Originally for my research project, I had chosen the topic of censorship. However, I changed it to another topic that evolved over time: The Simpsons. I quickly discovered that the amount of religious content and the amount of research already done on the religious content of the show was astounding, and found it easy to draw my own conclusion on how the show treats religion. I absolutely love The Simpsons, and I hope this is as enjoyable for you to read as it was for me to do research.


The Simpsons: a cultural phenomenon of a show that is now 26 seasons strong with a cast of characters that are instantly recognizable around the world. First and foremost, The Simpsons is a satire, and the idea that is most often the subject of satire is religion. Religion is so prominent in the show, that in a 2001 study, religion or religious context was found in nearly 70% of episodes (Dart). This was unheard of from prime-time television at the time of its debut, let alone cartoons. The prominence of religion in the show makes it stand out from other shows of its kind. The writers are not afraid to explore the concepts of religious ideas and practices, and they are well aware of the massive role religion plays in the everyday lives of Americans. The writers of The Simpsons are also equal-opportunity satirists, and certainly do not play favorites when it comes to the subject of religion. So how has the show, over 26 years, garnered massive praise due to its portrayal of religion from both theists and atheists (Dalton)? As former writer of the show Steve Tompkins explains, “there is no agenda one way or the other. It’s all about the joke” (Dart). While The Simpsons sometimes portrays religion as beneficial to the lives of its characters, ultimately, it highlights the hypocrisy and flaws of those who preach and practice it in modern-day America.

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The Simpsons does not always portray religion is a negative light, as religion is sometimes shown as a beneficial part of the characters’ lives. In times of trouble, characters will often turn to their deity of choice in search of guidance, and although there are mixed results, religion is shown as a place of comfort and support. As stated previously, religions of all kinds are represented in the show, from traditional to new-age: Ned Flanders has Christianity, Apu has Hinduism, Krusty the Clown has Judaism, and as of the episode “She of Little Faith,” Lisa has Buddhism. In this episode, the First Church of Springfield must be rebuilt due to a model rocket crash caused by Homer. In order to be rebuilt, the church council accepts the help of Springfield’s business elite, who turn the church into a commercialized nightmare, complete with neon signs and blackjack on Tuesday nights. This is an exaggerated commentary on the so-called “Walmart” churches that have become popular in recent years, housing hundreds in their congregations and broadcasting their sermons on live TV. Lisa is disgusted by the church’s new appearance and message, and decides to search for a new path to god. She eventually discovers Buddhism, much to the dismay of the rest of her family. They try to force Christianity back upon her, a suggestion by Reverend Lovejoy, and initially she resists going to church and celebrating Christmas. However, Lisa learns that, like many other religions, Buddhism teaches tolerance of others and their ideas, and she makes the decision to appease her family by attending church while still practicing Buddhism. By the end of the episode, Lisa is at peace with herself and her newfound religion. “She of Little Faith” is a great example of The Simpsons showing the positive aspects of religion while also highlighting the hypocrisy of its institutions and members. When Lisa disbanded from Christianity, her family was only concerned with getting her back on their side, and not with her happiness. Tolerance and respect is something taught by many religions but sometimes forgotten, and this episode underlines that.

The omnipresence of religion in America is often exaggerated in The Simpsons. Often times it takes on a larger-than-life role, taking full advantage of the cartoon medium. The marquee in front of the First Church of Springfield is always ridiculous; “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Salvation;” “God Welcomes His Victims;” “Today’s Topic: He Knows What You Did Last Summer.” These marquees make fun of the hyper-religious, god-fearing, less-than-often-tolerant Christian evangelicals we find in everyday society, and also poke fun at the religious institutions that have a “you’re with us or against us” mentality. Ironically, with all the negative commentary on religious types in the show, The Simpsons confirms the existence of god(s) in the show’s universe on multiple occasions. In one episode, “Mr. Plow,” after Homer and Barney decide to combine their snow plow business and Homer exclaims “When two best friends work together, not even God Himself can stop them!” a light from the heavens shines down, a voice says “Oh, no?” and the snow is melted away (“Mr. Plow”). This is something that only a cartoon can effectively do, and it reveals that the writers of the show are not so much denying the existence of god or stating that religion is a waste of time, but rather they are making fun of the practices of some of those who follow it and spread its message.

The Simpsons addresses the hypocrisy of those who practice religion and claim to be perfectly devout, sin-free model citizens. Take the titular family, for instance. The Simpson family is often seen attending church every Sunday, but they are far from “perfect” Christians. The juxtaposition of their neighbors, the Flanders, highlights this. Every member of the Simpson family (except Maggie) is a victim of sin, especially Homer, who is a foil to and hates Ned Flanders. Just about every Sunday, there is opposition from Homer when it’s time to go to church. As he explains in The Simpsons Movie, “Why can’t I worship the Lord in my own way, by praying like hell on my death bed.” Despite attending church every Sunday, the Simpsons are far from being free of sin, or devout to their faith for that matter. In fact, every character in the show, even the Flanders, are victims of sin at one point or another. As Reverend Lovejoy says, “just about everything is a sin” (“Secrets”). The Flanders are saints when compared to the Simpsons, but the Simpson family is viewed as more realistic; you would be hard pressed to find a family like the Flanders that are so devout to their faith and free of sin in the real world. The term “Ned Flanders,” in fact, has become slang for an evangelical stereotype (Feltmate), and The Simpsons definitely satirizes the evangelical.

