On Tuesday's Fresh Air on NPR stations from coast to coast, host Terry Gross interviewed author Stephen King on his new book "Joyland," which features a young man in a wheelchair with muscular dystrophy and his grandfather, a radio evangelist named Buddy Ross, who insists the disease is divine punishment.
King might have surprised the secular-left devotees of public radio -- not with the usual talk of how organized religion seems like a "theological insurance scam," but by proclaiming he believes in God: "Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design." He had to talk more about his inconsistency and doubts to get back in NPR's secular sweet spot.
Gross and King discussed the similarities between carnival barkers and televangelist showmen. King confessed that he loved the sound of the televangelists that his family watched, but "I went to a Methodist church for years as a kid, and Methodist youth fellowship on Thursday nights, and it was all pretty - you know, think of a bottle of soda with the cap off for 24 hours. There weren't very many bubbles left in that stuff by then."
GROSS: But you always believed in God. You were just bored in church.
KING: Well, I guess that the jury's out on that.
GROSS: About, about which? About God?
KING: On God and the afterlife and all that. It's certainly a subject that's interested me, and I think it interests me more the older that I get. And I think we'd all like to believe that after we shuffle off this mortal coil, that there's going to be something on the other side because for most of us, I know for me, life is so rich, so colorful and sensual and full of good things, things to read, things to eat, things to watch, places to go, new experiences, that I don't want to think that you just go to darkness.
I can remember as a kid thinking to myself, oh God, I hope I don't die because I'll just have to lie down there in that box and I won't be able to play with my friends or go to baseball games or any of those things. As a kid, death seemed boring to me. As an adult, I think that it seems more like a waste of everything. Somebody once said every time a professor dies, a library burns.
And there's some of that feeling. But as far as God and church and religion and the Buddy Rosses and that sort of thing, I kind of always felt that organized religion was just basically a theological insurance scam where they're saying if you spend time with us, guess what, you're going to live forever, you're going to go to some other plain where you're going to be so happy, you'll just be happy all the time, which is also kind of a scary idea to me.
GROSS: I remember you telling me the last time we spoke that you always believed in God, and it's a choice that you made, and you just, you choose to believe it.
KING: I choose to believe it, yeah. I think that - I think that that's - I mean there's no downside to that, and the downside - if you say, well, OK, I don't believe in God, there's no evidence of God, then you're missing the stars in the sky, and you're missing the sunrises and sunsets, and you're missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together at the same time.
Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design. But at the same time there's a lot of things in life where you say to yourself, well, if this is God's plan, it's very peculiar. And you have to wonder about that guy's personality, the big guy's personality. The thing is, like, I may have told you last time that I believe in God. What I'm saying now is I choose to believe in God, but I have serious doubts.
And you know, I refuse to be pinned down to something that I said 10 or 12 years ago. I'm totally inconsistent.
GROSS: I'm all for that. (LAUGHTER) Really.