In this year, 2007, which is now 138.5 days old, people died. People die every year, every hour, every minute.
Kurt Vonnegut died April 11, and that made me a little sad, because I've never seen him in real life and now I never will. He died at the age of 84, after brain injuries sustained in a fall.
Kurt Vonnegut helped me survive high school.
Molly Ivins died on January 31, and that made me sadder, because she was younger (62) and she died of cancer. And I never saw her in person, and I never will.
Molly Ivins helped me survive the GW Bush presidency.
In January, there were 83 US fatalities in Iraq.
Anna Nicole Smith died on February 8. She was one year and a few months younger than I am, which is a sobering thought. I don't know that her death made me sad in a personal way, but her death was sad, and also absurd, and her eulogy was a perverse media circus. Proximate cause of death: (probably?) accidental drug overdose. Cause of death: wanting to be the next Marilyn Monroe.
Anna Nicole Smith made very little difference in my life.
On April 2, Jonathan Rowan walked into offices at the University of Washington and murdered Rebecca Griego (an ex girlfriend he had been stalking) and then himself.
I didn't know her, but I know people who knew her very well.
Writing about this makes me cry.
In April, there were 104 US fatalities in Iraq.
On May 15, Jerry Falwell died, at the age of 73, from heart failure.
I am not sure how I feel about this.
I have loathed Falwell since I first heard of him and his "moral majority" -- he was reaching pop-culture ascendency right as I hit puberty. I watched in dismay over the next 20 years as his style of highly partisan self-righteous bigotry became the fashion in the mainstream protestant churches I attended.
I can't say I would be a part of a Christian church today if Falwellism hadn't caught on, but it is a direct cause of me leaving the church originally.
(Good job guys. Way to save souls. I know you didn't want bleeding heart liberals like me distracting from your Weekly Hate anyway.)
When he was alive, I could simply loathe him. But now I have to loathe him with complexity. I have to feel slightly bad about how much I loathe him, then disgusted by his postumous transformation into a shining beacon of moral courage, then slightly bad again.
(Come on... Newt Gingrich?)
Falwell was not a good man. Maybe you know this already, or maybe you have forgotten some of his notable public works -- like denouncing Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in general, denouncing opposition to apartheid, opposing public schools, opposing first amendment protections for any religion other than his own, and, oh yeah, virtual nonstop hating on the gays.
(Or maybe, like Ms. Ann Coulter, you agree with him on every point. Which doesn't make him a good man, it just makes you as vile as he is. Was. Although the title of her paean, "Jerry Falwell -- Say Hello to Ronald Reagan!" is the sort of thing that makes me wonder if her whole shtick is one enormous put-on. I mean, until I saw the byline, I assumed it was somebody writing about both of them being in hell. Isn't that what you assumed? No?)
I assume Falwell had -- not a good side, I won't go that far, but a human side. Maybe he liked real mochas and his wife was always making him get nonfat sugar-free on account of his heart but sometimes he snuck out with other guys from the church and got a real one anyway. Or he always told his grandchildren this one stupid Bible joke that they never thought was funny, but it made them giggle anyway because he used a funny voice and then hugged them afterward with a sincere passion that grew more and more embarrassing as they approached puberty.
According to Leonard Pitts, Falwell had at least one promising moment of non-bigotry, where he briefly reached out to gay-friendly Christian groups.
But what does it mean really? Was it a sincere gesture? Was Falwell capable of repentance, but just too set in his ways? Or did he get too much positive feedback, too much money and status and praise, for remaining a bigot? Certainly, there can be negative consequences for renouncing the hellfire-n-brimstone approach.
Nobody knows if there is a hell, or a heaven. Nobody knows if there is even a kind of soul that survives the death of the body. And everybody -- really -- has to know that nobody else knows either. A lot of religious rhetoric is devoted to making sure the question doesn't even come up. "God said it. I believe it. that settles it." Spend a little time unpacking the world of assumptions built into those nine words of bumper-sticker Christianity.
(And it is always Christians with that particular bumper sticker, although the sentiment could just as easily come from Muslims or Jews.)
(Which right away tells you a lot of what's wrong with it.)
I suspect that fanatical behavior comes, not from certainty, but from doubt.
So, maybe that is the human core of Falwell: it was fear that led to anger (that led to the dark side). He was always pointing the accusing finger at others because of deep insecurity about his own eternal fate.
And with that I can sincerely wish his (hypothetical) soul bon voyage, and hope that he has found the heart of the universe large enough to love everyone, even him, and merciful enough to forgive all sins, including his own, and that right now he is weeping, if the dead weep, for the pain he caused, and for his wasted life.