very nearly converts Stephen Colbert

The website, and associated ad campaign, has received plenty of attention at BCC (here, here, here and here) and throughout the bloggernacle (here, here, here, here and here, just to name a few). This week the ad campaign basked in an extended moment in the Colbert Report spotlight. Many of you will have seen the clip already, but it seemed fitting to officially memorialize this moment in the BCC post archive, given that By Common Consent named Stephen Colbert the 2009 Boggs-Doniphan Gentile of the Year.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Yahweh or No Way? – Mormons & God’s Poll Numbers
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

(video embed doesn’t seem to want to cooperate–here is a link)

The church could hardly ask for a more flattering treatment. First, Colbert gives the Obama campaign team a serious yellow card on the alleged-to-be-planned (allegation now disputed by David Axelrod) strategy of using “weird” as dog whistle code for “Mormon” in a hypothetical Obama-Romney general election matchup. Then Colbert quickly dismisses the idea that Mormons’ beliefs are any weirder than any other church, and even has the courtesy to do so by highlighting one of our unique but still core beliefs–Joseph Smith and the golden plates–rather than “going there” with something like Kolob. (BCC readers are familiar with my objections, or at least deep ambivalence, to the way the Book of Mormon musical took the same line of argument to defend our weirdness, but did “go there,” highlighting very peripheral/outdated oddities.) Then he shows several of our ads, giving air time to a wide variety of very appealing church members. Finally, to help steel himself against the temptation to become a Mormon, he makes a pilot ad for a corresponding campaign for Catholics.

The only possible fault I can imagine is that it would have been fun to hear him reference the phrase, “almost thou persuadest me.”


  1. observer fka eric s. says:

    The JS/Moses bit was great, but the curt awkward laughter that followed was priceless. So indicting. I have wondered for so long how people of other faiths can clown on LDS beliefs as “ridiculous” when they believe that a man rose from being dead and floated to Heaven, donkeys talk, burning bushes speak, massive bodies of water split open and allow a walk through on dry earth, pillars of fire from the sky consume hundreds of people and lap up water, etc. To come from an aetheist like Sam Harris is one thing, but I hear the “ridiculousness of the BOM” appeal more from those of faith. Glad to see a highly-viewed host put it to social thought.

  2. That’s deep of you, Eric. My favorite part was the Catholic tiger high-five, followed by explosion. :-)

  3. That was a great video!

  4. There seems to be a large numbers of Mormons bloggers who think that being “weird” = cool.
    I don’t see that most American voters are going to see it that way and vote the “weird” ticket.

  5. Cynthia L. says:

    Bob, can you be more specific in terms of who you think thinks that, or what kinds of things bloggers might say that would make you think they think that? I’m just not sure I follow what you’re saying.

  6. S.P. Bailey says:

    I trust a Muslim about as far as I can throw him … at an atheist!

  7. One of Colbert’s best bits ever. Ofcourse, I also enoyed it a few years ago when he called Boyd K Packer the “Mope” (Mormon Pope).

  8. Cynthia, Are you saying you have never read a blogger who said they that were happy that Mormons thought weird things like Mother in Heaven? Or that they were glad to be a “peculiar people”?
    What did you mean when you said “The church could hardly ask for a more flattering treatment…”, when Colbert said Mormons were no more weird than others.

  9. Latter-day Guy says:

    7, …and later issued a correction, saying BKP was really more like a “Mardinal.”

  10. Capozaino says:

    Is flattering treatment from a satirist genuinely flattering? Or will his conclusion that Mormons are “Yahweh” normal be read more like an Onion headline?

  11. 10 – Here, let me explain humor to you. You see, the campaign was the premise, but the skateboarding Catholic video was the bit. So the liking of Mormonism was not, in itself, the satire.

    (I’m of the firm belief that the best jokes are the ones that need to be explained)

  12. Actually the Obama people never brought up Mormonism. An anonymous source said they wanted to portray Romney as waffling and inauthentic and weird in the same way Bush tried to portray Kerry is weird. It was the journalists that inserted Romney’s religion into the matter, supposing it was one of the ways he could be portrayed as weird.

    Either way the Colbert segment was amazing.

  13. #8: Bob, I guess I’ve heard people say that they, personally, are fond of this or that “weird” Mormon belief and would be sad to see it go. I just don’t recall any saying that in the context of Romney’s chances.

    As far as the post, I was saying that Colbert was arguing that we are not weird.

  14. BethSmash says:

    Hey… what day was it on? I’m out of the country, so the link doesn’t work. Thanks!

  15. The weirdest thing I have heard from Romney is that corporations are people (kinda like Soylent Green). This is rendered no less weird to me by the sad fact that SCOTUS agrees with him.

    If LDS beliefs are “weird” to many people, it is only because they are too new: 2000 years ago it was common knowledge that demons possessed people, leprosy was a curse, and the earth was flat. Now we can treat epilepsy, cure Hansen’s disease, and men have walked on the moon. I guess most people think by know y’all should “know better”.

