In a recent interview, popular comedian and faithful Catholic, Stephen Colbert talks about faith and how it mixes with fame, logic, and humor.  Since he’s been a favorite of mine for years, and someone I admire for his balanced perspective as well as his genuine faithfulness and humility (despite his character’s hubris), I found myself responding to his comments as I read the interview.

Fame doesn’t negate faith

“When we church people talk about Hollywood and the media, we often talk in disparaging terms,” he says. “But there are some outstanding people who are strong in faith.”

Actor Rick Schroeder who converted to Mormonism as an adult used to be in my ward here in Scottsdale.  This was before we lived here, but many of our ward friends are still FB friends with him and his wife.  He talked about being torn between Hollywood and his new Mormon faith, and that it was hard to make deals in Hollywood while retaining your integrity as a practicing Mormon, that most deals were made in settings that weren’t conducive to living the standards we uphold.

And of course, that’s not a problem unique to Hollywood.  When I was an executive in Asia, I was told that it would be necessary for me to be able to show my ability to hold liquor as a sign that I was a strong business person, a trustworthy partner.[1]  When I explained that I don’t drink, I was told this would cause me problems in some countries, but that the alternative was that I could eat whatever was placed before me as a sign of my guts, my openness and my stamina, which was how I met the challenge of showing my strength in places like Japan and China.[2]

There are people of faith in Hollywood, although there may be some incompatibility with Mormon standards as some famous Mormons such as Katherine Heigel and Brandon Flowers have discussed in interviews.  Still, with or without living the behavioral standards, it seems that their faith, at least on some level, informs their work.[3]

OK to poke fun at your own faith

Colbert often pokes fun at his beloved Catholicism, but with a feeling of affection.  “If we love something we can make fun of it,” he says. “We need to see the divine sense of humor in some things.”

What are the boundaries?  “As long as you’re not being malicious, I don’t think you can leave anything off the table.” [4] He did say some things like the holy sacraments are things he wouldn’t joke about.  “It wouldn’t feel right for me, it wouldn’t feel good for me, it wouldn’t be obeying my own conscience, I suppose, to make jokes about the sacraments, or specifically the Eucharist… a nacho cheese Eucharist joke… not.”  Likewise, for many Mormons, there are subjects we don’t specifically joke about such as the temple, even for Mormons who joke about the culture, leadership, and even doctrine, writers such as Robert Kirby and cartoonist Pat Bagley.

Colbert makes an interesting observation about the modernity of being able to poke fun at religion while remaining faithful, also pointing out that humor is an intellectual activity whereas faith is not necessarily logical.  “We know that I could do my show and make jokes about the church, and now sit with a priest and laugh about it, that’s a fairly modern behavior.  That’s not a hundred-year-old behavior, this is a modern behavior—this is, I hope, the right relationship to have with your faith, which is to love it, but not to exclude it from your intellect.”

Even among those who are currently living, older generations are probably less comfortable with poking fun at religion than younger ones are because this is a modern societal trend.

Goal is to connect, not to create change

“That’s got to be the goal, that connection has got to be the goal, and the making somebody laugh has got to be the goal.  You can’t think that your satire is going to change things.”

Given the goal of connection, it seems that it’s important to be intentional about that.  With whom are we connecting when we make wry observations?  And are we avoiding the mistake of thinking we can create change through satire?  I enjoy writing satirical posts sometimes, yet I don’t want my satire to draw an anti-Mormon audience or an exclusively post-Mormon audience.  I’m more interested in connecting with others who like me are faithful but who see the ridiculousness in the human hypocrisies that inevitably creep into worship.  Especially in our faith where we often feel discouraged from presenting anything but a perfect face, it can be a relief to connect with others who tire of this facade.

Zealousness is a problem in all faiths

Regarding the Charlie Hebdo murders:  “I’m not trying to make a moral equivalency between the Christianity of the Middle Ages and these people, who are doing this horror right now, but every religion has been so defensive of its beliefs that it has actually abandoned its beliefs at times.”

This also seems related to the age of a religion, perhaps part of the growing pains.  It’s human nature to sometimes lose our principles in the defense of our principles or to become combative and tribal in defending faith against criticism, but that doesn’t make it enlightened to be so defensive.  Some would say Kim Davis is an example of being so focused on one principle that she has lost her overall principle of upholding the law.  Likewise, in our quest to encourage discipleship, it’s difficult to refrain from being judgmental and ostracizing those who sin differently than we do.  There is an inherent stress between two of the missions of the church:  perfecting the saints (in our quest for perfection we drive out “impurities” and differences) and proclaiming the gospel (in which we seek to add to the body of saints by preaching to those who are different and sinful, inviting them to join our ranks).

The role of logic in faith

“Faith ultimately can’t be argued, faith has to be felt,” continued Colbert. “And hopefully you can still feel your faith fully, and let your mind have a logical life of its own, and they do not defy each other, but complement each other, because logic itself, I don’t think, for me, and you know—Aquinas might say differently—logic itself will not lead me to God. And, so, hopefully I can use my mind to make my jokes, and not deny my love for God at the same time.”

This reminded me a little bit of something John Dehlin used to say years ago, that using logic to find faith was like trying to eat soup with a hammer.[5]  Different tools apply to different tasks, something that it’s still difficult to remember, especially since once we accept a natural explanation for something, a supernatural one will no longer fit the bill.

But while doubt may be based in logic, faith has a certain ineffable quality that causes us to doubt our doubts.  That sounds a bit like there are no atheists in foxholes.  Certainly, there is more of a

Regardless, there is a big difference between the faith of those who enjoy logic and intellectual pursuits and those who are suspicious of them.

Why this Pope is exceptional; Holy Envy

Many left-leaning Mormons have described their feelings for Pope Francis as “holy envy,” and he certainly does seem very quotable with the wisdom of a Christian Dalai Lamai.  Colbert likewise admires him, and asks, as a partial explanation of what makes this pope so special, “how do you get to where you are in the church and not to be consumed by the law, as opposed to the love that led to the law?”

It’s a fabulous question, one that all devout people need to ask themselves from time to time.  It’s a question that Pres. Uchtdorf has asked in a roundabout way in many of his talks.


[1] I immediately wondered what these countries thought of Pres. Bush since he was an AA chip-carrying recovering alcoholic.  By and large, this was viewed as a sign of weakness since alcoholism is considered a character flaw, an inability to control oneself, and not a disease.  Recovering from it while abstaining was also considered weakness; the disease had won.

[2] Things I have eaten to prove my mettle:  pigeon, chicken palm (that’s the foot minus the toes), and the dreaded Century egg.  I didn’t eat the sea snakes that I thought were asparagus spears.  We all have our limits.  Things I have eaten just for the fun of it:  camel, donkey, crocodile, emu, and kangaroo.  I also skipped out on scorpion, silkworm cocoon, beetles, and starfish.

[3] All right, maybe 27 Dresses isn’t exactly the Chronicles of Narnia.

[4] Whew!

[5] I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist.