I've been thinking about the question of what should be said when a truly evil person dies. I'm referring, of course, to the sudden death of Jerry Falwell, who was found slumped in his office a couple of days ago and could not be revived in hospital.
It's unseemly and futile to be dancing on Falwell's grave. Despite his serious failings, he has left behind people who loved him and must now be distraught. In that respect, it's tragic - I don't wish such pain on anybody. Besides, death is itself is a terrible event that I don't wish on anyone except in the most extreme circumstances, i.e. where somebody's continuing life would be imminently dangerous to others. In this case, the death of one man really advances nothing. Falwell's ideas, such as they are, will continue to have an influence totally at odds with their entire lack of merit.
So, no gloating or dancing on graves here. He's dead, but life goes on and there are plenty of other irrational bigots to step into the breach. On the other hand, there's no use in mincing words: Falwell was a major enemy of freedom, reason, science, and moral progress, a man whose poisonous views did immense damage to the social fabric of his own country, hurt untold numbers of his fellow citizens, and had deleterious effects far beyond. His death is not a cause for some kind of celebration, more for reflection on why irrationalism and hatred such his persists and on what can be done to combat it. But excuse me for my cynicism when I read the eulogies. He will not be missed by me or by anyone whose values I have any respect for. He did not make any positive contribution.
Falwell was a monster, and his death doesn't change that one iota.