Chicago Sun-Times Writer: Jerry Falwell Was A Spiritual Bully, Like Tony Soprano

It might not be surprising for liberal blog commenters or talk-radio callers to denounce Rev. Jerry Falwell upon his death, but it's a little more surprising when it comes to a professed Christian who's religion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Cathleen Falsani reflected on her first reaction about hearing Falwell was "relief" and compared him to gangster TV character Tony Soprano:

Knowing I didn't have a deadline to meet that day, my first thoughts were not of what to say or write.

In fact, my very first thought upon hearing of the Rev. Falwell's passing was: Good.

And I didn't mean "good" in a oh-good-he's-gone-home-to-be-with-the-Lord kind of way. I meant "good" as in "Ding-dong, the witch is dead."

But that thought -- good riddance, I suppose -- was not meant to be cruel or malicious. [!]After all, the faith that the Rev. Falwell and I share teaches us that he was, at that moment, in a far better place, with Jesus in heaven, and not roasting on a spit in Hell's kitchen.

By shrugging off his mortal coil, the Rev. Falwell had ceased to suffer the pain of humanity.

Still, I'm not particularly proud of my knee-jerk reaction. But there it is....

My initial reaction to the Rev. Falwell's death was, and remains, relief -- not unlike the ease I felt when a particularly nasty bully who used to spit at me on the playground and threaten to beat me up after school moved to another town.

The Rev. Falwell was a spiritual bully. He was the Tony Soprano to Pat Robertson's Paulie Walnuts.

How on Earth can a religion columnist compare a televangelist to a malicious mob boss and killer? We could understand the typical Elmer Gantry comparisons, but Tony Soprano? Including Robertson on the list suggested clearly that was Falsani believes is that conservatism and orthodoxy are "bullying" and that liberalism and relativism brings true spirituality and harmony with God. Falsani couldn't let the HBO-mobster thing go:

People who know both of us have told me over the years that we'd probably have liked each other, the Rev. Falwell and I, that he was an affable, almost jolly man, not nearly as smug and awful as his public persona made him out to be.

I'm sure, were he real, Tony Soprano also would make a charming dinner companion, sharing his lasagna and an expensive bottle of Orvieto while telling great stories and asking how your grandmother's doing in the home. And then he'd have you whacked and thrown over the side of his deep-sea fishing boat. But he'd send flowers to the funeral.

After all, as another famous Christian leader once told me by way of explaining how some evangelicals turn on each other (never mind their perceived enemies): "We shoot our own."

I won't miss having to apologize for the insensitive, mean-spirited, sometimes downright hateful things the Rev. Falwell said in the name of Christ. I won't miss having to explain that not all evangelicals are like the Rev. Falwell, that not all of us are that self-righteous, judgmental and holier than thou.

The Rev. Falwell's absence from this realm will mean one less voice telling my gay and lesbian friends that they are somehow less loved by God, that AIDS is God's wrath, that they are to blame for calamities such as 9/11 or Katrina. I really won't miss the pain in my friends' eyes when they ask me how the Rev. Falwell and I could both be Christians but be so different from each other.

I will not miss seeing him on CNN, pontificating about what God's intention was in allowing and/or causing the latest natural disaster, massacre, plague, famine or terrorist attack. I will not miss the Rev. Falwell's voice or point of view.

Falsani does not seem to recognize that what she is writing can be very easily described as "insensitive, mean-spirited, sometimes downright hateful things...in the name of Christ."

This is not a surprise, coming from Falsani: in a 2005 column (loved by the far-left Truthout site), she found more charity for a "Jewish atheist" friend as they both denounced President Bush, who she found to be "downright evil."

While surely it is not solely Bush's doing, the moral morass facing (and, arguably, created by) his administration is as profound as any in our history.

Mired in political corruption of one variety or another, hamstrung (economically and spiritually) by an unjust war, and publicly shamed by the most despicable display of institutionalized racism since the slave era, as demonstrated in the unforgivably inept early response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration has lost whatever moral voice it might have had.

And this week, as Republican leaders try to force a monstrous $50 billion budget cut designed allegedly to offset the mounting costs (currently in excess of $62 billion) of hurricane-related aid through Congress, it is clear that its moral compass also has been lost.

The proposed budget cuts, part of the so-called "budget reconciliation," would have devastating effects on the poorest, most vulnerable Americans, while allowing tax relief for the rich.

Maybe immoral isn't the appropriate word.

Downright evil is a better description.

(Hat tip: Dan Gainor)

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