    I personally don’t understand the angst. Either there were golden plates or their weren’t. Either you believe it or you don’t. Either way you should own your belief publicly and confidently. I grew up listening to learned caring men speak to me weekly on how to be a better me, not yearn for earthly riches, and give to the poor, and I have tried to emulated them. I also watched them do the hokey pokey and wave their hands about, then insist the bread and wine they were eating had transsubstantiated (whatever that means) and we were now cannibals. I left the Catholic Church not because of this quaint ancient mysticism (which hurt no one and I never believed anyway) but because they insisted I have a “more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil” and then turned around and hid the fact that many of their own were molesting young boys. Go figure.

  16. MikeInWeHo says:

    Seems to me that this great Colbert segment is saying the exact same thing as the BoM Musical, Cynthia, but with less swearing.

  17. Cynthia L. says:

    Mike: And less Kolob/Missouri. Maybe it is irrational, but mention of those things is like kryptonite to me. It’s like “hysterical” for misogyny–keywords that have become inseparably tied to intent to harm. You just don’t “go there.” IMHO. There are other subtle but to me significant differences, but that’s one example.

  18. To some degree, focusing on Kolob is like accusing Catholics of engaging in ritualized cannibalism. Technically accurate, but misleading in its own way. Actually, I think “I Believe” is better than that, but I understand Cynthia’s ambivalence.

  19. Cynthia L. says:

    Colbert also shows (through the ads) that a wide variety of not-sheltered, not all white people find value in Mormonism, whereas BoMM, by necessity to set up the plot, shows naive never-been-out-of-Kansas types whose beliefs have to be overhauled a la Book of Arnold to be relevant to the outside world. You watch the Colbert segment and you get that urban-hip bird woman, and the silver hair dude in what looks like NYC.

    Also, again, the Kolob. Aside from just bringing it up, the song, IMHO, doesn’t even technically accurately characterize it. Jesus and God have *separate* planets? I don’t see that anywhere in the relevant passage. Colbert picked a core, mainstream Mormon belief and said “you can’t reasonably argue that this is weird, from the Christian perspective.” You would be hard pressed to find a Mormon who didn’t know about what Colbert said, and all mainstream folks believe it fervently. But the stuff BoMM highlighted is so obscure you could probably find tons of lifelong Mormons who haven’t even heard of it, much less believe it fervently. Also, the BoMM message wasn’t, “you can’t reasonably argue this is weird,” it was, “this is freaky as hell, but they are nice people.”

    These may seem like such subtle distinctions between Colbert and BoMM that it’s just nit-picky, but to me the resulting frames are wildly different. And we know from Lakoff that frame is everything.

    Plus the faux-nice “oh you believe this freaky thing, but that’s ok! I still like you!” just GRATES BEYOND BELIEF when that is not actually something I believe. Imagine Hillary won the nomination in 2008, and somebody goes on TV saying, “Hey Hillary, you know, it’s fine that your menstruation makes you wildly irrational for 1 week of the month! I totally am ok with that! That’s how you are, and I accept that, I totally embrace that diversity. You can still do a lot of good in the world! I think you can still totally be president even with that happening to you.” And it’s full of what seems like a lot of affection. And Hillary tries to say, “Um, except I am past menopausal age, and anyway, menstruation does not make women wildly irrational.” And then the guy replies even more earnestly and with seeming affection, “Aw, you don’t have to hide or deny what makes you different. Really, I totally accept and embrace it, because I see the good you do!” That’s really how, and how much, it grates on me.

  20. Cynthia, I felt just you did (just ask Scott B. about my BBQ fetish). How dare people be nice to me but look down on what I believe! Now I’m happy to have anyone over for a BBQ willing to put up with burnt burgers. Kryptonite no longer has power over me.

    BTW, I love Colbert too, but maybe you missed the satire. I think he wasn’t saying LDS beliefs were not weird and false, he was saying that ALL religion is weird and false, so why pick on the new guy who at least mows his lawn. Catholics are also international, just not trendy (not since Kennedy anyway).

  21. Cynthia L. says:

    “I think he wasn’t saying LDS beliefs were not weird and false, he was saying that ALL religion is weird and false”

    I won’t argue with that.

    I too am totally ok with people thinking I’m freaky and believe freaky things, as long as I actually believe those freaky things.

    I think it may be particular to the experience of growing up Mormon surrounded by non-Mormons, to be so hair-trigger irritated by people asserting I believe things that I don’t. Because that is the experience of growing up Mormon surrounded by non-Mormons. A never-ending stream of people saying, “Oh, you’re Mormon? So you believe ____.” Me: “Actually, no, I personally don’t believe that and/or my church doesn’t even believe that.” Other person: “Yes you do! You do believe that! My pastor said so and/or I saw it in some movie that we watched at much church on the day we learned all about Mormons.” Me: “Well whatever, fact is, I don’t believe that, and I’m pretty sure I’m the authority on what I believe.” Other person: “YES YOU DO BELIEVE THAT.” & etc.

