The Gospel according to the Simpsons

James Phillips
Posted 5/28/17

There is a little book sitting on my bookcase in my office that I haven’t thought about in quite some time, that is until a midweek conversation during a lunch with Ed Howell, the news editor here at the Daily Mountain Eagle.

The book, entitled …

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The Gospel according to the Simpsons

Posted

There is a little book sitting on my bookcase in my office that I haven’t thought about in quite some time, that is until a midweek conversation during a lunch with Ed Howell, the news editor here at the Daily Mountain Eagle.

The book, entitled “The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World’s Most Animated Family,” was written in 2001 by Mark Pinsky, a religion journalist from Orlando. The 180-page book talks about how “The Simpsons” television program went from being attacked by many religious leaders for its lack of family values to being called one of the most theologically relevant programs in prime time.

Ed and I were having a conversation while dining at Black Rock Bistro on Wednesday about how television shows have changed so much in recent decades. Ed is a fan of the “Golden Age of Television,” from the late 1940s to 1960s, with shows such as “Father Knows Best,” “I Love Lucy,” “The Phil Silvers Show” and “Make Room for Daddy.” My television taste is somewhat different, growing up on the shows of the 1980s and 1990s, such as “Alf,” “Golden Girls,” “Seinfeld,” and “The Simpsons.”

What began our conversation was a point that I had made about how there aren’t any Southern-based shows on network television these days. “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Dukes of Hazard” and “Hee-Haw” used to be big players on the airwaves, but today that’s just not the case. Ed said he thought the problem was that most television shows lacked heart these days. “They just don’t have heart and spirituality like a lot of those Southern shows had,” Ed said. “Everything is so dark and cynical these days.”

I initially agreed with Ed’s statement, but then I thought back to my little book with an innocent looking, haloed and winged, angel Bart Simpson on the cover.

I quickly exclaimed, “The Simpsons! It is the most spiritual and family-oriented show on television today — and maybe even in history.”

Ed looked puzzled as I mentioned the book, but I could see the wheels start turning as he said, “I’m not sure about that statement, but in its own way it can be a family-oriented show.”

During our conversation about the show, we mentioned many of the things that make it so different from a lot of other programs of today. A couple of those being:

•Despite everything that happens in life, the bond between Homer and Marge is always as strong as ever by the end of each episode, and even the kids will try to help out the parents and others they encounter in Springfield. The family, despite its faults, always sticks together and love wins out.

•The family is depicted as going to church every week. They may not go to a worship service in every episode, but it is understood that this group is in the church pews of First Church of Springfield every Sunday. Some of the funniest moments for me happen when they are in a church service. I also love the church signs when they are shown, such as one episode when the marquee outside the church read, “Church Pot Luck: What a Friend We Have In Cheese Puffs,” or another episode with the sign stating, “Rapture Threat Level: Orange.” The interaction between the family members and God can be telling because there is a honesty in the way that relationship is presented through not only Homer and Marge, but also through their children.

During his time in the White House, President George H.W. Bush was quoted as saying, “We’re going to keep trying to strengthen the American family. To make them more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons.”

Before the president’s quote, People magazine quoted First Lady Barbara Bush as saying “It was about the dumbest thing I had ever seen, but it’s a family thing, and I guess it’s clean.”

The quote from the First Lady led Simpsons staff to pen a letter from Marge that was sent to Barbara Bush. The letter read:

“I try to teach my children Bart, Lisa, and even little Maggie, always to give somebody the benefit of the doubt and not talk badly about them, even if they’re rich. It’s hard to get them to understand this advice when the very First Lady in the country calls us not only dumb, but ‘the dumbest thing’ she ever saw. Ma’am, if we’re the dumbest thing you ever saw, Washington must be a good deal different than what they teach me at the current events group at the church.

“With great respect,

“Marge Simpson”

Barbara Bush remarkably responded to the cartoon mother with a kind letter, which read:

“Dear Marge,

“How kind of you to write. I’m glad you spoke your mind; I foolishly didn’t know you had one.

“I am looking at a picture of you, depicted on a plastic cup, with your blue hair filled with pink birds peeking out all over. Evidently, you and your charming family — Lisa, Homer, Bart and Maggie — are camping out. It is a nice family scene. Clearly you are setting a good example for the rest of the country.

“Please forgive a loose tongue.

“Warmly,

“Barbara Bush

“P.S. Homer looks like a handsome fella!”

In the end, the Bush family saw the redeeming qualities of the Simpson family. There was even an episode later in the series where the two families lived beside each other for a short time. Homer and George feuded, while Marge and Barbara remained civil.

If you’re interested in a good read, definitely check out “The Gospel According to The Simpsons.” After our conversation, I shared a few other current television shows that I find to be pretty heart-warming most weeks. Those were “The Middle,” “The Carmichael Show,” “This is Us,” “Modern Family” and “Black-ish.” Check those out if you’re currently caught up on all your stories.

James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or james.phillips@mountaineagle.com.