Pious Pagans

In 'Gladiator,' the Rev. Jerry Falwell finds many comparisons to modern-day politics.

BY: Jonathan V. Last

 
Jerry Falwell, a Baptist minister, is chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and founder of the now defunct Moral Majority. He is a nationally known, often controversial, voice on matters of faith and politics. Pastor Falwell took time this week to discuss "Gladiator" with Jonathan V. Last.

"Gladiator" is the story of Maximus (Russell Crowe), a general in the Roman army at the dawn of the Christian era. When the dying emperor asks Maximus to succeed him, he earns the enmity of the emperor's son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), who disregards his father's wishes, grabs the throne, and has Maximus' family killed. Maximus himself escapes, however, and vowing revenge on Commodus, rises as an anonymous gladiator to face his rival.

In "Gladiator," we have this emperor whose unbridled ambition and flexible morality places his country in danger. Maximus, on the other hand, is a religious man, persecuted for trying to bring down the emperor. Does that make him Ken Starr?

Well, I don't think it makes him Ken Starr. I consider Ken Starr a great American who did his work and did it well. At the same time, I believe Maximus

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was indeed a man of character and a man of courage who stood for his country and for virtues when not many others were.

What do you think the movie is saying about the duties of a citizen?

I think the first duty of any citizen, and especially a citizen of faith, is to stand for his or her values, regardless of the cost. Beyond that, like Maximus, a citizen of faith needs to speak out in every forum he or she has, to try to give guidance and direction to the state. And in some instances, where an individual such as Maximus has an opportunity, a platform, a stage on which to make a difference--even to his own hurt--he or she should take that stand.

Do you think there's also a lesson there about how personal ambition rots the government?

There's no question about that. His hedonism, his rejection of his father's virtues--wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance--and his hatred of all of his critics, made him just the antithesis of a true leader.

So that makes Commodus a particularly compelling villain these days.

He does. He reminds me a lot of Bill Clinton.

What's the difference between the two main characters in their faith?

Well, Maximus was looking constantly through that door to the Elysian Fields--the Roman concept of heaven--and living with eternity in view. Commodus had one thing in mind--self gratification. He had no love or respect for other people. He placed no value on human life. And Maximus was just the opposite.

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