I usually don’t watch the Stephen Colbert show on CBS. His act is a little too “inside” and smug for my tastes. I will therefore resist the temptation to lament the loss of greats like Johnny Carson and sound like the angry guy on his porch shaking his cane at the kids on his yard … too late.
I am usually passed out on my couch well before the 11 p.m. local news — another harbinger of geezerdom I suspect — but a mild case of insomnia last week brought me channel surfing to CBS just as Stephen Colbert welcomed network news icon Katie Couric to his set.
Chalk it up to my semi-conscious state for me staying on the channel as I watched Couric and Colbert exchanged stories about a recent Bruce Springsteen concert they attended. They firmly established their bona fides by laughing and shrugging at Katie’s throwaway line about young girls “smoking some serious weed” at the concert.
With their hip-cards properly validated, the conversation clumsily segued to Couric telling Colbert in their happy, chatty way how she met the pope. You could have substituted Pope Francis with Bruce Springsteen and had the same conversation. They were giddy about being in the presence of Springsteen and Couric was giddy being in the presence of another “pop” star, Pope Francis.
If Couric’s objective was to make her statement “I felt like he was staring right into my soul” come off as trite, then mission accomplished. I know it’s an entertainment show, and probably not the place to explain to your guest and audience that this wonderful man who is the pope is steadfast in his promulgation of 2,000 years of Catholic teaching, whether it be the divinely ordered nature of marriage or the defense of human life from conception to natural death. They didn’t have to go too deep, but they could have at least resisted their own temptation to couch their views of the pope as if they were still talking about the E Street Band. Too late for that as well.
Knowing that Colbert is a self-identified Catholic, there was also the standard banter about how “unfair” it was that Couric, a self-identified non-Catholic, got a face-to-face with the Holy Father before Colbert did. Yadda, yadda, yadda. My insomnia was just about cured when Couric volunteered the reason for her presence at the Vatican was to attend a scientific symposium and the synapses inside my brain started firing away.
First, I was not aware that Couric was a scientist. To be fair, she was probably there as an observer/reporter. But, call me hypersensitive about this topic — and if you have read some of my other articles you know from where I speak — whenever somebody mentions the Catholic Church and her relationship to scientific inquiry, I brace for the requisite mythology that the secular world attaches to it. Couric did not disappoint, as she told her Catholic host that she “thought it was very progressive of the Catholic Church to want to understand science.”
I held out a dim ray of hope, which may have just been my insomnia ebbing again, that Colbert, the Catholic on the set, would tell Couric that, as a matter of historical record, the Catholic Church and science have been a lot cozier than you might think. Instead, his smug little quirk retort was: “Oh yeah, the Earth revolves around the sun thing.” Cue stilted and seemingly mandatory titters.
I guess it wouldn’t have been good entertainment for Colbert to interject something like, “You know Katie, the Catholic Church has been the greatest sponsor of scientific research in the history of mankind. And that Earth going around the sun thing? Why that was called the heliocentric theory and it was developed by the great astronomer and Catholic priest Copernicus.”
Colbert could have also added that Copernicus preceded Galileo, which supports the argument that, although the Church mishandled the whole Galileo affair, it had a lot more to do with the political and religious climate of the time, (that pesky Protestant Reformation had taken root in a big way by the time of Galileo’s trial) than it did with some fantasy that the Church felt threatened by science.
No need to run through the litany of Catholic scientists who were officially supported by the Church in their work. But I can lament an opportunity Colbert let slip by. There had to be a quirky and maybe even amusing way to support a very avant-garde view that Colbert’s audience might have enjoyed — and demonstrate the Church loves science.
The Church’s comfort level with scientific endeavor is never more simpatico thn when science turns its attention to pre-born human life. From every advancement in medical treatment — from 3D ultrasounds to prenatal surgeries — science and the Church’s teaching of life wrap around each other like strands of DNA.a
Just recently, scientists, not theologians, discovered that when a sperm cell makes contact with an egg, there is a flash of light. Maybe that news won’t get a late night television production assistant reaching for the applause sign button, but I wonder if the scientists who published the paper on this phenomena had a footnote reference of the Book of Genesis?