Dinesh D’Souza: Falwell, Before the Millennium; Regnery Gateway; Chicago.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell is one of the most frequently pilloried men in Amer­ica today. Journalists and liberal politi­cians are fond of comparing him to Hitler, Khomeini, and Jim Jones and brand him a “racist,” “fascist,” and “intolerant bigot.” Ultrafundamental­ists like Bob Jones denounce him as a “heretic” and “apostate.” Readers of Falwell will find little to justify either set of epithets. The main trouble with Jerry Falwell is actually his moderation. When Bob Jones labeled him “a dangerous  man,”  he was referring to Falwell’s willingness to work with nonfundamentalists and even non-Christians on social and political issues.

What has turned both national opin­ion leaders and some of the fundamen­talist fringe against Falwell is that he is a man of tolerance. He has alienated Bob Jones by keeping a civil margin around conviction, which permits coopera­tion between groups–fundamentalist, evangelical, Jewish, Catholic, and Mormon–profoundly different in theology yet sharing common social con­cerns. He has disturbed the intellectual community because he refuses to make “tolerance” a substitute for faith. He understands that those who champion tolerance as the supreme good are try­ing to make virtue out of a radical skepticism that cannot tolerate any pro­found expression of belief. Believing in tolerance as a secondary virtue, the studonts at Falwell’s Liberty Bible Col­lege granted Senator Kennedy a polite and attentive hearing for his lecture on pluralism. Subscribing to nothing but tolerance, students at Harvard broke into chants of “Hitler, Falwell go to hell!” whenever Falwell mentioned anything religious, patriotic, or tradi­tional in his speech there.

Falwell’s detractors have other reasons for their hostility. Fundamentalists and liberals alike attack his decision to advocate his moral convictions politi­cally. Falwell himself once anathema­tized clerical involvement in politics. But after Roe v. Wade, he reluctantly concluded that amoral government had so invaded the ethical and religious domain that someone had to fight back. And it is chiefly a shrewd political fighter–outspoken at times, but  usual­ly restrained–that emerges in this bi­ography: a picture of a man who has made common decency into a potent public force. Falwell may not be quite the “strongest and perhaps most articulate defender” of “the Judeo-Christian tradition” but as a characterization it is closer ot the mark than the usual invectives. An index (not to mention proof-reading) would have increased the usefulness of this book.