Simpsons v. Organized Religion?

Recently, the Onion AV Club ran a feature called “The Simpsons Vs. Civilization: Why Springfield’s First Family Is Mankind’s Greatest Achievement.” Among other things, the list produced the following blurb:

The Simpsons Vs. Organized Religion

Opponent’s advantage: Gives masses something to believe in, thus preventing total anarchy. Promotes helpful social contracts.

But The Simpsons… holds belief in higher powers up to the magnifying glass of shameful truth, proving it’s used as a tonic rather than a cure. Boobish neighbor Ned Flanders, representing everything boring and ridiculous about blind faith, even recognizes the futility: “I’ve done everything the Bible says, even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!”

Representative quote: “Ned, have you thought about one of the other major religions? They’re all pretty much the same.” —Reverend Lovejoy, exasperated by Flanders

Out of the list, this one struck me as the most incorrect. It actually says less about the Simpsons and more about the reviewer: “I am atheist, and the Simpsons did shows to validate my views on how religion is nothing but an artifical construct to keep people out of trouble” (or the “opium of the people,” as Karl Marx would say). This is sort of the Hollywood mentality, where religion is only good if it makes you feel good about yourself.

But the again, maybe it does say something about the Simpsons: the magical way the show managed to present several viewpoints that spoke to everyone. (Incidentally speaking, it also shows the utmost importance that Simpsons quotes play in the overall cartoon legacy — kudos to the writers — but I digress.)

For example, contrary to what the AV Club statement would have you believe, there were episodes actually treat religion respectfully, such as “Like Father, Like Clown” and “Homer the Heretic.” There is another point for organized religion in the Simpsons favor: can anyone name any other show that portrays the family going to church on a regular basis?

Take these alternate viewpoints for instance:

  • “The gospel of Simpsons” — an article about a youth minister who uses the Simpsons for his Bible study
  • “Funny Faith” — a Reverend at Boston University using The Simpsons as sort of modern day parables
  • “The Gospel According to the Simpsons” — a book written about the show’s religious aspects. I did a review of this book on here.
  • I suppose this is one of those viewpoints that have elements to support your view, depending on which side of the fence your beliefs are. Take the infamous NRA episode, “The Cartidge Family.” There’s a four way battle over what the episode represents. There are gun control advocates who claim it supports their point of view; there are other gun control advocates who claim the episode actually endorses gun ownership. The episode holds the same split among “The Right To Bear Arms” advocates. The truth may be in the middle; the episode examines the arguments from both sides, and posits that the viewer is smart enough to make their own decisions. (Incidentally, I have heard that the writer of this show is actually pro-gun ownership, although I have not been able to find anything on the internet to confirm whether or not this is true.)*

    That way, Christians and atheists, liberals and conservative, academic and populist, or whatever your beliefs, could watch the show without feeling like you were being preached to or insulted. YOu can not say the same for Simpsons contemporaries, such as “South Park” or “Family Guy.”

    One of the reasons I feel the Simpsons have been slipping the last few years is that the writers feel that they no longer captured the “shock” value of their earlier episodes. That may be true, but it also alienated large portions of fans who, over the years, felt that the Simpsons was the only program on TV that provided some sort of intelligence and balance. The latest shows have been lacking in both.

    * – Incidentally, I hate poking fun, but while doing some research I did find this quote at the website from a reviewer regarding the soccer joke at the beginning of this episode:

    For those outside the US, soccer is considered one of those “sissy sports” by many Americans (read–it’s not basketball, baseball, or football), In recent years, this has changed drastically. Soccer has taken off, and it may soon be as popular as it is elsewhere.

    It was written in 2000. It may still be true, someday, but it’s not a good sign when the MLS throws $250 million at David Beckham in a despeate attempt to make soccer relevant in the USA.


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