Help Needed! The Simpsons and Catholicism


I’m writing my MA Thesis on The Simpsons and the Church. Part of it is dealing with the treatment of the Catholic Church.

I would be very grateful if you would tell me what your reactions are to the treatment of the Catholic Church in The Simpsons. In particular, the episode where Homer and Bart almost convert (The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star) and the Super Bowl advert (The Catholic Church has made a few… changes).

It seems to me that the treatment of the CC, and most denominations, is quite fair (except the Unitarians). However, I am writing this as a Methodist so I might be missing something major!

Opinions please?

Have you read The Gospel According to the Simpsons by Mark Pinsky?

Here’s a link:

It’s an awesome book, and does a very nice analysis of the show and its treatment of all the different religions.

I haven’t read the new edition yet.

In answer to your question, YES, I think that the Simpson’s treatment of the Catholic Church, and all other religions, is extremely fair and for the most part, very positive. I especially like the way Ned Flanders is portrayed–heroic, friendly, self-sacrificing, kind, a good neighbor, sexy–all in all, a very flattering portrayal of an evangelical Protestant!

I do have that book and, I agree, it is brilliant. No stone left unturned.

Thank you for your input!

Don’t forget Catholic Heaven is much more fun!!:thumbsup:

I missed the “Father, Son, and Holy Guest Star” episode as I have not watched “The Simpsons” regularly since Season 13 or 14. I heard it was surprisingly good.

That Super Bowl episode (“Sunday, Cruddy Sunday”) bugged the heck out of me, though. I was appalled the first time I saw that episode. In syndication, they dropped the word “Catholic” from the line (and said simply “The Church”), but it’s back in it’s original form on the DVD. I’m usually not easily offended, but that one was pretty offensive to me.

In “Homerpalooza”, when Homer is asked what religion he belongs to, he says: “You know the one with all the well-meaning rules that don’t work out in real life. Uh…Christianity.” That one didn’t seem so bad until my (now fallen away) Catholic friend told me, “That’s so true!”

These instances aside, “The Simpsons” is generally more favorable towards religion than other shows. The family actually goes to Church on Sundays. They mention God. Not many other shows do that.

I used to love that show and watch it religiously (no pun intended…well, okay, pun intended ;)). I had the first 8 seasons virtually memorized line-for-line. What really contributed to my loss of affection for the show wasn’t so much what the show says about Catholicism in particular or even Christianity in general, though.

First, the humor seemed to decline. For a few seasons it seemed Homer was getting maimed in every single episode. Too much low brow humor and not enough of the clever satire that made the show so great. Second, the show seemed to become increasingly a mouthpiece for liberal positions on everything. It just felt more like propaganda to me than comedy.

Now, it could very well be that more recent seasons are much better. I just sort of lost interest and never came back. :shrug:

I think it’s pretty fair treatment, but I agree, just not as funny as it used to be.
Too bad.

I don’t know… I’ve always felt offended at these jokes. It was enough to make me stop watching the Simpsons.

I think it’s funnier now.

In the first ten years or so, the emphasis was on Bart and his hoodlum ways. I personally didn’t think that was very funny. In fact, I thought it was a bad influence on children.

But after about ten years, the emphasis switched to Homer. That’s when I started watching regularly. Many of the plots were excellent, and all of them ended with Homer and Marge staying strong in their commitment to each other and to their children.

The Simpson children are still very much involved in the plots. Probably the best episode ever was the one where Lisa dug up an angel. I love the part where her mother tells her that she feels sorry for her because she can’t believe in God. That’s heavy stuff. This episode is one that teachers of religion should show their students and require an essay!

To me, these later episodes are a whole lot funnier and deeper than the early episodes which mainly involved Bart acting like a juvenile delinquent and making farting noises with his armpit.

I think the best humor makes you not only laugh, but cry as well. Red Skelton was probably the best ever–Freddy the Freeloader was so funny, but so very very sad. He was truly a master of true comedy–he always wore both the sad and the happy masks.

Charlie Chaplin’s “little tramp” was the same kind of character–funny, but pathetic–we laugh as we watch, but we brush away tears.

And I think that Harpo Marx was good at it, too–he was hilarious but also child-like and touching in his innocence–watching Harpo do his stuff is like watching an angel perform.

Benny Hill also did some lovely sketches which were funny but tragic at the same time. E.g. while all the other men danced with beautiful slim girls, he could never partner with a beautiful girl, no matter how hard he tried to be debonaire and clever and dashing. Or he couldn’t hold down his job because he kept falling into a pie, or tipping the water cooler onto the boss’ head, or pulling the secretary’s dress off–how many of us can identify with feeling stupid and clumsy and knowing that everyone is laughing at us, even though we are crying inside because we’re fat and soft and not really bright?

