Yes, Barry Garron of the Hollywood Reporter is right -- that ABC News production on heaven does sound like a TV-ratings-friendly variation on an old joke: "So a priest, a minister, a rabbi, the Dalai Lama, an atheist and Barbara Walters walk into a studio and ..." I did not see this report, because I was working on my Scripps Howard column and -- speaking of alternative religions -- getting my son to a Lego robotics team meeting. So I am not in a position to debate with Garron when he says that Walters and Co. did not deliver on the outrageous title for this "news" special: "Heaven. Where Is It? How Do We Get There?'"
Here is a clip from the Reporter summary:
What you are likely to learn from this ABC News production, if you didn't know already, is that religious leaders have not only the sketchiest of notions as to what heaven is but also contradictory ideas of what goes on there. Cardinal Theodore E. McCerrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C., says there's no sex in heaven. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, an Islamic scholar, says there's plenty of sex there -- and with virgins, no less. He's kind of vague on where the virgins come from, though.
That there is so little agreement about heaven might suggest that most of us have been making it up as we go along. Ellen Johnson, president of the American Atheists, says as much. If we really believe heaven is that great, she says, we'd be busy hanging ourselves to get there. It's a point the others don't address, except for the would-be suicide bomber now serving 24 years in an Israeli prison. His goal was despicable but there's no denying he believes in a better afterlife.
Based on the print feature posted online, this Walters "special report" does seem to offer the usual grab-bag of interviews with clerics, scholars, scientists and pop-culture stars. That is what ABC pays Walters to do.
But there is an unspoken subtext to this approach that is much more interesting. There are three basic ways to interpret what Walters serves up. (1) All of these believers are crazy and out of their minds, (2) all of them are, to one degree right and to another degree wrong, but their yearning for heaven points to some vague reality that makes them all right in the end or (3) since so many of their beliefs clash and cannot be reconciled, some of them must be wrong and, somehow, one of the many different doctrinal positions must be right.
You will not be surprised that Walters seems to have flirted with (1) and ends up with (2) as the usual MSM all-roads-lead-to-one-god (or set of gods) orthodoxy. What is her alternative?
How does it end? Once again, it is not surprising that she ends up seeking wisdom from the postmodern version of a celebrity evangelist -- journalist Mitch Albom, author of "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" for his universalist benediction.
Albom tells Walters, "There's one thing I would say about heaven. If you believe that there's a heaven, your life here on Earth here is different. You may believe that you're gonna see your loved ones again. So the grief that you had after they're gone isn't as strong. You may believe that you'll have to answer for your actions. So the way you behave here on Earth is changed. So in a certain way, just believing in the idea of heaven is heavenly in and of itself," he said.
I am sure that, at this point, Walters gently nodded her head.
Who can give us a report on how this played out in prime time?