To read Pt. 1: Religion and Rhetoric Pt. 1
I would like to return to the discussion of power in part 1. More specifically, I would like to talk about the intersection between religion and power. Falwell Jr. and Paisley were able to exercise their heterophobia because they were/are powerful. They are made powerful through their engagement in the religious institution of Christianity. It is important to now explore how they acquired power through Christianity. It is important to explore this how question not just for the students at Liberty or the citizens of Northern Ireland, but it is also imperative for you and me.
We are all just fools wandering on this planet, seeking to gain understanding of who we are. Most people want to know how we got here, why we are here, and what will happen to us when we die. We want to know why we fall in love. Why the hell do we feel so much passion and ecstasy when that one person walks in the room? Also, why do we feel such depression and suffering when that same person leaves our life? Why do terrible, awful things happen, like murder or rape for example? These questions constantly plague our minds and religion is an entity that seeks to help us answer some of these questions. Religion provides us with sacred texts and rituals that offers us aid in our troublesome contemplative state. Moreover, religion provides us with frameworks to tell us how we should live. And for many, religion is beautiful and it enables them to be the fullest human that they can possibly be.
It is at this simple inquisitive state within an individual in which Jerry Falwell Jr. and Ian Paisley enter. These people are searching for answers and the meaning of life. Religion promises these answers. When a certain person climbs up on stage, claiming the name of a certain religion and a certain God, that audience is eager to hear the message that the preacher will so eloquently deliver to them. Yes, in some regards, many individuals within the audience are in a vulnerable state. It can also be argued that their vulnerability is not necessarily weakness, it is just curiosity. Nonetheless, the overwhelming motivation that drove those individuals to their pews was their pursuit of answers and their pursuit of God. Every time that preacher gets up on stage, he/she promises those things. Considering the state of the audience, those preachers’ words bear tremendous potency.
The audience’s appeal to the preacher is what fuels his power. Students stood up and cheered for Falwell Jr. when he gave his speech because he was providing them meaning and understanding, who he claimed that message originating from God. Falwell Jr. might have not explicitly said that this was a message from God, but people believed him and trusted him because they believe him to be of spiritual authority. The students at Liberty University are not the only ones to do this. Most people, in fact, trust some individual who claims to be delivering a message from God. I do it myself with individuals like Rob Bell and Peter Rollins. The purpose of my writing is not to encourage individuals to not listen to someone who claims to be of religious authority. The intent of this essay is to create an awareness of the rhetorical appeal of religious authority. There needs to be a consciousness of how those preachers speak publicly and as well as how the audience is affected by their words.
It is especially important to be aware of the religious authority who preaches intolerance, unacceptance and hate. Throughout this essay, I have constantly used the names of Jerry Falwell Jr. and Ian Paisley. I want to point out that I have used these individuals as metaphors to present a larger discussion on religious rhetoric and prejudice. The words of Falwell Jr. and Paisley are so common. Take for example, Jerry Falwell, the father of Jerry Falwell Jr., who used his religious platform to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment and LGBTQ+ rights. A more recent case is of Larycia Hawkins, who was a professor at Wheaton College (Christian college in Chicago) who was almost fired because she said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This disastrous mess of religious intolerance is not just present within Christianity as it can also be found within other religions.
I want to conclude this writing with a quick note to people who might have been offended by my writing. I do not apologize for writing what I wrote, but I do want to say to my friends at Liberty University that you are wonderful people and I have always felt loved and accepted by you. I am not seeking to denounce your college any more than it already has been. I also don’t think that my college is any better than yours because at times, in fact, it can be worse.