December 20, 2005

"'Heaven' is a corny show. But heaven itself is corny."

Virginia Heffernan writes about Barbara Walters' TV show about Heaven.
The program says nearly 90 percent of Americans believe heaven exists; most of them, presumably, think they have a shot at it. It's a nice idea. As Mr. Albom, the best-selling author of "The Five People You Meet in Heaven," says, the idea alone can make life on earth better, sprinkling a little stardust on the drudgery and meaninglessness of daily life.

Mr. Albom goes on to describe the dysphoria of being ordinary: "If you're not a celebrity, you can start to feel like you don't matter."

So that's it. The implication is clear. In the American creed - the one articulated on network news programs like this one - heaven is a place where we all get to be celebrities. At last.
Why pick on Americans? Well, we're the ones who support the existence of TV networks that put on shows like this? I wonder, if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got a look at this show, would he put it in his spiritual or his triteness category? That's a big problem with religion, isn't it? It's supposed to be the most serious thing going, but it's also always threatening to be the most ridiculous. And when it's religion on television, the chances of it coming out ridiculous are unusually high.


Ricardo said...

When he was in his twenties, Mahatma Gandhi studied Christianity as part of finding himself, spiritually. I don't remember Gandhi's exact quote describing his final conclusions on Christianity, but it was something along the following lines: The "message" of Christ is absolutely wonderful and worth of emulation, but the "medium" of Christianity is a circus and as often as not is governed by each religious group's self-interest. While I'm sure that "the scholars" being interviewed by Barbara Walters tonight will have entertaining things to say, it's really debatable whether they know anything provable on the subject of "heaven". What seems (to me) more interesting, is the testimony of individuals who have undergone an NDE (near death experience) and then have been brought back to life. Some of the experiences they recount concerning their brief moments in "heaven" are fascinating.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Good point Ann. I've often had the same reaction to some law review articles I've come across.

Mark Haag said...

After watching the program, I recommend Mark Twain's "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven" as a chaser:

chuck b. said...

Heaven is the most jokey concept in religion as far as I'm concerned, right up there with hell.

It would be much more interesting to watch a show about faith. Why do people have/need it? Why rely on it for some things and not others? How to decide? How to choose which faith to follow? I can imagine all kinds of poignant, funny, compelling ways to address the matter of faith in a TV format.

But instead, it's angels, miracles, revelations, heaven and hell. ZZzzzzz!

reader_iam said...

Maybe it's just some sort of alternate universe that takes place in an upstairs room somewhere, sort of like that old Dark Shadows plotline from the 1960s.

That doesn't seem anymore unrealistic than some depictions I hear, which really do have a touch of the corny about them.

I think there's "something," but for me it's an amorphouse concept, some sort of state of communion or merging completely beyond our ken--not a place per se, but more a different kind of being, in a metaphorical sense. I would add the words "with God" after merging because of my own faith, but the concept can be more universal than that, certainly.

Your point about " ... we all get to be celebrities at last" is very astute, and somehow is a bit saddening.

I'm not a big fan of Barbara Walters interviews, but I think I'll drop in on this show.

I'm going to try to catch the show later.

Joe Giles said...

Heaven would be absolute hell for celebrities. For starters, they probably wouldn't recognize anyone, but they'd also be really pissed about the lack of a VIP section.

knox said...

"If you're not a celebrity, you can start to feel like you don't matter."

I think this is b.s. I believe if anything, Americans are getting more cynical and wise to celebrities every day. Gossip rags are much less emulating of celebrities and air dirty laundry a lot more than they used to. The veneer has worn off to a large extent. I think this is a case of someone in the media who himself maybe kind of wants to be a star (through authorship, if nothing else.)

(I guess this is kind of off-topic. oh well.)

reader_iam said...

The voice of a young Judy Garland is heaven to me ...

And Demi's eyes truly were gorgeous at that stage.

But--MAN! Corny is right. Barbara, Barbara. Don't know if I'll be able to stick this out or not.

PatCA said...

I think I'll skip it. Most of these shows are out to debunk some widely held religious notion, as if itcould be proved or disproved, anyway!

And when is someone going to start talking about the warped sexuality that is so integral a part of Islamic fundamentalism? Heaven is endless sex with virgins while life is endless fear/hatred of sex? Gloria Steinem, please call your office.

reader_iam said...

You know, I don't actually think it came out as ridiculous, a bit of a surprise really. Should I assume you did or didn't watch it (Annie Hall instead?)?

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

I think people have flawed ideas about heaven (if there is one at all). They want a God from which all good things spring (love, peace, justice), and yet, they want a God with an open door policy. (Sort of like a crooked judge, or a virgin prostitute).

But we don't run our earthly homes that way. We are selective in who comes and goes into our living room. Even our kids, whom we love, are not permitted to come inside without first shaking off the mud and dirt. If they refuse, or can't clean themselves, we help clean them. But strangers, not part of the family, must invariably come to the house willing to follow whatever the setting might be. If we allowed people to come in, and in any state, soon the house will become rundown and not reflect our own intelligent design.

And yet, God is different, and will accept every American, regardless of whether they have embraced his ways, or his nature?

Such is the fallacy of thinking on Christianity, and many a religion; we imagine that purity and goodness can be reached via osmosis or mood. That is, we are constantly begged to return to God's House in the Hamptons, and we plan to go, but have not inquired about what to wear, what to bring, and how to get there. We show up late, and in black, when the theme is white.

Religion on television is invariably presented in a simplistic manner. However, I did see an interesting round table on PBS, where C.S. Lewis and I believe, Freud, were contrasted and analyzed by a distinguished panel in terms of the religious ideas those authors embraced or rejected.

Ricardo said...


When is someone going to start talking about the warped sexuality that is so integral a part of Christianity? Christianity has shown an endless dislike of women, and an attempt to control the sexuality of both sexes through guilt and shame. Are we "really" any better?

PatCA said...

Yes, Richard, we "really" are better. There are no Christian clitorectomies, no Christians rules about veiling to protect men against sexual rays from our hair, no honor killings of sisters who dated men from other religions, and we are not sold to men as wives at age 9.

Ricardo said...

Touché !

PatCA said...

Thank you.