Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell, R.I.P.

Patrick McIlheran has an excellent post on the death of Jerry Falwell. Falwell said a lot of things that I can't buy into. Culturally and theologically, there is an enormous difference between Baptists and "catholic" denominations like Episcopalians, Lutherans and even Roman Catholics.

When Falwell annoyed me, I have to admit that I thought he was being stupid. But I never really thought he was venal or hateful. He did call things sin that I would not call sin. He did claim to know the mind of God in a way that I would think we ought not to claim. But in that his error was candor in the pursuit of mistake. He seemed to brook no more hate than have many of the lions - and lionesses - of liberal protestantism.

Patrick says that Walker Percy - no fundamentalist - preferred the Gospel of Falwell to that of Guccione. As much as it may not be precisely mine, I am not so sure that I don't prefer it to the Gospel of John Shelby Spong.

But, and this is a change in topic, I have got to acknowledge this line in Patrick's post:

Even Jimmy Carter, who was Falwell's predecessor in being openly, publicly religious, managed to confess to lust only in the course of trying to convince secular Democrats that his born-again Christianity wouldn't impinge on the world.

This is, I think, why Carter made that confession in Playboy. This is, I think, why Carter has been rather promiscuous when it comes to self-righteousness and sanctimony in the years that have followed. If we think "pharisee," is there really any reason to think more readily of Falwell than of Carter? Is the latter any more certain of his rectitude than the former? Has Carter ever apologized with cost in the way that Falwell has?

Was Falwell "better" than Carter? While I think Carter's "ex-presidency" has been almost wholly unadmirable, I don't want to say that. But I do think that Falwell had the rare courage to follow his beliefs without regard to how it played in Cambridge and New Haven and, in doing so, he accomplished quite a bit. On the whole, I think he did more good than harm.


Anonymous said...

The man blamed me and my partner and thousands like us for 9/11. We were there that day. Our neighbor died in the attacks.

How, without willfully blinding yourself, can you describe that as anything but hateful?

Anonymous said...

He also supported apartheid. Of course, if you don't think Imus is racist, maybe you also don't think apartheid is hateful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the laughs. Leave it to the conservative blogosphere to heap praise on a smarmy, hateful liar.

Anonymous said...

It appears that anti-semitism is alive and well in this country with all the hate directed at Jerry Falwell.

Falwell was probably one of the most vocal supporters of Jews and Israel that this counrty ever had. Millions of people now share his conviction that the U.S. has an obligation to defend them.

Falwell will be missed by Jew and Christian, may his memory be preserved for the good he has done.

Rick Esenberg said...


I can see your point. I think its fairer to say that he blamed the cultural zeitgeist, but I appreciate that is a distinction that I appreciate doesn't make you feel much better. Nor do I suppose it helps a lot that he apologizes for that.

But my point was no more this: My sense of the guy always was - when he said something as ridiculous as the statement you describe (which I agree was nuts), it was more out of a lack of brainpower than a darkness of heart.

Beyond that, although I do not share the traditional Christian view that homosexuality is inherently sinful (same-sex marriage opponent that I am), I do not regard that those who do as, for that reason alone, hateful.

I do think that he helped a group of people to be heard who had been largely ostracized from the political and social conversation. To what extent do we acknowledge the good of that in the face of admitted excesses? (Cf. Malcolm X.)
(Ed: That's going to raise hackles.)

Anon 8:32: I don't know what Falwell said about apartheid and I am not going to defend his entire body of work because, to do that, I'd have to wade through it. My point was more limited and based largely on my impression of the guy when I saw him on TV. As for Imus, it's hard to say whether he is a "racist" in the sense of holding racist views since he obviously didn't think that any nasty little thing shouldn't be said if someone might think it was funny.

Anon 8:47 If this is what you call "heaping praise" I wonder if you haven't been starved for compliments lately. I guess I'd rather have you call me dumb than evil and I suppose that I'd appreciate it if you said that I did some good and was no worse than some other people, but, frankly, in my little circles, I am hoping for a more robust eulogy when the time comes.

Anonymous said...

9:15 -

Falwell was a supporter of American political and military support for Israel. That's different than saying he was a supporter of Jews. The fact of the matter is that he favored a government that reflected one particular religion that he deemed to be in the majority.

As, a Jew, I find that to be dangerous and offensive. The world is a better place with that bigot dead.

Anonymous said...

Falwell also said that all Jews are going to hell.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:15 - Obviously you never listened to or read Falwell's writings. It is subversive to propagate that he didn't support them. Are you saying as a Jew that you don't want Christian support or that you don't understand it?

Anonymous said...

"Subversive?" I can't imagine what this means in context.

Anyhoo, the fact that Falwell thought the US should send F-16s to Israel does not make him a supporter of "Jews." Jews, in his view, were condemned to burn in hell for all eternity. That kinda thing irks me.

For this an a whole lot of other reasons - I am glad the SOB is dead.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:27

You obviously never heard him speak or read his writings. You're coming across to me that you hate Christians and just are expressing it by directing it at Falwell.

By the way, I think it was a Jew that said that Jews and others would go to hell if they didn't meet certain conditions. I think you know who that is.

Anonymous said...

Criticize (or hate) Falwell=hating Christians?

Thank you for highlighting the kind of sleazy bullying that Falwell engaged in.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:35 -

Falwell supported Jews and Israel, promoted Christian doctrine and ideals, started and ran a Christian University, encourgaed Christians to be invloved in politics to name a few things.

I guess it's not hard to see why your hatred of Falwell could easily be seen as hatred of Christians.

Anonymous said...

"Falwell supported Jews and Israel, promoted Christian doctrine and ideals, started and ran a Christian University, encourgaed Christians to be invloved in politics to name a few things."

Well if everyone is obligated to accept this drivel, I suppose so. Yeah, if we start from the premise that Falwell was an objectively positive proponent of all things good and was the sole arbiter of "Christian doctrine" than, yeah, hating him would be a bad thing.

But, since so many found him to be a bigoted, hateful, curse on the nation - you can see that there is room to have negative opinions of this guy without hating Christians.

On the other hand, can i simply declare that liberation theology is the true "Christianity" rejecting it is the hatred of Christianity? Of course not. Get real.

I also loath the Christian Identiy Movement and Aryan Nation and the Klan - all of whom claimed to be the only true reflection of Christ. Gotta problem with that??

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:08 -

Why don't you admit that you've bought into a culture that promotes hating Christians and this was your opportunity to express it.

Anonymous said...

4:51, I can't imagine you actually believe this nonsense. If I did, I would really be offended.

But I suppose, if you keep repeating it over and over and over maybe you can make a few bucks off it like Falwell did.