“Much Worse Things to Believe In.” My number one Christmas song.
This is from the Stephen Colbert Christmas Special, “The Greatest Gift Of All”,back when Stephen Colbert played a right wing blowhard on Comedy Central. I have to admit, I watch the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Some of his skits I find unfunny. When he has”god” as a guest speaking out against the religious right and the news of the day, I find it somewhat offensive and the little fundamentalist in me cringes a little bit. But overall I enjoy his show and his sharp political commentary. The two things that have helped me through this terrible year of politics was my faith and humor.
But this Christmas Special aired in 2008, a time of hope before the rise of the Tea Party and Trump. One of Colbert’s visitors was Elvis Costello and I am posting the entire song here with my commentary.
Elvis: There are cynics, there are skeptics
There are legions of dispassionate dyspeptics
Who regard this time of year as a maudlin insincere
Cheezy crass commercial travesty of all that we hold dear
I do sometimes feel like a dispassionate dyspeptic, someone who sees Christmas and the world around us and wonder “why bother?”
Stephen: When they think that
Well, I can hear it
But I pity them their lack of Christmas spirit
For in a world like ours, take it from Stephen
There are much worse things to believe in.
Elvis: A redeemer and a savior, an obese man giving toys for good behavior
Stephen: The faith in what might be and the hope that we might see
The answer to all sorrow in a box beneath the tree
It is rare for a Christmas special in the 21st century to mention the word “savior,” which is ultimately what we are celebrating. I also love this description of Santa. This song is funny, deep, and a bit irreverent all at once.
Find them foolish
Stephen: Well you’re clearly none too bright
Both: so we’ll be gentle
Stephen: Don’t even try to start vaguely conceiving
Both: Of all much worse things to believe in
Stephen: Believe in the judgment, believe in Jihad
Believe in a thousand variations on a dark and spiteful god
The God I worship is a God of justice. I do believe in a final judgement. but it is not spiteful. It is not arbitrary. It is the final reckoning, where all those who abuse their power, all those bullies who hurt people who were weaker than them, will face God’s wrath. I don’t believe in a Jihad or a Crusade. I am a Christian and I abhor violence. Unless it is done to save another life.
Elvis: You’ve got your money, you’ve got your power
You’ve got your science, and all the planets going to end within the hour
Some people call faith a crutch. Well, we live in a sick and broken world and sometimes we might need a crutch, but I don’t like that example. I like the analogy of antibiotics. Our world is sick, our nation is sick with a bacterial infection of fear, hatred, and greed. And I believe that the Holy Spirit, the comforter that Jesus gives us, is the antibiotic that rids us of all that.
Without faith, I have no hope. Without hope, I would be in despair.
Stephen: You’ve got your dreams that don’t come true
Elvis: You’ve got the ones that do
Stephen: Then you’ve got your nothing
Both: Some folks believe in nothing
But if you believe in nothing
Then what’s to keep the nothing from coming for you
I love this line. Nothingness, darkness, loneliness can overwhelm us — overtake us. I do believe that without God, we have no shield. We have no tools to protect us from the world. This world and the way it treats us seems to be designed to destroy us.
Stephen: Merry Christmas, Happy New Year
Now if you’ll forgive me there’s a lot to do here
There are stockings still unhung
Colored lights I haven’t strung
Elvis: And a one-man four-part Christmas carol waiting to be sung
Stephen: Call me silly, call me sappy
Call me many things, the first of which is happy
You doubt, but you’re sad
I don’t, but I’m glad
Sometimes atheists seem like the most angry or angriest people in the world. Bill Maher, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Hitchens seem to love to attack people who believe. I don’t know if it comes from fear, anger, hatred, or what, but they don’t seem to be happy people. I know that I do suffer from depression and anxiety and when I think of the religious right, I do get sad and angry. But my belief gives me joy. Whenever I think of Jesus, his ministry, his life, his second coming, I smile and I have hope.
Both: I guess we’re even
Stephen: At least that’s what I believe in
Both: And there are much worse things
With Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of our Savior, our Redeemer in a manger in Bethlehem but we also are celebrating the man whose ministry rocked the world. A Rabbi who taught us that we don’t have to be slaves to our fear, our hate, our sin. An innocent lamb who took on all the sin and hate and fear of the world and died one of the most horrible deaths you could have.
We celebrate that Jesus is working today through the Holy Spirit by His believers speaking out against injustice, speaking up for the oppressed, and performing works in this world through a myriad of ways.
And we also celebrate the Jesus that will return in all of His Glory, to judge the living and the dead but also to restore and fully manifest His kingdom — a kingdom without income inequality, no sex trafficking, no war, no violence, a kingdom of humans living the way that we were supposed to before sin entered the world.
That is why I am happy and that is what I believe and there are much worse things.