Saturday, September 25, 2010

Who was Colbert mocking?

At the risk of making a mountain of a molehill, I am about to air my concerns about Stephen Colbert's testimony in character before the congressional hearing on immigration reform. His performance was a masterful expression of the irreverence and cynicism that plagues so much of our popular culture. Imagine it, a well know comedian is invited to testify before congress on an important public policy question, and he uses the opportunity to both enhance his own hunger for publicity and to mock the powers that be.

If I may unpack the significance of the event, Colbert is an expression of the modern view of events and institutions. He is first of all mocking formality and the idea that an institution should be respected and taken seriously. While this has been happening for a long time, I have never seen it taken to the level of dis-respecting the United States congress. It is one thing to wear blue jeans and a baseball cap to school or to church, it is another to treat a congressional hearing as a comedic opportunity. This takes the nihilism of this generation to a new level.

But there is more to mocking than dis-respect, it is an expression of denial. It is saying that what you stand for is not good nor true, it is evil and wrong. Mockery is not just opposition to a point of view, it is the attempt to demolish it. It doesn't just oppose what it mocks, it despises it.

Then the question becomes, what does Colbert despise. Well, his character is patterned after Bill O'Reilly and the conservative view point of Fox News. This is what he is really mocking and this is what he despises. The point is not to defend O'Reilly (he can take of himself pretty well) or Fox News, it is to defend the conservative values that they alone in the media support. It is also to raise concern about the rejectionist approach in our political discourse. We don't even argue anymore, we deny and denigrate. There is only one thing that can come next, repression and persecution of those who hold contrary views. (I am quite concerned about the rhetoric directed at Evangelical Christians in some circles. We are being demonized, and the stage is being set for the public approval of the repression and persecution of Christians.)

So, let's talk about what the Bible says about mockery and those who practice it. Mocking is actually the end point of a progression. Psalm 1 warns us to avoid walking "in the counsel of the wicked." In other words it tells us to avoid taking the bad advice that comes from those who reject sound moral principles. Next, we are warned to avoid standing "in the path of sinners." A path is a track worn by repeated use, and a sinner is one who habitually sins. Notice that this condition is less mobile and more entrenched than the first. The first is innocent, looking for guidance on life decisions, the second has already made a number of choices and has taken a position of identification, he is a sinner. But the final stage brings us to the place of the "scoffer" (mocker). This is the ultimate expression of rebellion against God and goodness. It is the person sitting "in the seat of the scoffer." This person is completely immobile, he cannot move and thus he cannot change. He is totally dedicated to his position, as if his life depended on it. Whatever he has given himself to now has him completely in its grip and he will defend it to the death.

Sitting in the ancient world was also seen as taking a position of authority. A scoffer speaks as if he has the final word and that only a fool would disagree with him. But it is all bravado, they are mocking the true and the good, because the evil has them completely in its grip.

The lesson of Psalm 1 for us is that we should never start down the road that begins with the false wisdom that predominates in our hedonistic, self-centered culture. Because it will take us to the place where sin is habitual and very difficult to overcome. And, if we aren't careful can lead us to the place where we will be literally addicted to sin, and couldn't let it go even if we wanted to.

How much better to follow David's advice in the second half of the Psalm, to delight in the Torah (teachings) of God and to meditate upon them day and night. Here we find wisdom for our daily choices. Here we find a path that leads to life and ultimately to Jesus for He is life. Here we find a place of true conviction and authority based upon the proven certainty of God's word and ways.

I feel truly sorry for the Stephen Colberts of the world. I certainly don't know any of the details of his life, nor can I stand as judge over him. Only God knows his heart. But his choice to mock things he doesn't fully understand or appreciate such as the core conservative moral vaues of American society do tell us where much of the popular culture that he represents stands or rather sits.


Jacob Paurus said...

"This takes the nihilism of this generation to a new level."

Yikes. I think you're on point. The cynicism of my generation deeply grieves me.

Tom said...

Thanks for the comment Jake. I actually don't think the individuals of your generation are any more cynical than other generations. It is the intellectuals and writers that have made this the postmodern age that are the ultimate cynics.

Every age has provided Christians with an opportunity to let their light shine. Your generation has the chance to shine forth the love and joy of Jesus to this world filled with lost souls.