The Fifth Bishop Of California
1993 Darwin Award Winner
Confirmed True by Darwin
(5 September 1969, Israel) Bishop Pike was one cool dude. This chain-smoking Fifth Bishop Of California was in favor of the ordination of women and desegregating churches. He promoted acceptance of LGBT people, and living wages for the working poor. Shortly after the Selma Protests he invited Martin Luther King to speak in historic Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Bishop Pike also had a colorful series of romantic partners. The Bishop’s life and death would make a wild movie.
Annoying the mainstream vanilla clergy was a joy for the Fifth Bishop. He questioned Mother Mary’s virginity. He rejected the doctrine of Hell. He was great at making the most of media years before TWITTER. For example, when an honorary degree was offered him by a whites-only college, he agreed to attend the ceremony–then announced very publicly in the NEW YORK TIMES that he was turning down this dis-honor!
After many revolutionary actions and speeches, the Episcopal Church was buzzing like a hive of hornets. Bishop Pike was barred from all priestly functions, ostensibly for disobeying his superior and marrying a divinity student 25 years his junior. He snarled pithily, ‘The POOR may inherit the Earth, but it appears that the RICH will inherit the Church.’
An amazing man to invite to a dinner party! A pithy Substack newsletter writer? Plenty more on Wikipedia. But also lurking in his wheelhouse was the ability to win a sensational Darwin Award. His fatal final day on Earth was the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th of September 1969. The exact date of death is unknown, despite being very well documented.
The former Bishop and his bride were in Israel to research a book on the historical Jesus. Off-the-cuff they decided to get a taste of the Savior’s ’40 Days In The Wilderness’ experience, and they set out on a drive through the Judean Desert. Today that drive is a 45-km trip from Jerusalem to Qumran, but in 1969 the distance was further and the roads were poor.
The couple’s first mistake was purchasing two cokes along the way, and considering that good enough for a hot and lonely desert drive. (A road construction crew with plenty of tea will save Diane, a bit further down the page.)
The second mistake was driving off the beaten path. The pair had a map from the rental company, yet drove wrong and wronger until the car got stuck in a rut on a dilapidated side road referred to as a ‘tertiary road’ in Diane Pike’s subsequent book. From the main road, to a side road, to a beat-up ‘tertiary’ road AKA a camel path.
1) Out of water,
2) confused by the map, and
3) stuck in a rut, John Pike and his wife blundered deeper into doo doo.
There was a jack in the car! They tried to jack the car out of the rut, but incorrectly decided the European jack was ‘missing its base’ and tossed aside a perfectly good tool, making their fourth mistake. Quickly on its heels followed a fifth: The exasperated couple began to walk to Qumran–but headed in the wrong direction.
Two hours later, as night approached, the 56-year-old Bishop could go no further. This good man found a bit of shade in which to rest and possibly die. His 30-year-old wife was concerned that they would be considered God-forsaken ‘suicides’ if their dead bodies were found together, so she summoned her stamina and continued on. Ten hours later she reached a group of road-builders and was saved by cups of tea!
Diane Pike participated in five days of searching for James, and she paid for spiritualist and clairvoyant help as well. Finally the former Bishop’s body was located–but not where Diane had last seen him.
Had the former Bishop received divine intervention? He had staggered away from the shady spot and hiked until he found a large pool of water cupped in a shaded canyon! After hydrating (Ahh!) he followed what he hoped was his wife’s route. To indicate the path, he left behind a trail of clues: the map, undershorts, sunglasses, and a contact lens case. Pike was climbing a steep canyon wall in Wadi Mashash–when he slipped and fell 60 feet to his death.
The good-hearted, larger-than-life Fifth Bishop Of California died as he had lived: on his own terms and sustained by faith. Charles Darwin could not be more delighted to welcome this wonderful new Darwin Award Winner into Heaven.
“Courage and stupidity can run concurrently…” Al Lewis
“Great person! He deserved a better death!” Axel Nelson
“So true! But he worked so hard for the death he got.” Wendy Darwin
“The Fifth Bishop had great sense of faith, but a lousy sense of direction.” -Dan Graham
“Needs to be a movie about this bloke. Whats Dicaprio up to?” Paul Smith
“Oh, man, that was heartbreaking… But well deserved!” Pablo Deaz
“Have faith they say, it will be fun they say.” Robyn Pitman
“This truely deserves an OMFG” -Sally Johnson
“I gave the Bishop a top score 10 due to the many mistakes he made until his final fall to win a Darwin Award.” Barry Howell
“I gave it a 9. If he’d convinced his wife to stay with him and the both of them had fallen from the climb, it would have been a pure 10.” Henrik Winther
“Strangely enough, his life was still more interesting than his death. I guess when it’s time to go… ” Simon Piché
“What an incredible man (ignoring his questionable driving decisions of course)” Celia Stanworth
“What a dynamic character. The first Darwin Award winner I’m sad
to see nominated as such—but then, if he hadn’t been, I still
wouldn’t know about him.” Alec Gramarye