Falwell

May 16, 2007 | By | 5 Replies More

Jerry Falwell is dead.  At 73, he passed away, at his desk, apparently still working, even though doctors have (probably) been telling him to lay off for some time.  He had heart problems.

Whatever one’s personal feelings may be, it ill-behooves us to beat up on someone so soon after they have died.  Family and friends will still be mourning, those who saw benefit in his work will grieve, and while I found myself opposed to just about everything he stood for, I cannot fault the man for following his conscience and doing what he thought needed to be done.

Which was what?

The Moral Majority, for better or worse, brought religious fundamentalism into mainstream politics.  In the mean, this has been an aggravating, problematic development that threw a wrench into the progressive works of decades of steady liberal progress.  In the extreme, it brought millions of people into the political process, which is necessary to make a democracy work.  As with anything else in this experiment we call the United States, it’s a mixed benefit.

The paradox of the christian fundamentalist movement is in it’s contemporary spin on the Augustinian stance that the World and its Concerns are irrelevent.  Christians were, under this idea, told to stay out of politics, to leave the “trivial” problems of human interaction alone, because it is far more important to pay attention to god and the second coming and one shouldn’t allow oneself to be distracted by the material.  It meant withdrawing.  But now it has turned right around and made the temporal behavior of the human race the basis for on-going political activism that is just shy of fascistic.

Eventually, I expect it to leaven out.  As more people get involved in the necessity of paying attention to Other People and learning Who They Are, the magma-hot rhetoric against sin and sinners of various stripes will cool and we will have a better cross-section of the voting demographic actually operating the controls of our democracy.  You can hear some of it now if you listen closely to those who are the inheritors of Falwell’s vision, who, while still professing their fundamentalist credo, reject much of the spleen he unleashed as unsound and untenable.

For better or worse, Falwell changed the politics of the country.  My major disappointment over him is not what he stood for or what he did, but that those of us who live by the counter principles did so poorly in answering the charges he levied against us.  We had become complacent and sloppy and when he pointed the finger we reacted like children who had been caught doing something we weren’t supposed to do.  We did not respond as we should have and only now, it seems, are we getting our collective act together and figuring out how to answer his challenge.  I don’t think he saw himself as nothing more than a gadfly–and to his supporters he certainly was more–but he acted as one and if they got anything over on us, it is largely our failure. 

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Category: American Culture, Civil Rights, Communication, Culture, Current Events, Good and Evil, History, Noteworthy, Politics, Religion

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Yes, when Falwell spoke, we did react like children who were caught doing something naughty. Such a wonderful analogy! What should we have said, though?

    Today, I sometimes just say the obvious to people who claim to speak for God.  I say: "You don't speak for God." Interestingly, they often back down. It is truly arrogant to make the claim that one is God's specially blessed spokesperson, God's Earthly Deputy. With that one comment ("You don't speak for God"), you can remind people that they are making an untenable assumption: that they know God better than other people do. To remind them that they don't speak for God shines light on their implicit claim that those who have organized into bureacratic churches with opulent buildings (country clubs with steeples) know God better than someone who worships by walking in the woods. And to the extent that God is an Einsteinian God, the agnostic scientist who is working hard to discover the secrets of DNA in her lab is doing admirable work that "Speaks for God."

    In sum, we prevent future Falwells from becoming powerful proto-fascists by invoking the principles of Demotheocracy (I just made up this word): Each thoughtful person has an equal claim to speak on behalf of the Ineffable. To the extent that any of us are annointed, all of us are annointed. That was the message of the Gospel according to Thomas:

    The Gospel of Thomas is <a title="Mystical" href="http://dangerousintersection.org/wiki/Mystical">mystical and emphasizes a direct and unmediated experience of the Divine through becoming a Christ. In Thomas v.108, Jesus said, "Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him." Furthermore, salvation is personal and found through spiritual (psychological) introspection. In Thomas v.70, Jesus says, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you.

    [For more on this extraordinary Gospel, see Elaine Pagel's book, Beyond Belief].  No wonder organized religions reject those ideas–the writer of that Gospel made it clear that regular folks don't need demogogues like Falwell. We are each vessels of whatever it is that came before us.

    One other thing . . . Our silence in the face of the pompous meddling that Falwell promoted–the fact that he thought he had a God-given right to invade the privacy and liberty of others–reminds me of the writings of Sam Harris. I agree with Harris that religious moderates do give cover to the religious zealots.  See here and here. Many moderates are not comfortable with the vigorous exchange of ideas about Falwell's God lest maybe the media starts shining a light on their own unsubstantiated, though, admittedly somewhat less literal beliefs. Who wants the meda really looking into their own claim that a virgin had a baby? If the media ever cut loose and explored this issue, people who believe in virgin birth would become laughingstocks.

    Live and let live is how the religous moderates have often preferred it. But maybe those days are waning. Maybe more religious moderates will someday admit that their miraculous stories are, literally speaking, outlandish and that there is no need to believe them as facts in order to form a club that does good works for the community.

    If more religous moderates can just get to that point, maybe we will see a news media that will pelt the next Falwell with tomatoes when he or she announces that he/she speaks for God and that he/she knows better how to run your life than you do.

  2. Jason Rayl says:

    What should we have said?

    Well, after listening to the list of things such folks don't like, we might start with a simple: "So? And your point is?"

  3. Vicki Baker says:

    My conscience is clear. While you guys were voting for Reagan, I was dancing to "We Don't Need This Fascist Groove Thang" with Catholic liberation theologians…

    I think what powered Falwell was the general backlash against the 60's – and middle class political moderates who voted for Reagan because he promised lower taxes and the return of American "greatness" after Vietnam. So the unholy alliance of theo-cons and neo-cons was born.

    The religious moderate human shield thing is still bogus. If you feel compelled to tell people that their beliefs are nonsensical, but can't bring yourself to when the people in question are nice and friendly, well… to be blunt, that's your problem.

    If on the other hand, you want to advocate for a vigorous adherence to the non-establishment clause and a strong science curriculum, the usual avenues of political and community organizing are still available last I checked.

  4. grumpypilgrim says:

    Falwell has been dead a long time…it has just taken several years for his corporeal body to catch up with the rest of him.

    Reacted like children? Excluding George Bush, Falwell arguably did more to promote homophobia, disrespect for science, demonization of abortion, the destruction of our Constitution (especially the conjoining of church and state), global warming, the spread of AIDS, etc., than anyone else in the past quarter century. He built his empire by tapping into other peoples' hatred and giving it a voice. He was a sanctimonious, pontificating, self-promoting bigot…a religious weapon-of-mass-destruction.

  5. Vicki Baker says:

    Our paper had a local angle on the Falwell story today. Rev. Mel White, a Santa Cruz native, ghostwrote Falwell's autobiography. He broke with Falwell when he came out and then:

    In 2001, when Falwell essentially blamed gays and liberals for the Sept. 11 attacks, White and his partner decided to move into a house across from Falwell's church in Lynchburg, Va. The pair attended Falwell's services, standing up in protest whenever he would slight gays in his sermons. White called Falwell "the face of homophobia in America"

    http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2007/May

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