Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Hello, Mr. Falwell,

and welcome to the afterlife!

We're from

the wardrobe department."

I'm really glad I'm not Jerry Falwell today.

Not only am I grateful in the sense that I am still here, and not dead, but I'm grateful that I'm not having to deal with a tough room at American Airlines Heavenly Gate B-14.

I suspect that there are a lot of angry dead people waiting to have a word with Jerry Falwell -- people who were arrogantly informed that their terminal illness was punishment from God, hurricane and earthquake victims, black people in general, maybe Steven Biko in particular, and especially people who died on 9-11.

And I have a feeling that Jesus is none too pleased, either.

I think there's going to be a conversation that starts off something like, "Jerry. Dude. This stuff you've been saying? It's not what I meant at all ..."

We all have different beliefs. That's one thing I do like about living in America -- we can all hold different religious beliefs. You can believe in Jesus, Yahweh, Buddha, Allah, any one of a zillion other deities, or nobody at all.

You can even believe that aliens are hiding behind a comet to take you to Heaven in their UFO, that purple cartoon dolls are gay, or that Robert Plant is mumbling "come to me my sweet Satan" if you play "Stairway to Heaven" backwards.

And I can believe in a loving and forgiving Creator instead of a punitive one ... and 300 million other people can each believe what they want, and we are all supposed to play nice together and share the crayons.

For that reason, no one religion, or coalition of like-minded faiths, should be able to impose their particular doctrinal prohibitions upon the rest of the nation.

The nun who taught American history at my Catholic high school had a firm grasp on the Constitution. She made it crystal-clear that separation of church and state is not a threat to people who pray. Its purpose is not to push religion aside, but to give it room to grow.

Me? I have never had a religious opinion or doctrinal belief so strong that I would choose to influence politicians to pass laws to impose my religious belief on people who do not share it.

Which is not to say I don't have other opinions I would like to see put into law, but those beliefs are logically derived, and have nothing to do with my spin on the Bible, or any other holy book, or some audacious idea of what I think God wants.

I especially believe that religious leaders in the public eye have no business abusing their positions of power and influence to create laws imposing their doctrine on other people who do not share those beliefs, or in matters that do not pertain to religious faith. For example, I won't tell the neighborhood Episcopalian pastor how to run his church, because I am neither a priest nor an Episcopalian. Likewise, I have no interest in Jerry Falwell's opinion on global warming, simply because he was a preacher and a religious politcal lobbyist -- not a scientist. And global warming is not a matter of Biblical interpretation.

To further my point, I'll try to avoid highly divisive issues, and talk about something a little lighter. In many American communities, one cannot purchase alcoholic beverages on Sunday, simply because the majority of elected officials in that community belong to religions which consider alcohol to be sinful. I now live in such a community, but I was raised Catholic, so I was taught that alcohol in moderation is acceptable for adults, that it adds a celebratory feeling to meals and social gatherings, and is quite all right if you refrain from being abusive or otherwise an ass, provided that you give the car keys to someone sober before you go home.

I was also raised in New Orleans, which thrives on tourism, and (get ready for a shock) the overwhelming majority of tourists do not come to New Orleans to attend the services of teetotaling religions. They come here to indulge in food, wine and entertainment. And in New Orleans, which is predominantly Catholic, you can eat, drink and be merry seven days a week while you visit.

And although a lot of booze is sold in the Big Easy, get ready for another shock -- despite what Jerry Falwell and Jim Bakker say? The majority of tourists spend most of their time, not marching in gay pride parades or hanging out in the strip clubs in the French Quarter... but in restaurants, at music clubs, at the Aquarium of the Americas, at the zoo, and viewing the architecture in one of America's oldest cities. And did I say eating? And buying yarn? And eating some more? And then a nice glass of wine to relax at the end of the day?

But in Baton Rouge, the community where I now live, if I am wine-less on a Sunday afternoon (as I often am), and a friend drops by for a surprise visit, I cannot run out and buy a bottle of wine to celebrate this visit, because other people have decided that their religious opposition to wine is more important than the rights of Jews, Catholics, agnostics and expatriated New Orleanians to spontaneously enjoy a glass of wine if they so choose.

