The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, recently published a blog about Stephen Colbert being one of the headliners at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner this year, in honor of the former New York governor and Roman Catholic luminary. In it, he noted:
Colbert, as a devout Catholic, may be one of the only people who can rip on the Church’s foibles as its leaders look on with joy. That’s a power I hope he takes full advantage of while he can.
If you watch the Colbert Report, you know that Colbert has been incredibly hard on the Roman Catholic Church via his show, taking very sharp, unflinching jabs at it regarding its treatment of women, its wealth and its coverup of pedophilia, to the point that you can tell he's made his audience uncomfortable (gasps rather than laughter).
Yet, the reaction from Mehta's readers was hostile, with endless criticisms and incredulity about Colbert being Catholic.
The vast majority of the actions and policies of the Roman Catholic Church absolutely disgust me. Since I wasn't raised Catholic, its rituals are rather meaningless to me, and so I have no nostalgia for them. Its wealth is vomit-inducing - while I can appreciate the architecture of various Roman Catholic Churches around the world, I can't ignore the gold and silver, the sculptures, the multi-million dollar ornamentation. And I also seethe at how often the Roman Catholic Church has turned a blind eye to criminal, even deadly behavior, from crimes against humanity during Western Europe's colonization of the world, to the Holocaust, to the the workhouses (slavery) of Ireland, to the Rwandan genocide and on and on and on and on.
But I also don't judge individual Catholics any more than I judge someone from a country with a government that commits atrocities. I have been thankful that so many people around the world have been kind to me, a USA citizen, despite what the USA military or government has done to their country. I love my country, but I'll be the first to give you a long list of things about it that disgust me.
Like most of my Roman Catholic friends, I bet that Colbert sees the failures in the Roman Catholic Church as failures of humans, rather than his God. I also bet that he's benefitted hugely from his membership in terms of emotional support in times of crisis - his father and brothers were killed in a plane accident, and if you've ever lost a close family member and been a part of a religiously-inclined community, you know how amazing that very sincere support and love can be - I speak from experience, as an Atheist that was overwhelmed with the support of my Bible Belt community when my father died. I think he's stayed in the Roman Catholic Church, despite the horrors that he readily acknowledges and continually criticizes on his show, because of the support he and his family has received in their (his family's) worst time, because he credits that church with his sense of social justice and compassion, and because of the faction within it that works so passionately for social justice and engages in activities like setting up homeless shelter, helps illegal immigrants, etc., as well as the faction that is against Rome's policies regarding women and birth control - I think he wants to be one of those people that wants to be a part of the compassion it can promote but also work to change it (much like Jimmy Carter stayed an active Baptist for so long, trying to offer an alternative to what his church's convention was saying).
Maybe it's a little like why I have stayed a citizen of the USA, and stayed active in government, voting, working for candidates and joining local government citizens' committees: while I'm disgusted oh-so-often by the actions my government takes, I don't want to leave it to the people who want to take away women's rights, discourage minorities from voting, start wars, etc. I want it to be something that helps everyone. And it won't be that if everyone that's disgusted with it refuses to be a part of it to help change it.
No, I don't like the Roman Catholic Church. At all. But just as people abroad haven't said horrible things about me for remaining a citizen of the USA, despite drone strikes and invasions of other countries and people imprisoned for years without trial, I'm going to cut you some slack for remaining in whatever community of faith you're a part of. It's your words and actions that are going to win me or lose me.