Beliefnet

What I feel more and more is how important it is to live your life in a better way, and not to worry about it. What happens will happen.

That's similar to what the actor Richard Gere tells you on the program.
Yes. He has been a Tibetan Buddhist since he was in his 20s. He tries to live his life to be helpful, which is why the Buddhist philosophy is very appealing to people. It is a philosophy that teaches compassion. We took a little trip after [interviewing the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala] around India for a couple of days. For about three days, I was a wonderful person. Then on the fourth day, I began to yell at my producer. "Why didn't we get that? We should have taken this picture!" But I was great for three days.

If there is a heaven, do you expect to go there?
I have no idea.

Were you taught anything about the afterlife when you were growing up?
No, it's not something that was discussed. I didn't have a very religious family. So this was an education for me.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about heaven from the people you interviewed?
I wouldn't use the word surprising; I was educated. I was inspired by the people who devote their life to their religion, in each case, whether you agree with them or not, trying to do good. I found talking to the young failed suicide bomber the most unsettling and depressing--that there could be that much hatred and ignorance. Some of it I found very funny, and charming, like when the cardinal [McCarrick] told me that when he goes to heaven, he hopes he gets his hair back.

I've done years and years of specials, but I care more about this one than anything I've ever done. I think there's a great need and a great soul-searching in this country.

Returning to the failed suicide bomber you interviewed--what was it like to talk to him?
The Israeli government allowed us to enter a high-security Israeli prison and interview a suicide bomber who didn't make it. To go into that prison, when we finally got permission, and to sit across the desk from him, and to speak to him, and hearing him tell me that as a non-Muslim, I would not go to heaven and that I would go to hell, was a very moving and very frightening and very sad experience.

A similar thing happened with Ted Haggard, an evangelical pastor, who said because you were not a born-again Christian, he couldn't say for certain if you were going to go to heaven. How did it make you feel to be told that you weren't guaranteed a place in heaven?
Well, since I never thought that I was, it didn't depress me too much. And I really do believe that the most important thing is the way you live your life on earth. But I think it's enormously comforting to believe that you're going to see your loved ones.

Barbara Walters on her favorite prayer
Although I myself don't go to church or synagogue, I do, whether it's superstition or whatever, pray every time I get on a plane. I just automatically do it. I say the same thing every time.

I say, "Dear God, thank you for all my blessings. Thank you for everything that I have in my life. Take care of my family and make this a safe trip."

Because I feel if I don't, I'm in danger.

From movies to pop songs, heaven has a huge hold on the popular imagination. Why do you think that is?

Barbara Walters on where heaven is located
First of all, I think we're all concerned about life on earth and if this is all there is. And because heaven has always been this wondrous, mystical place. Before we had airplanes and astronauts, we really thought that there was an actual place beyond the clouds, somewhere over the rainbow. There was an actual place, and we could go above the clouds and find it.

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