In the 19th century Americans spoke often about death and rarely about sex. In the 21st century we’ve reversed that approach. We’ve turned the devil into a cartoon character with red tights and a pitchfork, and William Moody—known to pro wrestling fans as Paul Bearer—tried similarly in his wrestling persona to mock death. Moody died Tuesday at age 58.
Fake pro wrestling remains enormously popular, and pasty-faced, urn-carrying, vastly overweight Moody, a former undertaker, was a mainstay of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) for two decades. His main role was as manager of a wrestler known as the Undertaker, who claimed he was “undead” and gained mystical powers when he touched Moody’s urn. Paul Bearer and the Undertaker may have peaked in 1999 when they were prominent in the Ministry of Darkness, a stable of wrestlers that entertained devotees and television viewers with scenarios of evil.
The story lines were complicated, but one involved fan favorite Stone Cold Steve Austin, who defeated “born-again Christian wrestler” Jake Roberts, and then told him in a promo video, “You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere! Talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16 … Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!”
“Austin 3:16” became a best-selling phrase on WWE merchandise, and in another story line Paul Bearer and the Undertaker attacked Austin, put him in a hearse, and first tried to bury him alive, then decided to embalm him alive. Austin always managed to escape, though—and if we put our trust in Austin 3:16, will we also be able to escape death? None of the reports I’ve read said anything about William Moody’s theology, so I don’t know which scripture he trusted. I hope it was John rather than Austin.