Archive for January 1st, 2013

The Gospel according to the Simpsons

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This work should probably be titled “Spirituality According to the Simpsons,” though it will not have the same ring to it as the chosen title, “The Gospel According to the Simpsons.” The reason why I think there should be a rewording of the title is because the book is not so much about the Simpsons and the Christian Gospel but rather it’s an analysis of the Simpsons’ outlook on religion and spirituality in general. The author is an Evangelical Christian which leaves me wondering about his ability to evaluate the Simpsons or any shows on the basis of the Gospel. I suppose one must be realistic and not expect the Simpsons to be an overt Christian TV show with an Evangelistic agenda but given the title I was somewhat hoping that Mark Pinsky would have pointed out bits and pieces of the Gospel hinted in Simpsons episode. Instead, the nearest it got to that was more of analysis of various character’s religiosity–a long shot from the Gospel which is even more troubling with very clear snippets in the Simpsons of a theology of works driving certain character’s behavior. The goal of this work seems to more modest: Pinsky’s overall thesis is that Christians should have a more careful analysis of this TV show than what meets the eye at first, going on to argue that the Simpsons is not entirely as anti-religion as it seems and at times the TV show can portray accurately the American suburban religious landscape. Here I must acknowledge that Pinsky is onto something, with his observation that the Simpsons have characters that portray Christianity more favorably than other network shows and also how over the years various religious characters have been explored with full episode coverage. I did enjoy the author’s analysis of Ned Flanders, probably the best in the book. Pinsky also pointed out something that I never thought of before–of how Marge has a spiritual side to her that trusts in God–but not necessarily organize religion, though she does insists her family goes to church. The moment I understood that this book addresses the Simpson’s outlook on religion and spirituality in general rather than Christianity in particular (the book discusses Catholics, and the Hindu faith of Abu), I think I was able to enjoy it as a work that engages in a cultural analysis of the Simpsons–that becomes a narrative of our contemporary religious sociology. I enjoyed his analysis of how the Simpsons in some ironic backhanded way, is pro-family, evaluating several episodes in which Homer or Marge faces temptation of infidelity to their marriages. That portion of the book makes me realize the phenomenon that the reasons why the Simpsons have continued to be successful over all these years is the fact that as an animated show it surprisingly can mirror reality and the human condition accurately with all it’s flaws and inclination for sin; yet, I am glad to see (well, more like read) how it paints temptation so real and how one ought to resist it. Towards the end of the book, I enjoyed his chapter that talked about the writers behind the Simpsons including their religious and nonreligious outlook. I also enjoyed the book’s indictment of Mainline denominationalism’s out of touch with reality “spirituality” and what I call the Liberal feel goody gospel of fluff as seen in Springfield Community Church and incarnate in Reverend Lovejoy. Reverend Lovejoy is a sad picture to me of a pastor with poor theology, who had great aspiration that has been burned out with the reality of weekly ministry, poor exegesis that does not preach from the text (who often misquote and even makes things up) and is well, boring and looks forward to retreating to his home with his model train set. While I enjoyed the analysis of this book concerning the Simpson take on faith and spirituality (because it is so spot on with conditions today), at the end of the day it’s incredibly sad to think that the Gospel–the essence of the Christian message, in which people are sinners that can be made right with God through God’s grace alone, by faith alone in Christ alone is not something that the Simpsons episode was ever grasped; I’m not saying it has to be believed, but for it to be grasped like how it can be seen as understood in older movies or shows–which is a sad indication I believe of biblical illiteracy today. While I do agree with Pinsky that the Simpsons does paint faith, God and religiosity in a favorable light (while also admitting the quirkiness of people at the same time), a Christian must not forget the Gospel–according to the Bible.

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