Over the past years, the liberal mainstream media has produced gushing tributes to deceased "secular saints" such as Princess Diana, John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Coretta Scott King. It would have been practically sacrilegious for these outlets to air any kind of immediate criticism of such figures. Yet, in the 24 hours or so since the death of Christian conservative leader Jerry Falwell, the mainstream media has given air time to every sort of criticism of the late evangelical. On Tuesday night's "Anderson Cooper 360," noted atheist Christopher Hitchens launched one of the most vitriolic attacks to date on Falwell. Among the terms Hitchens used to describe Falwell were "ugly little charlatan," "bully," "fraud," and "little toad."
In his five minute interview with Hitchens, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper barely challenged any of his vicious assertions. The subject of Falwell gave Hitchens an opportunity to rant about a number of other issues that involve religion, such as the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians (Hitchens thought Falwell "encouraged the worst elements among Jewry") and President Bush's relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
This type of rhetoric from Hitchens towards religion and religious leaders is not unheard of. Besides his latest book, "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," Hitchens also made notorious attacks upon Mother Teresa throughout her life and after her death.
What follows are the key excerpts from Anderson Cooper's interview of Christopher Hitchens:
ANDERSON COOPER:Christopher, I'm not sure if you believe in heaven, but, if you do, do you think Jerry Falwell is in it?
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "VANITY FAIR": No. And I think it's a pity there isn't a hell for him to go to.
COOPER: What is it about him that brings up such vitriol?
HITCHENS: The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend. Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September the 11th were the result of our sinfulness and were God's punishment if they hadn't got some kind of clerical qualification?
People like that should be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup. The whole consideration of this -- of this horrible little person is offensive to very, very many of us who have some regard for truth and for morality, and who think that ethics do not require that lies be told to children by evil old men, that we're -- we're not told that people who believe like Falwell will be snatched up into heaven, where I'm glad to see he skipped the rapture, just found on the floor of his office, while the rest of us go to hell....
COOPER: Do you believe he believed what he spoke?
HITCHENS: Of course not. He woke up every morning, as I say, pinching his chubby little flanks and thinking, I have got away with it again.
COOPER: You think he was a complete fraud, really?
COOPER: You don't believe that, I mean, in his reading of the Bible, you don't think he was sincere in his -- whether you agree or not with his reading of the Bible, you don't think he was sincere in what he spoke?
HITCHENS: No. I think he was a conscious charlatan and bully and fraud. And I think, if he read the Bible at all -- and I would doubt that he could actually read any long book of -- at all -- that he did so only in the most hucksterish, as we say, Bible-pounding way. I'm going to repeat what I said before about the Israeli question. It's very important. Jerry Falwell kept saying to his own crowd, yes, you have got to like the Jews, because they can make more money in 10 minutes than you can make in a lifetime. He was always full, as his friends Robertson and Graham are and were, of anti- Semitic innuendo. Yet, in the most base and hypocritical way, he encouraged the worst elements among Jewry. He got Menachem Begin to give him the Jabotinsky Medal, celebrating an alliance between Christian fundamentalism and Jewish fanaticism that has ruined the chances for peace in the Middle East. Lots of people are going to die and are already leading miserable lives because of the nonsense preached by this man, and because of the absurd way that we credit anyone who can say they're a person of faith.
Look, the president endangers us this way. He meets a KGB thug like Vladimir Putin, and, because he is wearing a crucifix around his neck, says, I'm dealing with a man of faith. He's a man of goodwill. Look what Putin has done to American and European interests lately. What has the president said to take back this absurd remark? It's time to stop saying that, because someone preaches credulity and credulousness, and claims it as a matter of faith, that we should respect them.
The whole life of Falwell shows this is an actual danger to democracy, to culture, to civilization. That's what my book is all about.