Written 21 September 2001. Also see the 2005 Update
It was rather difficult to sit down and write an issue of what’s generally supposed to be a funny column after the events of 11 September, even though I didn’t have to write another column until Sunday, 16 September. But that date rushed right up and the work was slow going, keeping me up until about 1:30 a.m. Monday so I could meet my 8:00 a.m. deadline.
Two things made me want to get started:
First, I felt that things must return to normal as quickly as possible. Besides the simple fact that people need something to smile about, I wanted to be part of the effort to show that we will not be bowed by the terrorists’ actions.
Americans will refuse to collapse in sobbing ruins, refuse to let anyone destroy our hard-won freedoms, and will bring the perpetrators to justice on our own schedule and terms, without violating the laws of the land where this barbarism took place. Quite simply, such terrorism does not work here.
And second, the whole event made me quite angry, but something made me seethe in disbelief: self-appointed American “religious leaders” (read: TV evangelists) dared to put the blame for the terrorism — an attack on innocent men, women, and children — on Americans! It was my lead story in that 16 September 2001 issue:
Casting the First Stone
Who is to blame for the jet plane terrorist attacks on America? TV evangelist Jerry Falwell says Americans are. “God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve,” he said on The Rev. Pat Robertson’s TV show The 700 Club just two days after the attacks, which killed thousands. “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen’,” he said. Robertson said “I totally concur” when Falwell made his remarks. (Washington Post) …America’s Taliban, struggling to grab power.
While True is generally meant to be funny, I don’t always want every story to bring a laugh. I often want to provoke thought, action and/or anger (such as when I write stories about my main pet peeve, “zero tolerance”). To be sure, I definitely do not consider that story to be funny. I consider those two men’s comments downright treasonous.
When I write things meant to provoke anger, I do know that some anger is often turned toward me — it’s a professional hazard. So I indeed expected to get some flack for comparing Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to the Taliban.
Indeed I’ve had a tremendous number of comments — probably more than on any other story — yet, as of this writing, that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I truly consider these two men’s comments to be disgusting, reprehensible, divisive, hurtful, and as fundamentally wrong in a religious sense as the thinking behind the terrorists’ actions — that somehow the Bible (or Koran) provides justification for their positions. The majority of my readers seem to agree.
I juggled all of this while trying to keep up with the news, and putting out special issues of HeroicStories, but I also took several days off to work in the shelters the Red Cross set up in Denver, where hundreds of airline passengers were stranded when all flights were grounded. But feel free to add comments below.
So just a few letters are included below to fairly represent the mix of pro and con — actually over-representing the cons since, as of this writing, there has been very few, so I’ve included the first at the very bottom as representative. I’ve omitted dozens of the “pros” that repeated what’s already included here. Thanks.
“America’s Taliban”? You, sir, have a talent. That is just so right. I’d already felt the same way. You just said it so exquisitely. –Leo, Washington
Randy, you hit the nail squarely on the head — those two were essentially giving aid and comfort to the enemy, which I believe qualifies as treasonous. I was pleased that the White House issued a statement repudiating their statements. I was not so pleased, in discussions on a local forum I participate in here in North Carolina, to see suggestions that we need to adopt laws like Germany has in place banning such hateful speech. Aside from starting down the slippery slope of determining what and whose speech to suppress, the German laws don’t seem to have stopped the neo-Nazi movement there. –Marc, North Carolina
Indeed, what makes the USA such a great and strong country is its recognition of freedom — especially freedom for the individual. Our Declaration of Independence speaks to how all are endowed with “certain inalienable Rights” — which are then spelled out in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. We cannot protect those rights, those very things which makes America great, by taking away some of them!
I wish you had not printed the Falwell-Robertson comments. There are those who read your publication who may agree with them, and you have just given it wider circulation, even repeating it twice! –Jacqueline, Massachussets
Hiding our eyes won’t make evil go away. I think it’s much more important for the people who are “undecided” to learn what these radical fundamentalists actually think! It’s too late for those who agree and won’t change their minds, no matter what evidence they see.
