Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Falwell shepherded Christian right into the polls

From the Chicago Tribune courtesy of the Houston Chronicle:

Founder and pastor at Lynchburg's Thomas Road Baptist Church for more than 50 years, Falwell played a major role in taking evangelism from the revival tent to the television screen to a prominent seat at the table of national politics.

He achieved national stature — including the covers of Time and Newsweek — for spurring conservative Christians into political action beginning with his founding of the Moral Majority in 1979, a development that helped propel Ronald Reagan into the White House.

Engaging issues such as abortion, gay rights, pornography and bans on school prayer, Falwell told Christians it was their duty to jump into the political fray. And they did, millions of them registering and voting for the first time in 1980. At one point the Moral Majority claimed 6.5 million members.

"Jerry Falwell, more than anyone else, was responsible for galvanizing and spearheading the most important mass political movement of the last 30 years. His Moral Majority really catapulted the Republican Party to power," said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.


He apologized, for example, after televised remarks suggesting that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks reflected God's judgment on a nation spiritually weakened by the American Civil Liberties Union, providers of abortion and supporters of gay rights, and after he called Muhammad a terrorist.

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I was working in the Swine Palace theater office today when I saw the news of Falwell's death online. I immediately announced it to all within earshot. Several of my fellow students, all raging liberals like me, immediately started cheering, clapping, and jumping up and down. Me too. I was really happy that the old asshole is gone. After a moment or two of this, our marketing director, who is a rightward moderate, a decent fellow who loves a good political argument, admonished us for our celebration, saying something to the effect of "a man is dead." I couldn't help but laugh and laugh, but my suddenly silent classmates made me think of the time my dad told me how businessmen at Standard Oil of Texas, where my mother worked in 1963, had done essentially the same thing when JFK was murdered.

Was I wrong to celebrate Falwell's end?

I thought about it for a bit. Falwell, more than any other individual, merged the Republican Party with fundamentalist Christianity, and almost singlehandedly started the so-called Culture War. There is no doubt in my mind that his actions caused the Reagan White House to drag its feet for over four years on the AIDS crisis simply because the victims were mostly gay--in the meantime people were dropping dead like flies. Indeed, Falwell's horrible legacy is all over the place. Stem cell research funding is in limbo while people degenerate and die from Parkinson's and other ailments. Anti-abortion propaganda has put countless young girls into a hell of self-doubt and self-hatred while dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Rhetorical gay-bashing has given encouragement and moral certitude to physical gay-bashers. Falwell's celebration of blind faith was fully in play as an overwhelming majority of Americans supported the White House lies that got us into Iraq.

Yeah, that's right, Falwell's rhetoric descends directly into the post 9/11 demagoguery that has killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He had blood on his hands. Lots of it. He was not a decent man. He was not a man of God; he was the exact opposite, pushing this great country toward evil. Certainly, he was no ruler like Stalin or Hitler or Pol Pot. He didn't have blood on his hands that way. But it is appropriate to compare him to, say, Goebbels or Eichmann, men who didn't personally order death, but facilitated it all the same.

Falwell was scum. It's right to be happy about his passing. I make no apologies for my celebration.

Fuck him.