Stephen on faith and his own “dark night”

The marvelous folks at No Fact Zone have once again worked their web connections to get a heads-up on the upcoming feature in Parade magazine this weekend. I sometimes feel like I’m just following in their wake, unworthy to unfasten their collective sandal strap.

Humility aside, I gleaned some of the best quotes the Catholic Heroes will be interested in. The article and the behind-the-scenes outtakes from the interview offer some of the best insights I’ve seen yet on Stephen’s faith, particularly in light of the discussion of Mother Teresa with Fr. Jim Martin last Thursday.

From the article, via NFZ’s coverage:

Colbert was the youngest of 11 children growing up in Charleston, S.C. It was a big, bustling, Irish-Catholic family—”a humorocracy,” Colbert recalls. “Singing around the house highly encouraged.” On Sept. 11, 1974 everything changed. His father and two brothers were killed in a plane crash. With his other brothers and sisters either working or heading back to college that fall, the household was suddenly diminished to just two: 10-year-old Stephen and his mom. “The shades were down, and she wore a lot of black, and it was very quiet,” he remembers. “She was a daily communicant, and many times I was too. It was a constant search for healing. My mother gave that gift to all of us. I am so blessed to have been the child at home with her.”

Always a devout Catholic, Colbert lost his faith after graduating from college. “I was very depressed about it,” he says. “I wanted the idea that I would see my father and brothers again, and it was heartbreaking to think that that wouldn’t happen.” Then, one winter day, as Colbert walked down a street in Chicago, a Gideon handed him a Bible. “It was so cold I had to crack the pages,” he recalls. “I flipped it open, and it had a list of things to read about if you were feeling different ways. Under ‘Anxiety,’ it said ‘Matthew V,’ the Sermon on the Mount.” He paraphrases: “‘Who among you by worrying can change a hair on his head?’ It spoke to me.”

….Now living in New Jersey with his wife and three kids, Colbert says he just wants to be normal. “To have a wife and kids, and live in a suburban house, and wear khaki pants, and pick them up from the dry cleaner—I don’t see anything wrong with that. I think a lot of people who perform have a fear of being ordinary. They confuse ordinary with common.”

This uncommon man even manages, when he can find the time, to teach Sunday school. Colbert remembers the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount: “That’s being fearless,” he says. “Not living in fear is a great gift, because certainly these days we do it so much. And do you know what I like about comedy? You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time. If you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid.”

And from the out-takes:

Stephen Colbert: One of the things that I like about improvisation is that, literally, there are no mistakes. There are only opportunities.

James Kaplan: You embrace the bomb.

SC: You embrace the bomb. And that idea is so appealing to me, because it’s also about valuing suffering, and gratitude for bad things — because really, what’s the option? Mother Theresa said, “Smile and accept.” I love that.

In a way that’s not easy to explain, I am grateful. I am grateful to be given the gift to have seen [my mother] survive it and to have had the suffering myself, because there is no escaping suffering. So you have to be grateful for it.


The minute I went to college, I didn’t believe in God. The minute I had an opportunity to sort of be out from under the constant exposure to my faith, I accepted the opportunity to not believe. And I was very convinced of my atheism for a long time, and I was very depressed about it. I wanted very much to believe… I wanted the idea that I would see my father and my brothers again, and it was heartbreaking to think that that wouldn’t happen. The fool says in his heart that there is no God, and I was sad to be that fool. I would rather have been a fool for God, but I was so convinced that believing in God was foolish. There were five years maybe when I couldn’t think of why to get up. That wasn’t good. But the desire to believe always was there. The fact that thread was never cut was helpful. Then one day, a Gideon gave me a Bible walking down a street in Chicago….



  1. Brilliant and moving–thanks.

  2. One of the reasons I love Stephen so much is his spirituality. Like most people, I have endured my own fair share of trauma, drama, pain, and anguish. Like Stephen, I too have come to appreciate each of these events as they helped make me into the person I am today. And happiness is always so much sweeter after enduring devastating grief.

  3. This is nice. Thanks for sharing. “Embrace the bomb” is good advice, too.

  4. Nice to read this, i often feel like i’m where he was in college. I’m always searching for people I respect who believe in god. I hope i’m not an atheist in 5 years. Neat guy.

  5. I’m an atheist and not at all depressed. I find the whole concept of seeing your family again, after they die, childish. It seems to me like wishful thinking rather than there being any kind of truth to that idea. When people die I think the best thing to do is confront reality and accept that they are gone. Mourn their loss and remember them for who they were and what they did.

    I think a lot of people are driven to religion because they need hope. That’s a shame – as just because you want something to be true does not mean it’s the truth. I believe in searching for the truth and accepting reality. And when you do do that you will find that there is hope without God after all. Emancipating yourself from religious belief allows you to think for yourself and find your own purpose life and I am a very happy person indeed.

    • Steiner:

      These arguments are very common – but hardly every true. I was baptized into RCC at age 40…I grew up with no religion, secular materialism and SF bay area progessive-ism.

      I was not depressed, or at rock bottom. I was not afraid of death. I was not looking for hope. I was not worried about at afterlife. As you said, I found the “truth” (while not really looking)

      It was like a small lightbulb went off -literally while driving my car – I just realized OF Course there is GOD…then I studied, it took years before I joined the Church.

      I had to learn to “think for myself” and not listen to the materialist Kant of my culture in my youth. The intellectual richness of Christianity is breathtaking if you sift through the fluff…

      With respect, it is presumptuous to proclaim you know why people “fall for religion” that they need hope…Hope is gravy when you find the truth…it is not an opiate, I think more deeply as a Christian than I ever did as a materialist.

      I guess you are very young and have all the answers… 🙂 May God Bless you Anyway…

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