Falwell's poisonous values

May 21, 2007|By CYNTHIA TUCKER

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 is cynthia@ajc.com.

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