The Simpsons and religion

| has published an article by Mark Pinsky on the important role that religion plays in "The Simpsons". I have not always watched the show with regularity--I've gone entire years without watching a single episode--but more recently I've become a more consistent fan of the series. I am aware, of course, of Ned Flanders, the next door neighbor, and I am aware that the Simpsons are sometimes shown attending church--but I had not really considered just how much religion generally figures into the series on a regular basis.

According to another article by Pinsky, also on Beliefnet, one researcher a few years ago found that "69% of the episodes contained at least one religious reference, and, in 11% the plot centered on a religious issue." Those are rather amazing statistics.

As for what the Simpsons says about religion--well, that's an interesting question.

Above, we see an image of Homer Simpson sitting next to God--notice that while Homer, like many cartoon characters, lacks the full complement of fingers (he only has four), while God has five. Humans often construct their images of God, of course, in our own image--consider Michaelangelo's painting of the creation of Adam, for example. So we humans often give him hands and fingers in our artistic renderings. But apparently God as portrayed in the Simpsons is more like us than the cartoon people of Springfield are.

Regarding Ned Flanders, I have mixed feelings about his character. His evangelical theology, from all appearances, is rigid and orthodox--as far as I can tell, he has no respect for other religious faiths, for instance. In that sense, he plays up to a certain kind of stereotype of devout Christian belief that does not really represent the diversity of theologies that exist among deeply spiritual Christians. But his heart is in the right place and he often expresses the compassion and generous spirit that many Christians would do well to emulate. Of course, he is not the only Christian in the show--just the most devoutly self-identified one. The Simpsons themselves attend church and would presumably consider themselves to be Christians as well.

The Pinsky article includes some amusing quotes from the series. For example, there is this quote from Bart Simpson: "It's all Christianity, people. The little, stupid differences are nothing next to the big, stupid similarities."

I wonder if it is as likely that a character in a series with live actors could get away with making comments like that.


Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

It is said that the Simpson's is the most religious show on TV. I think that may be right. Ned is a stereotype -- and yet he is humanized. Homer is a pretty normal guy, not too overtly religious, and yet its there.

The thing about the Simpsons is that it never ridicules religion -- not even Ned's. But it also allows us to see the dark side (but gently).

But think about a TV show where people go to church -- it doesn't happen very often. So, I like the Simpsons myself!!

By the way, Pinsky has written a book called The Gospel According to the Simpsons (WJK Press).