“The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven.” – John Milton
“A mighty oak has fallen in God’s forest.” – Jerry Falwell
Jerry Falwell, one of the great fire and brimstone fundamentalists, has gone to meet his reward. Being that I’m not a Christian, I won’t make any predictions about the state of his immortal soul, but considering his huge infamy within modern Pagan communities I would be remiss in not paying my own form of tribute.
Though I’m sure many of us would deny it, in some ways Falwell was a great boon to legitimizing modern Paganism. He was a self-constructing straw man for the intolerance and hypocrisy of Christianity. While he held real power during the heyday of the Moral Majority, by the nineties he had devolved into a hateful cartoon character, constantly offending and backtracking.
“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way–all of them who have tried to secularize America–I point the finger in their face and say “you helped [the 9/11 terrorist attacks] happen.”
Quotes like that, and several others, slowly moved us into the mainstream. His pure hatred and vitriol forced many mainline Christians to define themselves by what they were not, which is not a Christian like Jerry Falwell. So when he called NOW “the National Order of Witches”, or claimed that Lilith Fair was a celebration of a “pagan figure” full of “lesbian imagery”, or accused Michael Dukakis of promoting Wicca, you could be sure a stream of condemnations would follow. He even managed to (accidentally) pass a Pagan-friendly policy or two.
“A group of Pagans in Albemarle County, Va., was recently given permission to advertise their multi-cultural holiday program to public school children – and they have the Rev. Jerry Falwell to thank for it.”
His intolerant buffoonery was the perfect caricature of anyone opposing the free exercise of our faiths. It exposed the dark underbelly of monotheism and in turn allowed the “mainstream” religions to move towards our acceptance (or at least co-existence) by rejecting Falwell. Not that he won’t have his apologists in the post-mortem, there is still a number of people who take him seriously. But even the “Religious Right” has modified and mainstreamed its views away from the Falwells, Robertsons, and Swaggarts, and more towards the Rick Warrens and Richard Ciziks of the movement.
Personally, I can’t muster up much emotion in any direction regarding his passing. While no doubt some of my compatriots will take one final shot at the famously closed-minded televangelist, it truly is difficult to demonize someone who has already done the job for you.
“How do you demonize a man who declared that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were evidence of God’s judgment on a nation corrupted by civil libertarians and advocates of abortion and gay rights? Falwell demonized himself and followed up his sincere vitriol with the usual insincere public relations apology … This man’s legacy is one of bigotry, xenophobia, anti-modernism, and utter stupidity. No doubt his funeral will be well-attended.”
So here’s to Jerry Falwell, a man who made a mockery of Christianity, and in the process made (some) people act more “Christian” towards us. I feel confident that both his supporters and his opponents sleep confidently in the knowledge that he has gone to his just punishment/reward.