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Grease Fire

Falwell Meets His Maker

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, May 16, 2007.

I’m a complete atheist, although I admit when I think of departed loved ones, I speak to them. I don’t know why this is, but I suppose it’s just habit from childhood. You don’t want the elders or peers of your life to go away entirely, and even though they return to dust, as we all do, you hope their spirit or soul lives on, and they can see that they are remembered and loved, and that the conversation continues. But I really don’t think so.

I just read God Is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens, this week. Read it in damned near one sitting of a couple of hours, which is not that big a feat. It’s a short book, but it is powerful and if you like good writing by a master of the language, Hitchens never fails to impress and, ultimately, to convince. It’s at the top of the Amazon and New York Times Best Seller lists, which is odd for such a supposedly religious nation. Cynics might say that this proves either that the religious don’t actually read, or that people really aren’t as religious as they claim. I think people go with the flow when polls are taken. I didn’t believe my countrymen when they talk about sex or religion.

That the book headed the best seller lists at the very time Jerry Falwell died might be seen as fitting. Reverend Falwell was yet another one of those fat white guys whose hair got redder each year, whose baritone was used to such strong effect telling those gathered before television and podium that he knew the mind of the Christ and darn near spoke for him. It’s difficult to select one or two of Falwell’s despicable comments to sum up the man, but I think one stands out. This is what he said about the attacks on September 11, 2001."The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. 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 this happen.'"

If God were merely a feckless thug, a petty sadist - and apparently an incompetent one if he doesn’t attack those he’s mad at but just anyone handy - and if you discount the actual motives of the attackers, about which they videoed themselves and wrote explanations, you still may not be convinced that this was the reason the twin towers fell or the hurricanes came ashore. It would be just as viable to announce that Katrina and terrorism were God’s punishments for a country that tolerates bitter bigots like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and that revolting creature Phelps from Kansas who shows up at the funerals of servicemen and women to say their death is god’s punishment for the US condoning homosexuality. There is just as much evidence – more, actually – that Christ hates above all things canting hypocrites who, among other errors, do not pray silently in a closet to God, but in pubic for veneration and regard …….and money. They have their reward immediately, as Christ observed, and perhaps a punishment comes later.

Today, I like to think I keep smelling a grease fire, as if a pig’s corpse were being cooked. I like to think that it’s Falwell. But, I really don’t believe in hell, so I have to admit it’s my imagination. Still, I understand the attraction of the afterlife and a good God.

Hitchens says, and many atheists say, that compassion and morality are not born from God or God’s gift to us but are as man made as murder, war, and indulgences. To a degree, yes, I concur. To another, I do not. Somewhere in the mental construct that became religion, along with all the horse feathers and literal smoke and mirrors, the idea emerged that certain things should be done because God approved of them. There was no reward, maybe no penalty, but certain things were right, were righteous. And if you lived by this evolving code, God would be pleased, things would be better. That God might not be pleased at certain actions, and punish you in hellfire everlasting, strikes me as a not ineffective way of getting people’s attention if the carrot of righteousness was not enough. No way to prove it, but I’m not as willing as Hitchens to say religion has done little or no good. If religion is an invention, there was a necessary birth mother for it.

I remain in complete agreement religion has excused, fostered, and promoted much that is purely evil. Nothing in Jerry Falwell’s life does anything to wobble that.