Every obituary in the mainstream press has regurgitated Falwell's ill-timed statement after 9-11, for which he was condemned by liberals and conservatives alike, and for which he would later apologize. That is part of the historical record and deserved inclusion. But for his enemies, it should be the centerpiece of his obituary -- that which by its essence would define Falwell as an extremist, at the virtual exclusion of his manifold achievements.
National Review Online's Kathryn Lopez provides insight. A reporter was in one of the congressional galleries when word of Falwell's death arrived. He emailed her this: "The reaction from the reporters? Grins and chuckles mostly. One grizzled journalist said, 'I hope they (CNN) remember all the horrible things he said.' Another reporter simply said, 'It is a good day.'"
Those sentiments were then made public by others. With the headline "Sigh of Relief Over Falwell's Death," Chicago Sun-Times columnist Cathleen Falsani wrote, "In fact, my very first thought upon hearing of the Rev. Falwell's passing was: Good ... 'good' as in 'Ding-dong, the witch is dead.'"
Vanity Fair's professional atheist Christopher Hitchens to CNN's Anderson Cooper the night Falwell died: "I think it's a pity there isn't a hell for him to go to. ... The empty life of this ugly little charlatan. ... Such a little toad. ... This horrible person. ... I'm glad to see he skipped the rapture, just found on the floor of his office. ... He was a bully and a fraud."
Amanda Marcotte, the former official blogger for the Edwards for President campaign: "The gates of Hell swing open, and Satan welcomes his beloved son."
Bill Maher on HBO: "And now, New Rule: Death Isn't Always Sad. ... Millions asked why, why, God, why didn't you take Pat Robertson with him? ... I know you're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I think we can make an exception."
On and on it goes, sadly. In the end, God will sort things out, and at the moment of His choosing will pass judgment on us all. As one eulogist reminded his audience yesterday, "God doesn't promise us tomorrow, but He does promise eternity." It is a paradise that must be earned, however. At the end of the day, Jerry Falwell was controversial to so many simply because he loved God unconditionally. That alone will earn him that eternity, in Paradise.