Friday, February 23, 2018

About that ‘saint’

When some famous dies, people have reactions, and opinions. People often want to share those. And when that famous person is also controversial, people definitely want to share their reactions and opinions—until they’re bullied into silence by some variation on “don’t speak ill of the dead”. It’s good to ignore bullies.

This week, evangelist Billy Graham died at age 99, which by anyone’s reckoning is a long life. With all the warm, fuzzy, fawning obituaries, one would be forgiven for thinking he was universally loved and adored. He wasn’t. I never liked him and feel he did FAR more bad than good. It’s my right to say so, just as it’s the right of anyone else to praise him. Freedom of speech and opinion is universal or it doesn’t exist.

The reasons I disliked Graham began when I was quite young: He seemed extremely smarmy and inauthentic, which was something that, as a Mainline Protestant Christian, I couldn’t stand. I was also a Republican at the time, and his cosy relationship with Republican politicians seemed wrong—even then I supported a wall of separation between church and state.

In the years since, my opinions of him sank. He was anti-gay. In 1993 he said that AIDS was his god’s punishment, though he later used what RawStory called “the whole ‘I don’t believe that and have no idea why I said it’ thing”. He also used that “thing” when trying to wriggle out of anti-Semitic remarks he made to Richard Nixon. [see “Here are 6 awful details being omitted from Billy Graham’s fawning obituaries”].

Graham wasn’t unrelentingly awful, unlike his bigoted successors in the evangelical business—including, most disgustingly, his own son Frank and his far less famous daughter, Anne. Graham sometimes backed the civil rights movement at a time when most white Southerners didn’t, though he certainly wasn’t a leader, either. As CNN put it:
Graham occasionally preached racial tolerance and held integrated crusades during the civil rights era. But even some of his biggest supporters say Graham accepted segregation at some of his crusades, criticized marches and sit-ins, and would not risk his popularity by confronting segregation head-on.
Beyond that, and predating it, he created the modern evangelical business, and in doing so he unleashed fraud, corruption, charlatanism, hypocrisy, and Christianist jihad onto America. Sure, he wasn’t “as bad” as his successors, but that’s no kind of praise whatsoever. He reportedly later backed off, and expressed regret for, his embrace of Republican politics, but that was too little and FAR too late.

Add it all up, and there’s no reason why I’d mourn his passing, or feel anything even remotely positive. Ordinarily, I’d feel sorry for his survivors, but I’ve never seen any evidence whatsoever that son and successor, Frank, nor his daughter Anne have any human feelings or empathy whatsoever, so I feel no obligation to extend to them the human compassion they deny to millions of others. But I know nothing of this three other children: Maybe they have the kindness and humanity that Frank and Anne totally lack, and, if so, I hope that whatever they feel about their father and his death, they will quickly find peace and move on.

But I won’t mourn Billy Graham. At all.

"Billy Graham was no prophet" by George F. Will, Washington Post (I agree with Will—yes, I really just said that)
“Billy Graham exemplified what evangelical Christianity could be — and too often was not” – NBC News (I think this is far too kind and to Graham, and too uncritical)
“The Rev. Billy Graham's Casket Will 'Lie In Honor' At The Capitol” – npr (this actually kind of disgusted me)


rogerogreen said...

You're right, of course. Though he did block segregating his events in the South, he regrets not going to Selma, e.g. And so I'll link to this piece, even as I admit my mixed feelings about Graham.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Yeah, “mixed feelings” is a phrase I probably should have worked into this because I absolutely did NOT hate him—in fact, I’d have to think VERY hard to come up with more than two or three people I I’ve ever actually despised. No, the thing about Graham was that I detested what he DID, while at the same time I also recognise that some completely non-evil people quite liked him, and some even say they benefitted in some way from him (Bush the Second being among the most famous examples). Those people can, and do, share their stories and views, but I don’t have to do it for them, not when my own reactions were mainly negative.

I can say, though, that if I was to rank them on a “Most Detestable Scale”, where 1 is most detestable and 10 the least, Frank would be number one in boldface type, and also 2, 3, and 4, Anne would be five (her relative obscurity helps her ranking), and Billy would be at 20. Billy was deeply flawed, he did some VERY bad things, but he never set out to destroy people and their lives as Frank (and, to a FAR lesser extent, Anne) has done, and unlike Frank, Billy at least sometimes tried to live according to that Gospel he preached, and sometimes Billy even succeeded (desegregating his rallies is a really good example of that, I think).

So, yeah, “mixed feelings” is the perfect phrase.