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IN THEORY:Homer's religious odyssey

August 04, 2007

Author Mark Pinsky has written a book titled "The Gospel According to the Simpsons." The book suggests that the Simpsons are a family in which religion plays a part, and that they are reflective of many American families. For instance, the Simpsons say grace, attend church, reference the Bible and pray. And episodes have tackled religious themes, Pinsky says. What do you think? Does "The Simpsons" add to the religious conversation in America?

"The Simpsons" satirizes many aspects of our society, including politics, education, social attitudes and quite naturally, religion. Spiritual beliefs play a central role in most American lives, and thus will inevitably be portrayed in films and animated features that reflect them — it's a case of the well-known idiom that "art imitates life." I believe this is actually a positive sign, since it underscores the significance of faith in this great country.

Judging from many "Simpsons" episodes with religious content, it seems that the producers are having a whole lot of fun — while highlighting some important religious ethics.

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In one episode, Krusty the Clown rediscovers his Jewish roots and is Bar Mitzvah'd "Simpsons"-style; another episode has Lisa getting mad at her father, Homer, for violating the Eighth Commandment by stealing cable TV.

Audiences have also witnessed off-kilter versions of everything from the Christmas story to Hindu ritual — and have even seen a guest appearance of the Golem, a legendary creature in Jewish tales.

All in all, "The Simpsons" generally avoids mean-spirited humor, and the show's core characters seem to be a paradigm of a typical suburban family experiencing the ups and downs of contemporary life.

A popular TV show of this kind can bolster critical religious dialogue by bringing spiritual subjects to the fore and generating important discussion.

While the producers of "The Simpsons" have a responsibility to portray some topics respectfully so as not to offend the spiritual sensitivities of the nation, I don't think there's a need for them to gloss over the shortcomings and quirks of faith-based practices. By poking good-natured fun that makes us laugh at such "serious" topics, an irreverent program like this can help viewers maintain a healthy perspective on religion and can prompt an examination of those aspects of faith, which are truly important.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

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