The sanctimonious blowhard lived a life of noisy desperation, hunting constantly for a way to divide America and the world. In response to everything from Katrina to the Dover creationism decision to 9/11, he knew that the way to get on television was to declare judgment in God’s name. Job’s friends – friends who (wrongly) insisted that every ill consequence which befell Job and his family was simply punishment for some offense – had nothing on Falwell.
Falwell is survived by a political movement of tremendous size and influence. There are undoubtedly many reasons that John McCain lost his presidential bid in 2000, but attacking Falwell – “evil” was the term he used – was among the many fatal blunders. It is no surprise that he has studiously courted Falwell and the other members of that movement in his current run.
A New Yorker profile (The Complete New Yorker is a great resource) of Falwell and the role “moral conservatives” played in 1980’s Reagan campaign says this of Falwell’s rise to power:
In a sense, it was not surprising that Falwell decided to go into politics. No mystical, otherworldly type of Baptist, he is most characteristically and organizer and a promoter. … Businessmen in Lynchburg say he is a born leader and the best salesman they have ever seen.
In 1965, he preached a sermon based on the Biblical instruction to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Of course, those words were directed towards people like Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1980, he repudiated that sermon and the accommodationist approach it embodied as “false prophecy.” Since then, he has explained that “The war is not between fundamentalists and liberals but between those who love Jesus Christ and those who hate Him.”
In 1998, he told the New Yorker “I am one of those who believe that the next event on God’s calendar is the rapture of the Church – the coming of Christ to take the Church to itself.” It is uncertain but likely that Falwell was disappointed at having to enter the afterlife the traditional way.