Thursday, May 17, 2007


It's impolite to speak ill of the dead, but there's no other way to reflect on the Rev. Jerry Falwell. I'm not a big believer in good vs. evil, but if there is such a thing as evil, Falwell's actions over the course of his career were just that. I don't know anything about the man himself; he may have been kind and loving. But the effect he had on American politics, religion, and the civil discourse was poisonous.

Where to start? Over the years, Mr. Falwell made comments in favor of segregation and apartheid, and strongly against civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, gays, and most forms of tolerance; he was anti-Muslim, anti-Jew, and anti-moderate Christian. His beliefs were profane to the extreme, especially his statement that gays and feminists and abortionists and the ACLU were to blame for the 9/11 attacks. In public at least, Falwell was a hateful, spiteful, and hugely intolerant man.

Even worse, Falwell's merger of politics and religion, both conservative, changed the face of politics starting with the Reagan era and continuing into the Bush monarchy. Instead of keeping private beliefs private, Falwell's Moral Majority gave rise to the Religious Right and helped to steer public debate away from substantive issues toward so-called social issues -- abortion, gay marriage, evolution in the schools, and the like. This undue influence of evangelical Christianity, in service to some future theocracy, could possibly undermine American democracy as we know it. And Falwell is at least partly to blame for that.

Whether Falwell himself was evil or not does not excuse his evil deeds. For a supposed righteous man, his actions harmed countless poor, minority, and repressed individuals. His theology was exclusive, not inclusive; his fundamentalist politics, as embraced by two generations of Republican politicians, have helped to make America both despised and the laughing-stock of the the modern world.

Am I glad that Jerry Falwell is dead? Any death is a loss, but we're all better off not having Falwell and his ilk trying to impose their intolerance on America and the world. Let's hope that Falwell's influence -- due in part to his appearance at the dawn of the cable television age -- wanes with his passing.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

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