The Simpsons also satirizes the hypocrisy of religious institutions and their staff. Reverend Lovejoy is a perfect example of this. Just about every quote from the Reverend gives an idea of how the writers feel about Christian practices in America. In one episode, while speaking to his congregation about a new cult known as the Movementarians that is sweeping Springfield, the Reverend says “This so-called new religion is nothing but a pack of weird rituals and chants, designed to take away the money of fools. Now let’s say the Lord’s Prayer 40 times, but first, let’s pass the collection plate.” Later in the same episode, when his congregation has been completely absorbed by the cult, Lovejoy begins pouring gasoline on the church floor and says “I never thought I’d have to do this again” (“Joy”). In a conversation with Ned, the Reverend asks, “Ned, have you considered any of the other major religions? They’re pretty much all the same” (“Home”). As stated earlier, the show satirizes the evangelical, and much like how most of Reverend Lovejoy’s dialogue is a commentary on Christian, much of Ned Flanders’s dialogue is commentary on evangelicals. On the topic of courts, Ned remarks that “the only thing they’re good for is telling women what to do with their bodies” (“Bart”). This is the sort of hyper-irony that The Simpsons excels at, and religion is the topic most often taken to the extreme. Reverend Lovejoy is shown to doubt his own faith and become annoyed with evangelicals like Ned Flanders, and this brings up another good point on how The Simpsons portrays religion.

The characters of the show sometimes question their faith, some having better reasons than others. When trying to argue his way out of going to church, Homer remarks “What if we picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder” (“Homer”). While watching a movie adaptation of the story of Noah’s Ark, Homer calls God his “favorite fictional character” (“Das Bus”). That line may be due less to Homer’s hazy concept of faith and more to his stupidity. Homer has been shown to be fearful of the Lord and the devil on multiple occasions. However, as stated earlier, even Reverend Lovejoy questions the religion he himself preaches. When the residents of Springfield are brainwashed by the Movementarians, Lovejoy is not immune. Ned spots his collar on the ground and when he points it out, Lovejoy picks it up, nervously asking “how did that get down there?” (“Joy”). One of the reasons that The Simpsons has received so much critical acclaim over the years is its realistic portrayal of the American experience, and its portrayal of religion is no different. While not everyone will denounce their religion or become a born-again Christian, at one point or another, everyone questions their faith.

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The Simpsons very quickly went from a series of shorts to a worldwide phenomenon that has been noted for its ability to bring people together in conversation about the show’s ideas on everyday issues (Gray 125-129). Every subject is fair game for The Simpsons’s unique brand of satire, and religion is no exception. The topic of religion is abundant in the show’s now 550+ episodes, and is often shown in a negative, yet not entirely irreverent light. Despite the flack that religion and religious types receive on the show, every once in a while religion is shown as a beneficial part of characters’ lives. The show doesn’t make fun of the idea of god so much as it makes fun of the American people who practice religion and their flaws. William Romanowski, author of Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in American Life, noted that “episodes that [he’s] seen are not so much irreverent toward religion, but poke fun at American attitudes and practices” (Dart). The characters of The Simpsons have a certain humanity to them – one of the things that made the show great over the years – and the writers take full advantage of the fact that humans aren’t perfect.


Works Cited

“The Bart of War.” By Marc Wilmore. Dir. Michael Polcino. Episode #312. The Simpsons. Prod. Al Jean. FOX. 18 May 2003. Television.

Dalton, Lisle, Eric Michael Mazur, and Monica Siems. “Homer the Heretic and Charlie Church: Parody, Piety, and Pluralism in The Simpsons.” 2001. God in the Details: American Religion in Popular Culture. Ed. Eric Michael Mazur and Kate McCarthy. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2010. 238-54. Print.

Dart, John. “Simpsons Have Soul.” The Christian Century 31 Jan. 2001: 12-14. Religion-Online. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www.religion-online.org/>.

“Das Bus.” By David S. Cohen. Dir. Pete Michels. Episode #192. The Simpsons. Prod. Mike Scully. FOX. 15 Feb. 1998. Television.

Feltmate, David. “It’s Funny Because It’s True? The Simpsons, Satire, and the Significance of Religious Humor in Popular Culture.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion (2013): n. pag. Oxford Journals. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/>.

Gray, Jonathan. Watching with the Simpsons: Television, Parody, and Intertextuality. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

“Homer the Heretic.” By George Meyer. Dir. Jim Reardon. Episode #62. The Simpsons. Prod. Al Jean and Mike Reiss. FOX. 8 Oct. 1992. Television.

“Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily.” By Jon Vitti. Dir. Susie Dietter. Episode #131. The Simpsons. Prod. Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein. FOX. 1 Oct. 1995. Television.

“The Joy of Sect.” By Steve O’Donnel. Dir. Steven Dean Moore. Episode #191. The Simpsons. Prod. David Mirkin. FOX. 8 Feb. 1998. Television.

“Mr. Plow.” By Jon Vitti. Dir. Jim Reardon. Episode #68. The Simpsons. Prod. Al Jean and Mike Reiss. FOX. 19 Nov. 1992. Television.

Rhodes, Carl. “D’Oh: The Simpsons, Popular Culture, and the Organizational Carnival.” Journal of Management Inquiry 10.4 (2001): 374-83. Corwin. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www.corwin.com/>.

“Secrets of a Successful Marriage.” By Greg Daniels. Dir. Carlos Baeza. Episode #103. The Simpsons. Prod. David Mirkin. FOX. 19 May 1994. Television.

“She of Little Faith.” By Bill Freiberger. Dir. Steven Dean Moore. Episode #275. The Simpsons. Prod. Al Jean. FOX. 16 Dec. 2001. Television.

The Simpsons Movie. Dir. David Silverman. 20th Century Fox, 2007. Film.

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