If you’re looking for reflections on God and religion in mainstream news coverage of Elizabeth Edwards’ death, the hunt may take a while.
Mentions here and there of faith, grace and religion punctuate major obituaries reviewed by your GetReligionistas. But in general, the reports stop short of meaty details on what Edwards believed and even if she had a particular religious affiliation.
Religion ghosts, anyone?
In Edwards’ home state, The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., included this detail concerning how the 1996 death of her 16-year-old son, Wade, in a car accident influenced Elizabeth and husband John:
Wade’s death changed the arc of the Edwardses’ lives. They found religion, changed careers from law to politics and added to their family.
“We asked ourselves, what gives us joy?” she recalled. “Well that was easy. Children gave us joy. Should we have more children? That would be wonderful, but I was 46. Could we?”
Found religion. Does it get any better — er, vaguer — than that?
Well, OK, maybe it does. Edwards titled her best-selling 2006 memoir “Saving Graces.” The Los Angeles Times quoted from that memoir:
“In many ways John and I were different,” she wrote in “Saving Graces.” “I had traveled the world; he had never left the South….But we had each moved from place to place, following our fathers’ jobs. We had each lived in company housing — military bases for me, mill villages for John. Neither of us had a chance to be rooted in a place, so we were rooted in family and faith, the things we took with us.”
Rooted in family and faith. But what kind of faith?
Sorry, that’s it.
For a different twist, The Washington Post’s obit contained this section:
The publication of an anonymously sourced book, “Game Change,” this year shocked many, because it punctured “the lie of Saint Elizabeth,” as writers John Heilemann and Mark Halperin wrote, repeating allegations that she berated campaign staffers and raged profanely at volunteers.
“With her husband, she could be intensely affectionate or brutally dismissive,” they wrote. “At times subtly, at times blatantly, she was forever letting John know that she regarded him as her intellectual inferior. She called her spouse a ‘hick’ in front of other people and derided his parents as rednecks.”
Jennifer Palmieri, a former Edwards campaign official, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed defense of her friend: “Elizabeth would be the first to tell you that she is opinionated, unyielding, blunt and unwilling to suffer fools. Saint Elizabeth she is not. And no one laughs louder than she at that notion. But she is also one of the wisest, warmest and funniest girlfriends a woman could hope to have, truly a call-her-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-she-will-drop-everything-to-help sort.”
Saint. That’s a religious term, right? But still, there’s no substantive discussion of Edwards’ religion.
Perhaps that’s because Edwards’ religion wasn’t so easy to pin down — or to describe, although she apparently served at one time on the board of the Call to Renewal, a leading organization of the religious left.
Writing in “Saving Graces” about her son’s death, Edwards referenced the trials of Job from the Bible (page 140). She shared her dialogue with other grieving mothers:
We are not Job, I wrote, though the wind took away our child. These deaths cannot be tests of our faith. The level of malevolence or ambivalence from a god that this conclusion requires is unthinkable. We may each, like Job, face questions of faith, including facing questions of our own pride. The lucky of us come to a complete and comforting faith. It is hard not to wish for us all the peace that comes with that acceptance.
But her final statement, posted on her Facebook page the day before her death, did not mention God. Instead, as one blogger pointed out, it noted “three saving graces” and “a faith in the power of resilience and hope”:
You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces — my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren’t able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human.
But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. It isn’t possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know.
Asked by Beth Corbin of Americans United for Separation of Church and State to explain how her faith beliefs inform her politics, Elizabeth Edwards gave an extraordinarily radical answer: She doesn’t believe in salvation, at least not in the standard Christian understanding of it, and she said as much:
“I have, I think, somewhat of an odd version of God. I do not have an intervening God. I don’t think I can pray to him — or her — to cure me of cancer.” After the words “or her,” Mrs. Edwards gave a little laugh, indicating she knew she had waded into water perhaps a bit deeper than the audience had anticipated. Then she continued:
“I appreciate other people’s prayers for that [a cure for her cancer], but I believe that we are given a set of guidelines, and that we are obligated to live our lives with a view to those guidelines. And I don’t that believe we should live our lives that way for some promise of eternal life, but because that’s what’s right. We should do those things because that’s what’s right.”
Extremely interesting and relevant. Just don’t look for that kind of insight in this morning’s paper.