Reflecting back on what I wrote about jerry falwell upon discovering that he had died while I was out at sea, the voice in the back of my head tells me that I should be nicer, that I should feel bad about speaking so harshly of someone who is dead. He never killed anyone in my family. I've never met him and now certainly never will. Nothing we know publicly suggests that he ever raped or murdered anyone or spent his free time molesting children, so maybe it is a bit overboard for me to feel such a lack of concern for this person and to reflect upon his passing with some sense of relief and perhaps even a little nya-nya-good-riddance.
But really, I don't think it is. I certainly think I've shown him more respect in his death than he showed most people in his life. He turned manipulating people's faith into a money making racket and peddled influence to hurt other people. He was a horrid bigot and a backwards asshole. I don't take joy in his dying and don't hope that it was painful, and I meant it when I said that I hope he finds a peace he does not deserve on the other side of the veil, but I did feel a certain sense of relief when I read that he had died, a sense of relief which I didn't expect. I had no idea he was even sick. He really isn't someone who I pay that much attention to or really follow that much, but his dying really struck me as a moment when someone ghastly and horrid, who will, if remembered at all, be one day remembered as a blight on this last century. I kind of think he will fade and whatever money grubbing 'christian leaders' are left in charge of his legacy will dismantle it with infighting and work their own names into whatever survives that struggle.
I don't know what really makes me so mad about him. It is mostly subconscious. He is one of the people who really turned American evangelical Christianity into the pathetic shell of a faith it is today, moving its emphasis towards manipulating the emotions of masses of people and using its members as the screaming sheep to shout down any reasoned debate about any emotional topic in the public sphere and who helped make these gut-wrench issues front and center in any political debate. Not that there haven't always been plenty of people who moronically yelped, "please, think of the children!" but mr. falwell managed to get on tv and say it loud and say it for millions (whether they knew he was speaking for them or not). This is not to say that all evangelical Christianity in America is of that brand sold by mr. falwell, but he and pat robertson and james dobson have come to be the public face of it.
And perhaps his brilliant move, was that when he turned all politics into emotions, he gave us enemies and made the enemies us. You no longer had to judge how schools performed based on straight academics or how the kids did when they got out. No, the schools academics where instead turned into an enemy and focus was turned towards a shorter stupider report card for judging them. Did have sex education? At what age, and what was taught to these poor innocent children? Did the discuss abortion? Did they teach about condoms? Did they talk about gay people? Did they teach evolution? Did they have prayer at football games or in homeroom?
Did he alone bring all this on? Of course not, but he stood as a figurehead for a movement which did. And it was a nasty little tar baby that he plopped down squarely in the path of anyone trying to do anything productive in public life. He armed millions with ignorant half-truths or even bald faced lies about any touchy subject and taught them to assume the worst and vilify our public services as opposed to their faith.
He had the good luck to come along at a time that our country was in upheaval and trying to get back on course, and he kindly took advantage of everyone's disorientation. We still don't really acknowledge how much we are still sputtering about and trying reorganize after the civil rights movement. When schools were desegregated, it wasn't as simple as just moving kids into schools together and letting it all sort out. Plenty of disorder and violence accompanied this shift and a good chunk of the well-to-do white folks fled altogether into 'academies' and with them took their concern for the public schools. Their civic energies shifted away from the public and towards the private and the public facilities were left for the blacks and poor white people. I really believe this more than anything else killed many a downtown and public park. As soon as black people were allowed free use of the facilities, they were either destroyed, like the public swimming pools which vanished from every town and many a high school, or abandoned. White people quit going to many public parks, and would quietly forget about them, saying things like, "Well, no one goes there any more." Maintenance budgets would then be cut and as the grass grew higher and ignored trash built up, it would be remarked about what a shame it was what 'they' had done to what used to be such a pretty park.
This unspeakable fear of intermingling in public with this 'other' on these new terms, without the old system in place to guide things, was harnessed effectively and directed towards public services in general. The government was out to get you, and what it did do it did poorly, so why not give this or that private enterprise less over-sight or cut funding for this or that. But people of course still want their public services in the end and still expect them to function even as they divert funds and quit focusing on them. And once we decide to go back to these abandoned things, who are we going to blame for what we find when we realize that we've allowed our communities to fracture? Nope, not our own bigotry and fears, not folks who opportunistically played on them for their own benefits, it was naturally the atheists and satanists and homosexuals and Mexicans and feminists and abortionists and evolutionists. Which is easier to swallow hook, line, and sinker than stepping back and taking a good look in the mirror and realizing that we've all come through a tough time and are going to have to reinvest and get back into the game together to get to where we want to be.
This is what jerry faldwell sold in his bastardized, plastic version of Christianity. He was huckster extroidenaire of the cry baby culture. He made his money and his name whining to high hell about how 'they' were destroying America and gave people someone else to mean besides what they meant, the truth that they weren't allowed to say out loud: that black people were ruining it. Not that he wasn't against women being treated as equal humans and didn't mean it from the start that he hated gay people and thought we deserved to die alone and unloved, but these groups hadn't just changed all that much in society and weren't the large organized elephant in the room that no one wanted to mention. Racism had been brought right out into the light and declared unacceptable, and no matter how much of it still existed (exists), people were aware of it as a negative and of how their comments would be labeled and judged. jerry gave the a channel for this frustration and new others to blame for those who cared only for licking their own wounds and avoiding thoughtful reflection.
I don't think racism is still right square in the middle of the evangelical movement that faldwell helped spearhead and politicize, but hatred and fear and blame of that dark other is still dead center. 'Those people' are still ruining the blushing virgin that is America.
Anyway, a hateful bigot died and though that death can't do anything to undo the pain which he inflicted on our country and our communities, as one of 'those people' I must confess a sense of relief and not the least bit of remorse for feeling it. In the end, he not only acted hatefully towards any marginalized group which he could kick with impunity, but by tying his venom to religion he and those like him have turned millions away from religion and for those who he to whom he reached with his message, he forever tied it with malignant hatred and blame.