Stephen Colbert Is Ruining America

by Zack Hunt

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Do you remember the trays we all used to eat off of in our elementary school cafeterias?

I usually had to bring my lunch from home, ‘cause $1.80 was apparently too pricey, but when I did get to buy my lunch at school I loved the trays we got to use.

Why?

Because those nice, neat little sections they were divided up into kept my food from touching.

And as any elementary school kid will tell you, there’s nothing worse in life than having your food touch. Although, I have to admit. Even as an adult, I sometimes have to agree with them.

Look, if God wanted my corn to be in my mashed potatoes God would have made corn potatoes. But He didn’t. Because clearly God doesn’t like His food to touch either.

As adults we may not use those wonderful gifts of gastronomic separation anymore, but many of us live our lives like we’re still in the school cafeteria.

We love to keep our lives nice and neat. We separate and divide everyone and everything into clearly delineated categories that we don’t have to think about and which we treat however we like.

We need to have our good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other. No touching. No mingling. That way we can vilify anyone or anything at the drop of a hat without having to worry about messy things like nuance, complexity, or worst of all – diversity.

Which is why Stephen Colbert is ruining America.

He’s doing everything he can to destroy our cherished cafeteria tray way of life.

For some, he’s just a liberal blowhard.

For others, he’s one of the funniest guys on television.

And for the oblivious, he’s the champion of the Republican cause and the most patriotic American in history.

But what makes Stephen Colbert so frustrating is the quandary he presents, particularly to the church and her relationship to politics.

The modern myth of faith and politics in America tells us that all Christians are Republicans. Fortunately, the last election made some progress in dismantling this myth, but it still holds firm ground in the minds of many. The idea that a person could be a Christian and criticize the Republican Party, or worse, vote for a Democrat is nothing short of heresy for many good, faithful people in the church.

And yet there stands Stephen Colbert – a devoted Catholic, a family man, Sunday School teacher, and unabashed wearer of Lenten ashes who is not afraid to publicly call out his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (in both parties) when the policies they are advocating stand in stark contrast with the God they claim to be following.

Like the time he called all of us out a few years ago in what, for me, is one of the most stinging (and accurate) critiques of American Christianity ever uttered in the English language,

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.

With his brazen public admissions of faith and steadfast refusal to shy away from his Christian faith, Stephen Colbert forces us to rethink our cafeteria tray approach to faith and politics.

Unless we are going to position ourselves (rather than God) as the judge of someone else’s faith, then we have to take Colbert at his word (and deeds) that he is, in fact, a Christian. And if that is true, we must abandon our “us” vs. “them” approach to faith and politics and begin to recognize that sometimes “they” are really “us.”

Now, I’m not saying we can’t disagree. We can. And we should. But the demonization of people in the opposing political party has to stop, particularly since some of those people we are demonizing are our own brothers and sisters in Christ.

On a basic level, the utter ineptitude of our current partisan political climate demonstrates just how impotent this attitude renders our ability to get anything accomplished. But on a deeper level, when we caricature and demonize our fellow Christians (or people in general) on the other side of the aisle, we are denying them their God given identity as people made in the image of God by painting them instead simply as political opponents to be destroyed. When this happens we rip apart the Body we claim to hold dear.

Again, I am by no means denouncing disagreement. We should debate and debate vigorously, but must not demonize.

Demonization requires simplicity. It requires a stripping down, or even contorting, of reality to “basic issues” which replace the people who believe in them, along with the nuance and complexity of life that led them to their beliefs. When people become simply idea, “them,” or worse, the enemy, they become targets we think nothing of destroying at will, and with a sense of righteousness to boot.

However, the issues we are so passionate about are almost never as simple as we make them out to be, nor are the people we debate with as uniform or malicious in their beliefs as we portray them as being.

Faith and politics, life in general is not like an elementary school cafeteria tray. It’s complicated and messy. Boundaries are crossed as people and issues get mixed together in the face of the nuances that shape the reality of our complicated and ever evolving everyday lives. Pretending otherwise, that life is simply about voting “yes” or “no” on certain issues or that faith and politics can be constructively reduced to “us” vs. “them” is not only utterly dishonest, it creates an antagonistic myopathy that keeps us from answering our call to bring the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven.

