O Me of Little Faith

Is Michael Jackson in Heaven? That was the question my editors at The Daily Beast wanted me to ask pastors last Thursday. Because the Beast has been wanting to increase their religion coverage, we had spent the previous couple of days discussing possible stories with a spiritual bent. They suggested something in response to Tuesday’s story about scientists having created a cloned human sperm in a lab.

Normally I’m all over stories involving cloned human sperm, but I offered another suggestion. In the days immediately following Michael Jackson’s death, there had been a flurry of rumors (involving Andrae Crouch, apparently started by members of the gospel group Mary Mary, and subsequently debunked by Crouch) that MJ had become a Christian not long before his death. I was thinking of something about how we Christians are always so eager to see celebrity conversions. Sort of a broader follow-up to my Speidi story from a few weeks back in the Beast.

The Beast had another idea. Michael Jackson’s hybrid spirituality had been a hot topic on all kinds of message boards and blogs, especially as revolving around the question of his eternal destination. An accused child molester. A troubled celebrity. A guy mixed up in a number of religious traditions. Was MJ in heaven?

Honestly, I hadn’t ever thought to ask that question — despite my interest in the afterlife — but it fascinated me as the subject of an article. Why? Because so many Christian pastors have so many different ideas about heaven — Who goes there? When do we go there? What does salvation mean? Can anyone know they’re saved? Is heaven a real place anyway?

I thought it would be entertaining and informative to ask a broad cross-selection of evangelical and mainline pastors. Pondering the potential afterlife of a specific (and wildly famous) figure could offer insight into what Christians actually believe about the afterlife, in a broad sense. So I spent all day Thursday interviewing pastors and writing. The article posted on Friday morning.

To me, it was an interesting cultural journalism topic, linked to a timely blend of pop culture and spirituality.

Turns out not everyone, um, felt the same way. I’ll go ahead and link again to my Michael Jackson piece at The Daily Beast, but with a warning for my loved ones: Go ahead and read the article, if you want, but you probably don’t want to dip into the comments section. Let’s just say it’s not exactly a friendly place. To the point that I’ve had several friends get in touch with me to ask if I was OK, seeing how I was being completely excoriated at the Beast.

Really, I’m fine. Thanks for asking, though.

Anyway, I stand by the article and have decided there’s no value in responding, in any detail, to my detractors about the value or content of the piece. (Though, obviously, if I thought it was a dumb idea, I wouldn’t have agreed to write it.)

All I want is to offer this observation from my brother, who emailed me yesterday:

I just never realized atheists were so touchy. What’s funny to me is they won’t find many Christian writers out there as sensitive to their beliefs as you are, yet they’re raking you over the coals.

Funny…and true.

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