Apology Not Fully Accepted
What got me was when he apologized, it was to everyone but us Pagans. We’ve been doing just as much praying since the attack, asking for healing, and justice. Meanwhile, Mr. Falwell, who should be on his knees praying to his God for the same thing, and trying to unite the country, talks out the other end of digestive system. Shameful. –Brian, Georgia
Falwell did issue an apology on Monday, September 17 (after I wrote my story):
In the midst of the shock and mourning of a dark week for America, I made a statement that I should not have made and which I sincerely regret. I want to apologize to every American, including those I named. The only label any of us needs in such a terrible time of crisis is ‘American’.
He also said he had “misspoken.” He made these comments while he was “in shock and mourning”? He “mispoke”? Hardly likely — he was under no stress on that show, where he is a frequent guest. Scroll down to the transcript and see if you think he was incoherent in making his remarks.
And did Robertson apologize for agreeing with everything Falwell said? No. But his Christian Broadcasting Network issued a statement calling Falwell’s remarks “severe and harsh in tone and, frankly, not fully understood” by Robertson!
He didn’t understand them?! Then why did he agree so readily with such harsh words? (See the transcript!) Is that the sort of religious leader we should be paying attention to?
I certainly agree that Falwell’s remarks were despicable, but in a country where free speech is among our most treasured freedoms, one should be cautious what is termed “treasonous.” I just thought this was something you ought to think about. –Brian, Tennessee
I certainly did think about using the phrase “downright treasonous” before I published — those are very strong words. I even consulted the dictionary: “treason: 1. Violation of allegiance toward one’s country or sovereign, especially the betrayal of one’s country by waging war against it or by consciously and purposely acting to aid its enemies. 2. A betrayal of trust or confidence.”
“Betrayal of trust, especially the betrayal of one’s country by consciously aiding its enemies” says it pretty darn well, doesn’t it? (After reading this reply, Brian sent: “I appreciate your reply and see your point.”)
The one “anti” letter:
Your comments about the Reverends Falwell and Robertson were out of order. America has been losing its moral values by legitimizing abortion, pornography, homosexual behavior and the breakdown of the family. God is the creator of the universe and when a nation disregards His laws, they bring misery on themselves. The solution is to return to America’s previous reverence for God. My generation is of the WWII vintage and IN GOD WE TRUST. –Anthony, California
Oh, you want “WWII vintage”? We’ve been going straight toward hell since the 1950s, have we? Then you must insist we throw out “In God We Trust”! That slogan was adopted as the motto of the United States not by the Founders, but rather Congress, on July 30, 1956.
Similarly, even though the Pledge of Allegiance (the “Flag Pledge”) was written by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy (a socialist! Surely your ideal man for the job!), it originally did not mention God at all. The phrase “under God” (“…One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”) was added by Congress in 1954 — surely, since you’re “WWII vintage,” you remember when the country moved toward more religion. And surely you remember the “Bellamy Salute” that was supposed to be used during the pledge:
Yes, those are American kids, in 1941. That’s during your lifetime, Anthony!
So if you really want to argue a return to the 50s, Anthony, consider that what you’re actually arguing is that we’ve been going downhill ever since the U.S. embraced the Christian God, contrary to our Constitution. (Not that I think we have gone downhill: we have managed since then, for instance, to move away from the horrible injustices of that time, such as the bigotry whose echoes are still being felt in the “land of the free”.)
If you truly want to stay with your argument and feel there’s a cause and effect problem here, then surely we need to rethink the government’s forcing Christianity’s God onto the population a country that has a Constitution prohibiting the establishment of a state religion. Is that what you meant? Probably not.
Let’s Focus on the Real Enemy
The folly in your argument is plain: this isn’t about “In God We Trust”, it’s about radical fundamentalism — and the attempts by many different types of fundamentalists to try to force their way of thinking on others. That’s what’s behind the terrorists’ murderous attacks, and it’s exactly the same thing that’s behind Falwell’s verbal attacks.
One friend, when I told him about the letters I got from the pagans (above) noted, “I made the comment yesterday to a friend that you never hear about ‘pagan terrorists’, ‘pagan fundamentalists’ or ‘pagan extremists’. I’m no pagan, but I’ve gotta respect that.”
And isn’t that what everyone is asking for? A little respect. You don’t have to believe in paganism, so don’t you dare insist that others must accept the fundamentalist rantings Falwell and Robertson spewed on a grieving nation. I reject that as strongly as I reject the actions of the other religious fundamentalist radicals — the ones who turned our own airplanes, and innocent civilians, into guided missiles to attack our way of life.
