Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Death of a Demon

If God is love, then the Devil is hate, and a major proponent of hatred died this morning.

Jerry Falwell exemplified hatred in almost everything he did in his forty-plus years of infamy.

Until my sister reminded me this morning, I had forgotten that Falwell was a leading international supporter of apartheid in South Africa, encouraging his followers to prop up the deteriorating white supremacist regime through the purchase of krugerrands.

Like most people, I remember Falwell as the creator of the so-called "Moral Majority" that fostered homophobia, anti-abortion hysteria, and misogyny. Using hatred disguised as faith, Falwell and his followers pressed a corporate agenda that was "pro-life" UNTIL birth, after which you were expected to be on your own. Slavery, child labor, dangerous working conditions, starvation, homelessness, war, violence against women...Falwell preached that victims got what they deserved for their sinfulness, or the sins of their parents.

Never was Falwell more hateful than in his response to the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980's, when thousands of gay men in the U.S., and people with dark skin around the world, began to die from a disease that thrives in body fluids. Falwell's near-glee at the epidemic, and his opposition to treatment and prevention of the disease, resembled nothing less than a case of home-grown genocide, made even more distasteful by its justification through "Christian" teachings.

I'm wondering whether Rev. Falwell met his maker today, and if so, did Judgment Day go the way Jerry had always imagined? Love is a higher power than hatred, and I'm enjoying the thought that Falwell might find his eternity to be much hotter than Virginia in the summer.

3 comments:

Frank Gruber said...

Way to go, Abby! Congrats on your new blog. --Frank

Elaine said...

How great to get some good news with wit thrown in.
-Elaine

Joe said...

My take on Falwell is somewhat different: for all the evil he did, he really wasn't important enough to be labelled a demon. If anything, Falwell shows all the symptoms of a frightened bully who quickly wore out his welcome on the public stage.

Falwell's first experience with politics was in the mid-fifties in southwestern Virginia where he strongly argued for the separation of church and state. Why? Because the burning issue was civil rights. This gives us some insight into the man's character: not someone who was about to take the leadership on unpopular issues.

Where we next see him is at the head of a frightened mob who, although insulated from popular culture, is so unsure of itself that it insists that everything has to be cast in its own image. This is not a description of a secure and confident people, and riding at the front of such a group is likely to be a bumpy trip for the rider. This group is incapable of showing leadership by example; without coercive power, they have nothing to offer. In this country most people don't like coercive power unless there's a good reason for it, and sooner or later get rid of those who impose it. The cylce is long (and God only knows most of us have had to live through 40 years of it), but the cycle works and things turn around, if slowly.

Falwell's fears, particularly about gays and lesbian, quickly reduced him to a marginal figure who was easy to make fun of. Seeing gayness in a TeleTubbie while ignoring the homoeroticsim of mainline, manly sports like American football? He was far too silly for many people to take seriously, and in the past 10 years he was more a joke than a threat.

He did found Liberty University which doubtless will continue. I saw Ricahrd Dawkins, the evolutionist, on C-SPAN some weeks ago, amidst the Liberty University folk who thought they had all the answers. It was an embarrassment--for them. He mopped the floor with all of them, including a biology professor, without even breathing hard. (You can see a clip of it on his website, www.richarddawkins.com.) Preaching to the converted and frightened does not create intellectual warriers, and all Liberty University has to sell are some debased ideas that don't work in the real world. And sooner or later the fundamentalists will misuse the power of the state and stumble into another Monkey Trial and go into eclipse. America is ultimately too materialistic for them to really take root, although, like a pesky weed, getting rid of the roots is a long, labor-intensive job.

None of this excuses the evil that Falwell did, but let's not exaggerate his importance. In 50 years he'll be a minor footnote in American cultural history, probably a bit less important than Father Coughlin or the Presbyterian ministers behind the Blaine Amendment. (If you're scratching your head at those reference, good; they were extremely important in their time and of marginal importance in the long run.) Aside from being a walking example of the capital sin of gluttony (his girth seemed to expand as his influence shrank), the most that can be said for Falwell is that his undesired slide into insignificance shows some sort of cosmic justice at work. Those who scream for justice are usually those who should be begging for mercy. In the end, Falwell revealed himself to be little more than a frightened bully who had lost what influence he had. A sad, if just, end.