We need a new approach to faith and politics, one that is honest about the complexities of life and which honors the humanity of everyone.

Which is why I am so thankful for the witness of Stephen Colbert.

He is ruining the America (and church) of “us” vs. “them.”

And I, for one, am very grateful that he is.

 

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

 

23 Responses to “Stephen Colbert Is Ruining America”

  1. Rebecca W June 12, 2013 at 5:09 am #

    I love Stephen Colbert. Now I know exactly why. Thanks!

  2. jamie@southmainmuse June 12, 2013 at 6:19 am #

    Stephen Colbert is great political comedian — but my husband observes the left verse right Christian debate every Sunday. His classes is evenly divided and the end up debating both sides of current issues. They all love each other and agree to disagree.

  3. Matt Appling June 12, 2013 at 7:15 am #

    Well said, Zack. I don’t usually agree with Colbert’s politics (but then again, I don’t agree with most peoples’ politics!) But his critiques of the church are scathingly accurate.

  4. Victoria June 12, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    I read through this twice. The first time I thought, “yeah! people need to stop demonizing me for my ‘liberal’ political stance!” Then upon the second reading, I realized that I often demonize those in the church with whom I disagree. I probably won’t stop disagreeing, but this post was a good reminder to remember the “nuance and complexity of life that led them to their beliefs” regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on. Thanks.

    Also thank you for articulating why Stephen Colbert is so awesome.

  5. Michelle June 12, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    This reminds me of N.T. Wright’s responses over on Rachel Held Evans’s blog this week. A couple of times, he referred to Americans and our tendency to make false dichotomies or always see everything in black and white, either/or. It was interesting perspective. I wonder how my opinions would be different if I had grown up elsewhere.

  6. Michael Hadley June 12, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    Great Post! I think we do need to engage in politics based on our convictions and the beliefs that we have; but, I think we also need to remember that America is not a christian nation. It’s not a theocracy. So sometimes the right thing to do instead of voting against people or protesting them, is just to love them. No one ever gets it completely right or wrong, and you can’t make everyone happy. I think we should engage in politics as citizens, not necessarily christians. Jesus didn’t really engage in politics, He engaged with people.

    Long comment. Sorry. But ya…love the post. We need the grade school mentality to go away. We need to stop acting like kids in a sandbox with our fingers in our ears yelling, I can’t hear you. :)

    • MomofTwoPreciousGirls June 29, 2013 at 5:30 am #

      This country is supposed to be the exact opposite of theocracy. It was founded by people who were fleeing religious persecution and a Constitution was created to keep the Church and State separate. Religious beliefs (Christian or other) should not be used in the creation of laws.
      I find myself in awkward positions most of the time, because I feel pretty liberally about social issues, but I am fiscally conservative. Every time I vote I must think about what issues are affecting the people I love and vote in a way that I feel is best for them.
      I think what many liberals confuse is people that are poor and needy, versus people that are lazy and take advantage of the system. Too many times I see people that I know truly need help, not receiving it because there are people that don’t need it that are taking it. I have been in tough times before, with a husband that was out of work for two years, just when we had our two kids. Our income was cut in half, we couldn’t pay our bils, because we had to feed our children. We actually had to choose each paycheck what meals he and I would have to skip for the next two weeks to be able to provide healthy meals for the kids. Even in that dire moment we could not get any help, while I saw a woman I knew filling out every application for aid of every sort, lying every time and having all her bills paid for because she knew how to work the system. When I tried to report her dishonest acts, I was told there were not enough people to monitor and investigate the cases of fraud. Even with the information being handed to them, no action was taken to keep her from lying. This same woman went to church every Sunday….

  7. Bart June 12, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    The problem I have with the “don’t demonize the other side” thesis is that sometimes the other side actually *is* demons, or at least seems to be doing their bidding. I don’t think there can really be a fair and balanced debate about the rightness of policies like “we must openly torture people in offshore concentration camps for years on end” or “the leader of a nation should have the right to murder that nation’s citizens at whim”. Anybody who claims to be Christian *must*, in my humble opinion, reject policy statements like these on their face, and must openly oppose, in the strongest terms, those who embrace them.

