God Dwells in 'The Simpsons', Authors SayBy Richard N. Ostling
© Associated Press, August 7, 2002.
Sunday school teachers with restless teenagers or distracted adults might consider something a little different this fall: The Simpsons.
After all, in one episode of the popular animated TV sitcom, God tells the hapless Homer that even he is bored by parson Lovejoy's sermons.
Now the cartoon family is heading for a church near you, thanks to a 10-lesson study guide to The Gospel According to The Simpsons.
The original book was written by Mark Pinsky, religion reporter for the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel. He co-wrote the study guide with Rev. Samuel (Skip) Parvin, a United Methodist pastor in the Orlando area. Both are published by the Presbyterians' Westminster John Knox Press.
Since Pinsky is a Jew, the prayers and themes are not explicitly Christian, so the course can be adapted for synagogue use.
The pious might feel the show has too many brushes with blasphemy to be suitable for church treatment. A church signboard on the show: "God welcomes his victims." Description of God after a dream: "Perfect teeth. Nice smell. A class act all the way."
But Rowan Williams, the newly appointed archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, calls the program "one of the most subtle pieces of propaganda around in the cause of sense, humility and virtue."
Pinsky's book argued that The Simpsons raises important religious issues in its cockeyed fashion. In the study guide he says church use of popular culture could help attract outsiders, but admits this may also smack of desperation and reflect a "dumbing down of serious discourse."
Each of the 10 sessions begins by viewing a Simpsons episode available on commercial rental.
For instance, in one show Homer is told that a Japanese sushi chef made a mistake cutting a poisonous blowfish and that Homer will die in 24 hours. Homer puzzles out a "to do" list for his last day. Item No. 1: "Make list." Item No. 9: "Tell off boss."
Next, participants write Homerlike lists of a dozen things they'd want to do if they had 24 hours to live. Then they read aloud a pertinent Old Testament passage, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ("For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven"), and a New Testament passage, Jesus' parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21).
The group then discusses Homer's priorities and their own.
One item on Homer's list is a man-to-man talk with son Bart to pass on three sentences that will help the lad get through life: "Cover for me. Oh, good idea, boss. It was like that when I got here." There's further discussion of this and other goofy but intriguing plot turns.
The session concludes with a prayer: "God our Creator, help us to value each moment of every day. We realize that there are no guarantees in this life. . . ." As people leave they're asked to talk to someone they respect in the coming week about life priorities.
Themes of other lessons:
Last updated on September 22, 2002 by Jouni Paakkinen (firstname.lastname@example.org)