Why were you interested in covering the topic of heaven?
I found it interesting that as people become more technically oriented all over the world, at the same time people are becoming increasingly spiritual. The success of the Da Vinci code--even though it was a great yawn--also showed people's interest in religion.
|Barbara Walters on different views of heaven|
What did the religions that you covered have in common when it comes to teachings about heaven?
First of all, the Jewish religion has a great deal in common with the Christian religion because, as Rabbi Gillman points out in the show, Christianity is based on Judaism. Christ was Jewish. There are religions that are very restrictive or judgmental, perhaps, that say, if you do not believe in our faith, you don't go to heaven. This is very compelling, but it's restrictive. We asked the cardinal if there was sex in heaven, and he said that was one of the questions asked of the Lord. [Catholics] believe that they don't need to have sex in heaven, because there is the joy of the Lord. But for Muslims, everything that they don't have on earth is what they get in heaven. They can drink, they can have sex. All of the forbidden pleasures on earth, you can have in paradise.
All of the religions--with the exception of Tibetan Buddhism, which doesn't believe in a heaven--teach that heaven is a better place. At the end of the program, I say that heaven is a place where you are happy. All of the religions have that in common.
Had you thought much about heaven in your personal life before doing this show?
|Barbara Walters on whether she worries about
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|
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|
|Barbara Walters on the Dalai Lama|
And what would you say to the question that you asked him, about whether or not we're closer to heaven or hell?
It depends on what day you get me.
|Barbara Walters on whether we're closer to heaven or hell|
The stories of people who claimed to have had near-death experiences were fascinating.
Yes, and these are very sensible people. These are very normal, not necessarily very spiritual people. And yet their experience was such that the near-death experience transformed their lives. Now, you can tell them that scientifically, something happens to the brain that creates a hallucinatory experience, which is how [near-death experiences are] explained by many scientists. They will say, "Yes, but I saw it, I felt it." They believe that they did experience something real, and nothing can persuade them that they didn't.
Did you believe their stories?
|Barbara Walters on believing in heaven|
If there is a heaven, is there anyone you'd like to meet there?
Of course, you want to see your family.
One of your guests was talking about having dinner with Ernest Hemingway...
Well, that's the thing about heaven. It must be very crowded, but in heaven, there is no barrier, there is no age, you meet everyone. I also wonder what happens to all these people who were born before the birth of Christ. Where do they go? Are they all in limbo? What happened to all the Egyptians, or the Chinese, or the Greeks? Where did they go?
The person who made the comment about Hemingway was author Anthony DeStefano, who has a very specific vision of what he thinks heaven will look like. Was that common--did other people have ideas about what heaven will actually look like?
|Barbara Walters on what happens in heaven|
Also, what Mitch Albom talked about was the idea of heaven being a place where you meet your loved ones. That's why his book, "The Five People You Meet in Heaven," has been so successful. It is seen as a place where you meet your loved ones, and where, in a sense, you are forgiven. You have no guilt.
You said before that it's more important to you to find heaven on earth. How do you do it?
I am just aware that life is to be cherished. I am grateful, I do have a good life. I don't know how I would feel if I were very ill, or very poor, or if I had a series of tragedies. I might be praying for death and an afterlife.
What do you hope people take away from watching your heaven show?
I hope that they'll be inspired. I hope it will lead them to question their views and listen to other people's views. This [show] is not a lecture. It should be a heavenly two hours.