Saturday, December 16, 2017

Behind Right-Wing Funnyman Stephen Colbert, A Quiet Faith

October 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Monthly Articles, World News

From Chron.com:

When comedian Stephen Colbert brought his act to Capitol Hill last month and stole the spotlight with his satirical shtick, no one was more surprised than lawmakers. “You run your show,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers scolded him, “we run the committee.”

When Colbert finally let his well-coiffed hair down and got serious about the “really, really hard work” done by migrant farmworkers, even more people were surprised when the funnyman gave a glimpse of his private faith.

“And, you know, whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, and these seem like the least of our brothers right now,” Colbert said, quoting Jesus. “Migrant workers suffer and have no rights.”

It was a different kind of religious message than Colbert typically delivers on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, where he often pokes fun at religion — even his own Catholic Church – in pursuit of a laugh.

Yet it is the kind of serious faith that some of his fellow Catholics say makes him a serious, covert and potent evangelist for their faith.

“Any time you talk about Jesus or Christianity respectfully the way he does, it is evangelization,” said the Rev. Jim Martin, the associate editor of the Jesuit magazine America, who has appeared on Colbert’s show four times.

It’s a contrast to Glenn Beck, the kind of right-wing media icon Colbert loves to skewer. Though Beck’s recent Restoring Honor rally in Washington was headed by a conservative broadcaster who embraces theological patriotism, Colbert’s March to Keep Fear Alive on Oct. 30 will be helmed by a man of more private faith who leaves his God-and-country religion on the set.

Colbert has said that he attends church, observes Lent and teaches Sunday school. “I love my church, and I’m a Catholic who was raised by intellectuals, who were very devout,” he told Time Out magazine. “I was raised to believe that you could question the Church and still be a Catholic.”

His on-air persona is a bloviating holier-than-thou conservative whose orthodox Catholicism is part of what makes him funny. On air, Colbert has chided the pope as an “ecu-menace” for his outreach to other faiths, referred to non-Catholics as “heathens and the excommunicated” and calls those who believe in evolution “monkey men.”

Diane Houdek has tracked Colbert’s on-air references to Catholicism on her blog, Catholic Colbert. When he recites the Nicene Creed or Bible verses from memory, as he did in 2006, it shows how foundational his faith is, she said.

It’s particularly powerful to Catholics, Houdek said, when the lines blur between Colbert’s personal faith and that of his on-air alter ego.

She pointed to a 2007 segment in which his character reveled in Pope Benedict XVI’s statement that non-Catholic faiths were “defective.”

“Catholicism is clearly superior,” Colbert crowed. “Don’t believe me? Name one Protestant denomination that can afford a $660 million sexual abuse settlement.”

Colbert’s personal opinions about Catholicism are not usually so clearly displayed, and his variety of guests offers little clues. His Catholic guests have ranged from the openly gay Catholic writer Andrew Sullivan to Catholic League president William Donohue.

Houdek said she regularly fields comments from readers who think they’ve found a fellow traveler in Colbert. “You can’t pin him down,” Houdek said. “He becomes kind of a Rorschach test for what the viewer’s beliefs are.”

Colbert’s show also tackles the difficult questions Catholicism and other religions try to answer. With Martin as a guest, he has wrestled over poverty, the value of suffering and the role of doubt in faith.

“He manages to raise the big questions very deftly,” Martin said. “I think that is a great catechesis for many people because he might be reaching Catholics who never go to church, and he is speaking to them in language they can understand.”

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