases for which there is no cure. In other words, if I were the Devil I’d just keep right on doing on what he’s doing. Paul Harvey, good day.”

Various modern media outlets have rebroadcast Harvey’s speech, marveling at his sagacity.  “Drug sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.”  Yes, apparently the denizens of 1965 realized that metal detectors could be used for something besides beach combing, looking for trinkets.

Sometime during the 1970s or 80s, discussing the Devil went out of vogue.  Mentioning his name was considered judgmental and that you should not use his name in vain.  “He Who Shall Not Be Named.”  J.K. Rowling, in her Harry Potter series, sure got that right.  Meanwhile his most faithful followers grew bolder, fostering ancient pagan practices, and even using his ancient sign in a modern form.  Followers of the followers, not wanting to be ostracized by their peers, acquiesced.  Political correctness was the seed of this misguided faith.  Earth Day was born on April 20, 1970.

On this day before The End of the World – followers claim it’s Saturday, but the official winter equinox begins at 11:11 a.m. GMT (Greenwich Mean Time); 6:11 a.m. in New York City – it is to Paul Harvey’s prophesy that we should pay the greatest heed, and it’s telling that WOR radio broadcast it this morning.  The 1962 Great Conjunction was not (as it turned out) to be about the end of the world in terms of tidal waves, asteroids, earthquakes or other cataclysms, but rather, a birth.  The smallest of items in tiny print hidden amidst all the news fit to print in the New York Times.

I had to look hard to find it.  Tomorrow’s cataclysm could very well be some physical catastrophic event.  A huge snowstorm has descended upon the Midwest.  Tomorrow morning’s weather forecast is for heavy rain, high winds, and possible thunderstorms around 6 a.m., making for a very wet commute and possibly re-flooding New York City’s commuter tunnels.  We could lose power (again – which is why I’m going to run out to the local Big Box and see if I can find one of those Olde Brooklyn lanterns.  I ordered one online from Betty’s Attic, but it never arrived).

Toutatis could split apart and strike the Moon, causing tidal flooding here on Earth.  The Sun could shoot out a massive solar flare, possibly burning up our atmosphere or wreaking havoc on our electronics and communications systems.  No one really knows for sure; scientists claim there’s nothing out there that they can see.  I’ve given you an idea of what could happen, in terms of physical calamities in previous columns.  Some financial stability could erupt in Europe or Asia, having an avalanche effect on world markets.  Investors are a superstitious lot.

But the real danger is moral.  The catastrophe may not manifest itself in some gigantic, fiery (or watery) cataclysm, but in a small act that will set evil in motion.  One thing is clear in tomorrow’s astrological chart:  many people will be deceived or terrified into surrendering their freedom for safety.  “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Since the event occurs at 6 in the morning in New York, other than an act of war or some physical cataclysm that will have worldwide repercussions (i.e., a volcanic eruption on the scale of the 1815 volcano in Java), a human form of the “calamity” will likely have its beginnings in Europe, where the day will be in full swing.

Last Friday’s massacre in a small town in Connecticut is an example.  Had it happened a week later, I would have said that’s the event.  Not to denigrate the agony of the loss, the massacre of 26 people (devastating as it was) is small in scale compared to the 16 million murdered by Stalin.  In fact, there’s a whole list of large-scale genocides out on the Internet.  Newtown was small in scale (comparatively speaking) but great in evil, given the ages of the victims.  This relatively small pebble could have great consequences, both for good and evil, for our self-defense, for the treatment of the mentally ill, for the protection of children, and for morality.

We can either turn the tide or be swept away by it, surrendering all our freedom for the mirage of total security.  Will we once again put on the armor of God?  Or will we (as is more likely) burden the innocence of childhood with body armor, bullet-proof vests and backpacks, and metal detectors?  Already, children for years now have not had the pleasure of feeling the breeze rush through their hair as they ride their bicycles.  Instead of learning to ride more safely, we simply slapped bicycle helmets on their heads and let them go on riding as they pleased.

We can armor-plate ourselves to the hilt, until we clank around like knights of olde and collapse from the weight or the heat.  These things do nothing to prevent evil from slithering its way into our hearts.  In fact, they keep good, not to mention common sense, from getting in.  In insurance terms, bicycle helmets cause what the industry calls “a moral hazard.”  Thinking they’re protected, children take greater risks when riding.  We fret about guns but the FBI reports that the most commonly used weapon of violence is the baseball bat.

Working as security guard in 1961, my father tried to show his superiors how removing a simple pin in a gate could allow criminals to penetrate a factory yard.  Unfortunately for him, the gate fell down and he was fired (we’d just moved into our new house – Mom was furious.  No good deed shall go unpunished.).  He also got into altercations with superiors about guards not establishing a pattern for criminals to follow (something he learned in the Army).  He was berated for that, as well.

The more layers of protection we add, the greater our peril.  In our desperation to prevent evil from happening, we close the door to safety.  The more we lend a sympathetic ear to cries for social justice and equality for all, the more unequal we are to the task of securing justice and preventing crime.

The greatest calamity that could happen tomorrow is that society will blindly embrace evil out of fear.





Published in: on December 20, 2012 at 9:49 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. it is a very nice educative article. keep it up for your hard work. lista de email lista de email lista de email lista de email lista de email


    The Devil is in the Details « Belle of Liberty’s Blog…

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