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Stephen Colbert’s Confident Catholicism

“I love my church, and I’m a Catholic who was raised by intellectuals, who were very devout…I was raised to believe that you could question the church and still be a Catholic.”
-Stephen Colbert

There was a very heartening piece in Friday’s Washington Post about comedian Stephen Colbert’s Catholicism. After years of seeing the media spotlight being directed at strident orthodox types such as Catholic League President Bill Donohue or neocons such as Robert P. George or George Weigel, it was refreshing to see a more progressive take on my faith finally being highlighted.

Colbert’s faith is not one that needs to lecture or condemn. Nor does it rely on blind obedience. Instead, as the piece notes, it focuses on how we treat each other. Stuffy dogmas are put aside in favor of speaking up for those living on the margins of society. And as several of his skits on The Colbert Report demonstrates, it is confident enough to chide the Church on its hypocrisies and foibles.

This tact was recently on full display when he went to Capitol Hill and testified in character before a House Judiciary Committee on migrant workers. At the end, however, he put his Bill O’Reilly-based character aside and in plain language told the attending congressmen why he chose to testify. As the WaPo piece recorded:

“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.”

That simple but eloquent statement captured the essence of progressive faith.

Colbert’s practice of his faith is one that resonates far more effectively than the “pray, pay and obey” brand of the Catholic Right. As Rev. Jim Martin, the editor of the Jesuit journal America aptly put it, “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.”

Many years ago when I went to Catholic school, I remember the nuns teaching us that being faithful means more than saying that you believe in God. Faith is instead articulated by acts of kindness and generosity. I suspect that Stephen Colbert was taught the same lesson.

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3 Responses

  1. hmmm, I think I should devote a post to Mr. Colbert. I always enjoy seeing him out of character, like in that genealogy special, Faces of America. He truly is a Catholic icon of our time.

  2. Thanks Terrence, this was a great post. I’ve long been a Colbert fan and I think he’s a great example of a moderate, engaged and humour filled Catholicism.

    I can’t wait to see how his rally To Keep The Fear Alive works out.

  3. Terrence? This is Frank here!

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