Religion is one of many recurring themes on the American animated television series The Simpsons. Much of the series' religious humor satirizes aspects of Christianity and religion in general. However, some episodes, such as "Bart Sells His Soul" and "Alone Again, Natura-Diddily", can be interpreted as having a spiritual theme. The show has been both praised and criticized by atheists, agnostics, liberals, conservatives and religious people in general for its portrayal of faith and religion in society. The show can function as a mediator of biblical literacy among younger generations of irreligious viewers.
In the series, the Simpson family attends services led by Reverend Lovejoy. The church's denomination is identified as the "Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism" in the episode "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star." This is generally interpreted as representing the multitude of American Protestant traditions in general and not one specific denomination.
Although The Simpsons often mocks religion, it has received support from some groups claiming to be religious. In a 2001 article for The Christian Century, John Dart argued that
"[T]he enormous popularity of The Simpsons, now in its 12th television season, suggests that religious people have a sense of humor — contrary to the usual wisdom in Hollywood. The program takes more satirical jabs at spiritual matters than any other TV show, yet the erratic cartoon family has an appreciative audience among many people of faith and among many analysts of religion. The reason? Perhaps it’s because The Simpsons is an equal-opportunity satire: it shrewdly targets all sorts of foibles and hypocrisies, not just religious ones. Perhaps it’s also because the show is exceptionally aware of the significant place religion has in the American landscape."
On December 2009, an article published in L'Osservatore Romano, the Holy See's official newspaper, praised The Simpsons for its "realistic" way of dealing with religion. "Homer finds in God his last refuge, even though he sometimes gets His name sensationally wrong. But these are just minor mistakes, after all; the two know each other well", the article said. The Simpson family is often seen attending church, a practice described by Dart as "rarely seen or mentioned in other TV shows." Simpsons creator Matt Groening has also stated that the Simpsons is one of the few shows on television where the family attends church regularly. The characters in the family are often seen praying. William Romanowski, author of the book Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in American Life, noted that "The Simpsons is not dismissive of faith, but treats religion as an integral part of American life. Episodes that I’ve seen are not so much irreverent toward religion, but poke fun at American attitudes and practices."
One episode that heavily features religion is "Bart Sells His Soul" (1995). While discussing The Simpsons treatment of religion in his Drawn to Television book, M. Keith Booker cites a scene from the episode where Milhouse asks Bart what religions have to gain by lying about concepts such as the existence of a soul – and then the scene cuts to Reverend Lovejoy counting his money. Booker believes that this implies that religions create mythologies so that they can gain money from followers. He juxtaposes this with Bart's realization later in the episode that "life suddenly feels empty and incomplete" without a soul, which suggests "either that the soul is real or it is at least a useful fiction". The episode has been used in church courses about the nature of a soul in Connecticut and in the United Kingdom, and was shown by a minister in Scotland in one of his sermons. A 2005 report on religious education in secondary schools by the UK education watchdog group Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) noted that the episode was being used as a teaching tool.
The Catholic Church has been a subject for humor, from the time of the Reformation to the present day. Such humor ranges from mild burlesque to derisive attacks. Catholic clergy and lay organizations such as the Catholic League monitor for particularly offensive and derogatory incidents and voice their objections and protests.
Examples of fairly mild burlesque of the Church in the twentieth century include material by humourists such as the Irish comedian Dave Allen and the comedy show Father Ted.MyPods and Boomsticks
"MyPods and Boomsticks" is the seventh episode of the twentieth season of The Simpsons. It first aired on the Fox network in the United States on November 30, 2008.
In the episode, Homer becomes suspicious of Bart's new Muslim friend, Bashir, and decides to invite his family for dinner. When Homer offends them, he goes to their home to apologize but discovers what he believes to be a terrorist plot to blow up the Springfield Mall. In the episode's subplot, Lisa gets a MyPod (a parody of iPod) and racks up a large bill.
