After making headlines last week with its excitable coverage of Bible verses decorating intelligence briefing cover sheets, GQ has published another story that mentions religion. This time, an 8,700-word profile of CNN's Larry King touches only briefly, and with minimal understanding, on King's marriage to Shawn Southwick, an actress, singer -- and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Slate's Jack Schaffer linked to the article as an example of King's "twisted relationship with his personal history."
Writer Chris Heath quickly runs into a common hazard in journalism: The repackaged anecdote, in which a person attributes direct quotations, of dubious worth, to somebody else:
King has yet to become one of those who belatedly embrace faith before the final tally is taken. "In fact," he says, "the more I interviewed religious leaders, the less religious I became. Because they don't have the answers I need. I don't get the answer to why. Why is there a Holocaust? And the answer I get is: We do not question the ways of the Lord. A lot of it -- I tend to agree with Bill Maher -- is superstitious. It's a nice thing to have. There are times I wish I had it. Like, I wish I were going somewhere when I die. Billy Graham used to tell me, 'You're very spiritual, and you are going somewhere -- don't question that.' So I hope he's right."
Graham, for one, has wrestled with the problem of evil in his book Hope for the Troubled Heart and in a sermon at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance after the terror strikes of 9/11. His answers may not satisfy, but they surpass "We do not question the ways of the Lord."
Heath has some fun depicting King's lack of enthusiasm about Provo, Utah, which he has visited with his wife:
"It'd still be better than being dead," King answers, but then he pauses, as though this is one reply he has carelessly blurted out loud without giving it the full consideration it requires. He now rocks his hand in equivocation, reweighing the delicately balanced alternatives before him: eternal nothingness ... Provo ... eternal nothingness ... Provo ... eternal nothingness ... Provo ... eternal nothingness ... Provo.
Tough call. Eventually, he concludes that his first answer was probably the correct one -- "I'd rather be in Provo" -- though he leaves the impression that Utah may only have prevailed by the slenderest of margins. And that a recount is never out of the question.
Take note, though, of Heath's facile summary of the Latter-day Saints' teaching about the afterlife, which he reduces to "he will come back":
His wife, who is a country singer, hates this idea. As a Mormon, she devoutly believes he will come back, and he knows that as an unbeliever he will be retroactively baptized by her church in death. "Strange to me," he says. "I'll die, and at my funeral they'll baptize me. And I'm Jewish."
One thing certainly can be said about the Saints' theology of the afterlife: It is detailed. Reducing it to "he will come back" might be understandable in a 750-word story, but in a piece that goes on at length about whether King has a problem with flatulence, LDS thinking deserves more than this.
And hey, Pope Benedict XVI, King the philosopher is calling you out:
He and his wife used to argue about such things, but he says he has now learned to stay away from it. "You can't argue religion," he says. "It's impossible. And I know I'm a good interviewer, so I could take anyone in that family. I could take the pope. Put him in a corner and he has no answer. He has no answer. But he has something I don't have -- belief."