Thursday, July 26, 2007

14 Days of Simpsons

#2: Homer the Heretic
Season 4
One Sunday morning, Homer decides that he'd rather sleep late than go to church. Marge is disappointed, but doesn't argue with him. While home alone, Homer dances in his underwear, drinks waffle batter and loafs around watching TV. Having thoroughly enjoyed his morning, Homer decides to forgo church for good and start his own religion. Marge doesn't approve, but that night Homer has a dream in which God visits him and expresses his acceptance of Homer's new religion. While home on Sunday, worshipping in his own special way by reading Playdude and smoking cigars, Homer causes a fire that nearly destroys the house. Ned Flanders is the only one who can save Homer's life, and after speaking with Reverend Lovejoy, Homer realizes that he should give up his religion and return to church.

"Homer the Heretic" is the most important, and in many ways the best, episode in The Simpsons. It is certainly the most discussed and written about. In fact, there is no subject more heavily discussed than religion in The Simpsons, and rightly so. Although I do not have empirical proof to support this statement, I feel safe to say that there has never, in the history of television, been a “mainstream” fictional show that discusses religious issues as much as The Simpsons does. Certainly not one that even approaches the popularity of The Simpsons. With that in mind, what then does The Simpsons have to say about religion? Certainly it has a lengthy enough record on the topic to draw some conclusions.

1. The Simpsons is pro-God but weary of organized religion and its leaders.
2. The Simpsons respects all faiths, except perhaps Unitarianism.
3. Although the viewpoint of The Simpsons is generally Christian, they largely ignore the person of Jesus. The dominant faith presented is a very Old Testament dominated Christianity.

This is a gross oversimplification, to be sure. Frankly, there are thousands of pieces written on this topic, from varying viewpoints, most of which do a better job than I am currently willing to do here (not for lack of ideas, but a lack of time!). Perhaps at another time I will return with a more in depth plumbing of my own thoughts on the topic. In any event, let me be clear that this is the episode that I respect more than any other in the series. It is ambitious, creative, on target, and of course, funny. If there was one episode of the show that I would have people watch, it would be this one (there is one and only one other episode that I enjoy more, but none that I respect more).

As I mentioned, there is ample published media discussing in various ways the issues of religion in The Simpsons. If you are interested in any of it, I would first start with The Gospel According to The Simpsons by Mark Pinsky. This book is very well researched, well written, informative, and just plain fun. If you are a fan of the show who 1. Believes in God; 2. Does not believe in God; or 3. Is not sure yet if you believe in God, then I highly recommend this book. Aside from that, I have included a very small sampling of articles that are interesting on this topic. They are, in varying degrees, worth checking out.

God & The Simpsons by Gerry Bowler
The Ten Commandments vs. The Simpsons by Jim Guida
Worst Paper Ever by Josh Cashion
The Simpsons as Religious Satire by Scott Satkin
Tones of Morality Through Layers of Sarcasm by Gabe Durham
Religious Dialogues in Primetime by James L Hall
Religion in The Simpsons by Jeff Shalda
Religion on The Simpsons a reference guide
Simpsons Have Soul by John Hart
BeliefNet Simpsons Top Ten plus One Religious Episodes

Unfortunately, I cannot find a video of this available online. Presumably, this is only a matter of time. When/If I find one, I will make it available here. Obviously, this is somewhat disappointing as this is the one I would like people to watch!

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