The Simpsons and its God complex

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It’s official, the Vatican doesn’t do irony. If anyone needed confirmation of this it arrived last week when the holy smoke’s newspaper not only gave its formal blessing to The Simpsons and congratulated the producers on the show’s 20th anniversary, but also proclaimed it pro-God.

I know, almost everything to do with the church in The Simpsons seems to be heavily laced in satire but the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper has a different take on, for example, Homer’s religious ignorance, viewing it merely as a reflection of “the indifference and the need that modern man feels toward faith”.

Even the episode in which Homer pleads, ““I’m not normally a religious man, but if you’re up there, save me, Superman!”, has been played down, the newspaper suggesting that although the big guy is a bit forgetful with names, his heart appears to be in the right place. 

“Homer finds in God his last refuge, even though he sometimes gets His name sensationally wrong,”

L’Osservatore said. “But these are just minor mistakes, after all, the two know each other well.”

That may be so but Matt Groening and his fellow writers haven’t wasted many opportunities to take the Michael when it comes to religious matters. From Bart the fake faith-healer, to Lisa the sceptic and her successful court case against creationism, God has helped provide a lot of the laughs over the past couple of decades.

And it’s not as if you have to look very closely to detect where they’re likely to come from.

The Reverend Timothy Lovejoy is a tired, jaded idealist. Marge Simpson might be a church-goer but she once tried to bribe God into saving her house from a hurricane, promising to recommend Him to all her friends in return. Lisa is clearly agnostic and every Sunday Bart would rather be anywhere in the world but in church.

Homer hasn’t a spiritual bone in his body, neighbour Ned Flanders is your archtype bible-bashing nuisance, his (late) wife Maude is more narrow-minded than the family dog and the Rev Lovejoy’s wife Helen is a judgemental, fundamentalist crackpot. In one episode Rev Lovejoy, who has a particular problem with Catholicism, engages in a brawl with a Catholic priest.

It wasn’t so long ago that George Bush senior was rallying against The Simpsons, describing them as an unfortunate and inaccurate interpretation of the all American family. Life, said Bush, should be more like The Waltons. It’s unclear if this comment led directly to his 1992 election defeat.

Whatever the case, it sounds like even Bush would be at odds with the latest Vatican pronouncement, and more supportive of one of Homer’s lines in the episode titled Tis The Fifteenth Season, which was repeated on Sky’s Box channel at Christmas.

“It went something like: “Let’s just say that on this day a million years ago a dude was born who most of us think was magic,” said Homer. “Others don’t and that’s cool, but we’re probably right. Amen.”