The episode was written by Marc Wilmore and directed by Steven Dean Moore with Shohreh Aghdashloo of 24 guest starring as Bashir's mother, Mina. It is the first episode of The Simpsons to have Islam portrayed in a large role. It was the most watched show on Fox on its original airing, and received fairly positive reviews from television critics. The episodes theme was praised by the Council on American–Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and Aghdashloo was given an award by the latter organization for her role.Religion in Futurama
The animated science fiction television program Futurama makes a number of satirical and humorous references to religion, including inventing several fictional religions which are explored in certain episodes of the series.Religious satire
Religious satire is a form of satire targeted at religious beliefs and can take the form of texts, plays, films, and parody. From the earliest times, at least since the plays of Aristophanes, religion has been one of the three primary topics of literary satire, along with politics and sex. Satire which targets the clergy is a type of political satire, while religious satire is that which targets religious beliefs. Religious satire is also sometimes called philosophical satire, and is thought to be the result of agnosticism or atheism. Notable works of religious satire surfaced during the Renaissance, with works by Chaucer, Erasmus and Durer.
Religious satire has been criticised and at times censored in order to avoid offence, for example the film Life of Brian was initially banned in Ireland, Norway, some states of the US, and some towns and councils of the United Kingdom. This potential for censorship often leads to debates on the issue of freedom of speech such as in the case of the Religious Hatred Bill in January 2006. Critics of the original version of the Bill (such as comedian Rowan Atkinson) feared that satirists could be prosecuted.The Joy of Sect
"The Joy of Sect" is the thirteenth episode of The Simpsons' ninth season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 8, 1998. In the episode, a cult takes over Springfield, and the Simpson family become members.
David Mirkin conceived the initial idea for the episode, Steve O'Donnell was the lead writer, and Steven Dean Moore directed. The writers drew on many groups to develop the Movementarians, but were principally influenced by Scientology, Heaven's Gate, the Unification Church ("Moonies"), the Rajneesh movement, and Peoples Temple. The show contains many references to popular culture, including the title reference to The Joy of Sex and a gag involving Rover from the television program The Prisoner.
"The Joy of Sect" was later analyzed from religious, philosophical, and psychological perspectives; books on The Simpsons compared the Movementarians to many of the same groups from which the writers had drawn influence. Both USA Today and The A.V. Club featured "The Joy of Sect" in lists of important episodes of The Simpsons.There's Something About Marrying
"There's Something About Marrying" is the tenth episode of the sixteenth season of The Simpsons. In the episode, Springfield legalizes same-sex marriage to increase tourism. After becoming a minister, Homer starts to wed people to make money. Meanwhile, Marge's sister Patty comes out as a lesbian and reveals that she is going to marry a woman named Veronica. Marge originally disapproves of this, making Patty frustrated. When Marge accidentally discovers that Veronica is a man cross-dressed as a woman, she decides to keep quiet about it knowing that Patty will be marrying a man. However, at the ceremony, she is so moved by Patty's vow that she is forced to reveal Veronica's secret. After the ceremony is abruptly cancelled, Marge tells Patty that she now accepts her sexuality.
This was the third time that an episode of The Simpsons focused on homosexuality. The episode—written by J. Stewart Burns and directed by Nancy Kruse—was inspired by the 2004 same-sex weddings that occurred in San Francisco. According to executive producer Al Jean, the staff wanted the episode to explore what the different characters' stances on same-sex marriage were. Around the time of the episode's original airdate, February 20, 2005, the same-sex marriage question was a hot political issue in the United States and the episode became controversial. "There's Something About Marrying" received a lot of criticism from conservative groups, including the Parents Television Council and the American Family Association, that claimed it was promoting gay marriage. Jean stated in response that the staff was not taking a side on the issue and that they were just examining all sides of it. Positive reaction to the episode came from, among others, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the gay-oriented website AfterEllen.com.
During the first airing, 10.5 million people watched "There's Something About Marrying" and it became the highest rated episode of the season. The episode had received a lot of publicity in the media before its broadcast—not only because of the same-sex marriage controversy but also because of Patty's outing. It was revealed in July 2004, that a character would come out as gay in the episode, leading to much speculation from fans and the press. Bookmaker websites were even posting odds on which character it would be, with Patty receiving the best odds.
Religion and philosophy in popular culture