Farewell to Falwell
While it's not nice to speak ill of the dead, I have to say that Jerry Falwell was one of the pivotal figures in what I consider a terrible turn in American politics -- the (most recent) attempt to include religion in legislative matters. His mobilization of the Religious Right changed the landscape of American politics for the worse. It threatened -- and continues to threaten -- the basic civil rights for whole groups of people (women, the glbt community, minorities). It polarized the nation into self-righteous religionists who saw political opponents as devilish and sinful, rather than just as people who disagreed on principles. It claimed that the only way to be devout, the only way to be moral, was to adhere to their principles, and that conscience and morality were no longer matters of individual agency, but issues which had to be legislated by the government.
In short, it advocated a kind of Christian theocracy. It should be obvious that theocracy is a disaster, whether it is Christian theocracy, or Muslim theocracy. Ample evidence of that can be found in 1500s Spain, and modern day Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Unfortunately, although Falwell's personal power and influence waned as he made more and more outrageous statements about disasters being a punishment for homosexuality and women's lib, the ramifications of the Moral Majority's entrance into American politics is ongoing. The religious left, thankfully, has begun organizing to reclaim moral space -- to make public the stance that there are other ways to understand morality, and to reassert that the freedoms of conscience, religion, expression, etc are fundamental, to America and to simple human dignity.
Also unfortunately, Falwell's disastrous legacy does not lie only in American politics. He, like many of his evangelical brethren, took an aggressive and inhospitable view of religions other than Christianity. As a Muslim, I was well aware of his characterizations of Islam, and how they served to divide and set people at odds with one another, rather than to encourage peace and harmonious relationships. His belligerent stance against other religions only facilitates stereotyping and arrogance, both of which enable the kind of ongoing conflict and warfare we see today between America and various Muslim countries.
I can only say that it is sad that someone who had so much influence didn't use his power to bring people together. Think how much he could have accomplished if instead of characterizing Islam as evil, he had said, we don't agree on religious matters, but all of humankind is my brother, and I must love my brother as I love myself. That might mean you wish everyone would follow your beliefs, but it also means you would treat them with the same respect, dignity, compassion and consideration that you would like to be treated with. Think how much he might have accomplished if instead of trying to force people to live the morality he believed in, he had tried instead to inspire them to do so.