Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert has used his "Colbert Report" to gently make fun of religion and religious institutions, even as he remains a man of deep and devout Catholic faith. Photo courtesy Scott Gries/Comedy Central

Hollywood needs more people like Stephen Colbert (COMMENTARY)

Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert has used his "Colbert Report" to gently make fun of religion and religious institutions, even as he remains a man of deep and devout Catholic faith.  Photo courtesy Scott Gries/Comedy Central

Stephen Colbert, used his “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central to gently make fun of religion and religious institutions, even as he remained a man of deep and devout Catholic faith. He premiered as host of “The Late Show” on CBS on Sept. 8, 2015. Photo courtesy Scott Gries/Comedy Central


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(RNS) Could Stephen Colbert become the next pope?

That's what some people are saying.

Sure, there are several issues with that.

Like being married, having kids, and not being a priest.

But considering some of Pope Francis' suggested reforms, even those might not be deal breakers.


READ: Colbert’s ‘Late Show’ catechism: Catholic comic premieres new interview, too


Colbert, who just took over  "The Late Show" on CBS, is America's most prominent practicing Catholic.

He taught Sunday school at his home church -- St. Cassian in Upper Montclair, N.J.  Apparently, he was a very effective teacher. He made his teaching meaningful for his students, doing it with a playful sense of humor.

Colbert pulls no punches about his faith. During a discussion on "The Colbert Report" about God and Satan, a guest gently chided him on his religious philosophy, suggesting that he had learned his lessons well "in Sunday school."

Colbert fired back: "I teach Sunday school, mother ------."


READ: Will Pope Francis’ annulment reforms impact U.S. Catholics?


Some nuns were probably appalled. Others, I suspect, were giving each other high fives.

Colbert is that rarest of rare birds -- someone in the entertainment world who not only takes his faith seriously, but who talks about it, and even taught about it -- in a local church, without fanfare.

I mean, think about it: Consider how busy Colbert is. Think of his grueling schedule, and all of the demands on his time.

And yet, he actually took his own personal time -- on a Sunday morning, when he could be sleeping in or doing other things -- to not only go to church, but to teach Sunday school.


READ: Five religious values Trump could learn


That, my friends, is called sacrifice. It didn't go out of business once we stopped reading Leviticus literally.

We don't sacrifice bulls anymore.

But time -- that's something you can offer on the altar of your life.

Wait, you're saying to yourself: You can't really mean that the entertainment world is a religion-free zone? What about all the Jews (who supposedly run the industry -- heck, even Google knows that)?

Well, what about them?


READ: Mayim Bialik: Religion isn’t ‘trendy’ in Hollywood


When it comes to the Jews in the entertainment industry -- at least, those who are in front of the cameras -- I see a lot of folksy ethnicity. I appreciate -- no, I applaud -- those Jews in the entertainment business who have stood up for Israel. Frankly, we could use a lot more of them to do precisely that.

But we are talking about faith here -- God, ritual and attending synagogue -- the stuff that gives Jewish life meaning. (No, it's not the only stuff that gives Judaism meaning. I know that you can be a "cultural Jew," though I have to think more about what that actually means.)

I'm not prowling synagogues in Los Angeles, doing my own "celebrity count."

But I sense that there aren't that many "religious" Jews, live and out there, in the entertainment industry.

There are, of course, worthy and notable exceptions.

Some of them are musicians -- like rock star Peter Himmelman , who is an observant Jew, and of course, Matisyahu, who, despite the fact that he has shorn his beard and side curls, is still an observant Jew.

Mayim Bialik is a proudly Orthodox Jew who regularly studies religious texts. Just last week, she said that it is very difficult to be a person of faith in Hollywood, and that religious commitments are deprecated.

Writer-director-producer David Mamet is a synagogue-going Jew. He attends Ohr HaTorah in Los Angeles, which is led by Rabbi Mordecai Finley (who also influenced singer-songwriter-poet Leonard Cohen). Mamet also has written one of the best books on contemporary Jewish identity.

Kirk Douglas cares deeply about Judaism, and attends Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, led by Rabbi David Wolpe. His son, Michael, and grandson Cameron, have decided that Judaism is their (groan alert) basic instinct.

Sadly, the only time that you hear about religious people in the entertainment business is when someone's faith commitment becomes an open door to bigotry. For example, Mel Gibson, whose foible of anti-Semitism was too much for even the late, no-fan-of-faith Christopher Hitchens.

But if you had removed the theologically influenced and alcohol-lubricated Jew hatred from the equation, Gibson's devotion to Catholicism would have been no issue.

Your theology only becomes a problem for others when it starts hurting people. Believe what you want. Think whatever you want. You start acting on that stuff -- that's a different story.

OK, back to the Jews in the entertainment world.

What about Colbert's Jewish doppelganger -- Jon Stewart, nee Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz. (Hey, Jon -- did you really have to change your name? Isn't that a little retro, a little 1950s?)

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the editor of "Text Messages: A Torah Commentary for Teens." Religion News Service photo by Steve Remich

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the editor of "Text Messages: A Torah Commentary for Teens." Religion News Service photo by Steve Remich


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Yes, Jon Stewart is Jewish. But, totally irreligious.

In fact, check out his otherwise delightful "disputation" with Colbert on Hanukkah vs. Christmas. It's a little early to get into that seasonal conversation, but as far as theology goes, in this one, Colbert hit it out of the park. I mean, he actually believes something and can talk about it -- as compared to Stewart's rather weak defense of a festival with candles and dreidels.

And, to be fair, even and especially serious Christians know that had it not been for the Maccabees, Judaism would have disappeared and, well -- no Judaism, no Christianity.

The entertainment business needs more Stephen Colberts -- role models of faith.

And we Jews could certainly use a few more, as well.

(Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics.)

LM/AMB END SALKIN