The Catholic Colbert’s Dance with the Devil
“I am here to know God, love God, serve God, that we might be happy with each other in this world and with Him in the next.” That’s not the sort of line one usually sees in a GQ article, but usual is not a word often associated with Stephen Colbert. Read that profile and you will see the profoundly positive impact an afternoon with the practicing Catholic Colbert can have on a person. Throughout his nine years posing as a well-intentioned but willfully ignorant conservative blowhard on Comedy Central, Colbert brought to his humor a nuanced knowledge of religion that was otherwise a rarity on television. The politically liberal Colbert also occasionally showed, in his back-door way, a traditionalism that could make his left-leaning fans do a needed double-take. (Here, he bitingly highlights the raw deals women have received via the sexual revolution.)
But if he has long served as a moral compass for the secular left, that compass seemed to be on the fritz for a recent Halloween installment of his new Late Show. The Village Voice introduced its readers to the night’s musical act with the headline “If Not for Those Satanic Lyrics, Ghost could be Superstars.” By letting them play on the Ed Sullivan Theater stage where the Beatles also made their American television debut, it seems the Catholic-catechism-teaching Colbert has decided to help the Swedish death metal band — already commanding a large cult following — over the hump.
All of the instrumentalists wore face shielding horned masks, and as the “nameless ghoul” on guitar set into a crunching riff, I — likely along with thousands of others who were similarly unaware of the group’s existence before — raised an eyebrow. By the time the priestly robed lead singer Papa Emeritus III, his face painted like a skull and wearing a miter with an upside down cross, finished belting out a disturbingly melodic number and laying his hands on zombies who had walked the aisle, I was probably not alone in asking, “What the hell was that?”
And hell is almost always on the collective mind of Ghost. The six Swedes have channeled their disdain for Christianity and love of KISS-style theatrics effectively enough that Rolling Stone declares that Ghost “has done more to bring blasphemous, religion-skewering devil rock to the mainstream masses than perhaps any act since Marilyn Manson rose from the swamps of Florida to declare himself the Antichrist Superstar.” A bunch of Caspers they are not.
Their Late Show selection “Cirice” (Old English for church) with its chorus “Can’t you see that you’re lost without me?” is among Ghost’s subtler offerings. More typical are the first words sung on their 2010 debut album:
We Are Here
For Your Praise
Even in this permissive age, Ghost goes too far for many in the cultural mainstream. On a previous album, the band had difficulty finding a CD manufacturer who would print its demonic orgy cover art, and Nashville backup singers roundly passed on the chance to be in their devilish choir (such were found in California, you may be relieved to hear).
It is hard to tell just how much of this is macabre salesmanship as opposed to serious satanic devotion. One band member told Rolling Stone, “Let’s say we’re 55 percent about giving a show, and 45 percent about, I don’t know, changing the world.” “That doesn’t mean in any way,” the ghoul later added, “that what we are saying is bogus, only that this [being in a band] is our calling in life.” The world Ghost purportedly wants to see is one where humanity does not look to religion and can “accept the fact that we don’t really know anything.”
Ghost’s stage shows are built around a dark Mass motif that openly mocks and subverts Catholicism. While some try to laugh it off as campy (though the tone of their Late Show set was decidedly dark, not cheeky) there is a numbing effect at work that is far from neutral. As one fan put it online, “Who else can make you absentmindedly sing about human sacrifice as if it’s the happiest thing in the world?”
With a 200 person staff behind him, I doubt Colbert was personally responsible for this booking, but it was a bad one. The poisoned candy being peddled is not safe for human consumption on Halloween or any other night.
In an earlier interview worth watching from Salt & Light television of Canada, Colbert, a deeply knowledgeable student of scripture and church history, quoted extensively and extemporaneously from C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. I wish Colbert had read a passage from that book’s preface to last Friday’s audience:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
Stephen Colbert is not a man who is normally flippant about the power of evil, but on one unfortunate late October night he scoffed at the possibility of witches before turning out the lights and turning his stage over to a satanic Anti-Pope. Here’s hoping that Colbert learns from his mistake and fills his Christmas show with reflections of the Light that the darkness cannot overcome.
John Murdock writes from Texas and exists online at johnmurdock.org.