The Gospel According to Johnny Carson


I call it a revelation, how the former host of The Tonight Show put the bible in perspective for me. At the time I was ignorant of Johnny Carson being anything but a comedian. The only bible I had laid a hand on was in court. I was innocent, I swear, but justice running amuck is a different story.
Before Johnny Carson became the “King of Late Night Television,” he took over from Edgar Bergman in hosting an afternoon quiz show, Who Do You Trust? Perpetual sidekick Ed McMahon would occasionally correct the grammar. “It should be ‘Whom.’ Whom Do You Trust?”

Whichever way you put it, it’s a good question.

It began rattling around my mind last week as I read a book published in 1953 by a scholarly pastor who was head of a high dollar church in Washington, DC. His thesis used the relatively new discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls to reveal that Jesus was probably not historical and definitely not divine, but if such a man existed, he was brainwashed by the end times messianic propaganda of the Essens, members of an extremist sect of Judaism, who were guardians of the scrolls.

If gospel writers held contrary opinions to the pastor, it was because they were hawking a myth. The First Century Jewish historian Josephus had described the Essens, but if his description didn’t back up the pastor’s claims about the sect, it was due to Josephus selling out to the Romans. Besides, José had ever been near the Dead Sea.

Maybe he hadn’t. I sure haven’t. What I’ve seen of the photographs of the scrolls, their writing might as well be chicken tracks. I have no idea if it is correct, the author’s assertion that most scholars of the Old and New Testaments think the scriptures are irrelevant to modern life, present a crock of nationalistic stepped-in-what? and rehash folklore clearly stolen from surrounding pagan cultures.

Maybe. Just as easily, it could be that Jimmy Carter’s assertion of being a Christian is another case of stepped-in-what? The man hammers nails in his retirement, does some writing; that’s all I truly know.

I am aware of- but have never met- biblical scholars who thoroughly disagree with the pastor who wrote the book. Allegedly, they’re not all fundamentalists, but they do start with the assumption that the biblical texts don’t have to be wrong. As a lowly, untutored hack, I see vast difference in at least the English translations of pagan creation stories and the Genesis account. Maybe if I spent time in seminary and learned Hebrew and Greek, I could find a few more examples. Depending on the seminary, of course.

In the meantime the only side I can count on regarding Jesus or Moses, or a whole bunch of things that have nothing to do with the bible, like automobiles causing the “Little Ice Age” of the Fourteenth Century or whether the Holocaust really took place, is who do I trust?

Sorry. Whom.

About the same time the pastor’s book on the scrolls came out, C.S. Lewis addressed a conference of Anglican clergy in England. He stated that the laity did not know what most Anglican priests truly thought of traditional doctrines and popular beliefs. Then he warned, if ordinary people did find out, the clergy would be addressing empty pews. He wondered in an essay on the subject: why people so adamantly non-Christian still wanted the label?

Psst, Clive! Can you hear me? The money. Those boys couldn’t attract an audience unless they had collars on. Who else but the church was going to pay them to billow and squeak?

The American pastor was beyond warning. He was being very daring long before the Sixties made controversy comfortable. Although he died and went to God knows where, his church looks to be thriving. According to the internet site, it is planning to celebrate Kwanza right after Santa Claus comes.

With a few notable exceptions, the Church of England also seems to be navigating the post-modern waters with some success. Her architectural landmarks attract hordes of tourists and make for great echo chambers.