Monday, May 21, 2007

Falwell's legacy,0,2820615.story?coll=bal-oped-headlines

Falwell's poisonous values
Originally published May 21, 2007

ATLANTA // By the time of his death last week, the Rev. Jerry Falwell
had become a caricature, a victim of his egomania and verbal excesses.
The organization he founded in 1979, the Moral Majority, had long since
disbanded, and his name had become associated with right-wing dogma. He
will be remembered as much for his ridiculous pronouncements - such as
blaming gays and feminists, among others, for the 9/11 attacks - as for
anything else.

Nevertheless, his influence on American politics has, sadly, been
profound. He and his fellow theocrats have created a climate of
intolerance for diversity, distrust of science, and disrespect for the
wall of separation between church and state.

Mr. Falwell was among a handful of ambitious activists who saw the
potential in marrying the Republican Party to ultraconservative
Christianity, an alliance that magnified the influence of the South in
national politics and boosted the fortunes of a born-again governor
named George W. Bush.

Ascendant Christian conservatives forced traditional Republicans - those
who believed in a more circumspect government that stayed out of adults'
bedrooms as well as their pockets - to swallow their principles. The
Grand Old Party is now hostage to a group of flat-earthers who deny
evolution, mock gays, denounce stem cell research, suspect
contraceptives and believe all Muslims are going to hell. Indeed, some
of them want a conflagration in the Middle East because they believe it
will hasten the Second Coming of Christ.

And that's not all. When President Bush ascended to the White House, he
allowed loyalty to him and to Christian fundamentalism to dominate the
hiring process. Competence no longer matters. Neither do top-notch
educational credentials and expertise.

Graduates of fundamentalist Christian institutions, especially Mr.
Falwell's Liberty University and the Rev. Pat Robertson's Regent
University, have been given free rein. Regent law school graduate Monica
Goodling - who recently resigned from the Justice Department because of
her central role in the burgeoning scandal there - was given broad
control over hiring attorneys, despite her limited experience.

In his book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Washington Post reporter
Rajiv Chandrasekaran wrote that similar loyalty tests were used in the
hiring process for those charged with rebuilding Iraq. Two applicants
told him they were asked their views on Roe v. Wade. Given those
priorities, the reconstruction process was doomed from the start.

Democrats, too, have been intimidated by the religious right and
brainwashed by the idea that "values voters" can turn an election. The
values endorsed by theocrats, however, are dangerous to democracy.
Thomas Jefferson, whose letter to the Danbury Baptists spoke of the
separation of church and state, understood the grave risks of allowing
the religious views of any group to dominate civil institutions.

The war on science fostered by fundamentalist Christians is also
dangerous to a nation struggling to maintain its economic hegemony. Our
major universities do not produce enough scientists or engineers to keep
us competitive.

President Bush should have launched a major initiative to boost
scientific education, as the nation did in the 1950s and 1960s. If the
nation is to free itself from its addiction to Middle Eastern oil, we
need a program of federally funded research into alternative fuels that
has the urgency and priority of the Manhattan Project. Instead, Mr. Bush
has ignored, until quite recently, evidence of man-made climate change
and refused to fund broadened stem cell research.

Perhaps it's no great surprise, then, that three Republican presidential
candidates would raise their hands during a debate and say they do not
believe in evolution. (I wondered if they would also swear off using
antibiotics, since evolutionary theory lies at the foundation of modern
biology.) Mr. Falwell is dead, but the damage of his fundamentalist
revolution is already done.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun. Her e-mail

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