Telling the Truthiness: The Gospel According to Stephen Colbert by Richard Braaksma

downloadI don’t think Christians really know what to do with humour. The stereotype that Christians are a bunch of humourless neigh-sayers unfortunately has some truth to it. We can be quick to take offence and slow to laugh at ourselves. And that’s a real shame for two reasons. Firstly, the Bible can be outright hilarious at times (I will never not laugh when read 2 Kings 2:23). Secondly, we may be missing out on learning truths we may otherwise be blind to. And that’s why Telling the Truthiness: The Gospel of Stephen Colbert by Richard Braaksma is worth reading and engaging with.

Stephen Colbert is one of the most influential comedians in the Western world today. For 10 years, he was the host of The Colbert Report, where a fictionalised version of himself engaged with the news of the day. By presenting an exaggerated view point, he was able to make people think differently about the world. All by using humour.

Braaksma uses the work of Stephen Colbert to look at how humour can be used to proclaim what is true, in a way that bypasses defences and can be more effective than outright stating the truth. The main thesis of this work is that “comedy is truth telling”. And throughout the book, the reader is challenged not only on how we can view humour as Christians, but also how we perceive ourselves and our world view’s place in the global marketplace of ideas.

The challenge for me, having read this book, is how do my beliefs hold up to scrutiny? If someone was to mock my faith, would it still stand? As Braaksma states “If cameras, an interview crew, and a renowned satirist arrive at your home or place of work taking your cause entirely seriously, it is cause for alarm and time to rethink your cause.” I think the Christian faith is more than able to withstand the slings and arrows of our culture. We should be take it seriously when people laugh at us – not so that we can organise an angry protest, but so we can evaluate our beliefs carefully and see if the criticism has any merit.

I think this is a book worth reading. There are some weaknesses – I would have prefered if Braaksma had kept the book tighter. There are some segments where he uses Colbert as a springboard to talk about other areas of faith that aren’t as strong as his insights into satire and parody. However, as a whole I think this book is worth reading and engaging with. As Christians, we can afford to laugh at ourselves a little bit more. And if we tune out whenever we don’t like what we’re hearing, we’re missing an opportunity to engage with our culture and share Jesus with them – “If we turn off the TV in disgust, we miss a conversation worth having.”

Telling the Truthiness: The Gospel of Stephen Colbert is definitely a book you should check out.

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About Joel A Moroney

Associate Minister at St Luke's Anglican Church, Liverpool (in the Sydney Diocese). A very strange man, but he usually has Pez, so that makes it okay.
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