I have a fairly simple rule: Not to write about anything I know
nothing about. This sounds easier than it is. “Sex and the City,” a
great HBO hit, you would think had a fairly well delineated subject. But
it is actually about girls and sex, as well as the city. Men come into
the story line, too, if only as aliens. And group conversations are
entirely girl-girl. A recent girly conversation, for example, was about
vibrators, female sex toys.
With the reader’s permission I am going to stay the hell out of this
debate. First, because I’m not qualified to have an informed opinion.
And, second, because, even if I had an informed opinion (and how could
I?) I’d be a fool to write it down here. Vibrators are shown in “Sex and
the City” in all their shiny glory, and their benefits are discussed
amply if discreetly. But that’s all you’re going to get from me.
I hope I won’t be excommunicated for referring to God and vibrators
in the same column, but both figure in the same episode of “Sex and the
City,” and perhaps are connected. A minute or so of screen time and a
very nice Ukrainian cleaning woman has accidentally come across one of
our young ladies’ vibrators, for which she earns herself a severe
But the reprimand is far more severe when the cleaning woman, in
perfectly good humor, says “God Bless!” on parting from her employer,
Miranda. But Miranda (the vibrator lady) flies into an absolute rage at
this invocation of the divine. She becomes truly menacing when, her rage
apparently not being enough, she swears she will dismiss her poor
servant if the woman ever blesses her again in the name of God. The
woman is quite startled (as indeed was I).
But speaking of God brings me to the recent U.S. Supreme Court
decision regarding football games in Texas. Last March, 94 percent of
the people of Texas voted in favor of a nonbinding resolution in support
of student-led prayer. But in a 6-3 decision Monday the high court held
that a Texas public school district that allowed students to lead a
prayer before football games was guilty of an unconstitutional violation
of the First Amendment. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, dissenting,
said the tone of the majority opinion is even more disturbing than the
decision. “It bristles with hostility to all things religious in public
Curiously, my fashionable lady from New York’s East Side, in conflict
with her cleaning women, bristles with the same belligerent hostility to
religion even in dealing with her servants. I have encountered this
attitude frequently among America’s educated, affluent classes, but
never in the military, certainly not in my time.
I am a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where every morning began
with an invocation. This was true when a military encounter was in the
offing, but also before the holy Army-Navy game. Sunday chapel at the
Academy was compulsory, and we all marched in in military formation.
That is, the Protestants marched in, while the minority of Roman
Catholics marched to a Catholic church in Annapolis, and the tiny
handful of Jews marched to a synagogue somewhere.
I once saw exposed in a Fifth Avenue gallery a large Civil War
photograph of a Union Infantry regiment caught during a brief rest
period on its way down one of the same East Side avenues where I was
standing. The Union regiment was on its way to the bloody North-South
front, then at the Potomac. It is a brilliant, detailed photograph, of
interest not only to New Yorkers and historians of the Civil War, but
also of the famous Civil War riots, fought exactly where I stood,
perhaps by some of the same men in the photograph.
But present-day New Yorkers of the year 2000 glanced at the picture
casually as if the troops shown were Bosnians with whom they had no
cultural connection whatever. Yet if the regimental commander of these
Civil War troops had ordered them to pray for God’s protection before
going into battle they would certainly have done so. And in World War II
troops about to invade under fire did so quite spontaneously.
In a later war, I have seen this myself, men kneeling in prayer and
crossing themselves all over the deck of U.S. warships before a landing
facing enemy fire. They were praying to a God who within a few years
would apparently go quite out of fashion on Manhattan’s East side, not
to mention with six members of the U.S. Supreme Court. The holy
watchword for these people is the principle of separation of church and
state, and the sincerity of their devotion to this principle is beyond
question. But would they die for it?
As it happens, I have worn the handcuffs of both the Soviet Union (on
its way into Prague) and Fidel Castro’s Cuba (following an incident at
Havana’s Mercado Centrale). And I can’t imagine either party being the
least bit interested in whether I was there in service to my church or
to my state. If the order had come, in fact, there is no doubt in my
mind that both sides would have left me equally dead.