Jerry Falwell would have no concern about my dilemma as a good host. He'd either tell me that I should have planned ahead and bought a bottle of wine on Saturday, or that I should keep wine handy in case someone stops by, or (more likely) that I should make lemonade instead. He might even advise me to go to a restaurant, the only place where you can buy wine here on Sunday, provided you have it with food and you drink it on the premises.

But suppose I don't want lemonade. Suppose I don't want to go to a restaurant. I definitely don't want to drink and then drive home. Suppose I want to celebrate my friend's visit with a nice bottle of pinot grigio, in the comfort of our own home? My right to a simple and basic social grace has been trod upon.

Of course, there are far more serious issues to contend with than buying merlot on Sunday, issues which grievously tread on the rights of people whose faith (or lack thereof) is in the minority of voters. However, unlike some social issues, a wine-less Sunday is an absurdity that can be discussed in a civilized fashion.

Some people start to get all wiggly when you talk about other issues, like allowing gay people the social dignity of marriage under the law.

Whatever the institution of marriage may represent in your own personal religious denomimation, I can assure you that it is not a holy bond at City Hall. It is a civil bond. When gay couples ask for the right to legally marry, they are not asking for a holy sacrament, and they are not asking the government to force any church to allow them to have a church wedding. They are asking for the right to make a civil contract.

If their own pastor doesn't want to allow a gay church wedding, that's his business. And his right.

So I get impatient -- very impatient -- with clowns like Falwell who assert that legalizing gay marriage would somehow be a threat to the institution of heterosexual marriage.

Sorry, folks. It's not married homosexuals who endanger heterosexual unions.

Most often, it's unscrupulous, single, heterosexual people.

Usually, it's heterosexual people who have some inside information as to what Victoria's real secret is.

You would have thought that Falwell, by now, would have figured out that it wasn't a married lesbian who brought Jim Bakker down and made poor ole Tammy Faye cry a river of black mascara. Jessica Hahn was most definitely single, straight, half Bakker's age, and endowed with a sufficiently impressive chestoid region to get herself in Playboy.

But I digress.

Falwell was a pompous and self-righteous ass, and perhaps one should forgive him for that, and that alone, on general principle as a human failure. We are all pompous asses on occasion. Perhaps I am being a bit of a pompous ass myself, right this minute.

However, we are all not in the same positions of power and influence as he was.

I do believe he exploited the good faith of many, many ordinary people to further his own politcal agenda.

I do believe he was far more interested in advancing his own name and personal influence than he was interested in furthering the teachings of Jesus.

Falwell spent far, far more time with politicians than with the poor.

Jerry Falwell was no Billy Graham. Billy Graham believes that his mission on this Earth is to lead people to salvation. He does this by touching their hearts with the Bible, not by whacking them over the head with it.

And although Billy Graham has traditionally offered his spiritual counsel to Presidents and other leaders, he never tried to grab control of Congress and run the country.

Falwell did.

Maybe Falwell was Cardinal Richelieu in another life. Who knows?

More than anything? I don't know if I can ever forgive Falwell for using the rubble of 9-11 as a platform to further his own political agenda.

9-11 wasn't caused by gays, feminists or the American Civil Liberties Union.

9-11 was caused by a handful of zealots, zealots every bit as fervent as Falwell in their own flavor of religious intolerance, and, quite frighteningly, every bit as venomous about the exact same points on Falwell's agenda -- intolerance of women's rights, intolerance of other religions, intolerance of gays, intolerance of the media, intolerance of Western civilization, intolerance of anyone who isn't as intolerant as themselves. The fact that they went much further than Falwell to drive their hatred home only begs the question: how far would Falwell and his ilk go? Some of them already shoot doctors.

In fact, considering those things, his statement about 9-11 almost sounded like a threat.

It doesn't matter that he later apologized. At that moment, in the midst of incomprehensible horror, a powerful man who held himself out as a representative of Jesus Christ abandoned all compassion and surrendered his humanity in exchange for a sound byte and the opportunity to make a politcal jab.

