I have this sort of gut reaction that when I hear Jerry Falwell's name I find myself getting really angry. This isn't unjustified - Falwell is kinda personally responsible for the rise of the Religious Right, which as a political movement is so caked in corruption and hypocrisy that it's almost impossible for me to believe that it has any power. And yet it does, and apparently millions of people are still carrying on this man's work.
There was a quick AP Blurb about Jerry being found "passed out" in his office. That blurb is gone now, but I wish it wasn't because there was a valuable comment thread. In it, I said a few things - I cracked a joke to the effect of "I wonder if he finally admitted to himself that Brad Pitt is pleasant to look at and God struck him down on the spot," and when my tone was censured by several viners for being inappropriate I said a few more things explaining myself.
I pointed out that the religious right that swept into power in the 80's has been instrumental in maintaining the "conservative" power base. By that, I mean the corruption-addled careers of gentlemen like Ronald Reagan, Donald Rumsfeld, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Bush I, Bush II and, now that he's stopped calling them on their antics, John McCain. All these guys have to do is make a few token comments about how abortion is wrong and god hates gay people and Falwell delivers them a few million votes. Bush road into the white house on a trail paved by anti-gay legislation in Ohio, made possible in large part due to the machinations and hate speech of one Jerry Falwell.
Falwell is, after all, the guy who said that 9/11 happened in part because god was mad at gays, feminists and liberals for their naughty lifestyle choices. Yes, to you and me it sounds insipid - but to millions of voters, it was a righteous fire. You can hear these people call in to Rush Limbaugh now and again, so you know they exist. John McCain implies their existence with every carefully-worded press release.
Look: evangelical christians all across america were conned into selling the love out of their christianity for 12 pieces of fag-hating silver, and they've been gleefully doing it for years. Without Falwell's efforts, the efforts Robertson and Romney and McCain are lauding, we'd be living in a vastly different world right now. It's not too far a stretch to say that without Falwell's "Moral Majority" we wouldn't be in Iraq, we'd still have Habeus Corpus and our kids would have a better science education.
I don't mean to drone on and on about the evils of Falwell, but I want to make a point: the response on newsvine has been overwhelming to the news of his death, and the tone of that response has been borderline celebratory. A lot of people, myself included, have been giving into really hateful feelings that have been nurtured over the years by the steady stream of atrocities that seemed to run constantly from Falwell's mouth to the hearts and minds of his listeners. There have been some comments that I think a lot of people wouldn't make within earshot of their mothers - I'm talking nobody is sad to see him go.
But I want to establish the context: there is a very good reason for all of this vitriol and invective, and that's that Falwell has single-handedly turned this country (and by extension this world) into a place that's just a little bit less worth living in.
I don't think anyone on newsvine knew Falwell personally. The best any of us can hope for is a functional familiarity with his work. What that means is that the jubilation expressed by some people isn't personal, exactly - think of it as a response to a sort of perpetual powerlessness over the course of 20 years. Is it classy? No, it really isn't. But very few people seem to care, to look at the human side.
Steve Watts called me on my jokes following the first reports - he told me I was being disrespectful to the man's family, and to be honest my first response was "Woah, the man has a family?" Jerry Falwell long ago stopped being a human being to me - for as long as I've been following politics the man has been a powerful dehumanizing force, and it's hard to take a step back and simply see that a man has died, and that he will be missed by someone.
So, I've taken a long time to say this - but I guess what I'm getting at is this: you know and I know what a terrible influence this man has had on our country, and nobody knows how long it'll be until we've recovered from the damage. I'm not going to tell you not to celebrate his death, because I understand the cartharsis involved - but I will say that to do so is pointless, and that in the act of essentializing him you become him. He too was unable to see human beings behind political affiliations, lifestyle choices and talking points.
I for one am taking a step back. I won't miss him and I don't think I can forgive the effect he's had on the world - but his death solves nothing and to take joy from the death of anyone is a deeply problematic, dehumanizing experience. Falwell himself, for all the harm he's done, is nothing - just like you and just like me. He's a human being, and now he's dead. I don't want to whitewash anything and I'm certainly not going to sit idly by if anyone in earshot sings the man's praises - but one good thing that's come of this is that I finally understand that my anger is not directed at the bag of meat formerly known as Jerry Falwell. My anger is and always has been directed at his policies and his effect, and they will continue to point in that direction.
As far as Jerry goes, well, I guess I hope he finds the peace that he never seemed to find on earth. I'd like to thank Steve Watts for helping to see that a little bit more clearly in spite of my legitimate frustration with the life and work of one Jerry Falwell, deceased.