Apparently Jerry Falwell was a pleasant fellow in the Green Room where notables, sometimes antagonists, gather before going on stage. That was the best the guy who relayed that information could say about the Evangelist in commenting on his death. It is kind of an ironic assessment since Falwell, perhaps more than any other individual, set in motion one of the most divisive periods in American politics. I’ve said often that we’ve become a nation of shouters rather than conversationalists. The very idea of red and blue states, the for me or against me mentality, the righteous or the sinful, all that comes from Jerry Falwell. Just days before his death, I heard an interview with one of the professors in his Christian Madrasssa university contend that global warming was a liberal invention. Falwell taught him well.
Falwell’s comments following the downing of the Twin Towers, like Bush’s taking us to war in Iraq, will forever be part of his legacy. A telling vitriolic attack against his primary list of sinners – abortionists, gays, secularists and the ACLU – which got an “I agree” from his TV host Pat Robertson and for which he later apologized has nonetheless become integral to his story. And it should. Nothing Falwell said in the wake of that terrible event was out of sync with what he had been saying for decades. He was simply caught saying it again at the wrong time. His excuse for being an active segregationist was that he was acting like any Southerner (he meant bigoted White Southerner) at the time.
It is said that Jerry Falwell gave us Reagan and the Bushes. Perhaps, but what he really did was to bring religion into American politics in an unprecedented and ugly way. It wasn’t only religion but a certain kind of myopic religion that takes the Bible, especially those passages with which its proponents concur, literally and seeks to force that kind of backward thinking on the rest of us. He saw this as a Christian Country, which is very different from a country the majority of whose citizens are Christian. The disgraceful Terry Schiavo affair could not have come before the Congress were it not for Jerry Falwell. Nor could Senator Brownback have defended his opposition to abortion when the woman was impregnated by a rapist during the GOP debate the other night. This is, he said with a benevolent fatherly smile on his face, one of God’s children. Right, now we seem to have a rapist God.
Jerry Falwell didn’t do it all, no single individual can, but he played a remarkable role in bringing us to our current sorry state. He saw the world as the battleground between good and evil, God and Satan that reflected the religious tension in his own home. Life as a religious war. Isn’t that exactly the way Islamists see it? The Crusades all over again with most of us caught in the crossfire. They say it isn’t right to speak ill of the dead, and I certainly would never wish the death of a human being. But honestly, Jerry Falwell won’t be missed, nor sadly can he be forgotten.