Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rev. Jerry Falwell, 1933-2007

Jerry Falwell, preacher, fundamentalist and founder of the Moral Majority, died Tuesday. Whether one agreed or disagreed with him its hard to argue that the Moral Majority and its successors had a transformative and lasting effect in American politics. He brought the fundamentalists back into politics after 50 years in the wilderness after the Scopes trial.

Joseph Loconte has a good balanced discussion of Falwell here. Excerpt:

Falwell’s critics — such as Polly Toynbee of The Guardian or Susan Thistlethwaite of Chicago Theological Seminary — like to compare his Christian fundamentalism to Islamic radicalism. They see the same brooding hatreds at work. “The world can no longer afford the kind of absolutist religion and politics Rev. Falwell helped to popularize,” Thistlethwaite snapped. “It will literally be fatal.”

Yet any calm reflection on Falwell’s record exposes that characterization as pure sophistry. Falwell was strenuously opposed to abortion, for example, but he was quick to denounce any violence committed against abortion doctors and he supported programs for unwed mothers. He sometimes used inflammatory biblical language to describe the culture wars in America. But he utterly rejected any notion of a theocratic state or Christian jihad. What many of Falwell’s critics find so offensive is the idea that religious ideals — particularly those in the Judeo-Christian tradition — should help shape our politics. That secularizing approach, so popular in so much of Europe, does not appear to be producing more humane or just societies. It cannot, in the end, sustain a democratic society.

Jerry Falwell had his faults, excesses, and ego. His style of politics has no doubt contributed to the public rancor over religion. But think about it: The most frightening outcome of his activism was not a cadre of suicide bombers, or a culture of nihilistic rage, or a network of terrorists plotting to destroy the foundations of Western civilization. The most frightening outcome of Falwell’s activism was the mobilization of middle-class citizens to join school boards and city councils, to launch lobbying campaigns and voter-registration drives, to participate in local and national elections.

We call that democracy.

I am not a particular student of Falwell or the fundamentalist movement and certainly do not necessarily agree with his stance on a number of issues but on balance I think he's clearly fought on the side of the angels.

RIP where the sounds of battle are no more.

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