My well-mannered 89-year-old mother taught me not to speak ill of the dead, but even she was laughing when she heard that Jerry Falwell had died.
"I guess not too many people are going to miss him," she said.
Not being a Christian has its advantages, and one of them has been the ability to sit back and watch in disbelief as self-serving hypocrites befoul all that is decent and tender about the Christian religion.
Calumny? Rev. Jerry Falwell loved it.
In fact, he will long be remembered for saying, just after Sept. 11, 2001, "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.'"
Furious, the director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Lorri L. Jean, demanded an apology.
"The terrible tragedy that has befallen our nation, and indeed the entire global community, is the sad byproduct of fanaticism," she said. "It has its roots in the same fanaticism that enables people like Jerry Falwell to preach hate against those who do not think, live, or love in the exact same way he does."
As soon as he was called out (and even the White House rebuked him), Falwell, as all bullies do, backed down. He told CNN:
"I would never blame any human being except the terrorists, and if I left that impression with gays or lesbians or anyone else, I apologize."
Remember the Bible talking about those without sin casting the first stone? And about mercy and loving kindness? Not this guy.
"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals," he said.
And when a gay church came close to being accepted into the World Council of Churches, Falwell said, "Thank God this vile and satanic system will one day be utterly annihilated and there'll be a celebration in heaven."
How many angry and deluded people used Falwell's words as permission to commit violence? How much blood is on Falwell's hands?
Thou shalt not kill? Not one of Falwell's favorite commandments. "We visit prisoners on death row, and some of them are saved, but we believe their sentences should be carried out because they have a debt to society."
Respect for women? Not a chance.
"It appears that America's anti-Biblical feminist movement is at last dying, thank God, and is possibly being replaced by a Christ-centered men's movement which may become the foundation for a desperately needed national spiritual awakening," he said.
And another time, "I do not believe the homosexual community deserves minority status. One's misbehavior does not qualify him or her for minority status. Blacks, Hispanics, women, etc., are God-ordained minorities who do indeed deserve minority status."
Well, that's just ignorant, Rev. Falwell. Women are the majority on the planet. And we're certainly a majority in the United States. Maybe that's what God ordained?
Falwell took his prejudices to such an extreme that at times you wondered if the man was sane. Take this quote about the American Civil Liberties Union: "The ACLU is to Christians what the American Nazi party is to Jews." All those ACLU concentration camps, with their poison showers and crematoriums? How have they managed to hide them so well?
And speaking of his stupidity, "The whole (global warming) thing is created to destroy America's free enterprise system and our economic stability."
Falwell was not, as he claimed, a theologian. When you examine his belief system, it becomes evident that his god wasn't God, or Jesus. It was only the status quo. He supported patriarchy; it gave him his power. He supported capitalism as though God had a preferred economic policy. He supported the death penalty because revenge is easier than turning the other cheek. He supported the destruction of the environment because he couldn't even think so far out of the box as to treasure the Garden of Eden and be concerned about its fouling.
Anti-Semitism? "The Jews are returning to their land of unbelief. They are spiritually blind and desperately in need of their Messiah and Savior," Falwell said. Another time, he announced that the Antichrist is alive and living as a Jewish male.
No, Falwell was not a man of God. Falwell was a snake oil salesman, a hustler of the first water.
It must feel so good to be able to hate like that. To be so self-righteous. So egotistical. So proud. So sure of your own damned, small-minded prejudices that you feel no shame in attributing them to God himself.
Bullies, hustlers, hypocrites, fanatics and the rest of the rats who hide behind the Bible must be called out. Falwell is only one of a pack. Pat Robertson is another. George W. Bush is one, too. There may be too many to name. And don't forget their followers.
All hiding behind Christianity in the pursuit of power. All interested only in their own self-aggrandizement. All ignorant. All uncreative. All lacking in empathy. All happy to pick on those they perceive as weaker than themselves. All indifferent to the pain of others.
There are many moral Christians in this world, as there are many moral Jews, moral Muslims and moral atheists. People like Jerry Falwell give religion a bad name.