US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The underlying faith behind Stephen Colbert's Super PAC

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

If you're a fan of late night TV host and comedian Stephen Colbert--or his more private Catholic alter ego of the same name--you're probably familiar with the ongoing storyline surrounding his very real Colbert Super PAC.

To catch up those who aren't fans, Colbert, the TV character, filed paperwork last summer to start a real political action committee. And in an even more baffling move, the FEC approved his request. As a "super PAC," Colbert's group is allowed to make unlimited donations as long as it doesn't "coordinate" directly with candidates. By going through the process himself, Colbert has given his viewers a lesson in what super PACs mean to the campaign funding process, albeit in a very tongue-in-cheek manner.

By now, even casual viewers get Colbert's shtick: He is a caricature of political pundits, particularly the type found on FOX News, and his over-the-top satire is almost never meant to be taken seriously. Yet while he keeps his private life separate, he hasn't shied away from discussing his Catholic beliefs, even confessing to being a catechist in his New Jersey parish.

Yesterday, the New York Times published an interesting look at the multiple sides of Colbert--the person, the character, and the shades of gray between the two. In discussing his super PAC, Colbert simply explained that it is all for laughs, and he's merely using it as fodder for his show. But when talking about real issues in the same article, like his father's death or his family life, Colbert's earnest Catholic influence is undeniable.

As seen during his (mostly in character) testimony before Congress on immigration last year, Colbert's comedy has clear tones of that faith mixed in. He can say that his absurd use of a super PAC is all for laughs, but his focus on emphasizing the legal ruling that corporations are people and that their unlimited political spending counts as free speech brings up a very real issue. It points to the fact that the wealthy have the most powerful voices in choosing our nation's leaders and influencing laws. And beneath the satire, there's a serious message that this inequity in the political system means there is a very real injustice for poor and middle class Americans, who are the ones that most need the attention of their legislators.

You won't hear those words from the TV character, but that's the message the real Colbert wants us to hear--one that's rooted in his own Catholic faith.