Weeks after Jerry Falwell made the post-September 11 remarks for which he has since apologized, he is getting flak from unlikely quarters. Rev. Falwell, you'll recall, was on Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network show The 700 Club, when he said that God might be punishing America for the actions of liberal groups that have promoted the evils of abortion, homosexuality, promiscuity, pornography and the like. You know, the stuff that Pope John Paul II repeatedly calls "the culture of death."
Rev. Falwell himself acknowledged that he had overreached in saying, "I point the finger" at the ACLU, People for the American Way, homosexual activists and other liberals. For an unequivocal apology, see Rev. Falwell's Web site. As a preacher, Rev. Falwell knows that no human can fathom the doings of Almighty God: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," declares the Lord (Isaiah 55:8).
On October 23, Tod Lindberg, who also edits the Heritage Foundation's Policy Review, sent forth this Washington Times column: "Osama bin Laden, meet Jerry Falwell: Extremism must be defanged."
"I, for one," Mr. Lindberg writes, "expect [that] damage control in response to this spectacularly offensive episode is going to be an exercise in futility." He should have added, "At least, if I have anything to say about it."
Mr. Lindberg went on: "There is a gulf of civilization separating Mr. Falwell from decent Americans who couldn't imagine blaming their countrymen for the terror attack. But even this is small compared to the vast gulf of civilization that separates bin Laden and Mr. Falwell. Mr. Falwell lives in a time and place in which those harboring his view of fellow human beings are constrained to express it in the marketplace.... There will, for a while to come anyway, probably be ample rewards for those best able to articulate this point of view, on account of its lingering (if diminishing) resonance with some Americans." Translation: Jerry Falwell is pretty much like bin Laden, but the system prevents him from doing violence, so I guess he's more civilized.
We've seen radical homosexual groups make these kinds of arguments, but it's shocking when they come from a mainstream Republican conservative, as Mr. Lindberg appears to consider himself.
But if Mr. Falwell had put it differently, would it be beyond the pale to suggest the possibility that God may, in fact, be fed up with America for allowing the killing of "inconvenient" children, for promoting sodomy in ways that would make Sodom blush, and for banishing His name from the public square? Is it unreasonable to ponder whether the forces of decadence in America, transmitted worldwide by a perverse popular culture, have made it easy for the likes of bin Laden to misrepresent America as the Great Satan?
America's forefathers had no problem with the concept of Divine Judgment. In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln opined that the Civil War was God's punishment on America for slavery. He made the speech a month before the end of the war, after hundreds of thousands of Americans had died, and he quoted Psalm 19:9: "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." Would the GOP's founder still have a place in the "new" Republican Party or the secularized new world that Mr. Lindberg envisions?
The subtext of Mr. Lindberg's column is revealing. Mr. Falwell has an orthodox Christian view of man's sinfulness, so Mr. Lindberg's disparaging comment about "his view of his fellow human beings" might be construed as contempt for the Christian view of human nature, at least the Bible-based version that has not given itself over to worshipping false idols like "the marketplace" or "democracy" or the liberal version of heaven-on-earth--"diversity."
Mr. Lindberg implies that fundamentalist Christianity is on the wane, and a good thing, too, or we would be stabbing each other over religious differences. This "secularism is the soul of America" argument ignores the irreplaceable contribution that Christendom has made to the cause of freedom. It wasn't Hindus who decided to put an end to "suttee" in India, the practice of throwing a live wife onto her dead husband's funeral pyre.
Mr. Lindberg puts his faith in "elite Muslim opinion that has already fully embraced the modern world." What a chimera. Even the moderate Muslim nations with which we do business, such as Saudi Arabia, continue to promote virulent anti-Semitism and to actively prosecute the mildest expressions of Christianity.
Mr. Lindberg assures us that as Rev. Falwell and his ilk are driven from public life, the marketplace will restore a semblance of civility: Some of the old hatred and anger will certainly remain--now, however, defanged, its own adherents no longer willing to act on their anger by killing; their violence only metaphorical. For them, and to the great pecuniary benefit of its lucky proprietors, there will be Osama TV--on the cable lineup through the Middle East alongside Al Jazeera, CNN, the Food Channel and the Christian Broadcasting Network."
Note the inclusion of the innocuous alongside the real target--Christian Broadcasting Network. The cover doesn't work. The message is unmistakable: Clip the wings of religious zanies (all of them), and the marketplace will be our salvation. This is why we are trying to "civilize" the warlords in China by flooding them with technology and business for their slave labor, ignoring how they are building a war machine aimed right at us.
The Rev. Falwell is as strong a supporter of the free market and self-government as any other good conservative. He is imperfect, too, like the rest of us. However, I doubt we will ever see him make the mistake of turning the economic marketplace into an idol or to mistake man's marketplace of ideas, however illuminating, for ultimate truth, which comes only from God.
Good people make mistakes. Good people forgive them. It's not too late for Mr. Lindberg to put a little love in his heart for someone even so dastardly as the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Then we can forgive Mr. Lindberg for his own excesses, as we are told to do by Him who loves us all.