Return to Syllabus   Dr. Andrew Wood
Office: HGH 210; Phone: (408) 924-5378

Reading: Pinsky, M.I. (2001). The gospel according to The Simpsons: The spiritual life of the world's most animated family. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Note: These comments are not designed to "summarize" the reading. Rather, they are available to highlight key ideas that will emerge in our classroom discussion. As always, it's best to read the original text to gain full value from the course.

This image comes from an episode entitled "Homer the Heretic" in which Homer decides to skip church and form his own religion. Inspired by this episode, one might ask: If the Simpson family reflects a certain view of religion, what kind of God do they worship? In Chapter One of his book, The Gospel According to the Simpsons, Pinsky lays out several principles of theology that appear at work in the fictional town of Springfield. Initially, Pinsky argues that God occupies a dynamic and recurring role in the lives of the Simpson family, responding most acutely to their occasional bouts of hubris. Pinsky quotes series creator Matt Groening as saying, “Not only do the Simpsons go to church every Sunday and pray; they actually speak to God from time to time” (p. 14). Secondly, Pinsky describes the Simpson family’s relationship with God as being ambivalent and contradictory. While The Almighty plays an active role in their lives, the family – with the potential exception of Marge – continually demonstrate their ignorance of His nature. Indeed, Homer is described as a “spiritual wanderer” who seeks God but does not always understand what he finds. Is God a loving or jealous force in their lives; is He playful or serious? Homer is never quite certain. Finally, the show’s depiction of faith may be classified as that of the Old Testament variety. Despite occasional references to Jesus, the family generally encounters spiritual life through the medium of God who punishes or aids them directly, without the aid of an intermediary. References to the crucifixion and the atonement of sins almost never appear in The Simpsons.

Activity: Examine various depictions of deity within one example of popular culture. Select a television show, film, song, or other text. How does this text depict God? What implications for human conduct do we find in this depiction? Be prepared to support your analysis through the aid of an example from your pop culture selection.


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