(BTW, Benny Hill supported financially five families with disabled children–paid ALL their bills–and no one knew this until after he died. He gave away tens of millions of dollars to charity, but he himself always lived in the same small house that he grew up in, and he took the bus to work because he didn’t own a car, and he brought his lunch in a paper bag. He would walk right by the hundreds of people who waited to catch a glimpse of him, and they wouldn’t even recognize him because he looked like a regular man in regular clothes–nothing fancy about him. Those who worked for him state that he was a wonderful boss–he was very good to the people he worked with.)

Anyway, that’s what I think the later episodes of the Simpsons are like–funny, but extremely thought-provoking and tinged with the tragedy of human frailty and mortality. This is one reason, BTW, why Family Guy is not in the same league with the Simpson’s–I’ve only seen a few episodes of FG that were funny/sad. Most are just “body humor”–kind of gross and weird and funny, but nothing that will make you blink back tears.

It didn’t really take them very long to see that Homer was a more suitable main character… probably more like 3 or 4 years than 10.

My parents were worried about the same thing, with Bart being a bad influence and so I wasn’t allowed to watch it for a long time. (I was about 7 when the show first came out) Their concerns were overblown, but I guess when you’re a parent it’s always better to err on the side of caution so looking back I can’t really blame them.

i like the part when they had that story of Queen Elizabeth I and they went off to right the Spanish and Rev. Lovejoy was on their lone warship and prayed to Jesus asking Him to help them defeat their enemies even though they exalt His mother. something to that effect :smiley:

Thank you for your replies! This is very helpful!

I think the thing I found most offensive about ‘Sunday, Cruddy Sunday’ was the title. But then I am not a fan of the song. Well, not the song, but the reception it gets considering the subject matter. But that’s just me.

Wow Benny Hill, what a good guy.

I agree. The show shifted focus from Bart to Homer well before Season 10. The first two seasons definitely were a bit more juvenille. I have always considered Season 3-8 to be the best, but then I’m not familiar with the last 6 seasons.

Those first 2 “Bart-centered” seasons did earn the show quite the reputation among parents. My mom let us watch the show because she never really forbade us from watching any show, but I think she was a bit skiddish about it because of the press. I remember when she finally sat down with us and actually watched an episode (from a later season, maybe 6 or 7), she was astounded. It was nothing at all like she expected it to be.

Cat, I find it interesting that you like that angel episode so much because I had quite the opposite reaction when I first watched it. (I guess it just depends which details you focus on. ;)) In fact, that episode (from Season 9) was really the tipping point for me. It was the first episode to elicit such a negative reaction from me. I think that’s where I first made that mental break between Seasons 3-8 and the seasons that followed.

I agree that the quote you cited about having faith is a very positive moment in the episode. It paints the faithful Marge as the reasonable one and Lisa the skeptic as the intolerant, unreasonable one. However, even though Marge had faith whereas Lisa didn’t (and even though Lisa has that moment of squeezing her mom’s hand when it momentarily appears that the angel skeleton is real) in the end, the whole angel skeleton was a hoax. So Lisa’s skepticism is vindicated.

And then there are some of the lines like Ned saying “Science is like a blabber mouth who ruins a movie by telling you how it ends. Well I say that there are some thing we don’t wanna know. Important things!” Lines like this, to me, paint religious people as anti-science and just plain ignorant. The whole episode seemed to revolve around the false dichotomy that would say that science and religion are not compatible. For me, these negative moments overrode the positive ones.

I do miss the show sometimes, though. :o I should check out the more recent seasons whenever they finally come out on DVD. My brother still watches the show and tells me that, after a shaky seasons 11-14, things started to improve with Season 15. (I can’t believe that show has been on so long…and I remember watching the first Christmas episode when it originally aired! :eek:) It looks like they are skipping over seasons 13-19 and releasing Season 20 on DVD next. I’ll have to check it out from the library or something.

I agree that the angel episode made believers look ridiculous and anti-science. The theology geek in me also resented the fact that no one pointed out that angels are spiritual creatures. How can they have a skeleton?

But I think people are right, that the Simpsons is one of the few comedies that show the protagonists going to church, struggling with faith, and occasionally challenging it. My favorite Simpsons religion episode was “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment” that showed Lisa waging a peaceful protest against Homer for stealing cable. It was hilarious and touching at the same time. I also thought it was one of the few episodes that showed the wisdom in Reverend Lovejoy when he advised Lisa not to turn in her father for stealing cable (remember to honor thy father and mother) but instead to set an example by not watching the offending technology herself.

I agree that the Simpsons was its most brilliant between Seasons 3 and 8. It became far more fantastical (the Simpsons start traveling everywhere and suddenly seem to have cash to do just about anything), and Homer become far more crude, stupid, and mean in Seasons 9 and beyond. I also disliked how the episodes became centered on Homer’s increasingly crazy antics and seemed to lose grip on reality. The last straw was the episode “Saddlesore Galactica” in Season 11 in which Homer and Bart own a winning race horse (with Bart as jockey) and are attacked by a race of murderous elf jockeys who threaten to eat Homer’s brain. I knew the Simpsons had jumped the shark and shut the TV off promising myself to never watch the Simpsons again. Since then, I’ve only seen fragments of two episodes and the movie (which I thought was boring and disappointing).

