Religion in The Simpsons
Religion is one of many recurring themes on the American animated television series The Simpsons. Much of the series' religious humor satirizes aspects of Christianity and religion in general. However, some episodes, such as "Bart Sells His Soul" and "Alone Again, Natura-Diddily", can be interpreted as having a spiritual theme. The show has been both praised and criticized by atheists, agnostics, liberals, conservatives and religious people in general for its portrayal of faith and religion in society. The show can function as a mediator of biblical literacy among younger generations of irreligious viewers.
In the series, the Simpson family attends services led by Reverend Lovejoy. The church's denomination is identified as the "Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism" in the episode "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star." This is generally interpreted as representing the multitude of American Protestant traditions in general and not one specific denomination.
Although The Simpsons often mocks religion, it has received support from some groups claiming to be religious. In a 2001 article for The Christian Century, John Dart argued that
"[T]he enormous popularity of The Simpsons, now in its 12th television season, suggests that religious people have a sense of humor — contrary to the usual wisdom in Hollywood. The program takes more satirical jabs at spiritual matters than any other TV show, yet the erratic cartoon family has an appreciative audience among many people of faith and among many analysts of religion. The reason? Perhaps it’s because The Simpsons is an equal-opportunity satire: it shrewdly targets all sorts of foibles and hypocrisies, not just religious ones. Perhaps it’s also because the show is exceptionally aware of the significant place religion has in the American landscape."
On December 2009, an article published in L'Osservatore Romano, the Holy See's official newspaper, praised The Simpsons for its "realistic" way of dealing with religion. "Homer finds in God his last refuge, even though he sometimes gets His name sensationally wrong. But these are just minor mistakes, after all; the two know each other well", the article said. The Simpson family is often seen attending church, a practice described by Dart as "rarely seen or mentioned in other TV shows." Simpsons creator Matt Groening has also stated that the Simpsons is one of the few shows on television where the family attends church regularly. The characters in the family are often seen praying. William Romanowski, author of the book Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in American Life, noted that "The Simpsons is not dismissive of faith, but treats religion as an integral part of American life. Episodes that I’ve seen are not so much irreverent toward religion, but poke fun at American attitudes and practices."
One episode that heavily features religion is "Bart Sells His Soul" (1995). While discussing The Simpsons treatment of religion in his Drawn to Television book, M. Keith Booker cites a scene from the episode where Milhouse asks Bart what religions have to gain by lying about concepts such as the existence of a soul – and then the scene cuts to Reverend Lovejoy counting his money. Booker believes that this implies that religions create mythologies so that they can gain money from followers. He juxtaposes this with Bart's realization later in the episode that "life suddenly feels empty and incomplete" without a soul, which suggests "either that the soul is real or it is at least a useful fiction". The episode has been used in church courses about the nature of a soul in Connecticut and in the United Kingdom, and was shown by a minister in Scotland in one of his sermons. A 2005 report on religious education in secondary schools by the UK education watchdog group Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) noted that the episode was being used as a teaching tool.
Episodes with focus on religious topics
- "Bart Gets an F" (season two, 1990) – Christianity
- "Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment" (season two, 1991) – Christianity
- "Like Father, Like Clown" (season three, 1991) – Judaism
- "Homer the Heretic" (season four, 1992) – Christianity and faith
- "Treehouse of Horror IV" (season five, 1993) – the soul and the Devil
- "Bart Sells His Soul" (season seven, 1995) – Christianity and existence of the soul
- "Hurricane Neddy" (season eight, 1997) – Christianity and theodicy
- "In Marge We Trust" (season eight, 1997) – Christianity
- "The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons" (season nine, 1997) - Hinduism
- "Lisa the Skeptic" (season nine, 1997) – faith, belief of angels, and Judgment Day
- "The Joy of Sect" (season nine, 1998) – sects and cults
- "Simpsons Bible Stories" (season ten, 1999) – Judaism and Christianity
- "Faith Off" (season eleven, 2000) – faith healing
- "Treehouse of Horror XI" (season twelve, 2000) – Christianity, Heaven and Hell
- "I'm Goin' to Praiseland" (season twelve, 2001) – Christianity
- "She of Little Faith" (season thirteen, 2001) – Buddhism, Christianity (Evangelicalism e.x. Megachurch) and leaving one's religion
- "Pray Anything" (season fourteen, 2003) – Christianity
- "Today I Am a Klown" (season fifteen, 2003) – Judaism
- "Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass" (season sixteen, 2005) – Christianity
- "Thank God It's Doomsday" (season sixteen, 2005) – Christianity and Judgment Day
- "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star" (season sixteen, 2005) – Christianity (Catholicism)
- "Simpsons Christmas Stories" (season seventeen, 2005) – Christianity
- "The Monkey Suit" (season seventeen, 2006) – Creationism vs. Evolution
- "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangalore" (season seventeen, 2006) – Hinduism and Involuntarily deification
- "Treehouse of Horror XVIII" (season nineteen, 2007) – Christianity, Seven deadly sins
- "MyPods and Boomsticks" (season twenty, 2008) – Islam
- "Gone Maggie Gone" (season twenty, 2009) – Christianity (Catholicism)
- "Rednecks and Broomsticks" (season twenty-one, 2009) – Wicca
- "The Greatest Story Ever D'ohed" (season twenty-one, 2010) – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
- "A Tree Grows in Springfield" (season twenty-four, 2012) – Faith
- "Pulpit Friction" (season twenty-four, 2013) – Christianity and faith
- "Clown in the Dumps" (season twenty-six, 2014) – Judaism and the afterlife
- "My Way or the Highway to Heaven" (season thirty, 2018) – Christianity, Atheism, and Buddhism
- "E My Sports" (season thirty, 2019) – Buddhism (Korean Buddhism and Zen Buddhism)
- Bowler, Gerry (2001). "God and the Simpsons". Talkback. Archived from the original on 2008-06-15. Retrieved 2008-11-08.
- Myles, Robert (2015). "Biblical Literacy and the Simpsons". Rethinking Biblical Literacy. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
- Dart, John (2001-01-31). "Simpsons Have Soul". The Christian Century. Retrieved 2011-11-26.
- "Vatican praises 'The Simpsons'". Business Standard. December 26, 2009.
- Booker, M. Keith (2006). Drawn to television: prime-time animation from the Flintstones to Family guy. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 65. ISBN 0-275-99019-2.
- The Hartford Courant staff (February 21, 2004). "Religion Notes". The Hartford Courant. The Hartford Courant Co. p. D4.
- Radnedge, Aidan (February 10, 2004). "Sunday school turns to Homer Simpson". East Sussex County Publications.
- Aberdeen Press & Journal staff (October 9, 2004). "Kirk minister puts Simpsons in pulpit". Aberdeen Press & Journal. Archived from the original on October 16, 2012. Retrieved 2009-04-02. (archived at AccessMyLibrary.com)
- Harris, Sarah (January 1, 2006). "On 7th day, God created...". Sunday Territorian. p. 047.
- Fuchs, John Andreas (2010). "Showing Faith: Catholicism in American TV Series". Moravian Journal of Literature and Film. 2 (1): 79–98.
- Pinsky, Mark I. (August 2001). The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 164. ISBN 0-664-22419-9.