  22. By all accounts (ie: internet rumor), Colbert is a practicing Catholic, so he may not be arguing that all religion is false.

  23. Cynthia L. says:

    Right, John. I’m hesitant to claim anything one way or another about somebody’s beliefs (after seeing so much chaos in the online Mormon community about that), but that is the rumor. Also, it doesn’t show it in the clip, but immediately following what is in the clip, a Catholic pastor (is that the word?) was on as a guest and said to Stephen, “I know you are a Christian” or something, which went uncorrected. Again, wouldn’t put *too* much stock in that, but there you have it.

    I do think that Colbert getting those subtle things right to fly under my annoyance radar, unlike BoMM, is probably attributable to Colbert being a believer and/or used to be a believer even if he isn’t currently, unlike Matt/Trey. He would be more attuned to how to tread there.

  24. I loved the Colbert segment. I enjoy his show (and Jon Stewart’s, for that matter), and I love how he pokes fun of people who are selective in their mocking of others. If you are going to make fun of Mormons for believing Joseph Smith got gold plates from an angel, why aren’t you making fun of everyone else who believes Moses got stone tablets from God after talking to a voice coming from a burning bush?

    Colbert is open about his Catholicism; I have a hard time believing he thinks “ALL religion is weird and false”–rather, I think he is pointing out that religious beliefs can quite easily be placed in the category of weird beliefs. Isn’t that also the premise of the cosmic zombie Jew thing that’s been floating around the interwebs for a while now?

  25. Wow! I can’t recall anyone or anything that has gotten the backing that Colbert has gotten on this thread. Now THAT’S weird.

  26. Wow! I can’t recall anyone or anything that has gotten the backing that Colbert has gotten on this thread. Now THAT’S weird!

  27. Mommie Dearest says:

    Informative discussion here. I watched the Colbert clip and thought it was totally hilarious, which I chalked up to his razor sharp and witty logic, but thanks to Cynthia’s deconstruction, I can see exactly why so sharp and witty. I never did see BOMM when I was in NY, mainly because there were more than 2 or 3 spoilers that turned me off enough that I couldn’t bring myself to put money towards it. I went to my favorite expensive restaurant instead.

  28. StillConfused says:

    I love Stephen Colbert. He is very funny. His best bit ever was about a week ago when he commented on the “name” of someone who donated to his super pac. He seriously lost it on that one.

  29. Thanks for sharing this – best laugh of the week.

  30. >22

    Here’s a quote from a 2005 interview where Colbert mentions his Catholicism:

    TONY: You created The Daily Show religious-satire segment, “This Week in God.” How do you square your Catholicism with comedy?

    SC: I love my Church, and I’m a Catholic who was raised by intellectuals, who were very devout. I was raised to believe that you could question the Church and still be a Catholic. What is worthy of satire is the misuse of religion for destructive or political gains. That’s totally different from the Word, the blood, the body and the Christ. His kingdom is not of this earth.

  31. ” very peripheral/outdated oddities”

    This is a description of parts of the Mormon cannon?

  32. Capozaino says:

    B. Russ @ #10
    I agree with you that was the most straightforward way to interpret the bit. I was merely attempting to point out that having an actor playing an absurd character as our ally may not be the best thing, despite this particular bit appearing to be positive for Mormonism.

    As far as tone goes, next time you can just tell me to shut up and go back to lurking and forego the condescension and snark.

  33. I really hope using religious satire is ok… I know my fellow bishopric members sometimes ask for explanation of some of my cartoons.

  34. Brigham H. Roberts (@UtMormonDemoGuy) says:

    I did not have time to read all the comments, and this may already have been said, but I saw a parallel (positive, in my view), between the Colbert bit and the BOM musical song, “I believe.” People think Mormon beliefs are “weird,” when they are mostly just “unfamiliar.” They are not that much weirder than the religious beliefs of Christians, Jews, Muslims or any other religious group. Religious faith is a beautiful mystery.

  35. Steve Evans says:

    Dear @UtMormonDemoGuy, relentlessly promoting your site via longish monikers and repeating oft your twitter handle is frowned upon. Please choose a simple and legitimate handle, stick to it, and stop trying to recruit readers. Thanks!

    -The Management

  36. Steve Evans says:

    Oh, and Riley: same thing.

  37. StillConfused @#28 – When I took Arabic at BYU a few years back I chose the name Suq Madiq as my Arabic name for the class. For some reason I had to go with Suleyman instead.

  38. StillConfused says:

    #37 you are my new best friend

  39. Noted.

  40. Of course weird is cool. Hence my strikingly conventional good looks.

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