Stephen Colbert, Supernovas, and why we need real stars

I love Stephen Colbert. He is incisively hilarious, intellectually serious, and genuine and respectful with everyone he interviews.

But more importantly, I think he appeals to the better angels of our nature. In the above clip, he has Professor of Theoretical Physics Briane Greene on his show to explain supernovas, the process of star implosion and explosion that is responsible for the diversity of the periodic table of elements, and hence the building blocks of life and all that exists.

It’s glorious to consider for a few reasons. First and foremost, stars exploding is cool. That’s undeniable. Secondly, knowing that this sort of thing happened, happens, and will happen again enlarges both our understanding of the universe (and therefore of God).  And finally, I think it gets us in touch with one of the essential patterns of reality:

To create new life, old things must pass away. In our universe, death and chaos are woven into the tapestry of life and order. You cannot have one without the other. If stars lived forever, no elements would exist, and therefore no life to look upon them with wonder. If species or organisms were immortal, life in all its wonder, complexity, and intelligence never could have evolved, because evolution and even planet and star creation depends on death to create new building blocks for life.

We have lost this insight as as we moved into cities and suburbs. We are certainly more comfortable than we’ve ever been, but we’re also missing out on this glorious vision of the stars each night as the earth turns to face the vastness of space.

More on that here:


The basic gist of the above documentary is that as we’ve lost our cosmic vision, we’ve become more narcissistic as a species. The film suggests that one way to regain a sense of our unity with this universe would be to attempt to limit light pollution so we can see the stars again. Maybe this might help us live according to the better angels of our nature.

As a fan of late night television, I’m happy that Stephen Colbert appeals to these better angels, but also gives us a cosmic glimpse of our own smallness.

As a Catholic, I think he also appeals to the better angels of Catholicism as well. Throughout history, Catholic intellectual thought would embrace a variety of ideas in philosophy, science, and art. It would integrate and synthesize all that was true and good in all ideas and cultures (although it would also repress the heck out of many!).

This is what catholic actually means: universal. What better way to understand our faith and our lives than in the light of this glorious universe?

Blood Moon. September 2015

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