“I shudder to think where the country would be right now if the religious right had not evolved.” — Rev. Jerry Falwell, televangelist
For my part, I shudder to think where the country is right now because the religious right evolved, to use a word you wouldn’t expect to see come from Falwell’s mouth. After all, students at Liberty University, which Falwell founded, are required to take a class in creationism.
So out of touch was Falwell with reality that, as the AP reported today,
He dreamed that Liberty would grow to 50,000 students and be to fundamentalist Christians what Notre Dame is to Roman Catholics and Brigham Young University is to Mormons.
Notre Dame teaches science, Jerry, and leaves religious nuttiness to the religion classes. But being out of touch with reality was Falwell’s hallmark. There was his campaign against Tinky Winky, which, Falwell’s National Liberty Journal characterized as, “a gay role model and morally damaging to children,” as the AP put it.
More than once, the tenuousness of Falwell’s grasp of reality harmed his own cause, such as when,
In 1999, he told an evangelical conference that the Antichrist was a male Jew who was probably already alive. Falwell later apologized for the remark but not for holding the belief.
Then there was the incident on which the movie “The People v. Larry Flynt” is based.
In 1984, he sued Hustler magazine for $45 million, charging that he was libeled by an ad parody depicting him as an incestuous drunkard. A federal jury found the fake ad did not libel him, but awarded him $200,000 for emotional distress. That verdict was overturned, however, in a landmark 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that even pornographic spoofs about a public figure enjoy First Amendment protection.
As Positive Atheism notes on its page of Jerry Falwell Quotations, the good minister blamed “civil libertarians, feminists, homosexuals, and abortion rights supporters for the terrorist attacks of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.”
Here are some quotes attributed to Falwell after 9/11:
God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve. — Jerry Falwell
When a nation deserts God and expels God from the culture … the result is not good. — Jerry Falwell
I sincerely believe that the collective efforts of many secularists during the past generation, resulting in the expulsion from our schools and from the public square, has left us vulnerable. — Jerry Falwell
The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this. — Jerry Falwell
Even Billy Graham apparently found him sanctimonious, as the AP reported:
The Rev. Billy Graham once rebuked him for political sermonizing on “non-moral issues.”
Politicizing religion, and injecting religion into politics, was Falwell’s legacy, to our great detriment. For example,
In 2006, Falwell marked the 50th anniversary of his church and spoke out on stem cell research, saying he sympathized with people with medical problems, but that any medical research must pass a three-part test: “Is it ethically correct? Is it biblically correct? Is it morally correct?”
For Falwell, of course, this was really a one-part test. It’s a further mark of his conflation of reality and unreality that he thought the Bible offers an unequivocal judgment about the probity of stem cell research, which has the potential to develop into the ultimate fishes-and-loaves approach to medical cures.
In a self-aggrandizing press release quickly issued on ChristianNewsWire, Rob Schenck, a Virginia evangical preacher, called Falwell a “religious Dutch uncle” and described him as “a bold, unapologetic, uncompromising voice for Biblical truth that pushed the envelope and challenged secular culture to its limits.”
It’s hard not to notice that the world’s problem with people like Khomeini, Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Taliban is precisely that they are similarly challenging secular culture to its limits. They are, of course, Falwell’s allies in the great battle between reason and unreason, next to which all other ideological battles pale by comparison. One of unreason’s great warriors died today. Fundamentalists of all stripes should mourn his passing.
The idea that religion and politics don’t mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country. — Jerry Falwell