Are our brains just built differently?

in godIt was like a kick in the groin, when after the euphoric “third item of old business” in Tuesday’s Costa Mesa City Council meeting – with all members of the council, Republican and Democrat, and evidently every member of the sizable enthusiastic audience UNIFIED in determination to protect the OC Fair from theft and rape by shady forces – when after THAT, we had to grit our teeth and split again into fiercely opposing camps for the dependably DIVISIVE wedge issue – sticking the motto “In God We Trust” up on Council walls.  As proposed this time by Fundamentalist Christianist Councilwoman Wendy Leece, Costa Mesa is actually going to display the motto up on the wall behind the council dais, so you can look at it the whole time you’re speaking to them.  (My Christian Sale-Derailing ally Greg Ridge, while supporting the measure, suggested that the motto instead be facing the council, so that instead of giving the public the sense that “God backs everything we the council do,” the council can instead be reminded to behave in a Godly way.  I countered that even that is unfair to present or future councilmembers who may not be “believers.”)

One new particularly offensive twist the Trusters are using is to trot out four aged military veterans in support of the measure – one from each branch of the Armed Forces, in their bright shiny uniforms, who unmistakeably speak and act as though their service to the country somehow makes them more qualified than the rest of us to say what is patriotic and American.  As you may imagine, we were treated to (among a dozen other hoary and irrelevant cliches) “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  Sir, thank you for your service, but council chambers is NOT A FOXHOLE.  The first distinguished old coot arrogantly huffed  that none of the opponents of the measure had probably ever served in the military.  WRONG, pal.  As it turned out, we had a Vietnam-era Marine and a Korean War vet on our side, as well as the proud son of a WWII fighter pilot, none of whom probably would have mentioned their service if it weren’t for this ancient prick’s provocation.  And OUR vets emphasized that the oath they had taken was to protect the CONSTITUTION, not religion.

Okay, wait, I’m still getting to my main point, as suggested in my title.  I don’t want to re-argue the pros and cons of putting up religious slogans in council chambers, an issue I railed against at length and in detail last year when this rough beast slouched through Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley.

The disturbing point I’m making, or the question I have, occurred to me and Rich Gillock (the Vietnam-vet Marine) as we left the meeting, shaken and sad:  We were both marvelling how, even though the issue invariably divides people into two very adamant sides, those who oppose the issue lament its divisiveness, while those who support it always insist that it’s “unifying,” and that people who don’t like the display just don’t have to look at it.  They seem serious:  they really don’t see divisiveness while they pursue divisiveness doggedly.  Are their brains just built differently from ours?  Why do WE think of and empathize with all the citizens who are left out and alienated by public displays of monotheistic religion, while THEY just assume that all Americans either think and feel like they do, or should and could.  Are Trusters simply born without empathy?

And it’s usually a pretty even division pro and con with this thing.  I know, I know, if you survey the public, the vast majority will say they’ve got no problem with displaying “In God We Trust” wherever, they think , sure, it sounds nice;  but the fact is they don’t care much and they’ve been fine for decades WITHOUT a religious slogan displayed in their temples of democracy.  The folks who feel strongly enough to speak out about it one way or the other are always evenly divided.  (Sigh … divided.)

Of course, sadly, it’s always a losing issue for an Orange County politician in this churchy age to vote against the Trusters:  It cost Gus Ayer re-election last year to the Fountain Valley City Council, and probably hurt Debbie Cook in her congressional run (although truly Christian anti-Truster Jill Hardy windsurfed to re-election.)  The one Democrat in Costa Mesa had been counselled by friends to just smile and go along last night rather than commit political suicide, so the vote was unanimously in favor.  (For the record I have no idea if Katrina Foley’s vote was reluctant or not;  she made no comment.)

And that’s what this really is at root, even if some sincere and simple people are involved:  an electoral strategy to mobilize religious congregations for or against political candidates. And this is what distressed HB Councilwoman Jill Hardy so badly last year – seeing her beloved God “dragged through the mud” – (her words to me) –  for political purposes. What a depressing coda to an otherwise wonderful city council meeting.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.