Minister heads discussion of religion in “The Simpsons”

by Christopher Jones, U-Wire

Are the Simpsons one of the most Christian families ontelevision? Does the Springfield of Ned Flanders and Apu provide anexample of different religions and spiritualities?

Shawn Galyen, a minister working with the Georgetown chapter ofthe Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, offered his answers to thesequestions during “The Gospel According to the Simpsons,” adiscussion sponsored by the University of Virginia Chapter of theChi Alpha Christian Fellowship.

Speaking before a large audience, Galyen used author MarkPinsky’s book “The Gospel According to the Simpsons” as a basis fora discussion about the role religion and spirituality play in thetelevision series and the ideas embodied by various Simpsonscharacters.

“I think that ‘The Simpsons’ is the most spiritual, religiousshow on television today,” Galyen said at the beginning hislecture.

Galyen is one of several ministers who use “The Simpsons” statusin popular culture as a way to reach out to students and involvethem in religious discussion.

“The goal is to get the discussion to a broader audience,”Galyen said.

Pete Bullette, a minister involved with the university’s chapterof Chi Alpha, invited Galyen to speak at the university.

“‘The Simpsons’ is a common ground people could use andunderstand to begin a dialogue,” Bullette said.

Galyen said several different ministers have held similardiscussions at universities in states ranging from Massachusetts toIowa, and that Reform Jewish and Episcopalian groups have alsorequested him to speak.

Galyen noted, however, that he and other ministers have usedPinsky’s book only as a foundation for discussion on varioustopics. Galyen’s speech focused on the religious and spiritualideas embodied by various characters ranging from Bart and Homer toReverend Lovejoy and Ned Flanders, whereas Pinsky’s book discussesspecific aspects of religion such as prayer and heaven andhell.

“I want to discuss what the different characters represent asoptions in a multi-religious world,” Galyen said.

When first aired, “The Simpsons” was criticized for itsrebellious attitude and satire. Pinsky, however, embraced theshow’s humor, pointing out that the show parodies all aspects ofAmerican life and treats religious faith with a high level ofrespect.

“The gift of ‘The Simpsons’ is that the characters’ fundamentalbeliefs are animated, but not caricatured,” Pinsky wrote. “God isnot mocked, nor is His existence questioned.”

Bullette agreed, noting that “‘The Simpsons’ communicates itsvalues using humor.”

Galyen said that just as the show leaves many religious ideas upfor interpretation, viewers can interpret for themselves what eachcharacter represents and how that relates to their daily lives.

“If ‘The Simpsons’ can help you, use it.” Galyen said.