    This isn’t a matter of politics, I guess. I strongly believe that as a Christian we are to follow Jesus’s example and just not *do* “Christian politics”. At all. The way to stop sin and bring Heaven to Earth is to inspire people to follow Jesus Christ.

    However, when people are suffering because of the actions of one’s government, we must follow Jesus’s lead in compassion; helping the hungry, the sick, those in prison. Anyone who gets in the way of that has abrogated the social contract, and forfeited the right to civil discourse. Jesus was not shy about vilifying the group that was causing the grief in his country in his time (“generation of vipers”), and hey, guess who that was? The politicized leaders of the Church!

    Thanks huge for another interesting column! Really enjoy and am inspired by reading your writing. God bless.

  8. Tara Livesay June 12, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    Have you ever read Greg Boyd’s “Myth of a Christian Nation” ? I enjoy Colbert when I get a chance to catch his show … I think he has done a brilliant job of shining a light on our hypocricy. Great post.

  9. Sharideth June 12, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Zack, you used lunch trays and Steven Colbert to craft a powerful commentary on the state of our Christian union. I bow in awe.

  10. Debra June 12, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Zack, this is a message straight from the heart of God. He is weary of our demonizing those on the opposite side of the aisle. What he really desires is for us to pray, as he prayed, “Make us one.” This applies more to our ‘enemies’ than to our friends with whom we naturally flock.
    Yes, Lord, make us one. Bring unity to your people: black and white, liberal and conservative, democrat and republican, libertarian and independent… may there come a day when the donkey lies down with the elephant, just as the lion lies down with the lamb.
    Thank you.

  11. Diana June 12, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Excellent. Thanks so much – and I’ll never again be able to look at a divided tray (or even a paper plate!) without thinking of Stephen Colbert!

  12. Angela Brackeen (@angela_brackeen) June 12, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

    Oh my, your post is so well stated, so truthful, and so good to hear!

  13. Tracie June 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    I enjoy watching Stephen Colbert. Even thought I don’t always agree with him, I’m often challenged in my thinking, and that has a lot of value.

    Corn potatoes are never good. I never outgrew keeping the food on my plated separated.

  14. Gary Campbell June 13, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

    I’m so glad my dear friend from KC suggested your blog. I Know we will be hearing a lot more from you. Truly refreshing!

  15. Susan Irene Fox June 14, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Oh, bravo, Zack. Preach it, brother. Totally agree. Thanks for adding to the voices of the unRepublican, unfundamentalist Christians.

  16. Dan June 17, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    Extend this commentary to war, and it leads me to ask why, in history, Christians have found it acceptable to righteously kill other Christians in war. Then extend it even further to today, and ask why people of any faith can righteously kill one another in war.

  17. Joe June 30, 2013 at 8:38 am #

    The Colbert quote is NOT a “powerful critique” — it’s a simplistic canard and political screed.

    Jesus commanded US to love the poor. He didn’t command us to TAKE MONEY FROM OTHER PEOPLE to love the poor. Christians who cite Jesus to justify the the government’s systematic transfer of wealth from one group of people to another are twisting his words in exactly the same way they accuse others of doing.

    Not demonizing others is fantastic, just like puppies and apple pie. But the bigger problem in the American church today is good, sincere people who swallow the prevailing secular cultural views on a whole host of issues and then twist or ignore Scripture to justify the culture. When challenged with the disconnect between their views and Scripture, and these people often react by accusing others of “demonizing” them. Which changes the subject to the importance of tolerance and not giving offense, two of the favorite and most over-blathered topics in academia and the media.

    It’s true that we shouldn’t demonize. I agree completely. But I don’t think it’s a particularly keen or insightful critique of American culture.

    • Pani July 8, 2013 at 12:00 am #

      Loving the poor is what we’re commanded to do. However, the unfortunate truth is that love doesn’t feed children; money is necessary. If there aren’t enough who are willing or able to contribute financially to the needs of the poor, shall we simply let them starve then?

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