(There’s more on this on my page about religious freedom. A short history of the Pledge is on this site, here.)
Partial transcript of Jerry Falwell’s comments on the Thursday, 13 September 2001 edition of the “700 Club”, the basis for my story:
JERRY FALWELL: And I agree totally with you that the Lord has protected us so wonderfully these 225 years. And since 1812, this is the first time that we’ve been attacked on our soil and by far the worst results. And I fear, as Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, said yesterday, that this is only the beginning. And with biological warfare available to these monsters — the Husseins, the Bin Ladens, the Arafats – what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact — if, in fact — God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.
PAT ROBERTSON: Jerry, that’s my feeling. I think we’ve just seen the antechamber
JERRY FALWELL: The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this.
PAT ROBERTSON: Well, yes.
JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”
PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.
JERRY FALWELL: Pat, did you notice yesterday the ACLU, and all the Christ-haters, People For the American Way, NOW, etc. were totally disregarded by the Democrats and the Republicans in both houses of Congress as they went out on the steps and called out on to God in prayer and sang “God Bless America” and said “let the ACLU be hanged”? In other words, when the nation is on its knees, the only normal and natural and spiritual thing to do is what we ought to be doing all the time — calling upon God.
PAT ROBERTSON: Amen.
This is True thanks the People for the American Way for providing this transcript.
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16 Comments on “Fundamentally Wrong”
I was glad to see your highlighting of Jerry Falwell’s unbelievable comments. I was shocked that even he could say such a thing at a time like this, and I hope that the word spreads, so that people can know just how horrible a man he is.
Just wanted to say I think that “America’s Taliban” is as succinct a description of Falwell & Co as I’ve yet heard. I wouldn’t mind seeing them stuck with the label, frankly. This is not something I’m going to forget.
As a Christian I felt I had to comment on Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson’s remarks. I personally have had a strong distaste for most TV evangelists for many years (long before I was a Christian) and their ill-conceived comments have only borne out why I loathe such people. These despicable men are pointing the finger at all those people who do not think as they do and are judging America, assuming this attack to be God’s judgment on a sinful nation (excluding themselves, of course!), but it is not our place to assume what God thinks. We cannot read the Bible and extrapolate that New York is another Sodom, although Falwell and Co. obviously have drawn that conclusion.
If the Reverends Robertson and Falwell think that God lifted his protection from the innocents on board the planes and on the ground, and that America is inviting terrorism to attack because we have thrown God out of our country, they must be worshipping a completely different God. I think a God who will forgive the terrible sins that have been committed by humans throughout the ages wouldn’t remove protection from the innocent children that were traveling on those airplanes, or the aircrews that were just doing their jobs, or the businessmen just trying to make a living. God had nothing to do with the crashes, it was evil personified in the cowardly sons of evil that did this. God, last time I checked, gave us free will and expects us to respond in a Christlike way to evil. I stopped listening to Mr. Falwell a long time ago. Now, Mr. Robertson is in my book with a line through it.
Thanks for the piece about Jerry Falwell’s comments, especially [your] comment about “America’s Taliban”. Those were my sentiments exactly when I heard what he had said. I thought about how the terrorists come from a group of people who are twisting religion to fit their own desire for power, and are harming thousands of people in the process (not just the ones they kill, but all the people they repress as well). And I thought about how the Christian extremists in this country are doing the same thing. I thought about the people who have killed doctors and bombed abortion clinics in this country, and I see that we have religious terrorism in this country too. When people like Jerry Falwell make comments like that, I wonder how long it will be until we face more attacks from people in our own country? It’s hard to believe someone could preach such hatred and call himself a Christian, or a religious person of any sort.
