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May 21, 2007

Jerry Falwell: When Bad Men Pass On


When a man who did very little good and a whole lot of bad for America dies, how should one react? That's the question I've been pondering since learning earlier this week of the death of political activist and evangelist (in that order) Jerry Falwell.


Falwell died Tuesday at the age of 73. He was found in an office at the school he founded in Virginia, Liberty University, an institution known for occasionally sending teams to the NCAA tournament, and also sending woefully under-qualified individuals to the Bush administration to have roles in the U.S. attorney firing scandal.


As with any largely divisive figure, Falwell's passing has led to a debate about exactly how honest one may be in judging the accomplishments of the recently deceased. To a man, the Republican presidential candidates (even one-time Falwell enemy John McCain) decided to take the "praise him to the skies" approach, whereas Christopher Hitchens called the recently deceased "a conscious charlatan and bully and fraud."


My position on Falwell's passing is that disrespecting the dead would be wrong. Pretending that Falwell was anything other than the worst of what American politics has to offer would be even more wrong.


As founder of the Moral Majority in the Reagan era, Falwell took the Republican Party in the direction of believing that religious division, marginalizing of everyone but far-right Christian conservatives, and a complete obliteration of the separation of church and state, were both the right thing to do and the path to electoral victory.


This is not to say that evangelicals and other religious conservatives do not have the right to participate in politics, or that they're not ever right about anything. But what Falwell ushered in was the idea that all of America, this most religiously pluralistic of nations, must live under one worldview - a minority, extremist one, at that.


Even though Falwell, by the new millennium, was succeeded by James Dobson, another religious leader-turned-political hack, the presidency of George W. Bush finally brought Falwell's worldview as close to real-world fruition as is humanly possible. Its catastrophic failure will hopefully go as far towards discrediting it as Falwell himself did in the final years of his career.


Falwell's list of hateful and/or bigoted statements is long, and it is legion. He said the anti-Christ was a Jewish male currently living on Earth. He pushed a video that implied Bill Clinton had murdered several associates. He supported segregation in the 1960s, and apartheid in the 1980s, waiting until much longer than he should have to renounce both positions. And his hatred of homosexuals was a constant throughout, long before he became an international laughingstock by arguing in all seriousness that one of the Teletubbies was gay.


His D'Souza-like post-9/11 rantings, when he and Pat Robertson blamed the attacks on "the pagans, the abortionists, and the feminists and the gays and lesbians," were a more hateful statement than anything any major leftist has ever said about that day. If there's any justice, that will be Falwell's lasting legacy to the world.


Despite all this, Falwell was for some reason frequently brought onto TV talk shows until virtually the end of his life. This happened most egregiously during the Clinton/Lewinsky period, when Falwell and old rival Larry Flynt were frequently brought onto cable shows to comment on the action, the way ESPN might invite Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to discuss the current NBA Finals.


And now, on those same talk shows, we'll get to hear all about how "the left" has "disrespected" Falwell in his death, as though the deceased hadn't been a vile, hateful bigot for his entire life.


I am not going to say that I am glad Jerry Falwell is dead. What I am going to say is, Falwell spent his entire professional life seeking to create an America in which Christianity was the law, sex, free expression, and religious pluralism were curtailed and gays were entirely marginalized. If such an America ever emerges, I will be glad very, very glad that Jerry Falwell never lived to see it.


2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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