Why a Near-Death Experience Led to a Play on Jefferson, Dickens, and Tolstoy Talking About Religion


“The Gospel According to Jefferson, Dickens, and Tolstoy: Discord” attempts to replicate the dynamic if the three gentlemen met and discussed spirituality.

When Scott Carter, the executive producer of Real Time with Bill Maher, faced death from an asthma attack, he decided to start questioning spirituality and the meaning of life.

Prior to the experience, Carter brushed away the big questions, particularly regarding religion. Therefore, he decided to create an entire play around the concept by utilizing the ideologies of famous aristocrats, including Thomas Jefferson, Leo Tolstoy, and Charles Dickens.

The Spiritual Subject of the Play

The main basis of the play, “The Gospel According to Jefferson, Dickens, and Tolstoy: Discord”, attempts to replicate the dynamic that would have occurred if the three gentlemen met and discussed spirituality and religion. Upon learning that the legendary Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, set out to create his own rendition of the Bible, Carter became fascinated with the differences between the three scholars on this highly debated topic of religion. In his play, he tried to capture the conversation that would occur between the inevitable debates between the men about living, society, humanity, and other major, life-defining topics.

While many know Bill Maher as a strong advocate against religion with his controversial and outspoken viewpoints, Scott, the executive producer and writer for Maher’s show, does not necessarily hold the same opinions. In fact, he even stated that he “loved” the opinions of all three well-known names. He uses these philosophies and ideologies to sculpt an entire picture of humanity and the meaning of life. While he may not agree entirely with their ideas, he does attempt to honestly understand and consider every topic to fully appreciate the thoughts within. Carter conveys these viewpoints within his play, which was created to finally confront the daunting questions of our very being.


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