You can judge how liberal and political the show has become by watching the character progression of Lisa. She is clearly the writer’s darling and is rarely lampooned.

Once you go Vatican, you can’t go back again

I really enjoyed this episode. I remember thinking it ended kinda dumb with the ‘shoot out’. Don’t recall if I saw the super bowl one or not

Yeah, and it’s a pretty dramatic change. If you look at the earlier seasons before she became such a flaming liberal, they portray her as actually liking America. There was this one episode where the Simpsons take in an Albanian exchange student in place of Bart and it shows Lisa arguing with him, as follows:

Adil: How can you defend a country where 5 percent of the people control 95 percent of the wealth?
Lisa: I’m defending a country where people can think, and act, and worship any way they want!
Adil: Can not.
Lisa: Can too.
Adil: Can not!
Lisa: Can too!
Homer: Please, please kids! Stop fighting. Maybe Lisa’s right about America being the land of opportunity, and maybe Adil has a point about the machinery of capitalism being oiled with the blood of the workers.

That would make an interesting study: to trace the character development of Lisa as a microcosm for what’s going on in the show as a whole (and perhaps even the larger culture).

Remember, too, the episode where Bart sells his soul. Lisa is very “Christian-friendly”. There’s that one really early episode where Bart prays for more study time and then school is closed the next day because of the snow. Lisa tells him: “You prayed for this. Now your prayers have been answered. I’m no theologian. I don’t know who or what God is exactly. All I know is: He’s a force more powerful than Mom and Dad put together, and you owe him big.” I love that line. And, best of all, Bart listens to her. He puts aside his selfish desire to go out and play and instead stays home and studies. What a great lesson!

Lisa is always seen as the “reasonable one.” All the other members of the Simpsons clan get painted in a negative light far more often that Lisa. She is the smart one, the “enlightened” one. And whenever she is portrayed as being in the wrong, she actually learns her lesson and grows as a person, unlike Homer or Bart who revert back to the status quo.

As such, she is the one who becomes a vegetarian (which, is actually one of my favorite episodes…so many great lines :o). She is the one who abandons Christianity for Buddhism. And through it all, her beliefs are seen as the “reasonable” ones, while the other Simpsons are anything but.

I disagree that Lisa is portrayed favorably.

I feel that of all the show’s characters, other than Mole Man, she is the most personally-miserable.

All her brilliance at school gets her nowhere. She has no friends, no one likes her. No wonder–she comes off as a know-it-all who looks down on everyone else and thinks she is superior. Many times, the principal or the teacher reject her for an honor and give it to someone who isn’t as smart, but who is more socially-adjusted and liked. She’s an elitist, a snob.

She has no social skills. She doesn’t know how to make or keep friends. She’s awkward in social settings, and often blames it on others.

She longs for a pony, which is funny because she’s a vegetarian and doesn’t believe in oppressing animals. She also likes watching Itchy and Scratchy, even though animals are tortured and killed. So she is a hypocrite (and Bart never fails to spot her inconsistencies.)

She is filled with guilt, worry, conflicts about her personal choices, and sadness. She is convinced that everyone else is stupid except her, and often fails to recognize wisdom in others, or to acknowledge different ideas. She is not content where she is. She always wants what she can’t have.

She has a poor body-image.

And even though she is presented as the most “reasonable,” many times her sermons and lectures fall flat and seem almost cruel because she is fails to take into account a “human factor.”

She’s judgemental.

In other words, Lisa is one of the least likeable characters on the show, and she is NOT presented in a way that makes her an appealing character.

You’re right that she is not appealing (and I believe has become more annoying and judgmental with time) and has her foibles. But I think she serves as the moral conscience of the show and a foil for the stupidity of others. The writer’s use her to show that the world in general is not a rational place and mistreats intellectuals at every opportunity. Part of the laughter in the Simpsons is watching the contrast between the stupid choices of various Springfield people and Lisa’s inevitable rational reaction. The angel episode is a perfect example of this. Even though Lisa is preachy, shrill, annoying and eventually doubts her own scientific rationalism when she grabs Marge’s hand at the end of that episode, she is still right. The angel was a fake. Lisa’s rational skepticism is redeemed.

That doesn’t mean that I think her liberal, PETA, vegetarian, Buddhist, feminist ways are personally inspiring to me. Lisa started out as a wonderful character (around season 2 or 3 when she gained substance) but she has become shrill, annoying and more political with time. Those who support liberalism probably love her, but I feel sorry for her character.

That’s a very interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing that, Cat. It’s definitely food for thought.

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