Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Hell, Yes

Or, hell, no.

By Wayne Wood

MAY 4, 1998:  Which would you rather read?

A story with this headline:

James Earl Ray dies

Or this one:

James Earl Ray dies, goes to hell?

It's pretty clear that what most public-figure obituaries are lacking is a frank statement of the ultimate destination of the soul of the deceased.

Is there any doubt that genocidal Cambodian strongman Pol Pot is in the company of Old Scratch? Well, why not say it right there in the headline?

Pol Pot dies, now screaming with agony in lake of fire

Dictator's name sounds like "third-rate brand of cookware": Satan.

Maybe some enterprising tabloid could come up with a "photo" with a caption, something like, "Assassin James Earl Ray (left) is greeted at the gates of hell by mass-murdering dictator Pol Pot." The gateway could even say "Gates of Hell" above it, sort of like a Brentwood subdivision. It'd be great.

In order to bring this about, we'd have to convene, via telephone and computer, some of the best minds from leading schools of theology and the leaders from major religions. Hours after the death of a public figure, they would review a portfolio of the deceased's life. Then, in time for the morning papers, the Panel of Theologians could have an up-or-down vote.

You'd have some people voting for everybody to get into heaven. You'd have some Christians and some Muslims voting against everybody from other religions. You'd have some racists voting against everybody who's not whatever pigmentation they favor. You'd have Pat Robertson convinced that only Republicans go to heaven.

And you'd have pundits having a field day explaining the ins and outs of the voting: "Cokie, I think the fact that Linda McCartney cleared the Pearly Gates with only 52 percent of the vote is less a reflection of the goodness of her life than of the fact that many on the Panel of Theologians have obviously heard her so-called 'harmony' vocals on those Wings records from the early '70s."

The ultimate destination of various deceased country-music performers could be a real hot topic on The Nashville Network: "Charlie and Lorianne, it's clear that Grandpa Jones should have gotten into heaven with at least 95 percent of the vote, rather than the paltry 82.5 percent he actually received. And this Tammy Wynette figure is not to be believed...."

There would be letters to the editor from the type of people who feel they can write from a post-office box in Gallatin and, in three paragraphs, reveal the mind of the Creator of the Universe. Which is to say, about half the people who write to The Tennessean.

Goodness would be served, because public discourse would ultimately focus more on the central questions of existence:

What makes a good life? Who says? And what about Richard Nixon?

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