I am absolutely offended by the statements of the Rev. Falwell and totally agree with your characterization of his comments. The Rev. Falwell is using the horrific tragedy that has befallen almost 6000 innocent people and the heroes of the New York fire and police departments and the [aircraft] victims in a manner that is obscene. I do not know if Osama bin Laden is the leader of this treachery, but I still consider bin Laden to be a festering sore upon humanity, and Rev. Falwell’s comments put him the same league. I heard a comment this morning from an Islamic cleric that equated the fundamentalist fringe of Islam that promotes suicide attacks as analogous to the KKK. As I believe most Muslims to be peace loving and tolerant, I have to agree with this characterization, and I further believe that the Rev. Falwell falls in this same category. I live in the deep south, so unfortunately I see more of this kind of attitude that I would like, but this is America and I can enjoy the freedoms so many of us take for granted, including the right to free speech which the Rev. Falwell can freely exercise. I only hope that he is able to marginalize himself more this type of viewpoint. It is the best thing America can do.
I saw a news article about these two chuckle heads on Friday. I happen to be Pagan … I’m also bisexual, so I guess that makes me even more to blame, huh? Anyway, I did what is probably the worst possible thing that I could do to these guys: I forgave them. I sent a letter to each of them telling them how we need to stick together in these times of crisis and how we should put aside our differences and be Americans first. Frankly, I expect being forgiven and offered words of solace by a Pagan is far more galling to any condemnation that I could ever make.
“America’s Taliban” — Oh, YES! You GO! I love this. I think there is enough pain in this country right now without the local nuts adding to it by trying to turn us against each other.
YES! You just nailed the American devil. Anyone who uses religion in such a way as to forward his political agenda instead of following the true tenets of his faith should be up for treason. Christianity, which Falwell supposedly practices, has faith, humility, peace, love, tolerance and compassion as its core tenets. Hmmm, if not treason, how about a de-frocking? Here’s hoping that all of us, Christian, Muslim, Secular, and otherwise, can get together, and rise together above the obvious temptations to indulge whoever caused these horrific bombings, and deny them their victory by not giving in to the hatred they are transparently trying to foster.
Sad comments on the 700 Club. Statements like [Falwell’s] really make it hard for guys like me to bring hope in the midst of all this.
“Casting the First Stone” really hit the nail on the head, and the labeling “America’s Taliban” was just incredible!
Once again, Messrs. Falwell and Robertson have shown their true colors — as intolerant fascists who have no true love for America and “that for which it stands”, but love only their twisted, imaginary view of an isolationist, homogenistic “America” where their unholy lust for personal power is sated. The last thing we need in this time of pain and suffering is bigoted divisiveness. Sadder still is that there are many who listen — and believe.
The American Taliban is alive and well, most unfortunately, in my view.
Though I live in Bangkok, I have many American friends here, both long-term, year-round residents and those who come and go, either because their work takes them back and forth or they’re retired and split their time between here and the States. The point is that though expats here are hardly typical of the average person on the streets of America, I do get considerable exposure to at least some thought from said streets.
And some of that slice of thought I hear is downright chilling. I know people who seriously propose that anyone not Christian — especially Muslims — be at least suppressed, if not repressed. But “let’s include the Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. etc. etc. while we’re at it since this is a Christian nation.”
Well, no it’s not. And that’s a large part of the entire point of the founding of the country in the first place. All these people blathering about our “Christian” Founding Fathers simply don’t have a clue, and certainly haven’t actually *read* — heaven forbid! — what those folks had to say.
It’s a case of “Don’t confuse me with the FACTS!!! — my mind’s already made UP!!!”
Though I never served on active military duty, I was in ROTC three years, so had to take an oath along the way. I also took oaths when I was a peace officer and a security officer. And you know what? — not one of those oaths restricted my obligation to Christians, and not one of them came with an expiration date. I’ve been entirely out of such work since mid-1981, but I still feel myself obligated to protect and serve, if appropriate and need be. I have, and so long as I’m able, will. Not that I’m Mr. Hot Stuff; I just take promises seriously. Including to defend our Muslims. OUR Muslims, let me stress. And our Jews. And our Buddhists. And Hindus. And Zorasterians. And whoever. We’re a nation of free people, and that includes freedom OF religion and, if we want, freedom FROM religion — an important distinction.
I also will defend anyone’s right to disagree with me, though I do hope anyone disagreeing realizes that his or her rights end at the tip of my nose, and those of all the rest of us.
Without honor for each other, what are we? Mere savages.
