God Lives in the Details — and Out of Them


The familiar proverb "God lives in the details" has a ring of sophistication about it, probably because it’s hard to know exactly what it means. This makes it an excellent bon mot to toss into the conversation when you wish to appear wise and sophisticated. Should any of your listeners be so foolish as to ask, "What does that mean?" you have but to smile knowingly and shake your head. Poor ignoramus! Do I have to explain it to him?

Of course, should ALL of your listeners demand an explanation, you can give the usual one: that the truth is revealed in the details, the minutiae. That sounds true, and may very well be so, but it should end the discussion, in any event.

I think there is a similar aphorism that could be cited about the news: "the significant news is to be found on page twelve." Like the one about God and the details, the meaning of this one doesn’t exactly jump out at you, but, similarly, refers to the fact that the significant truths about our society are more likely to be found in the little, "insignificant" news items than in headlines on page one.

Let’s get down to specifics: droopy trousers. The local newspaper hasn’t even mentioned them (at least I haven’t seen them) and I only found out on the Internet: the city of Atlanta is considering a law that would ban them. The law — actually an amendment to the indecency laws — is proposed by councilman C.T. Martin, who is worried that saggy pants are an "epidemic," and a "major concern." I admit that, personally, baggy pants are not a major concern for me, although I’ve noticed some kids wearing them, and marvel at their ugliness. But so what? I realized long ago that a key element of faddish fashion is ugliness, or, at least, absurdity. But it turns out that the baggy drawers are not, in themselves, the problem. No, the real horror is that the baggy pants are worn so low that you can see — please excuse this graphic language, dear reader — the wearer’s UNDERWEAR!!! Sit down quick, before you faint.

The law would make unlawful "the indecent exposure of his or her undergarments" in a public place. It would also ban the wearing of a jogging bra in public, or the showing of a bra strap. Right away you can see that there are going to be problems, if this proposal becomes law. Obviously, a lot will hinge on the meaning of "indecent." When is displaying your underwear indecent, and when is it decent, if ever? When I buy underwear, I notice that the packages feature pictures of the underwear being modeled by absurdly muscular young men, who aren’t even wearing droopy pants! Is such a display decent, or not? And there are additional problems with enforcement. Will there be sufficient police to keep an eye out for an errant bra strap, or jogging bra? For that matter, does the average cop know what a jogging bra is? Maybe the police academy will have to add a course on underwear recognition.

I’m not thrilled by the sight of some slob’s underwear showing above his saggy pants, although I’m not losing any sleep over it. The significance of this whole silly business isn’t that kids think it’s somehow appropriate for them to flaunt their skivvies, but rather, that it’s a problem for the government of Atlanta. (Haven’t they anything better to do?) In my youth — admittedly in the dark ages — we wore suits and ties to go to the movies, or even a baseball game. Men wore hats, women wore them too, and gloves. I had a pair of jeans, but wore them only to wash the car, or hose down the screens prior to installing them each spring. If I had attempted to leave the house wearing pants so low that my underwear showed, I wouldn’t have gotten near the door. Mom, or Dad, or both, would have asked me if I was out of my mind. And, in fact, the idea of venturing out into public in such dishabille would not have occurred to me. In any event, the city of St. Louis wasn’t in any way involved with my underwear.

Yes, things are different today: electricity, running water, and all that. But children still have parents — or at least one. Are they helpless when it comes to the training and disciplining of their children? Evidently so: a mother of a 14-year-old girl is quoted as favoring the bill because teens are sending a message with "jailhouse behavior." Well, young mother, why don’t YOU send a message? If you cannot control your own 14-year-old, do you think the city of Atlanta can? Why would you entrust to a stranger the disciplining of your child?

God may well indeed live in the details. But the detail of boxers vs. briefs is one I’d as soon not encounter among the denizens of the mall. The idea that parents expect local government to monitor their children’s clothing is a detail I cannot accept. And the fact that government is eager to accept that responsibility is a sad commentary on the sorry state of government today: malicious at worst, trivial at best.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is author of All Work & No Pay, which is out of print, but may occasionally be obtained on eBay.