The dramatic impact was too huge. The temptation, too great.

And that, my friends, is a deal with the Devil.

So I think Jerry Falwell has a lot of questions to answer right about now. Questions about his early racism, questions about his support of apartheid, questions about 9-11. Many questions indeed.

I am not fervent enough in my own beliefs to make an unequivocal statement as to who that Questioner might be. Maybe Jesus, maybe Vishnu, maybe Allah ... maybe nobody at all.

Perhaps Jerry Falwell is crawling out of a cockroach egg-casing right this very instant, wondering why Heaven looks so much like a kitchen floor in Brooklyn ... and hey, how did I get so small? And what's in the spray can that lady is holding?

Or maybe he is being re-conceived at this very moment as a human embryo, to grow up as a gay son in the household of a preacher as intolerant and unequivocal as he was himself in this life.

But me? I'm hoping he comes back as a Teletubby.




At 9:09 PM, Blogger Scattered Gemini said...


So i take it that i've not been the only person on Earth, secretly happy that the man is dead. I must admit to being a tad bit giddy in fact. I know. So wrong.

You hit the nail on the head on the 9/11 controversy. I was SO very pissed off when Falwell placed blame where he did. Could he not see that he was just the same as the terrorists who accomplished the crime?

I get increasingly angry with those "Christians" who claim to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and then spit in the eye of anyone they don't agree with. According to any historical documentation that we have, Jesus would have never behaved that way nor do i believe he would wish his followers to behave in such a manner.

I'm glad you wrote this post. If would have tried to voice these things, it would have been a rambled mess.

Oh. And, i hope he gets the purple suit. ;)

At 12:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I am not actually glad that Jerry Falwell is dead, I was taught that that was wrong. The only exception I was allowed as a child was the death of Joe Stalin.

But from what we have read and heard about him down here in Australia - he spent a great deal of time coming the raw prawn and was a right drongo.

I hope the questions, and the reactions to his answers are making him SQUIRM with shame.

Gae Fenske, in Callala Bay

At 5:11 AM, Anonymous Barbara-Kay said...

Baton Rouge isn't THAT dry: in BR the good guest brings the wine! VBG!

After all, wasn't it our beloved Mary herself who said (sorta) Look, Son, they've run out of wine. Do something!

At 5:34 AM, Anonymous Rachel H said...

I had to come over after I read your Teletubby yarn comment over at Steph's. Loved it.

Here's hoping that a lot of the intolerance and hatred he spread dies with him.

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Redblur63 said...

Loved this post. You summed it all up very nicely. The cockroach analogy was prime!

Redblur63 in Memphis

At 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


And pass the wine :)

At 6:58 PM, Blogger Laurie said...

Hear, hear! Long live NOLA and wineful Sundays! Jerry Falwell was an abomination of a human. I don't believe he represented Jesus or Jesus' teachings at all. I find everything Falwell ever did or stood for to be completely disgusting, anti-Jesus, and anti-American. Of course, I was probably taught American History by that same nun. ;)

At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Blogless Jude said...

/well said, and kudos for having the courage to say it!

At 4:42 PM, Anonymous oneken/unokhan said...

thanks for this one, dez. you manage to keep it all humane in the eternal human search for justice.

i almost snorted a pretty good south african cabernet thru my nose when you described the widdle cockwoach, hah!

and if you should come up short on a sunday with visitors, call me, and i will fokn deliver 2 yer door.



At 6:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A hearty amen on all this, Dez.

At 11:23 PM, Anonymous Kathryn said...

Dez I just gave your piece to my father to read - and he agreed too. (Mind you he was not sure who the Teletubbies are!)
It is also heading up as an issue in Australian politics with a party called "Family First". My job involves working with people of all faiths and creeds and skin colours and I have found something to like in about 99.9% of the human race.

At 8:11 PM, Blogger Jess said...

Once again, a rapier wit and brilliant assessment, Dez.

Perhaps those folks who invoke the name of Jesus and disallow the sale of alcohol on Sundays believe that Jesus turned water into whine.

I also think the purple suit would fit nicely.


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