18 August 2015

"What punishments of God are not gifts?"

So I've been thinking about Stephen Colbert. He's often held up by Catholics as "our guy" in the world of political comedy because he's open -- and talks frequently -- about his Catholicism.

But I've always felt rather disappointed by him, personally. His tenure on The Colbert Report featured him, in character as an over-the-top right-wing blowhard; as a genuinely right-wing person myself, I found it annoying that I could nod along with his take on a situation until he took it a step too far. And he always took it at least one step too far.

In fact, that was the point: to discuss conservatism in a faux-approving way, but to reach the most obnoxious possible conclusion; to make conservatives into a caricature of a bigoted, selfish Scrooge McDuck. This formula was guaranteed to make the Comedy Central audience, still on a high from Jon Stewart's conservative bashing in the previous slot, sneer.

{I'm not sure it would be quite so harmful if an alarming proportion of my generation didn't get their news exclusively from Comedy Central. Get a grip, fellow millennials.}

Furthermore, he was known to espouse some pretty un-Catholic positions (ugh, I feel dirty even linking to The Huffington Post!). I just can't really get on board with Colbert as a Catholic we should be holding up as an example.

But then every once in a while he says something beautiful that makes me understand why Catholics do it. Consider this excerpt from an interview with GQ recently, talking about the loss of his father and brothers in a plane crash when he was young:
He was tracing an arc on the table with his fingers and speaking with such deliberation and care. “I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died.... And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.
“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that's why. Maybe, I don't know. That might be why you don't see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It's that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”
I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.
I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien's mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn't mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”
He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I'm grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.
“It's not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can't change everything about the world. You certainly can't change things that have already happened.”
Gorgeous. Gorgeous. This is an absolutely breathtaking reflection on the nature of suffering. I could never have articulated that; I can appreciate it, I recognize the Truth of it, but it's beyond my ability to verbalize. He's clearly smarter and more articulate than I am.

And that, I think, is where my problem really lies:

He's smarter than I am. He's more articulate than I am. He certainly has a larger field of influence than I can ever expect to have. And he's using it to do more harm to the Church than he's doing her service. More people will have seen him bashing the Supreme Court judges who opposed the gay "marriage" ruling than will likely see him waxing poetic about God's gift of suffering in our lives. More people will remember him as a faux conservative bigot than as a Catholic.

I understand that not everyone has the courage to be counter-cultural. As a Comedy Central news-comedian, Stephen Colbert was expected to carry water for progressivism. It would have been an act of sheer foolhardiness to come out in opposition to the legalization of gay "marriage" if he wanted to keep his job at Comedy Central and his upcoming gig at CBS. And maybe it's not moral cowardice at all: maybe he genuinely thinks that the Church is wrong in her steadfast opposition to gay "marriage."

She is not, and that is why I find him to be disappointing and an unworthy role model overall. Even if his reflection on suffering and gratitude brought me to tears.

1 comment:

  1. I have a love/disappointment relationship (well, not really a relationship) with Stephen Colbert too. I've seen him go up against atheists and anit-Catholics on his show in a way that is both funny and edifying. And yet one of the most damaging things about Colbert is that he makes it okay, cool even, to be a dissenting Catholic. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Have you seen these?... http://bustedhalo.com/features/stephen-colberts-top-12-catholicest-moments

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