Monday, March 14, 2011

Give Me Some of That New-Time Postmodern Religion

by Rev. Laura Barclay
On Ash Wednesday, I happened to tune in to both Conan and The Colbert Report and was not all that shocked to see a fairly usual sight. These Generation X and Y icons were humorously addressing Lent. A word of warning – some content may be seen as objectionable by certain viewers.
Conan's Ash Wednesday Play (skip to the 5 minute, 30 second mark):

Colbert gives up Catholicism for Lent:
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stephen Gives up Catholicism for Lent
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

At first glance, their portrayals could be perceived as irreverent, but I, and others in my generation, see a kind of genius in their humor. Some religious establishments can be seen as self-righteous and unwilling to engage in a meaningful discussion on ideological differences. I believe that this seemingly reverent ban from the public sphere of comedy has actually done a disservice to the faith in terms of accountability. Younger generations communicate through humor and sarcasm and wisely do not trust entities that aren’t willing to be subjected to comedic scrutiny. Such jokes actually serve to shine a light on the tragic, corrupt or negative elements of religion, while lifting up the gospels. Catholic comedians Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert will rightfully mock the bad: sexual abuse, authoritarianism, discrimination, and hypocritical theology. Simultaneously, Colbert has done some hard-hitting segments that highlight Jesus’ gospel teachings and ethic of love, and has even addressed Congress to expose the conditions of migrant workers in the name of his faith.
Because these comedians keep religion on the table to be humorously discussed, they are more likely to be trusted by younger generations. In fact, Colbert has become a Catholic icon on college campuses and is generating excitement for the faithful. Jesuit priest Rev. Martin says, “He manages to raise the big questions very deftly. I think that is a great catechesis for many people because he might be reaching Catholics who never go to church and he is speaking to them in language they can understand.” I would add to Martin’s statement that he’s speaking to all young adults who are searching for meaning and showing them how to be faithful in a postmodern age where the rules have changed. In using their language of humor, he’s able to affirm viewers’ legitimate concerns about religion while also encouraging them to discuss their doubts and hopes with one another (doubting is another topic off-limits in many churches). These conversations are exactly what should be happening in the church, and my hope is that we can find ways to connect with younger people who expect the space to question, hope, doubt, and find humor in just about everything. We must be willing to listen and communicate in new ways with Generation X and Y. Not only are they our future, but they may have good reason to be reluctant to set foot in church.

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