And that’s what gives SO many Christians a bad name, the hypocrites who are supposed to be Spiritual Leaders. Blame the victims for being there? And a God that uses a scattergun approach to “punishment” by killing thousands of innocents who aren’t even involved in the “sins” that he so detests? Robertson opened his damned fool mouth yet again in the Hurricane Katrina issual, blaming the children who suffered and died for the sins of the “wicked city”. Definitely Old Testament stuff. How about these so-called Christian leaders get around to the CHRISTIAN part of the Bible, you know, the New Testament? But that’s apparently not as profitable as stirring up your flock with inflammatory rhetoric, another way to say inciting the rabble.
Before anyone responds with the Christian charity of forgiving the human frailties of such spiritual leaders, No. ONE time is a human error. Repeatedly making a living from stirring up such misguided emotions is a conscious choice to profit from the misery of others.
The sad part is that the US has spent trillions on security and wars it justified by 9/11, kidnapped innocent people and tortured them, and severely injured the freedoms of Americans by spying on every phone and email communication and persuading and entrapping US muslims.
So not only has the US approached bankruptcy, it has injured the very freedoms it says it wishes to protect.
I sure wish I could argue and say “Not true!” — but sadly I cannot. -rc
Not to defend the late Mr. Falwell, but defending “equal treatment” — how, in any substantial way, is what he said 10 yrs ago any different from the Rev. Wright’s “God Damn America!” sermon? Is the “American Taliban” restricted to old white males, or do black Marxists who use Christianity for their own personal gain and for political power get inducted into the club, too?
This page is clearly NOT an exhaustive examination of all the stupid things any preacher has said over the arc of history. It’s about the stupid things two highly visible preachers said at a very specific — and critical — point in history.
As to whether other preachers are eligible to be labeled “American Taliban” the answer is obviously yes. I definitely agree they can be on the right and the left, be white or black (or other), be famous or not. To imply that I played favorites at this specific point in history, though, is a bit much. The Rev. Wright, as moronic as he was revealed to be years later, wasn’t on national TV pointing fingers while the twin tower rubble was still smoking. -rc
I’d like to point out to Keith, who tried to equate Jerry Fowl-wail with Rev. Wright, that there’s a tremendous difference between the two. It is entirely due to the relative effects of the men’s statements.
Rev. Wrong is of minor importance, with little influence in America. Fowl-wail (and his side-kick Pat Robber-son) is a very well-known political figure in this country. Candidate Obama’s critics were quick to jump on Wrong’s comments for political purposes. Wrong’s use of the term “God damn” quickly blew any credibility he might have had with most Americans. The problem is that Fowl-wail had a large support base which he had been manipulating for years.
Pose as a righteous servant of a righteous God, stroke your followers’ egos with assurances that they also serve the truth, keep repeating the same message about who the “enemy” is, assure your followers that this is God’s position and there is no compromise with God’s Will, and PRESTO!! Instant division and a complete unwillingness to compromise.
This demonization of the “wrong” sort is chilling indeed. It is revealing that in a recent survey, half of Americans polled believe that atheists are a threat to America. Fifty percent! Fowl-wail has been dead since 2007. His poison is still festering in the body politic. As Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony explained in Julius Caesar, “The evil men do lives after them.” So let it be with Fowl-wail.
There’s a lot of polarization in America. My feeling is that if you want to understand the source of it, it’s useful to look at who the two major political parties appeal to. The Republicans appeal mostly to social conservatives and the religious right. As I pointed out above, there’s no compromise with God’s Will. When any group not only believes that they have a lock on the truth, but that any sort of compromise is a deal with the Devil, then you have a group with whom there is no discussion. It’s their Way or Their Way. There is no other way. It’s part of the reason that the attempts on the parts of religious right politicians to replace our Bill of Rights with their “Christian” Bill of Goods is so frightening. If they can finally con enough people into believing that the Constitution is based on Christianity, then that means they can call the shots. It’s instructive to ask ourselves that if America is converted into a theocracy, who will be the arbiters of that “Truth”? The Fowl-wails. The Robber-sons. The Hucksterbees. The Brayin’ Fischers of Mississippi. All of the other hate-filled and hateful “representatives” of God.
And if that happens, then your “American Taliban” label will be more than a handy slogan. The taliban thugs in the Middle East have twisted Islam into something alien for one purpose — power and control. Let our own theocrats take over and we’ll see the same thing here.