A gaggle of Republican and Democratic politicians and the national media - FOX, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC - will descend on the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, V.A. today to pay homage and genuflect at the funeral of Jerry Falwell, a demented demagogue who seriously poisoned American politics and left a trail of hatred, death and destruction in this country and abroad.
The question is, how did this limited little man, this obvious charlatan, become such a powerful public figure in the first place?
America has a long tradition of religious zealots, but most of them have been quickly forgotten figures. Jerry Falwell was a creature of the media. As a Reverend, the media gave him a pass to spew his outrageous anti-gay, anti-women, and anti-Semitic venom. He was quoted, and pandered to, and feted on television and in the newspapers. The conservatives trotted him out for any occasion.
But worst of all, the nervous liberal press - afraid of their own secularist bias - gave him a platform, which made him significant and ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Falwell eagerly seized upon this national megaphone to peddle his obnoxious ideas and to infuse a religious agenda onto a country that was founded on the principle of religious tolerance.
Consider: When you Google Jerry Falwell and
Fox = 1,760,000 hits
CNN = 1,190,000 hits
CBS = 1,440,000 hits
ABC = 1,350,000 hits
NBC = 784,000 hits
Washington Post = 1,470,000 hits
New York Times = 1,390,000 hits
The Wall Street Journal = 600,000 hits
Previously, religious protestant fanatics were bigoted and heaped scorn, damnation, and hell on Jews, Catholics, Mainstream Protestants, Episcopalians, Atheists, and anybody else who didn't ascribe to their apocalyptic vision of religion.
But these fringe figures were universally considered kooks - on par with the crazy homeless guys who roam Times Square with a sandwich board or the Elmer Gantry types who thrive in the rural towns of the South and Midwest.
Too bad if they stole millions from the poor and the ignorant, the old and the most gullible, peddling their hellfire and damnation - it wasn't our problem.
But Falwell was different. He managed to convince the media, and then the Republicans, that he was a power to be reckoned with; that by mixing politics and religion - a profoundly un-American concept - he could make a difference in elections.
Falwell was a con man from the beginning. He blamed 9/11 on the Jews, Atheists, and Gays, knowing full well that it was all a crock. But he also understood the power he could garner as a man of the cloth. The MSM would quote him, one or two percent would agree with him, and ten percent would be titillated and give pause to their most evil thoughts.
He inflamed people's hatreds to make himself wealthy and powerful. This greedy little hoaxster saw the monies that were flowing into the PTL. He crudely understood the potential of his times - that cable television could produce a congregation of millions and that his brand of vitriolic hatred could gather a small, but influential following in the media and Republican politics. In 1979 he came up with the idea of an alliance - a "Moral Majority" of fundamentalist Christians, Orthodox Jews, Conservative Roman Catholics and Mormons - as a vehicle to broaden his base of hatreds. Falwell turned much of his former bigotry into a larger cultural war designed to give leverage to the GOP. This pretend Christian had nothing to do with religion.
When Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in 1980 with 51% of the vote, Falwell's Moral Majority was in ascendancy. One or two percent of the vote can make a difference in American politics. Falwell's bigotry appealed to a small percentage of the most demented - all he needed - and his hate continues to poison the American political landscape nearly 30 years later.
Equally appalling is the blood Falwell has on his hands for encouraging religious wars. In Israel, he preached for a renewed occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as a religious crusade for the return of the risen Christ.
In Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, Falwell emboldened an all too willing, and gullible, President into thinking he could invade a foreign country because he was listening to GOD, a course of action which has led to hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths.
And as Falwell's corpse is put into the ground, his influence continues strongly today and the ongoing elements of the moral majority are a danger to civilization by encouraging religious wars and bloody crusades based on fear and ignorance. These religious fanatics will only provoke retaliation by other religious zealots with opposing views.
" Deep within the heart of every evangelist lies the wreck of a car salesman." -- H L Mencken
As Bette Davis said, "You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good...
Joan Crawford is dead....Good!"
Jerry Falwell is dead....Good!