Colbert's Cloak and Dagger Catechesis
The day after Easter, in a small studio in New York City, in the span of three minutes and eleven seconds, a man mentioned a mitre, a monk, a chasuble, a reliquary, votive candles, the Sacraments, celibacy, and St. Patrick's Cathedral.
One hears those words and imagines a nave of parishioners or the couchy décor of EWTN. But this was neither. Nor was this the residence of the Archbishop or some other patch of holy ground. The source of this catechesis was the television network that gave America "South Park," and which broadcasts profane tributes to the likes of Pamela Anderson and Donald Trump.
Say hello to "Comedy Central" and "The Colbert Report."
For the unacquainted, "The Colbert Report" (the latter two words pronounced with a silent "t") evolved from Stephen Colbert's years as a fake news anchor on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show." In "The Colbert Report" Colbert plays the same character, but now modeled on the bombast of a Bill O'Reilly or Keith Olbermann. His show combines news, commentary, and feature stories, all accessories to thirty minutes of satirical self-promotion.
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.
Matt Emerson writes from California, where he teaches at Xavier Prep.