June 22, 2011


Stephen Colbert: Catholicism’s best pitch man? (Matt Emerson, 6/02/11, Washington Post)

Colbert is a practicing Catholic and so is his character, and sometimes something apostolic appears to break through. Consider the confetti of Catholic words that opened the post-Easter episode. In the opening monologue, a groggy, depleted Colbert began to recall his weekend, unbosoming memories from what he called his “Catholic bender.”

It had started, he said, on Holy Thursday night. Walking past St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Colbert “caught a little whiff of incense.” Not long after, he was “stumbling through the streets of Manhattan in a chasuble and mitre begging for quarters to buy votive candles.” He later “genuflected all over the back of a cab” and eventually passed out near an “abbot illuminating a manuscript.” The bacchanal included a concurrent saying of the Hail Mary and the Our Father, in Colbert’s words, “the Catholic speedball.”

“I guess I just have to accept,” Colbert concluded, “that I’m a functional Roman Catholic.”

It was hilarious. And it was not the first time that Colbert revealed his inner catechist. So numerous are the clips involving religious and Catholic topics, one could almost assign the “The Report” to introduce Catholic theology.

For example, he has interviewed atheists Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, each time offering impressive responses to their unctuous non-belief. In the wake of psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s preposterous exegesis of the Adam and Eve allegory, Colbert responded with an exposition of the Catholic understanding of hell, concluding the interview with what might be the most well-timed expletive in the history of television.

On Ash Wednesday of this year, Colbert opened his show with ashes on his forehead and discoursed briefly on Lent. Colbert has also interviewed Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., about the Vatican’s position on extraterrestrial life, as well as law professor Douglas Kmiec on Catholic support for President Barack Obama. In one segment titled the “De-deification of the American Faithscape,” Colbert began a critique of the modern lack of religious belief by reciting the Nicene Creed.

Furthermore, Colbert has appointed a Catholic priest, America’s Fr. James Martin, S.J., as “The Colbert Report” chaplain. Together, they have discussed the preferential option for the poor; the words of Jesus in Matthew 25; the life and prayer of Mother Teresa; the connection between a bad economy and belief in God; the vow (and value) of poverty; and social justice. Once, as Colbert’s time with Fr. Martin neared an end, Colbert said, “Father, this interview has ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

The skits and interviews are compelling, in part, because Colbert does not indulge agendas. While sometimes stooping for a cheap laugh, his comedy usually evades the retort, “He’s on our side.” Colbert’s show is one of the few experiences involving Catholics and media that disarms, or at least is not demanding of a pro or con stance contrived as a test of orthodoxy.

The insidious genius of Mr. Colbert is that he's not making fun of his character but of the viewers.

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Posted by at June 22, 2011 6:13 AM

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