A reader writes:
I know I'm singing to the choir here, but I really think that Falwell's legacy is simple... he brought fundamentalist' christianism out from under a rock and injected it into the daily conversation. For all we hear about liberals vs. conservatives, those terms have been so perverted and twisted that the debate has become essentially irrelevant. The welfare state has been proven unworkable and the classic definition of conservatism (smaller government + lower taxes = more personal liberty and a stronger, freer republic) has been on life support since the right sold their souls and went after the wallace voters in '68 and then embraced falwell in '80.
The only relevant ideological debate now is around fundamentalism. Examine the definition, then list the characteristics of that brand of faith and it's remarkably similar wherever you go: Belief in an all-encompassing "truth". Literal interpretation of a sacred text. Strict adherence to doctrine and dogma with no regard to conscience, reason or science. Blind loyalty to anointed leaders. An outright war on homosexuality and lesser, more subtle restrictions on the rights of women and people of color. Reliance on violence, torture, and terrorism... and most frightening, a strong, welcoming belief in a cleansing apocalypse.
They're all there...every single trait, in every single sect that subscribes to fundamentalism, whether it's religious or secular, Christian or Muslim, communist or Nazi. and in a world where the pace of change is accelerating geometrically, the lure of certain truth is particularly seductive, especially to the poor and disenfranchised. That's Falwell's legacy, and if the rest of us don't step up and call it for the bullshit that it is, we're all in trouble.
That thesis is the essential premise of my book, "The Conservative Soul." I agree that our response to fundamentalism - mainly Islamist and secondly Christianist - is the key task of our time. The point of the book is both to rescue conservative politics from the Falwell delusion, but also to argue that fundamentalists are just flat out wrong about what religious faith truly is. Or, in the words of Montaigne,
"Some impose upon the world beliefs they do not hold; others, more in number, impose beliefs upon themselves, not being able to penetrate into what it really is to believe."
I think that fundamentalists are too afraid to really believe. Jesus always, always told us, "Be not afraid." How can those seeking to follow in his footsteps construct a theology entirely based on not taking his advice?